19 minute read

Rain on the Gardens’ birthday parade

Julie Akmacic and Toby Golson, Australian National Botanic Gardens

When Prime Minister John Gorton opened the Australian National Botanic Gardens on 20 October 1970, he probably didn’t anticipate bushfires, hazardous smoke, hailstorms and a global pandemic interrupting the gardens’ golden anniversary in 2020.

The gardens’ 50th anniversary was geared up to be a year of reflection, a year of celebration and a chance to pay tribute to five decades of scientific research, horticultural excellence and recreational enjoyment — but sadly, nature had other plans.

Like many buildings and landscapes across the nation’s capital, the gardens fell victim to the destructive hailstorm that swept through Canberra on 20 January 2020. The summer storm, with hail as big as golf balls, ripped through the gardens smashing skylights and glasshouses, littering paths and garden beds with barrels of debris and tearing through the Rainforest Gully — one of Canberra’s much-loved treasures. It was this gully that helped the gardens develop into one of Canberra’s major national attractions 50 years ago — a gully that continues to take visitors on a journey through the rainforests of Australia’s eastern coastlines from Tasmania to Queensland.

Back in the 1970s a misting system was installed in a dry gully near a standard public carpark. A careful selection of plants, along with artificially increased humidity, saw the development of the Rainforest Gully — a significant horticultural achievement as well as an avenue for raising public awareness about rainforests.

1967 – overlooking the car park and the portion of the gully that now represents the Tasmanian rainforest. Photo: Australian National Botanic Gardens.

Despite Canberra’s burning summers and icy winters, the gardens’ expert team of horticulturalists have kept the gully alive and thriving by keeping on top of watering. This was made easier with the transition to recycled water over the last decade.

Maintaining the integrity of the tree canopy means continuous succession planting to replace the fast growing but rapidly senescing acacias and eucalypts, planted in the 1970s and 80s, with hardy rainforest species. Specific pruning techniques are also used to encourage straight trunk growth in canopy trees and to minimise sub-canopy shading from shrubs, allowing the ground storey to thrive. All leaf and twig litter, as well as larger limbs, is retained where possible to assist in mimicking the nutrient recycling and abundant soil fauna that occur in a natural rainforest.

Having transformed this incredible rainforest from car park to lush green canopies, 50 years of work was seriously compromised in just five minutes of violent hail. The hail shredded the foliage in what resembled a canopy fire, letting full sunlight into parts of the gully that had not seen the sun for decades.

There was extensive scarring to the cambium layer of almost all shrubs, and many small specimens planted in spring 2019 died.

2010 – visitors in Rainforest Gully with mist. Photo: ©M. Fagg 2010, Australian National Botanic Gardens.

The lush Rainforest Gully and boardwalks. Photo: Australian National Botanic Gardens.

January 2020 – the damaged rainforest canopy immediately after hailstorm. Photo: Australian National Botanic Gardens. January 2020 – the littered Rainforest Gully after hailstorm. Photo: Australian National Botanic Gardens.

Over the last few months gardens’ staff have worked hard to restore the damage to the gully. A major cleanup was undertaken by staff and volunteers, pruning out badly damaged foliage and shredded tree fern fronds as well as rescuing buried plant material. A severely damaged tree had to be removed by crane. Fortunately, most of the hard landscaping and infrastructure such as boardwalks were unscathed.

Today the rainforest is a picture of good health thanks to dedicated staff and volunteers. Mother Nature has also played a valuable part by breaking the drought, quenching the thirst of the gully with natural rainwater, and bestowing a mild Canberra winter.

Today the rainforest is a picture of good health thanks to dedicated staff and volunteers. Mother Nature has also played a valuable part by breaking the drought, and bestowing a mild Canberra winter.

The gardens are a sanctuary in the heart of Canberra and have grown into one of the capital’s most cherished institutions — where scientific excellence works to conserve our nation’s beautiful and unique flora in an elegant space that welcomes people from across the country and around the world. During COVID-19 and with the ongoing social distancing regulations, the gardens have become a source of comfort for many Canberrans seeking outside activities. Unlike other institutions that rely on interstate visitors, the gardens have been packed with visitors enjoying the fresh air and wide-open spaces.

