THE BOTANIC GARDENer: Winter 2023 - Issue 60

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ISSN 1446-2044 |
The magazine for botanic garden professionals
Community engagement in botanic gardens ISSUE 60 WINTER 2023

Editorial Committee


Managing Editor


Curator, Brisbane Botanic Gardens and High Profile Parks


Botanic Garden Manager, Dunedin Botanic Garden


Head of NHM Gardens, The Natural History Museum, London


Secretary, Camperdown

Botanic Gardens and Arboretum Trust Inc.


Chief Executive Officer, BGANZ


Graphic Designer

DISCLAIMER: Please note the views expressed in articles are not necessarily the views of BGANZ Ltd. We aim to encourage a broad range of articles.

Feedback and comments on the newsletter and articles are welcome. Please email:


BGANZ acknowledges the traditional owners of Country throughout Australia, and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to them and their cultures, and to Elders past, present and emerging.


2 CEO News

Eamonn Flanagan

6 Editorial Insights

Rebecca Harcourt, Managing Editor

Feature Interview

8 From acting like Attenborough in Alligator Creek to horticultural headlines in Sydney

Vanessa Fuchs, News & Content Manager, Botanic Gardens of Sydney

Feature Garden

14 A new fernery at the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens demonstrates the engagement of a volunteer community

Ken Page, Chairman, Hunter Region Botanic Gardens

Feature Articles

17 What’s next Miss? Urban farming – transforming lives through growing food

Fiona Buining, Churchill Fellow, Ainslie Urban Farm

26 Engaging communities ‘beyond the garden walls’ The Community Greening Team, Botanic Gardens of Sydney, Darren Martin, Community Greening Officer, Cliodhna Maguire, First Nations Youth Community Greening Officer, Paddie Lane, Community Greening Officer

Pollinating Great Ideas

30 Community spirit enables gardens to exist

COVER: Botanic Gardens of Sydney’s Youth Community Greening program helps youth and teachers connect with the natural environment and experience the joys of being outdoors and gardening.

Credit: Botanic Gardens of Sydney

Tracey Whitby, President and Publicity, Friends of Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens

32 Community and partners engage to establish the Grampians Endemic Garden at the WAMA Botanic Gardens

Neil Marriott, Flora Team Leader, WAMA Botanic Gardens

Notes from the Nursery

36 Community engagement in botanic gardens

Matthew Nicholson, volunteer editor

Book Review

42 Unraveling the Voynich Codex by Jules Janick and Arthur O Tucker

Reviewed by Matthew Nicholson

Professional Networks

44 Living collections development and curation: summary of workshop discussion at 7GBGC

Emma Simpkins, Auckland Botanic Gardens/Auckland Council, Andrea Proctor, Andrea Proctor landscapes, Victoria, John Arnott, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Cranbourne Gardens, Andrew Wyatt, Rebecca Sucher, Mariel Tribby, Missouri Botanical Garden, St Louis, Missouri

50 Community engagement at Auckland Botanic Gardens

Paul Swift, Education and Partnership Specialist, Auckland Botanic Gardens and Chair, BGEN

What’s New?

54 Botanic news: from home and abroad

Eamonn Flanagan, CEO, BGANZ Ltd

58 8th Botanic Gardens Day 2023 – Inspirational Plants and People

Rebecca Harcourt, Admin and Comms Officer, BGANZ

The theme of the next edition of The BOTANIC GARDENer is Then and now – change and evolution within our botanic gardens. The deadline for contributions is 9 October 2023. Please contact the Managing Editor ( if you are intending to submit an article or have a contribution to other sections.


CEO News

I am stepping down in June from my role as BGANZ CEO. When I began in 2012, I was a little unsure of what the role was and/or might become. I had no idea of the people and plants I was about to meet.

It’s been a great journey. The organisation has changed and grown, on the back of the enthusiasm and professionalism of so many members. It’s been a wonderful organisation to be part of and I leave with great memories of so many people from across our network, in Australia, New Zealand and across the globe.

There have been many changes; here are just a few:

Revenues. We’ve increased revenue sources. Initially our only source of revenue was from members. Over the last ten years we have received funds from partners, grants and joint projects with CHABG, BGCI and others.

Member networks. COVID saw gardens closing across our two nations. BGANZ members embraced online technology. Julia Watson dived right in with little time to plan for the first online event, and we’ve never looked back. Online webinars, meetings and learning have changed the organisation.

Botanic Gardens Day. BGANZ members have embraced the notion of celebrating our botanic gardens together. There is more work to do in this space, but for now our webinars, professional development offerings and Botanic Gardens Day itself are well entrenched. Costa Georgiadis and the Botanic Gardens Day Working Group have consistently delivered outstanding content, as we aim to celebrate and educate about the great and important work our gardens do.

Member Services

BGANZ Victoria led the Botanical Software Database Project, in response to member needs. BGANZ, through the Hortis app, now offers a state-of-the-art record keeping system for any member.

Professional and Regional Groups are more active than at any stage in the life of BGANZ. Group leadership has changed, and we’ve seen other members stepping in to gain valuable skills and experience.

Eamonn Flanagan CEO, BGANZ

In the BGANZ office, we’ve embraced technologies in accounting, taxation, marketing, Microsoft Teams, and board and committee software. It’s been a time of great change and without these adoptions BGANZ would not have had the time to progress in other areas (hope this encourages you or someone you know to apply for the any future roles ��).

Modernising BGANZ. The BGANZ Board now reflects the modern, diverse organisation it wants to become. We’ve worked hard to improve in this area. There is of course more work to be done. And BGANZ Ltd…perhaps our biggest change. I worked closely with Chris Russell, and BGANZ Council, over the last four years to move the organisation to its new governance status, which, once Direct Gift Recipient (DGR) status is approved – expected around the end of the year – will see BGANZ able to seek a wider range of financial resources.

None of the above was achieved alone – even though for many years there was just me, 10 hours a week! But the spirit and desire of presidents, BGANZ Council, Regional and Professional Groups and the many, many individual members who have wanted to improve this great network of botanic gardens, meant I was never alone. This desire from so many has enabled us to move things along and it’s been a great experience for me.

I’ve worked with five BGANZ presidents; Anne Duncan, Dale Arvidsson, John Sandham, Paul Tracey and Chris Russell. And most recently, BGANZ Board Chair Hayley Allen. I’d like to thank them all for their support and friendship as we worked our way, slowly, sometimes very slowly, to where we are now.

I’ve travelled to Hobart, Maroochydore, Bendigo, Wollongong, Dunedin, Adelaide, Wellington, Melbourne, Eurobodalla and Townsville for various conferences, and of course to wonder at the beauty of the botanic gardens in those places. I always pushed for an AGM in Cairns or Cooktown –but you can’t have everything it seems.

In 2016, I was in Miami for the American Public Gardens Conference − or as Anne Duncan describes − BGANZ on steroids. And as I stood with Sharon Willoughby (who at the time was at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria) on the morning of the first day of the Conference, surrounded by around 800 attendees, I realised, Anne was not wrong. I learned much from that visit.

BGANZ has such a great role in bringing our member gardens and individuals together. We’ve aimed to provide information and opportunities for individual members to progress their learning, and I’m delighted to see many members using the organisation to progress their knowledge, networks and for an increasing number, their careers.


I’ve been based at the Australian National Botanic Garden in Canberra – at least when COVID wasn’t a thing – and had outstanding support from all the staff. What a wonderful office. Plants and People.

BGANZ is always about plants – but for me it has always been about the people. The support, expertise and commitment members have shared on top of their normal day jobs – thank you.

I’ll mention a few: staff members, Sam Moon and Rebecca Harcourt; BGANZ Members, Julia Watson, Emma Simpkins, Tex Moon, John Arnott, Michael Elgey, Brad Crème, Peter Symes, Damian Wrigley, Peter Byron, Helen McHugh, Lucy Sutherland, Sabrina Sonntag, Tim Uebergang, Alison Morgan, David Sole, Wolfgang Bopp, Greg Bourke, Janelle Hatherly, Helen Vaughan and Botanic Gardens Day Ambassador Costa Georgiadis, are just a few who have encouraged, motivated, and supported myself and the desire to improve botanic gardens and BGANZ for the members. Apologies if I missed you.

It’s a great time to move on – a time for new energy and ideas to take BGANZ to the next level. With the Board in place, I’m looking forward to seeing the next evolution of BGANZ over the next few years.

Thanks to all I’ve worked with – it has been a wonderful place to land.


Eamonn One of my favourite plants on the way to my office in the ANBG

Seasol has a range of soil and plant products to take you from sowing seeds to vibrant blooms and tasty edible produce. Scan to see Seasol’s range.


