4 minute read

A retrospective − 20 years at the Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra

For many years before I started work at the Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG), I would regularly visit and ‘wander the grounds’, being inspired and intrigued at the extensive and diverse collection of Australian plants. Each visit brought new discoveries and delights.

It was not until I started working at the ANBG in 1999, however, that I really became aware of the significance and Dave Taylor value of the living collection, and more broadly, the ANBG. I soon picked up that this, together with the amazing specialists and dedicated work behind the scenes, is what makes it such a special place.

The more I learned about and worked with the collection and its custodians, the more I recognised it as a truly unique piece of our natural capital. What was a real eye opener was the continuous, dedicated effort by many throughout the history of the ANBG to capture and link the collecting and securing of living collections and seed to their origin, and accessible information. This has ensured the collection is a useful and readily accessible reference for education, research, conservation and history. Today it remains a priority, with constant collaboration to improve the systems, protocols and priorities.

Having the fortune to be involved in a range of roles over the last 20 years also allowed me the privilege of working with a diverse group of people who are tremendously dedicated and passionate specialists. Being able to be part of a team that would typically celebrate the collective effort to make a difference, which extended to our many partners outside the ANBG, has been a particular highlight for me.

This approach has really developed into a strong cultural ethos here at the ANBG, with many new initiatives and priorities now often starting with: ‘Who can we collaborate with to enhance what we are doing?’ We typically follow through with: ‘How can we share what we are doing with a wider audience and, more broadly, how can we better engage people with our wonderful and unique plant world?’ This connection to the land through a plant-focused lens can influence people to become more aware of, support, and even become advocates for botanic gardens and the work we all do as custodians of our plant biodiversity and its connection to the life systems that support our planet. After all, we are all in this together!

The last 10 years as curator has been a real highlight for me, as we have been able to take this collaborative approach to new levels. It has enabled the development of a program that includes numerous conservation and threatened species partnerships and has targeted the securing of valuable external resources and funding. This now forms a big part of our work program and contributes to the ANBG’s conservation priorities as well as securing valuable ex-situ collections for some of our most at-risk flora. Many such projects have resulted in new discoveries and new knowledge. What is exciting for me is that these collaborative projects pave the way for such examples to be used as a model for other priority plant species.

It has enabled the development of a program that includes numerous conservation and threatened species partnerships and has targeted the securing of valuable external resources and funding.

On a completely different note, the landscape at the ANBG became a particular obsession for me. One of the elements I have really enjoyed working on with colleagues is refining the ways we tackle the challenges and opportunities of assembling, refining and editing such an extensive and diverse living collection into the landscape. In so doing, we introduce new and diverse ways to display plants and landscape without taking away the strong and memorable remnant backdrop. Whenever we took on a new garden development or edited an existing one, the conversation would focus on narrative and purpose first to try and determine how to best use the plants, materials interpretation and design to make the area more engaging. This kind of thinking has evolved into section management plan templates that provide a framework for section curators to then invest their ownership, experience and skills to develop and enhance their areas, rather than just the collection of plants within a section.

All the above reflects what is a very special place, a place overflowing with uniqueness and diversity and an endless source of discovery, the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

Little did I realise where this journey would take me, and what a privilege it turned out to be to work in such a special place. More than 20 years on I am still inspired by the plants and people I have worked with and no doubt I will retain many valuable connections as coming full circle, I will again ‘wander the grounds’ and enjoy seeing the story of the ANBG continue to unfold.

Regards, Dave