The gardens support a living collection of more than 70,000 native plants, representing over 6,200 species and about one-third of Australia’s known native plants.

More than half-a-million visitors come to the gardens each year to relax in its tranquil setting, explore Australia’s floral heritage and enjoy the wonderful events and activities. Even though many of these have been cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, the gardens are still celebrating their 50th anniversary by paying tribute to the dedicated staff and the achievements of the last 50 years. The gardens have marked their 50th year by adding a new garden dedicated to an Australian floral icon, the banksia. The new Banksia Garden, officially opened on 21 October, hosts more than 70 different types of banksias from around Australia.

In 2015, a Master Plan was released. It will guide the gardens’ infrastructure development to support enhanced visitor experiences, horticulture and research capabilities through to 2035. This long-term vision will ensure that the gardens remain at the forefront of contemporary gardens world-wide. The two biggest projects under the Master Plan are the development of a new National Seed Bank and the Ian Potter National Conservatory. The Ian Potter National Conservatory will be a national and international showcase of some of Australia’s most beautiful and unusual tropical native flora. Featuring tropical plant species from Kakadu National Park, the wet tropics of northern Queensland, Christmas Island and other exotic locations, it is expected to be a major tourism draw card while also operating as a world-class research facility for rare and threatened Australian tropical plants.

Care for the Rare update

John Arnott, Manager Horticulture, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria Cranbourne Gardens

Care for the Rare is a Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria (RBGV) and BGANZ initiative to support regional botanic gardens in Victoria to actively participate in ex situ plant conservation and display.

The program has three main objectives:

A sector capacity building project: while Victoria has a large network of botanic gardens (42), a 2018 survey of Victorian regional botanic gardens identified that many gardens self-perceived a ‘lack of skills and resources’ necessary to manage rare and threatened species in their collections. Gardens staff and volunteers specifically cited their major impediments as ‘difficulties in accessing plant material and information about their cultural requirements’. Establishment of a multi-site conservation collection of Victorian rare and threatened species across a range of regional botanic gardens across the State. Communication, through well-considered interpretation, of the importance of plant conservation, the role that botanic gardens play and local conservation stories/messages.

Olearia pannosa subsp. pannosa. Grown at the Cranbourne Gardens Nursery for a heathland bed at the Colac Botanic Gardens. Photo: Kaishan Qu. Stock at the Cranbourne Gardens Nursery being prepared for delivery to Colac. L-R Mandy Thomson Team Leader Cranbourne Gardens Nursery and Maja Zweck Care for the Rare propagator. Photo: Kaishan Qu.

Australian Botanic Gardens Shepparton. One of these design squares will hold a conservation seed orchard of the endangered Turnip Copperburr Sclerolaena napiformis. Photo: Jenny Houlihan. The Care for the Rare working group. L-R Chris Russell RBGV, Tex Moon Parks Victoria, Justin Buckley National Trust of Victoria, John Arnott RBGV. Photo: Chris Russell.

Through the generous support of the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust (HMSTrust) the RBGV forwarded an invitation to lodge an expression of interest to the BGANZ Victoria network, resulting in an overwhelming positive response from 24 gardens. The HMSTrust grant funding is supporting the RBGV to undertake a pilot program for the following six gardens:

Australian Botanic Gardens Shepparton (Greater Shepparton Shire) Ballarat Botanical Gardens (City of Ballarat) Colac Botanical Gardens (Colac Otway Shire) Dandenong Ranges Botanic Gardens (Parks Victoria) Sale Botanic Gardens (Wellington Shire) Wilson Botanic Park (City of Casey).

Care for the Rare working group members undertook a series of site inspections of each garden to further explore specific factors to guide the formation of collections. This led to the development of Conservation Collection Plans, which articulate the broad approach, aims and objectives for the development of a conservation collection for each garden, including detailed species lists and a planting schedule.