Editorial Insights

Welcome to Issue 60 of THE BOTANIC GARDENer! I’d like to acknowledge that I live and work on the land of the Garigal Clan of the Wannanginni Guringai people, who are the ancestral custodians of Bulbararing, Allagai and Tdjudibaring, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

The theme of this issue is Community engagement in botanic gardens. After reading it I think you’ll agree it should have been Community engagement in botanic gardens − and beyond! The reach of our gardens extends far beyond their official boundaries, into both local and distant communities. If we consider digital engagement as well as physical, the reach of our gardens is even greater.

Reading this issue, I was reminded of my interview for the magazine a year ago with Peter Symes, from Cooktown Botanic Gardens. He suggested that gardens need to move ‘beyond the botanic garden fence’ into the community with outreach and extension projects. This would hopefully encourage more people to appreciate and protect their environment. This issue contains several articles along this theme. Peter’s other suggestions were that BGANZ holds a forum to discuss such ideas, and that community ambassadors are appointed to promote botanic gardens. Imagine if every garden had its own Costa Georgiadis to promote it!

My interview this issue is with Vanessa Fuchs from Botanic Gardens of Sydney, whose job revolves around digital engagement. She shares some useful tips on how gardens, especially smaller, regional ones, can capitalise on this medium.

The Hunter Region Botanic Gardens is our feature garden in this edition. Like many of our regional gardens, it was established by volunteers. They had a vision of building a fernery, which, through the efforts of their multi-talented and engaged community, has finally been realised with the construction of the Kevin Stokes Fernery.

At first glance, our feature article by Fiona Buining, an urban farmer in Canberra, may seem unrelated to this issue’s theme. On further reading you’ll discover how Chicago Botanic Garden’s urban agriculture program, Windy City Harvest, engages with Chicago’s less affluent communities. Food for thought for some of our bigger gardens.

We also have a great second feature article − in fact three mini-articles. Members of the Botanic Gardens of Sydney’s Community Greening team, Darren Martin, Cliodhna Maguire and Paddie Lane, share their stories about their inspirational work outside the garden walls, engaging with different communities throughout NSW.


In the Pollinating Great Ideas section, you’ll find two articles, from the Friends of Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens and the WAMA Botanic Gardens, that highlight the enormous impact an engaged community can have on their own garden − and on the wider community.

Matthew Nicholson, our volunteer Notes from the Nursery editor, shares his thoughts on the ways in which gardens engage with communities have changed over the years, as well as the messages they communicate. With his book reviewer’s hat on, Matthew then takes us into a world where botany is used to uncover the origins of an ancient manuscript.

Finally, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Eamonn for his tireless support, advice, patience and sense of humour. It won’t be the same without you Eamonn. I’ll miss the craic.

I’d love to hear any feedback on this issue or suggestions for future themes. Please feel free to email me at

Until next issue, enjoy your garden.

Botanic Gardens Day Ambassador Costa Georgiadis inspiring the audience at Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens 20th birthday celebrations/ Botanic Gardens Day event. Credit: Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens

Where’s the Hort Section?

If you’re wondering why the Hort Section is missing, it’s because we’re in search of a volunteer editor! The Hort Section is an opportunity for horticulturalists to highlight their work in curating and developing living collections throughout botanic gardens in Australia and New Zealand.

If you have a passion for plants and publishing, then we invite you to contact us at the email above indicating your interest in editing the Hort Section.


From acting like Attenborough in Alligator Creek to horticultural headlines in Sydney

Vanessa is a woman after my own heart: a fellow David Attenborough fan, who is passionate about science communication and enticing the public into the wonderful world of plants. I caught up with her online to talk about the role of communications in botanic gardens and to hear her advice on how to engage with new – and existing – audiences.

Describe your current role at the Botanic Gardens of Sydney and what lead you to it

My team is responsible for organic storytelling – finding and telling genuine stories that build trust and interest in the gardens. We tell these stories on our own channels, like our blogs, podcasts or social media, as well as channels like the traditional media – print, broadcast or television.

I grew up in north Queensland in Alligator Creek, just south of Mackay, surrounded by cane, coal and beaches. It wasn’t remote but there wasn’t a lot to do. My parents had a home video camera, and I would love making mock documentaries and pretending I was David Attenborough. I’ve always had a love for the environment and storytelling. That lead me to do a dual Bachelor of Journalism and Business degree with a major in Advertising.

Vanessa Fuchs. Credit: BGoS Vanessa Fuchs circa 1992 at Alligator Creek at home approx. 7 years old. Credit: Vanessa Fuchs

I knew early on in my degrees that I couldn’t just work for a news organisation or an advertising agency. I had to use those communication and storytelling skills for something I cared about, believed in and wanted to promote. I worked for a series of not-for-profit organisations and government departments in various kinds of roles, either fundraising, communications or public relations. This slowly led me to the niche area of science communication. In my current role as news and content manager I oversee much broader content and news stories, not just science. But my passion is science communication.

I particularly love hosting and producing videos and podcasts, like the podcast Branch Out and the What the Flora?! video series. We’ve tried to make them as accessible as possible, to appeal to a wide audience − not just your usual plant enthusiasts or plant nerds − just everyday people that might have a slight appreciation of nature. The tagline is ‘discover the surprising world of plants.’ We want to show how amazing plants are, and their involvement with our lives, from wine, to chocolate, to sending seeds to space, to plant intelligence and fighting crime. There are endless numbers of topics! If you have a huge budget, you could do amazing campaigns with billboards and TV ads. The organic, unpaid stuff takes longer to build, but it is based on being real, genuine and authentic. Noone wants to listen to a podcast where it just feels like an ad. It should reflect people’s real experiences, show their personalities and tell something that’s true, interesting and engaging. It just takes a bit more work.

Vanessa Fuchs interviewing Chief Scientist Professor Brett Summerell at Royal Botanic Garden Sydney ep 1 Branch Out. Credit: BGoS Filming What the Flora episode about cycad reproduction with Scott Yates and James Clugston. Credit: BGoS
We want to show how amazing plants are, and their involvement with our lives, from wine, to chocolate, to sending seeds to space, to plant intelligence and fighting crime.

What role does communications have in botanic gardens?

It depends on the type of garden, how long it’s been around and how many others are in the area. Botanic gardens like the one in Sydney, which attracts international and national visitors, doesn’t need a lot of promotion. It’s so iconic and well known. But in smaller places, such as where I’m from, Mackay, there’s only one botanic garden, so it does need a bit more promotion to attract visitors beyond simply the locals.

In any garden, communications is important because you want to keep engaging the audiences you already have so that they keep returning. How are people going to know about your events and programs, what’s in bloom or what scientific research is being done if you don’t tell them?

You’re also trying to reach new audiences. A strategic communications plan, where you launch something new like a podcast or you have a newsletter or a magazine, is essential.

How do you find content − do you actively search for it or do people come to you?

It’s a bit of both. We’ve got a lot of scientists and horticulturists that have a genuine interest and ability in communications. They are great storytellers who create metaphors to explain complex things in layperson’s terms. They come and find us to tell us about their latest research publication or what interesting plant is in bloom.

Quite often I find that we live in our botanic garden bubble and are so focused on what’s important for the organisation and what’s going on inside our own garden that we forget to look at what’s happening outside. We also need to look at what’s trending currently in the news or in Google search terms. For example, the television series The Last of Us, based on a video game, presents a scenario of a zombie apocalypse resulting from the infection of humanity by a fungus. We capitalised on that as our Chief Scientist, Professor Brett Summerell, is a mycologist. We interviewed him to ask how realistic this scenario is (click here to find out).

I’m sure lots of people who watch the TV show had never thought about fungi before. It’s like this beautiful gateway drug into the plant world and we tried to leverage that!

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The parasitic mould of the zombie fungus from the genus Ophiocordyceps growing from an ant in the Amazon rainforest. Credit: BGoS

Another tip for developing plant science or horticulture comms is to be a bit daring and have fun. There are so many quirky plant names and stories out there − it’s another gateway into the plant world for everyday people. A career highlight for me was a story I developed with the headline ‘Dog’s Balls’ stands out as a new species. This got a lot of attention! [click here to read it].

Any advice for other gardens looking at expanding their communications and/or for smaller gardens with a lack of resources – what do you think is a key area and message they could focus on?

The shrub is known as ‘dogs balls’ because it generally develops two red fruits covered in soft hairs.

Credit: BGoS

I don’t know if this is because my parents are German, but everything for me is about efficiency! With content it’s the same thing. Create as much evergreen content that’s not going to go out of date so that you can repurpose it for different formats multiple times. Create a base of content that you invest initial resources, time and effort into. If you’re creating one long video about spring, for example, and what’s in bloom, how can you create a longer sort of educational video for YouTube or Facebook? How can you cut it to make smaller teaser content that can live on your website or that you can share to the media? I never create content for just one purpose. I’m always looking at how I can repackage it for different audiences and mediums. For example, we often use our podcast episodes instead of writing a media release to pitch the story to media. We simply email a link to the episode and a short summary rather than write another media release. We’ve done that successfully with the Sydney Morning Herald and Cosmos magazine.