The HMSTrust funding has enabled the RBGV to employ a dedicated plant propagator to source, propagate and produce the living plant stocks identified in each Conservation Collection Plan, and for these plants to be delivered to each participating garden. Plant production is underway at the Cranbourne Gardens Nursery and plants are scheduled to be dispatched during 2020–2021.

Production is complete for three of the six gardens, Shepparton, Dandenong Ranges and Colac. In October 2020 over 2,000 plants, made up of 115 taxa, were delivered and subsequently planted. Plants for the additional three gardens are currently in production and will obviously add to these numbers.

It is pleasing to note that there is quite a bit of diversity in the first three collections in terms of species grown, collection objectives and display design.

The Australian Botanic Gardens Shepparton has focused on displaying plants you might see if you ‘set out from Shepparton on a day trip and went for a bush walk’. The landscape designer for the collection, Melissa Stagg (Stagg Design Landscapes), cites that ‘despite the straight lines of the beds, the design style has been worked in a loose, flowing, wild-kind of manner. I did this because all the plants in the design can be found growing out in the wild in our very own region. Some of the plants are found in woodland areas, some in grasslands, some in floodplains, some in rocky outcrops in the hills, but all are hardy and beautiful. There are 55 different species planned for the garden overall, including the 22 rare and threatened species, and 33 other nonthreatened species.’

The Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden has an established garden of Victorian alpine, subalpine and montane forest species. The Care for the Rare holdings will be integrated into this existing area. The Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden, alongside our other cool climate gardens at Mt Tomah and Mt Lofty (and others) are especially important gardens as ‘sanctuaries’ for precious high-country flora. As such, it is the perfect ‘host’ for a Care for the Rare collection of selected Victorian rare and threatened species from the Victorian mountains.

Colac site inspection. L-R Ed Riches Colac Botanic Gardens, John Arnott RBGV, Laurence Towers Colac Botanic Gardens. Photo: Chris Russell.

Care for the Rare Inspection, Shepparton. L-R Melissa Stagg Stagg Design Landscape Architecture, Sally Mann Friends of Australian Botanic Gardens Shepparton, John Arnott RBGV, Lindy Harris Karwarra Gardens, David Roberts RBGV. Photo: Jenny Houlihan.

The approach at the Colac Botanic Gardens was to work with existing collection themes and areas. In the 1990s the gardens established collections of heathlands plants from the Otway Plains and a cool temperate rainforest garden with a range of species from the Otway Ranges. Care for the Rare plants have been incorporated into these collections as well as enhancing an existing acacia collection with a broad range of species with conservation significance.

Each garden has assumed the costs of garden bed developments, but again funding has supported technical elements of this step, including support and advice around plant set-out, elements of garden design and ongoing collections maintenance and management.

We are also very excited to kick off the interpretation component of the Care for the Rare project. To support each participating garden with the interpretation of their rare Australian plant collections, RBGV has engaged interpretation specialist Toni Roberts (Hatchling Studio) to scope the needs, capacity and opportunities within each garden. From this we will develop a strategy for providing interpretation support for the diverse contexts, stories and sites of the six participating gardens.

Melissa Stagg, Stagg Design Landscape Architecture, setting out plants at the Australian Botanic Gardens Shepparton. Photo: Jill Grant. Front page of Shepparton Advertiser, 30 September 2020. Image: Jill Grant.

Meet your botanic gardens engagement colleagues — virtually!

Julia Watson, Botanic Gardens Engagement Network Convenor

The Botanic Gardens Engagement Network (BGEN) runs online forums every two months and all BGANZ members are welcome.

If you are involved with interpretation, education, events, social media, volunteer management or any other form of visitor engagement, these online meetings are for you.

Just one hour long, the virtual networking opportunity is a great way to learn what others are working on in botanic gardens across Australasia, and to meet colleagues during the ‘round table’ section of the meeting where everyone can share their projects and ideas, or resources that are of interest to the group.

Beginning in September 2020, BGEN has run three of these meetings, which have been very well attended and enjoyed. Topics covered include how COVID-19 has affected our work, the role of digital engagement in education and how to tell our conservation stories.

If you missed the meetings, you can watch a recording on the BGEN blog, and get links to all the resources shared at the meetings: www.bganz.org.au/category/bgen-resources/.

BGEN online meetings start up again in February 2021. If you’d like to receive information and links to join the meetings, simply email Julia Watson (BGEN convenor) and you’ll be added to the list: Julia.watson@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz.

On behalf of the BGEN committee, we would like to wish you a happy and safe festive season and we look forward to seeing you in the new year.

Networks and digital communications for botanic gardens communities

Daniela Carnovale, Project Officer and David Gale, Manager, Data Management and Surveillance Communities, Plant Health Australia

In this period of COVID-19 restrictions many of us have struggled to connect with our usual audience and have had to look for ways to engage with a new and broader audience. This article from Plant Health Australia provides some examples of how the Botanic Gardens Biosecurity Network have tailored their activities to adapt to the changing circumstances to continue delivering positive biosecurity outcomes for botanic gardens, the broader community and the environment.

Using a network approach to achieve biosecurity outcomes in botanic gardens

The living plant collections found within botanic gardens are a unique resource that can provide vital information about plant health. Botanic gardens are visited by millions of people each year, creating a risk of new pests or diseases entering on clothing or footwear. The way the living collections are organised and the movement of staff and visitors means botanic gardens can be especially vulnerable to the impact of invasive plant pests and diseases.

The staff and volunteers who work in gardens are knowledgeable and passionate people who, with training and awareness of current threats, can become additional ‘eyes and ears’ for the detection of new plant pests and diseases. People who work in botanic gardens generally care about safeguarding not only the plants they work with, but also plant species in the wider community and environment. Staff and volunteers who work with plants in collections daily are well-positioned to recognise, monitor and record changes in plant health quickly and accurately.

This set of unique characteristics has led to the establishment of the Botanic Gardens Biosecurity Network (BGBN) which includes anyone who has an interest in preserving the heritage value of botanic gardens, and the Botanic Gardens Surveillance Network (BGSN) which at the moment primarily involves staff of the larger botanic gardens. The development of these networks has been identified as a significant opportunity to improve Australia’s biosecurity system, benefiting commercial production, amenity landscapes and plantings, and the environment.

The BGBN was initially established as a pilot network with friends, guides and visitor experience officers of the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne and the Australian National Botanic Gardens but has developed into a network relevant to all gardens. By working together, the involved friends, guides and other volunteers are learning how to look out for exotic plant pests in their botanic and home gardens and how to keep gardens safe from new pests.

The network is supported by a website (the BGBN extensionAUS™ site) which provides practical information and advice to staff of botanic gardens, community interest groups and members of the public to develop the awareness, knowledge and skills to contribute to general biosecurity surveillance activities.

COVID-19 restrictions: an opportunity

The digital revolution has provided alternative routes to disseminating information and keeping up-to-date on activities within botanic gardens. More and more we are seeing botanic gardens across Australia using digital platforms like websites and social media to communicate with those interested in botanic gardens. Friends groups are developing strong followings on Facebook and major events in gardens are being promoted via websites, Twitter and Facebook. Now with the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions the use of digital platforms is vital to build networks within botanic gardens and share information.

Due to COVID-19, the BGBN like many other organisations had to cancel many of the planned face-to-face events for the year, and alternative communication methods had to be used. This has included establishing a BGBN Facebook presence, hosting a botanic webinar series and running pest surveillance blitzes.

Screenshot of the BGBN Facebook page. Social media

The ease of use of social media platforms for communicating and disseminating information makes them attractive. Engaging botanic garden communities using Facebook has enabled the BGBN to build networks and foster communication and collaboration between those interested in botanic gardens regardless of their geographical location. Through Facebook the BGBN have been able to extend the reach of the network further than the three initial target gardens. A social media presence has also led to increased collaborations with other organisations.