Another example of efficiency is working with other content creators. For example, there’s a YouTuber called the Sydney Plant Guy who has a massive following. He has huge indoor plants and shares how to look after them. He came to the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney to do a ‘behind the scenes’ video about our orchids in the nursery and put it on his channel. This is great PR for us – and he did all the work! So, my advice is to collaborate and use other people’s channels and resources if you can.

Another key piece of advice is ‘quality over quantity.’ You don’t need to post on social media every day. You want to get as much engagement as possible, so focus on one or two platforms and try to do them well. If you can’t do a podcast and run social media channels and do a newsletter etc., maybe just pick two and try and do those well. Think about your local community and audience − who are they and how do they consume media? Maybe for a small regional botanic garden a podcast isn’t the best approach − maybe it’s more about Facebook and community pages because it’s a smaller community.


Are there any upcoming media and communications trends that smaller botanic gardens should be aware of and preparing for?

The really big thing now is video content, like Instagram reels and YouTube shorts. For example, our What the Flora?! video episodes are typically eight to 10 minutes long. This is considered very long. Reels and shorts are between 30 seconds and a minute. The great thing is that they don’t have to be well-polished and of high production value. They could involve asking your horticulturists for a tip on how to prune roses or how to keep aphids off. Keep it simple and targeted with short, sharp answers and lots of personality. You can make these great little videos, which you can edit in Instagram on your phone. For example, we’ve got a great Horticulturist in the nursery who primarily looks after orchids. He sets up his cameras and does time lapses of orchids flowering, which are mesmerising! [click here to watch].

You might need to get some initial training in how to use reels and shorts. There’s a lot of free tutorials on YouTube that are a good way to get started.

What does success look like for the Botanic Gardens of Sydney – in media content –over the next 12 months?

We’ve moved away from just focusing on how many followers we have on our social media platforms. This metric can’t be used in isolation. You can’t simply say ‘we’ve got 10,000 followers’ because if they are only engaging with your posts through liking, sharing or commenting, they’re not really understanding or enjoying the content. Engaging with the posts means people have not only seen the content, but it’s had an impact on them – they felt compelled to respond or send it to their friends. So, you could have less followers, but a higher engagement rate, which is more meaningful. A 1−5% engagement rate is considered sound.

There’s also a new metric called ‘social echo.’ It measures the performance of a media article that’s been shared on social media, so it’s looking at the engagement that it gets outside just appearing in the news, like the impact factor of academic publications in journals.

What are you listening to, reading or watching?

I don’t think I’ve read a book since before I had my two-year-old daughter! But I do listen to podcasts. My favourite, where I get a lot of inspiration, is Radiolab. It combines interviews with music and storytelling. I highly recommend it to anyone considering starting their own podcast or who loves incredible stories about science and people.

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If you’ve got great media contacts in the area, or photojournalists that want to take amazing pictures of your plants, and the local papers are the way that people find out about what’s on − then stick with that strategy. It’s not a one-size-fits-all.

Do you have a favourite plant?

It’s the Red Flowering Gum Corymbia ficifolia

It is just so Australian − with its contrasting colours and unique stamens, just beautiful.

Finally, I have to ask, how do you pronounce your surname?!

Like ‘books’ (which I don’t read!) but with an f instead of a b. It means fox in German.

Editor’s note: While researching this article, I came across this fact: Leonhart Fuchs (1501−1566) was a founding father of modern botany, and is the namesake of the plant genus and corresponding colour, fuchsia.

If you would like to feature in one of Vanessa’s podcasts, or have a story that might interest her, let Vanessa know at

Alive with celebration

Fifty years and growing

Rainbow lorikeet on Corymbia hybrid (ficifolia x ptychocarpa). Credit: Rebecca Harcourt
Be captivated by Australian plants, flowers and landscapes from the Rainforest to the Red Centre. Visit the new Banksia Garden to discover the diversity of iconic Australian Banksia.
Photo: Steve Rogers

A new fernery at the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens demonstrates the engagement of a volunteer community

The Hunter Region Botanic Gardens was established in the 1980s by volunteers. It remains a garden built, managed and maintained by volunteers. In the early days, there were many enthusiastic volunteers who established various garden beds. It was decided back then to create a fern garden in a suitable place.

Ferneries have been a popular feature of botanic gardens since Victorian times. Visitors are drawn to the cool atmosphere, the sound of running water and the delicate green beauty of the foliage. A fernery is also an important inclusion in a botanic garden that features Australian plants, as ferns are a prominent feature of the understoreys of Australian moist forests all the way from the Daintree to Tasmania.

Ferns are ancient plants that have existed for over 360 million years. They were one of the major classes of plants present when the Hunter Valley coal deposits were being created.

Numerous donations of ferns by volunteers and others helped to start the fern garden. The Fern Gully was created in a south-facing area of mesic forest and was part of what became a larger Rainforest Garden. Plants grew well, but over time it became apparent that the site chosen, while perfect for some ferns, wasn’t ideal for most species and the location was remote from the main areas visited by the public. Over time, a decision was made to establish a collection in a place suited to a greater range of fern species. This proved to be a more difficult task than first envisaged. It was then suggested to apply for a grant to construct a purpose-built fernery. A grant was obtained in 2019 from Port Waratah Coal Services, a major business in the Hunter Region and a long-time supporter of the gardens, which met most of the cost.

Ken Page, Chairman, Hunter Region Botanic Gardens Ken Page

The building was designed and constructed entirely by garden volunteers. It is a demonstration of what can be achieved by a volunteer group with a sufficiently broad skills base. The team included structural engineers, builders, irrigation specialists and experienced horticulturalists. Construction proved to be an extended process, principally because of the intervention of the COVID-19 pandemic, which impacted both the supply and availability of materials, and the progress of work.

The resulting fernery is a hexagonal building constructed of concrete blocks with a polycarbonate roof covered with shade cloth. Large wall openings on the shaded sides of the building provide effective ventilation. The ferns are primarily grown in garden beds, with ample space for both hanging and potted specimens.

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The hexagonal shape of the Kevin Stokes Fernery. Credit: Hunter Region Botanic Gardens Trudi Larnach and Kevin Stokes opening the fernery. Credit: Hunter Region Botanic Gardens Trudi Larnach, Kevin Stokes and Meryl Swanson MP viewing the interior of the fernery. Credit: Hunter Region Botanic Gardens

There is an automated watering system and misting system that deliver the optimum conditions for many species. There is also a small stream controlled by a timer that runs through the day and helps to maintain humidity, to some degree. A circular path provides visitor access. The fernery features a dramatic background mural by botanical artist Teresa Purnell.

The fernery is in a high-traffic area of the gardens close to the

Visitor Centre and is readily accessed by visitors. It was named in honour of Kevin Stokes, the Curator of our Living Collection and the gardens’ longest-serving volunteer. Kevin has had a long interest in Australian ferns, along with other Australian plants, and the fernery is a project that he has conceived and developed over many years.

The Kevin Stokes Fernery was jointly opened on 15 November 2022 by Trudi Larnach, Manager Sustainability and Corporate Affairs at Port Waratah Coal Services, and Kevin Stokes, in the presence of Meryl Swanson MP, Federal Member for Paterson. The Patron of the Gardens, Emeritus Professor Tim Roberts AM, and gardens’ board members and volunteers were also present.

Following the opening, the fernery has been progressively stocked with ferns, and growing conditions have been tested though the recent summer. The design has proved very successful and the gardens is able to move forward with confidence in developing the collection. A decision was made by the gardens’ Living Collection Committee to include ferns from Australasia only. It is hoped this will inform the public of the variety of ferns peculiar to Australia and New Zealand. Also included will be fern allies such as club mosses, Selaginella and Psilotum species.

While the main objective of the collection is to display fern species, there will also be an emphasis on educating interested visitors on the differences in reproduction found in ancient plants, such as ferns, that pre-date flowering plants in the history of life on earth by many millions of years.

It is envisaged that our fernery will be a learning space for school children and horticultural students as well as other visitors. It is already a popular attraction at the gardens.

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Some of the ferns on display. Credit: Hunter Region Botanic Gardens The Hunter Region Botanic Gardens logo

What’s next Miss? Urban farming – transforming lives through growing food

Last year I undertook travel to the USA, Canada, the UK and the Netherlands for my Churchill Fellowship to investigate urban farm ventures that provide vocational pathways for aspiring food growers. You may wonder how I arrived at this topic.

For eight years I taught teenagers how to grow vegetables in the award-winning Merici College Kitchen Garden, Canberra, as part of the Sustainability Elective. At the end of each year students would ask me ‘What’s next Miss?’ I consistently observed this gap in the pathway for students who were inspired to pursue a future in urban food growing.

Now, as a business operator in the food industry, I have become increasingly aware of the unmet demand for locally grown fresh food. These two factors led me to apply for a Churchill Fellowship in 2020 with the vision to establish urban farm training programs in Australia.

I deliberately chose to have a one-week immersive experience at a successful, well-established urban farm training enterprise in each country. Visits and tours of small farms, a few large farms, other training enterprises, markets and relevant industries were arranged around the immersive experiences. I worked alongside trainees and farm staff, wrote comprehensive notes, took photographs and conducted interviews.

As a result of my investigation, I have identified three vocational pathways to becoming an urban farmer:

• Heart programs – paid farm training programs for people with multiple barriers to employment, which transform lives through teaching how to grow food. The employment rate of graduates is over 80% and there is a high return on investment (ROI). The farms provide an oasis and a new beginning, growing people and food.

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Fiona in the fig orchard at Sole Foods Street Farms, Vancouver

• Farm incubators – upon completion of initial farm training, aspiring farmers with a successful business plan join the incubator program where they have affordable access to land and other support to start their own farm enterprise. Incubators hatch successful farm businesses.

• Land-based practicums at universities – land-based courses, from six months duration, on existing university farms offering practical experience and training, including working with partner farms, within a theoretical framework.

Let’s look at these programs in more detail.

Heart programs

Growing Home in Englewood, Chicago, stole my heart. It’s an organic farm on three acres in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Chicago. It provides a paid 12-week training program with true wrap-around support for people with multiple barriers to employment. Eighty-five per cent of the participants have experienced incarceration. Here I saw people learn how to grow food, study environmental literacy and complete an intense self-development program. The employment rate of over 80% is evidence of the effectiveness of this life-changing program, which uses food growing as the vehicle for personal transformation. The Director of Workforce Development at Growing Home said, ‘There’s something about growing a plant from seed to harvest, all the way, following something from its origin to market, that’s more powerful than any other program I’ve worked in.’

I call the first category of farm training the heart programs because they genuinely transform lives through teaching people how to grow food. At Growing Home they explained, ‘We grow food but our intention is to grow opportunities for people to transform their lives.’ It was moving to see the power of teaching people to grow food radically alter the course of their lives. These programs cater for people with multiple barriers to employment who have fallen through the cracks into homelessness, imprisonment, drug addiction and poverty. The farm provides an oasis and a new beginning. It was notable that in my week at Growing Home there was no mention of a person’s past – evidence of a genuine new beginning.

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Production assistants working in the hoop house at Growing Home Production assistants harvesting at Growing Home


A fantastic example of the combination of a heart program and incubator is operated by Windy City Harvest (WCH) under the auspices of the Chicago Botanic Gardens. I’ll share more about this amazing program later. For the moment though, meet two farmers from the Legends Incubator Farm. I arrived at the 2-acre farm on a Saturday morning. As is usual on Chicago urban farms, the plants were growing in 2 feet of compost and soil formed into beds over concrete. There were nine farmers incubating at this farm on plots ranging in size from an eighth to a quarter of an acre.

I met Deshawn, who said, ‘I have found my calling.’ He explained, ‘The greatest privilege is that I am able to employ two people who are passionate about changing the food system.’ Deshawn explained that he had converted his apartment to a propagation space. A clear sign of success is that he was about to take out a lease on a 20-acre block in Chicago Heights to start his own farm with another Legends farmer. Casey, a fellow incubator farmer, was equally inspired, saying to me, ‘You learn more than just farming, you learn life skills, you get confidence. There’s a future in urban farming, there’s got to be.’

Just think about the word incubator for a moment. What comes to mind is a warm, cosy, protected environment that allows eggs to hatch. A farm incubator is a supportive environment that provides the conditions for a new farmer to start their own farm business safely and successfully. It’s a business hatching service.

Upon completion of initial farm training, trainees who want to continue farming are supported to write a business plan, which forms part of their application to join a farm incubator program. The incubator program provides affordable access to land on which the aspiring farmer can start their own farming business.

Incubator farmers at WCH Legends Incubator Farm Deshawn at WCH Legends Incubator Farm Casey at WCH Legends Incubator Farm

I visited five farm incubators where aspiring farmers are supported to start the journey of becoming a farmer. Viva Farms describes the support as five pillars: training, access to land, shared equipment and infrastructure, marketing and capital.

‘Farming is a culture of its own,’ explained Diane on Viva Farms Skagit Valley. The sense of community that is created between farmers on incubators is important, ameliorating the sense of isolation that can happen in farming where many of the activities are solitary. The farmers

grow together as a cohort and, as Micah at Viva King County explained, the evidence is that folks who are successful at farming have a supportive community around them.

The details vary between programs, however, the fundamental element of an incubator is the provision of land and mentoring on the incubator site. Therefore, the farm incubator overcomes two obstacles to becoming a farmer: skills and access to land.


Land-based farm training courses at existing educational institutions have many advantages including existing facilities, established marketing and advertising to attract students, research opportunities, secure funding, relationships with partner farms and nurturing communities of learners.

In this category I visited the University of Vermont (UVM) Catamount organic farm in South Burlington, USA; The University of British Columbia (UBC) organic farm in Vancouver, Canada; and The Warmonderhof Biodynamic farm training school in Dronten, the Netherlands. What they all had in common was a mostly young, diverse and vibrant student community learning how to be farmers, together.

Let’s take a close look at one of these programs.

The UVM offers a 6-month land-based farmer training program. The course involves two mornings of theory classes, held in a marquee in the field, three days at the certified organic UVM farm and one day working on partner training farms. No farming experience is required and the diverse backgrounds of the students lead to rich questions.

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Fiona on Tour with Micah Anderson at Viva Farms King County Neel, Lisanna and Alma at the student farm called LOT at the Warmonderhof. Biodynamic farm training school, Dronten, the Netherlands

After one month of orientation and community building the students are divided into small groups to complete a series of one-month rotations − tractor, harvesting, irrigation and perennials. In the last week of the third and fourth rotation the students make the decisions, direct themselves and run the farm.

Each week starts with a farm walk during which students and staff identify and discuss what needs to be done. Observations on the farm walk provide the basis for the work plan for the week.

As I’ve seen at all training farms, it’s a balancing act between education and production. Having trainees work in a production system inevitably results in mistakes, such as immature produce being harvested and unfinished tasks. This is a challenge. Staff call students out on mistakes but not in a shameful way. Mistakes yield teachable moments. With this in mind, at UVM all decisions are made through an education lens but in the context of production because the work needs to be meaningful. The produce is sold through a Community Supported Agriculture box scheme.

On our farm walk I met Ava, a graduate of the program and now on staff. Of her training, Ava said, ‘I loved all of it. It was a transformational experience coming here for six months. It was the first time I felt deeply in relationship with place.’

At UVM all decisions are made through an education lens but in the context of production because the work needs to be meaningful.

Ava shared the importance of being validated by finding others who wanted to do the same thing as herself, which is why ‘the group piece of the puzzle’ at UVM ‘was so important.’ It was the first time she’d been in a community with folks who wanted to do the same thing.

A combined approach

Return now to the Chicago Botanic Gardens, located in a leafy, green affluent suburb in the north of Chicago. It runs a gold-standard urban farm training program called Windy City Harvest operating across 15 urban farms in areas of need in the city of Chicago.

The headquarters is Farm on Ogden, a 1-acre block in a neighbourhood with 50% unemployment and very little available fresh food. The recently completed USD3 million bespoke facility is a food hub. It houses a 60,000-gallon aquaponics system growing lettuces (with koi and tilapia fish to eat

Ava, a graduate of the UVM Practicum now teaching in the program

and to produce natural fertiliser), a greenhouse producing 160,000 seedlings per year, indoor teaching space, state-of-the-art wash and pack room, three cool rooms, commercial kitchen, loading dock, grocery shop and outdoor teaching and production garden.

Windy City Harvest offers a continuum of paid training programs. The Youth program pays people aged between 15 and 18 to work on the Youth Farm on Saturdays and during school holidays, learning how to grow vegetables as well as environmental, emotional and social literacy.

Corp is a paid 13-week training program for people who have been involved in the criminal justice system or war veterans. Rodeo Farm, across the road from a large prison, is the serious production farm where Corp participants work. Graduates from Youth and Corp are eligible for the paid apprenticeship program. The employment rate for participants completing Corp is 70% and for the apprenticeship program it’s 90%. After this, participants can apply to join the incubator program where new farmers are supported to operate their own farm business on an eighth or a quarter of an acre at the Legends Incubator Farm. Windy City Harvest trains over 140 people per year through these programs. To date they have incubated 28 businesses.