This collaboration has included the cross-promotion and sharing of information. One significant collaboration is that between the BGBN and BGANZ. By working together, the BGBN has been able to use the audience and professional relationships that BGANZ has developed and vice versa.

Webinar series

During times where social distancing is becoming the norm, alternative ways of sharing knowledge to build interest and maintain engagement with those who have an interest in botanic gardens are needed. A webinar series was established for the autumn-winter period of 2020, consisting of eight fortnightly webinars. Each 30- to 45-minute webinar featured an expert delivering a presentation and responding to audience questions. The series included several informative presentations on general biosecurity surveillance and a series of case study-type webinars presented by the three participating gardens, the Urban Plant Health Network and the Peri-Urban Environmental Biosecurity Network.

Hosting online events allowed the network to present to a larger target audience than would have been possible with face-to-face activities. The ability to record webinars and make them available as a permanent resource is a great benefit of digital communication and has increased the potential reach of the BGBN. Each webinar is now housed on the PHA YouTube channel and posted onto the BGBN extensionAUS™ site.

One of the benefits of conducting digital communication and extension is the ability to obtain metrics. The metrics obtained can then guide future communication and extension activities.

The success and reach of the BGBN webinars were measured through various Facebook and website metrics. While there was a high level of registrations, with 89 to 137 for each webinar, the number of attendees at each of the webinars ranged from 39 to 80, with most from Australia (82%). This is a fantastic outcome which would not have been achievable though face-to-face activities without a large financial investment.

Promotion of the webinar series was though various avenues including social media, the BGBN website, emails and promotion in existing e-newsletters such as friends’ and BGANZ newsletters. The highest percentage of viewers (31%) found out about the webinars via email including e-newsletter recipients. After the distribution of information though e-newsletters, including those of the friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens, and BGANZ, there was a spike in website views and registrations.

Only a small percentage of webinar viewers indicated that they learnt about the webinars via social media (8% Facebook, 5% Twitter). This is a surprising result considering the large amount of social media promotion of the webinar series. It illustrates, however, that social media may not necessarily be the best method of promotion with the target audience. This is supported by earlier discussions with friends of gardens who indicated that they did not have an extensive social media presence.

The high percentage of attendees hearing about the webinar via word of mouth (19%) highlights the importance of establishing and building networks to achieve biosecurity outcomes within botanic gardens.

Pest surveillance blitzes

The BGBN called on visitors, friends, volunteers and staff of botanic gardens to take part in three targeted biosecurity pest blitzes between September and November 2020. The biosecurity pest blitzes were a way to raise awareness and conduct surveillance for plant pests and diseases within the bounds of COVID-19 restrictions. These biosecurity blitzes were for myrtle rust, brown marmorated stink bug and Tree of Heaven. Each blitz ran over nine days and encouraged participants to get out and about to look for these pests in their own home garden or local botanic gardens, or as they took a walk. Reporting for each blitz was through the MyPestGuide™ Reporter app.

As no face-to-face workshops on surveillance and reporting could be held, a series of articles on the BGBN website was provided in the lead-up to each blitz. Detailed information on how to identify each target and instructions on how to make a report using the MyPestGuide™ Reporter app was provided. Promotion of each blitz was primarily though Facebook and e-newsletters.

Three images of myrtle rust received during the myrtle rust blitz. Photos: Glen Proctor.

While limited reports were made, metrics indicate that the information prepared for the promotion of the blitzes had a large reach with good engagement with social media posts.

While there are many benefits of digital communication, there can also be limitations. Despite good engagement with social media posts, this did not necessarily translate into engagement in the webinar series or the surveillance blitzes. While digital engagement is a very useful tool for communication and awareness, we should not forget about the benefits of face-to-face communication and building non-digital networks.

More information

For more information about either of these networks please email botanicgardens@phau.com.au

Visit the Botanic Gardens Biosecurity Network website at extensionaus.com.au/botanicgardensbiosecurity

Follow the Botanic Gardens Biosecurity Network on Facebook at facebook.com/BGBNetwork