There are multiple avenues for the 65,000 kg of food produced per year from their 15 farms including markets, wholesalers, the Farm on Ogden shop and Veggie Rx. Veggie Rx is a vegetable prescription program designed to address food insecurity and diet-related illnesses through increasing the intake of fresh produce. Health care providers prescribe fresh food vouchers, which can be redeemed at enterprises such as Windy City Harvest and Growing Home. Windy City distributes over 16,000 Veggie Rx boxes to over 2,000 clients each year.

Windy City Harvest also run allotment gardens for 120 Chicago Housing Authority and neighbourhood residents at five sites in Chicago. The residents, mentored by Windy City Harvest staff, garden in raised beds, with safe soil, water, seeds, and transplants to grow fresh produce and

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WCH Farm on Ogden Rosario in Farm on Ogden glasshouse WCH Farm on Ogden classroom

flowers. The program is coordinated through monthly Garden Clubs, bringing residents together to practice and swap techniques, share recipes, and grow food for their families and neighbours.

Astonishingly, Windy City Harvest encompasses:

• 15 urban farms

• 65,000 kg fresh produce per year

• 16,000 Veggie Rx boxes to over 2,000 clients

• paid training of 140 youth and adults

• incubation of 28 businesses

• 70% employment rate from Youth and Corp

• 90% employment rate from apprenticeships.

So how is all this incredible work funded?

The annual operating budget for Windy City Harvest is USD4.4 million. Of this 63% is for personnel, including 70 paid internship and trainee positions. There are 30 staff of whom 70% are graduates of Windy City Harvest programs.

A combination of government grants, foundations, donors, and revenue from sales provides the funds for Windy City Harvest to operate. Every organisation I visited had a position devoted to obtaining grants and working with foundations and donors to secure funds. Any position that required working with volunteers had a paid time allowance for this activity.

Successful enterprises such as Windy City are engaged in multiple partnerships, which increase access to funding and allow the scope and reach of their programs to increase over time. The land is often not owned but leased in generous arrangements with landholders.

What is the value of these programs?

Queens University, Ontario, has been independently measuring the ROI at Sole Foods (SF) Street Farms in Vancouver since 2013. This 3-acre urban farm in the middle of Vancouver produces up to 30 tonnes of fresh food per year, which provides 30-50% of the operating budget. I worked here for one week alongside the staff who have lived experience of homelessness, addiction and mental illness − another oasis of calm and love transforming lives through growing good food.

WCH Continuum program Sole Food Street Farms

The Queens University report explains: ‘The SROI (social return on investment) ratio is an internationally recognised method for calculating social impact and states that for every CAD1 of resources used in SF’s operations, our work creates CAD1.91 worth of social and environmental impact in the city of Vancouver.’ Furthermore, every dollar spent on wages generates CAD5.77 worth of cumulative social benefits. The impact created for every CAD1 of produce sold was CAD3.45. The impact created for every CAD1 received from funders was CAD2.88. The impact created for every one acre of land leased was CAD305,152. Specific benefits were measured including the amount of CO2 sequestered in the orchard and the amount of CO2 emissions avoided due to decreased transportation of food.

The Queens University study revealed that 100% of SF farmhands reported:

• an increase in general job skills

• an increase in agricultural job skills

• accessing the employment resources that SF provides

• an increase in life skills

• benefiting from SF’s positive and supportive community and from SF’s peaceful work environment.

Managers reported benefits including:

• an increase in management and interpersonal skills

• an increase in their sense of life purpose

• increased sensitivity to social justice issues

• increased confidence in their professional, emotional and relational capacity.

Volunteers reported benefits including:

• an increase in general job skills

• an increase in agricultural job skills

• an increase in culinary skills

• benefiting from SF’s positive and supportive community

• benefiting mentally from SF’s peaceful work environment

• an increased awareness of the struggles/life circumstances of vulnerable groups.

A key point is to run paid programs.

There is no reason not to pay


who grow

our food. Paying people recognises the processes involved in growing food, placing value on the labour and skillset of a grower, as well as attributing value to the produce itself. The ROI, social and environmental benefits documented in the SF study are further evidence that investment in these programs and furthermore, in people, is financially worthwhile.

Perhaps the more pertinent question is can we afford NOT to run these programs?

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My key finding was that farm training ventures work!

All three categories of enterprise I investigated provided strong, well-defined vocational pathways with a demonstrable ROI and high employment rates. In addition, these programs delivered on food justice, were inclusive, connected growers with the community, created a strong local food system and educated the community about the nutritional value of fresh food. There are numerous opportunities for heart programs, incubators and practicums to be established in Australia. Australia really needs these programs to build skills and capacity in individuals and communities.

Now I know the answer to that nagging question, ‘What’s next Miss?’

I’ve been so moved by the beauty and generosity of humanity − seeing lives transformed through growing food. This transformation, as they nurture life from seed to harvest, is powerful. Maybe it’s the magic of a seed coming to life. Maybe it’s the primal connection to the earth. Maybe it’s growing what nourishes us. Whatever it is, I’ve seen it change people with multiple barriers to employment, such as incarcerated people, those struggling with addiction, the homeless; privileged white people searching for meaning; schoolchildren, and people living in food deserts in our cities. Nova shared, ‘When I found life, that’s when I started to love plants.’ Most of us eat three to five meals a day. We need to restore the status of food growing and enable and empower people to do it.

Maybe it’s the magic of a seed coming to life. Maybe it’s the primal connection to the earth. Maybe it’s growing what nourishes us.

About Fiona Buining

As the result of her Churchill Fellowship findings Fiona has a vision to establish an Urban Farm Incubator with a productive farm at the hub, offering a continuum of training in urban farming including apprenticeships. Training programs will target people with multiple barriers to employment, school students and aspiring farmers. Graduates from the programs will be eligible to apply to join the incubator program where they will be supported to start their own urban farm enterprise. The Urban Farm Incubator will provide skills, labour, fresh produce, meaningful work, and connect growers to consumers. Evidence from her Fellowship is that these programs have employment rates for graduates of over 80% and offer a high ROI. The hub will be a vibrant incubator, spawning small scale urban farm businesses, and value-added enterprises contributing to food security and generating a wellbeing economy.

You can read Fiona’s Churchill Fellowship report here,

Fiona can be contacted at


Engaging communities ‘beyond the garden walls’

The Community Greening Team, Botanic Gardens of Sydney

The Botanic Gardens of Sydney (BGoS) has an outreach education program called Community Greening. Since 2000 we have been engaging communities that otherwise could not access the education, horticulture and science on offer within our botanic gardens.

Over the last 23 years, the program has grown to employ 10 staff. Several programs delivered under the Community Greening banner have evolved to include themes of supporting youth, fire and flood recovery, as well as more formal adult education programs. We use community development techniques with a people focus and everything we do is place-based. Programs are co-designed and created with the community to empower and support their self-identified needs to ‘get growing’. We work in sites all over NSW and it sometimes takes two days to travel to the communities we support.

In this article, three of our team share their stories of working outside the garden walls with different communities in NSW.

Southern NSW and the Sowing Seeds of Hope program

Darren Martin, Community Greening Officer

In 2019/2020 much of the east coast of NSW was ravaged by horrific bushfires. The loss of human life and homes, millions of hectares of land and billions of animals, including rare and threatened species, left a wound that wouldn’t be healed quickly.

Understanding the importance of building community, creating spaces to heal, and food security, Community Greening was there to lend a hand. We aptly called the program Sowing Seeds of Hope, as we set out to create opportunities for a brighter tomorrow.

From fire-wise garden designs to Yarning Circles, and wicking beds to food forests, all groups that reached out were supported.

Darren with Western Sydney community

Preschool children built bird nesting material dispensers, lizard lounges and planted habitat gardens. Opportunities for high school students to engage in meaningful hands-on horticultural activities created purpose and direction. Our senior citizens rediscovered the joy of putting their hands in the earth and growing nutrient-dense, chemical-free food in their new raised garden beds.

Community engagement in schools on the Sapphire Coast

Cliodhna Maguire, First Nations Youth Community Greening Officer

They don’t just call it the Sapphire Coast for its saltwater serenity − the community is nestled among mountains like a gemstone in the earth. Every time I hit the road − van full of plants and spilling with soil − and glide on down to the south coast, I feel like I’m heading home. NaroomaBermagui-Bega, all sandwiched between beautiful beaches, are just a handful of communities full to the brim with people dedicated to Country where they care in their own unique ways. The Youth Community Greening team has been working alongside youth, especially Aboriginal youth, in primary and secondary schools on the south coast for a few years now and each project demonstrates the eclectic reality of small-town living. These kids spend days exploring coastal landscapes and bush wonderlands. Within the school sphere they are supported by teachers and community members invested in enriching their worlds. Whether they are disengaged, disadvantaged or needing new and diverse ways of learning, the community of support that our team is a part of is truly enabling a new generation of learners fuelled with a love for nature, culture and community.

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Growing food security and fire recovery through therapeutic horticulture for preschools, schools and community Sowing Seeds of Hope allowed us to share our knowledge and skills, achieve goals as a community and heal through connecting to Country Bega Valley Principal Mrs Melissa Fay with Cliodhna

I have been involved with three projects on the south coast, which are described below.

The Narooma High School ‘Nurseries and Nets’ project: a school embarking on their very own home-grown nursery put together by none other than some dedicated students and passionate teachers. The nursery supports endemic native plants, edible and medicinal indigenous resources and kinaesthetic (hands-on) education. When they aren’t building this nursery enterprise, they’re putting their basketball skills to the test in the nets! This fantastic group and the Youth Community Greening team have walked Country, learned and laughed together. They have become ‘greener on the outside’ with a new Community Greening program aimed at supporting disengaged youth by establishing a project that enriches a natural space and cultural education at school, and hopefully the students themselves.

Bermagui Public School ‘Culture Continued’ project: a school embodying a holistic approach to community, culture and care. I would like to introduce Bermagui’s kick-ass Aboriginal Education Officer, who is dedicated to supporting Aboriginal youth to care for each other and the land while attending school. Our team has been welcomed into their bustling space to share knowledge and passion together. While planting local native resource plants, we learned about these kids’ connections to their community and their aspirations for the future. There is something always so special about storytelling and tending to the land.

Bega Primary and High School ‘The Eternal Yarn’ project: this school community is one I hold very close to my heart. Days have been spent yarning up a storm, tending to gardens and dreaming about big ideas. From the very beginning, both schools had teachers and students alike express deep interest in continuing culture and caring for the land. Their yarning spaces are evolving from sandstone seats to a plant oasis, with the foundation for more. Our team and each school have been passionately contributing to new garden spaces, new ways to celebrate native biodiversity and ways to share culture. The yarn will be forever eternal between these sister schools as kids grow from primary to high school supported by sensational role models.

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Narooma High School Nursery
Our team and each school have been passionately contributing to new garden spaces, new ways to celebrate native biodiversity and ways to share culture.

Supporting remote communities in Western NSW

Paddie Lane, Community Greening Officer

In 2019 Community Greening visited the small town of Wilcannia in the far west of NSW. We met with the local community and elders who explained their issues relating to accessing fresh food. Food security is an important role of Community Greening, and we recognised that Wilcannia was one of the least foodsecure communities we had worked with. Since then, we have run short courses and delivered programs to Menindee and Bourke, setting up new gardens and maintaining existing ones, engaging and capacitybuilding personal skills relating to social cohesion and food security.

As these communities are quite remote and difficult to access regularly, we have developed an online community. Here, predominantly First Nations communities share information on local species, plant behaviours and occurrences, particularly post-drought and post-flood, sometimes noticing plants that have not been seen for many years.

The main aim is to co-design and develop gardens with and for each community, within walking distance of major urban areas. Community will then be able to grow nutrient-dense food and cultural plants to share with their families and elders and communicate appropriate knowledge to neighbouring communities.

It is a privilege to work with these communities, which are connected by the great Barka/Murray Darling River and to support their efforts in restoring its health and the health of the broader communities who share its banks.

To learn more or utilise some of our resources, check out this set of guides and activities for working with Community: Education programs at Royal Botanic Garden Sydney - The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney (

Paddie with Wilcannia community Wilcannia Community mob get involved with growing food Wilcannia Community cook up with locally grown food

Community spirit enables gardens to exist

Tracey Whitby, President and Publicity, Friends of Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens

Since the first plantings in 2002, the Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens have been flourishing. The six rainforest rooms are well established and the specialty gardens are popular with visitors and volunteers alike. Before COVID, we were welcoming over 2,000 students and their teachers to the gardens each year.

The Hoop Pine Forest, Palm Gully, Sensory Garden, Wilson Park Species Garden, Useful Plants Garden and Eucalypt Picnic area are often the focus of our guided walks. In 2018 and 2020 we were very lucky to be able to train over 20 guides who continue to tell their stories about the regeneration of the former Lismore city waste site.

Our volunteers have created the gardens, and manage them, having spent only one, sometimes two, mornings a week over 30 years, working hard to clear and prepare the site, planting, propagating plants at the nursery, constructing paths, sheds, bridges, viewing decks and a cubby. We are supported by one council gardener who works three days a week at the gardens.

After the disastrous floods in February and March 2022, we are now able to welcome back school groups, garden clubs, art, photography, and bird watching groups into the gardens. Although situated above flood level, many paths and several garden beds were destroyed by the incredible amount of water that flowed through in 48 hours.

Despite everything, the community is the reason the gardens thrive. Too many of our volunteers lost their cars, homes and everything they had in the flood. Yet they returned to work again at the gardens very quickly. Other more fortunate Friends of Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens (FLRBG) helped them to re-establish, cleaning out mud-filled homes and finding alternative shelter and transport.

Scrambling Lily Geitonoplesium cymosum Credit: Phil Jarman Geoff Walker in Useful Plants Garden. Credit: FLRBG Hoop Pine Forest. Credit: Florence Treverrow

Many people have needed the peace and serenity of the gardens to recover. The local library is still under repair, so Storytime is being held at the gardens, bringing scores of preschoolers and their carers to sit in the forest, hearing stories about trees, flowers and insects. A drama project called Understory is engaging local primary school students with an interactive experience, bringing a deeper understanding of relationships between plants in the rainforest. The resilience of the rainforest mirrors that of the Lismore community.

We had so much to look forward to on Botanic Gardens Day in May. It was the tenth anniversary of the official opening of the gardens in 2013. It gave us a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our achievements and plan for the future. Of course, the community was there − it’s their very own botanic garden. They bought local native plants for their home gardens, enjoyed guided walks, shared a coffee break, watched their children learn to weave, create art, play in the forest, observe a flower through a digital microscope, or simply ‘touch green’.

Our gardens only exist because of our community spirit.

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Climbing Guinea Flower Hibbertia scandens with Leaf Hopper. Credit: Phil Jarman Native Rice Garden. Credit: Florence Treverrow Red-Browed Firetail. Credit: Phil Jarman Rosemary Blakeney and grandson at mosaic path. Credit: FLRBG School students heading to Hoop Pine Forest. Credit: FLRBG

Community and partners engage to establish the Grampians Endemic Garden at the WAMA Botanic Gardens

Neil Marriott, Flora Team Leader, WAMA Botanic Gardens

In an exciting development for the WAMA Botanic Gardens, the first community plantout was held in July 2022. Following big rains during the week, the skies cleared for a wonderful day with volunteers coming from far and wide to help with this historic day’s work. We were honoured to have a group of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria Cranbourne Gardens staff come and work tirelessly for the day, volunteering to plant the numerous large, advanced endemic plants we had accumulated in our nursery over the last few years. Following the planting, a lovely picnic lunch was provided by our great volunteer support crew for all the hard workers.

We grouped our plantings into three major vegetation communities that occur in the Grampians: subalpine woodland, riparian woodland and heathy woodland, with dozens of plants of the endemic species only found in the Grampians, mostly in attractive drifts or for larger species in groups of three. As well as the endemic species we added clumps of local iconic species such as Common Heath Epacris impressa, local Grass Tree Xanthorrhoea glauca, Common Everlasting Chrysocephalum apiculatum and many more. These will provide showy flowers and colour to enhance the overall effect of this unique garden, which is proposed to eventually house all the 75+ endemic plants of the Grampians.

Amazingly, the day following the plantout the heavens opened and the gardens were thoroughly well watered in. Now, nine months later, the success rate is high. The main fatalities were Grampians Thryptomene Thryptomene calycina and Truncate Leonema Leonema bilobum ssp. bilobum, because they were overgrown and pot-bound. This demonstrated that old, overgrown plants rarely make good garden plants. In contrast, not one plant was lost from the large pots so carefully root-pruned and planted out by the Cranbourne team. We have now had our second large plantout this autumn, and the gardens are looking wonderful.

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Grampians endemic plants ready for the plantout Wendy and Joss laying out the plants ready for the volunteers

Many of the beautiful plants have flowered already, including the extremely rare pink flowered form of Grampians Tea-tree Leptospermum turbinatum, discovered by our Grampians Australian Plants Society (APS) Group on an end-of-year party on the top of Mt William. We are planning on registering this beauty with the Australian Cultivar Registration Authority, due to its showy flowers and hardiness. Grampians

APS group members are regular volunteers at WAMA working bees, including weekly propagation days at our community nursery, where we are propagating large numbers of our Grampians endemic plants.

RBGV Cranbourne Gardens/WAMA field trips to the Grampians

In the last 12 months we have been involved in two field trips with staff from our WAMA partners, RBGV Cranbourne Gardens. This has been an absolute privilege and has allowed us to access more Grampians endemic plants. Previous trips with Cranbourne to Mt William have meant that we now have most of the subalpine endemics growing in our WAMA garden. This includes the lovely Grampians Correa Correa lawrenceana ssp. grampiana and Grampians Mint-bush Prostanthera lasianthos ssp. coriacea, both of which are now thriving and flowering in our garden.

An amazing discovery in the Grampians

In November 1966 the wonderful botanist Cliff Beauglehole discovered a grevillea new to Western botanists on the edge of Halls Gap in the Grampians. In 2000, botanist Bob Makinson from Sydney Herbarium described and named this grevillea as Grevillea gariwerdensis in recognition of its home, with the Beauglehole location being the Type Location for species. Sadly, in 2006 a massive wildfire ran through most of the Grampians, including the site of this new grevillea. All plants were burned,

The beautiful pink form of Leptospermum turbinatum flowering in the WAMA Botanic Gardens Endemic Garden Subalpine woodland on top of Mt William looking west to Serra Range Grampians endemic Correa lawrenceana ssp. grampiana growing on top of Mt William

and in attempts to protect private property ‘assets’ in Halls Gap, this whole area was subsequently burned regularly by Parks Victoria/Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) staff every few years. This rapidly resulted in the sad conclusion that Grevillea gariwerdensis was extinct at its Type Location. Numerous searches by several botanists failed to find a single remaining plant for over 15 years.

On a recent field trip with staff from Cranbourne Gardens, I took them to this former site of Grevillea gariwerdensis, and within a short time we rediscovered a small number of seedlings emerging from the recently burned swampy heathland. Walking in further we found more and more, until eventually we counted several hundred new young plants. Fortunately, Cranbourne Gardens have a permit to take flora from the Grampians National Park, and a few seedlings were carefully dug up and returned to the botanic gardens for growing on. This will secure the Type of the species for the future, as well as for the WAMA Botanic Gardens.

Cranbourne then contacted Parks Victoria to ensure this site is not burned again for many years, thus allowing this rare and beautiful grevillea to recover, flower and set copious seed to secure it against any future wildfires. A recent on-site meeting with Cranbourne staff, Parks Victoria, DELWP and my wife and I resulted in the wonderful agreement that this entire area will be exempted from control burns for at least the next 10 years, to ensure that the species sets copious seed for future regeneration events.

Unfortunately, we discovered that a lot of the young plants had been eaten since the rediscovery. Feral deer were the suspected culprits and Parks Victoria are now planning regular spotlighting visits to the site to eradicate deer from the area. It is wonderful that Parks Victoria is so keen to work with the local community to protect this site from future controlled burning as well as feral animals.

It is wonderful that Parks Victoria is so keen to work with the local community to protect this site from future controlled burning as well as feral animals.

There are currently only three known sites for the Gariwerd Grevillea; the Type Location mentioned above, a tiny population in the Victoria Valley, and the largest population north of Plantation Picnic Ground on Mt Zero Road. This population is highly variable in its flower colour, ranging from pure

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Grevillea gariwerdensis elsewhere in Grampians National Park Grevillea gariwerdensis seedlings at the Type Location Grevillea gariwerdensis flowering at WAMA

white through to deep pink. Unluckily, it was badly burned in an out of control ‘control burn’ several years ago. This makes Grevillea gariwerdensis a very rare and probably endangered plant. Fortunately, we discovered numerous young plants coming back at this Plantation Picnic Ground site as well.

As a result of the rarity of this species, Russell Larke from Cranbourne Gardens and I are writing a submission to the relevant federal government department, nominating Grevillea gariwerdensis for listing as a Critically Endangered Species.

The Victoria Valley population

The Victoria Valley population of Gariwerd Grevillea, unlike the other two populations which reproduce via seed, reproduces by root sucker. It is also a dwarf plant, around 30 cm high, compared to the ~1 m height of the other two types. Unfortunately, this dwarf population was also destroyed by a bushfire and had not been seen for many years.

However, on our most recent field trip last month we were thrilled to relocate this presumed extinct population of Grevillea gariwerdensis after much searching. We only found 17 small plants, but they were big enough for the Cranbourne crew to collect DNA material and cuttings. It is being studied by staff at Cranbourne and Sydney Herbarium. It is suspected to be a completely new and un-named species. We then went up into the Victoria Range and collected about nine new endemic species. We also collected seed from several endemic eucalypts for Stage 2 of our Endemic Garden.

We have a large collection of Grevillea gariwerdensis in our Endemic Garden from donations from private collections from our WAMA Propagation Team, as well as a naturally established population growing in the WAMA covenant area. It was therefore suggested by the group that WAMA should adopt Grevillea gariwerdensis as our floral logo. The DELWP and Parks Victoria staff are keen to help us advertise this, and they even suggested a presentation on the rediscovery of Grevillea gariwerdensis for the next Wimmera biodiversity seminar. Exciting food for thought!

It is wonderful to see WAMA, Cranbourne Gardens, Grampians APS Group and Jallukar Landcare Group all working together to achieve such positive results in the development of our WAMA Grampians Endemic Garden. As well as our goal to grow all the Grampians endemic plants, we are also aiming to grow a genetically diverse range of all these species in the future.

If you are interested in helping in any way with this exciting project, please contact us and join our enthusiastic team of volunteers by visiting

Deep pink form from north of Plantation Picnic Ground Grevillea gariwerdensis pale pink form

How − and why − do botanic gardens engage with the community?

I am a member of the nursery team in a botanic garden and work as a bush restorer. Please get in touch if you would like to contribute to this section in the future by emailing me at

Over the past 10 or 15 years many botanic gardens worldwide have undergone a transformation in how and what they communicate to patrons, including the establishment of a social media presence. In this article I will attempt to summarise the way this transformation towards greater community engagement has occurred, the pedagogy employed in this engagement, and the programs established to communicate with the community.

Many botanic gardens, who seek to broaden their audience and are well placed to educate visitors on environment and conservation issues, are redefining their purpose and mission as social entities and are examining their roles both within and outside the sector. To do this they need to effectively communicate their role and value to the audiences they seek to attract and explain how gardens act as a metaphor for human interaction with the botanical world. This can be done by showing how humans have interacted with the world in the past through the inclusion of economic sections in botanic gardens (such as areas that showcase interactions through trade and bush tucker), and how we interact with the botanical world today and in the future, through climate change exhibits and herbaria.

In the last issue of THE BOTANIC GARDENer, I wrote on the ways in which issues relating to climate change are disseminated by gardens to the visiting public, such as via research articles, interpretive signage, talks/workshops and children’s plays. The way in which we interact with our environment certainly plays its part in engagement with the public, but this isn’t the whole story. Botanic gardens, through a range of public initiatives, are constantly seeking ways in which they can communicate information relevant to their remit and be socially responsible in the information they relay.

Primack et al. (2021) write concerning the role of botanical gardens in climate change research, and adequately describe how botanic gardens accomplish this – by having the experienced and knowledgeable horticulturists under their employ create unique resources that are able to host diverse collections of plants growing in ex situ conditions (as is the nature of a botanic garden –hosting plants outside their natural environment in manufactured environments mimicking natural growing conditions).

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Matthew Nicholson

There are important conversations to be held concerning indigenous people’s medicinal (and otherwise) use of plants and the fact that many common and botanic names remain to this day named in honour of the people connected with the slave trade1. These conversations, I believe, should be between those positing the eradication point of view and those examining the question from an ethical standpoint, such as Longstaff (2020). I’m of the opinion that rather than shying away from the conversation around how these contentious individuals behaved, and removing their names, we should by now have matured enough as a society to have reasoned discussion about the abomination that was the slave trade. This should serve as an education point, to merge the botanical and cultural. Perhaps modifying some aspects of interpretation (adding QR codes to highlight contentious naming) when warranted, would be enough?

Collaborative think tanks, such as the one conducted by the Research Centre of Museums and Galleries at the University of Leicester and BGCI in 2010, are extremely useful (Dodd and Jones, 2010). In these meetings botanic garden management meets regularly with stakeholders (Friends groups, local authorities, schools, local elders and other community groups) and brainstorm how they can provide an engaging, educational service to the community, as well as gathering much-needed funding for the valuable work botanic gardens do for conservation efforts. As the report highlights, small workforces and ‘a lack of staff with specialist experience’ in community-based work may lead to a lack of a broader vision. An ‘inward focus’ upon collections may also lead to the idea that due to their specialist nature, botanic gardens have not always felt the need to account for their social role to their governing bodies. This point may well form the catalyst for think tanks such as this in regional botanic gardens smaller than – but just as important as − the University of Oxford or the Botanic Gardens of Sydney.

People who can see at least three trees from their home, have 30% tree canopy cover in their neighbourhood and live less than 300 m away from the nearest park or green space have better mental health and use less medication

The wellbeing of people who utilise the green spaces of botanic gardens for recreation purposes has been examined and studies have been conducted showing that botanic gardens ‘could be places’ (Kohlleppel, 2002) that help people cope with stress and anxiety. A more recent study from Barcelona, Spain, found that people who can see at least three trees from their home, have 30% tree canopy cover in their neighbourhood and live less than 300 m away from the nearest park or green space have better mental health and use less medication than those who do not (Nieuwenhuijsen et al., 2022).

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1 The genus Hibbertia, being just one example, derives its name from George Hibbert, who made a fortune from slave trading (Summerell, 2022).

Burgeoning industries and practices – horticultural therapy and forest bathing, for instance –were founded upon the calming effects of horticulture, gardening and immersing oneself in nature. Horticulture provides opportunities for reconnection with nature and the earth that some people working in offices seldom have the chance to experience. An example of a project aiming to connect people to nature was one held by Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria Melbourne, in partnership with the Department of Neuroscience at Monash University, in March this year. The ‘Botany Brain Camp’ used ‘the gardens as a brain map … to navigate the hemispheres, lobes and cerebellum on a botanical brainstorm that connects the amazing plant world with our own magnificent brains’.

‘Botanical gardens represent interesting arenas for research in environmental psychology and environment-behavior relations’ because they have ‘assumed a strong social relevance’ (Carrus et al., 2017), given the increased urbanisation occurring in society, and the psychological effects that the concrete jungle can have on people. Carrus et al. (2017) provide appropriate statistical analysis of the data on levels of perceived restorativeness, including ‘physical and psychological benefits’ as well as ‘subjective well-being’, the results of which were as initial predictions indicated – ‘levels of perceived restorativeness were generally high’ (Carrus et al., 2017).

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A forest-bathing koala in Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens. Credit: Lisa Duffy, Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens

In conjunction with the positive psychological effects botanic gardens have on many people, there exists opportunity to decrease the heat islands caused by urban sprawl and concrete buildings. I once again point to the green walls and roofs pioneered in Singapore, which have since been taken to other countries with replicable results. At Bogor Botanic Gardens, West Java, Indonesia, a time series analysis of the amount of green vegetation and land surface temperatures was conducted over a period of seven years (2013–2020), with measurements taken from Bogor City as a comparison. Inside the Bogor Botanic Gardens, the measured temperature was cooler than in the city by several degrees (Rahayu and Yusri, 2021).

Some botanic gardens have extended their outreach to plant sales, including those run by Friends groups. In some instances, money made from Friends’ plant sales goes directly into projects that assist in making botanic gardens interesting for their patrons.

There are also indications of a correlation between high school horticulture classes and students’ decisions to major in horticulture at degree-level – an impetus, perhaps, for closer engagement with schools which have conservation, school gardens or environmental studies as part of their curriculum. With no employment downturn predicted in 2023, horticulture is a large industry with 32,200 jobs predicted this year, according to the latest figures from Open Colleges

Horticulture is a large industry with 32,200 jobs predicted this year.

Other botanic gardens have education programs for children, providing unique learning activities. The capacity for mental and physical engagement provided by these education programs is one that is already catered for in some primary schools by the inclusion of school gardens. In some schools, pupils are encouraged to join school gardening groups, create outdoor classrooms, and exploit their artistic skills in landscaping. They might plan simple garden beds and then have the hands-on experience of planting a garden and taking care of the growing plants. Staff within the botanic garden in which I work have been involved in school holiday gardening programs. Not only are they great for the schools and students, but horticulturists such as me also enjoy getting out into the community, demonstrating our knowledge and working with the pupils. Who knows − perhaps we sowed the seeds for future careers in horticulture or plant science!

Little nature lovers aged three - five years are invited to join Zippy Dragonfly and his bushland friends on a fun, early learning adventure at Rio Tinto Naturescape Kings Park. Credit: Lanie-Sims/BGPA


Carrus, G, Scopelliti, M, Panno, A, et al. (2017). A different way to stay in touch with ‘urban nature’: the perceived restorative qualities of botanical gardens. Frontiers in Psychology, 8:914.

Dodd, J, Jones, C. (2010). Redefining the role of botanic gardens – towards a new social purpose Research Centre of Museums and Galleries at the University of Leicester and BGCI.

Kohlleppel, T. (2022). A walk through the garden: can a visit to a botanic garden reduce stress?. HortTechnology, 12(3), 489–492.

Longstaff, S. (2020). The ethics of tearing down monuments. The Ethics Centre.

Nieuwenhuijsen, MJ, Dadvand, P, Márquez, S, et al. (2022). The evaluation of the 3-30-300 green space rule and mental health. Environmental Research, 215(2):114387.

Primack, R, Ellwood, R, Gallinat, A, et al. (2021). The growing and vital role of botanical gardens in climate change research. New Phytologist, 231(3):917−932.

Rahayu, EMD, Yusri, S. (2021). Bogor Botanic Gardens as a nature-based solution for mitigating urban heat island and microclimate regulation IOP Conf. Ser.: Earth Environ. Sci. 914:012050.

Summerell, B. (2022). Slave traders’ names are still stamped on native plants. It’s time to ‘decolonise’ Australia’s public gardens The Guardian, 1 October 2022.

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Harcourt Editing Services ABN 63 721 784 293 Editingand writingforthelifesciences +61 (0) 423 623 360
Harcourt, PhD

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After completing the program, Fellows apply their newly refined leadership skills to advance organisations around the world.

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Unraveling the Voynich Codex by Jules Janick and Arthur O Tucker

Matthew Nicholson reviews a book in which botany was used to uncover the origins of an ancient manuscript.

I have always had an interest in ancient manuscripts1 so I suppose this, and an interest in botanical studies, drew me to this title. Why is a book on a medieval manuscript published under the Springer ‘Fascinating Life Sciences’ banner? Surely the subject matter is purely in the realm of the dedicated medievalist. As I read the book, I discovered that it is as much a mystery of interdisciplinary studies as anything else.

The original manuscript was first discovered in 1912 in a Catholic college in Italy by a book dealer named Wilfrid Voynich, hence the ‘Voynich’ moniker, and has been the subject of debate and scholarship ever since it was uncovered. It contains symbolic language that has never been deciphered and includes botanical drawings. ‘The Voynich Manuscript’ isn’t the proper title of the manuscript – it is more of a descriptor to aid library cataloguists. For this analysis Janick and Tucker have divided their book into four sections: a general introduction, evidence for Mesoamerican origins, decipherment and finally, a description of the author and artist. The general introduction features chapters elucidating upon the manuscript’s origin and provenance, where the evidence purporting Mesoamerican/Mexican derivation is examined.

As others have said, the plant illustrations are ‘fairly rough’ (Lewis, 2023), and there have been people over the years who have thought that if they could identify the drawings of the plants from the text, this could be a method of ‘reverse engineering’ the text (Lewis, 2023). I followed a news story in 2017 that heralded the ‘solving’ of the Voynich Manuscript and that textual analysis purported the text to be written in a ‘proto-Romance’ language (Ouellette, 2019), an argument ‘completely unsubstantiated’ (Ouellette, 2019) in paleolinguistics.

The plant section, entitled ‘Phytomorph and Geomorph Identification’ (pp. 85–139) is comprised of 139 phytomorphs (plant images). Janick and Tucker give an accurate count of ‘131 in the herbal section’ and ‘228 in the pharmaceutical section’ and most of the illustrations contain ‘morphological structures’ that facilitate identification. The phytomorphs contained in the manuscript were long assumed to be of ‘pre-Columbian European origin’, but this wisdom was called into question by the Rev. Dr Hugh O’Neil, a distinguished botanist who identified ‘two New World plants’ (Tucker and

1 A codex is an ancient manuscript, the ancestor of today’s book.

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Janick, 2019) within the manuscript, and was roundly ignored or ridiculed for his work, despite his credentials in botanical taxonomy and as an expert in Mesoamerican plants. O’Neil was vindicated, however, in 1991 by Jacques B M Guy, who confirmed O’Neil’s identification of Sunflower Helianthus annus, and ‘noted not a single European species’ (Tucker and Janick, 2019). Guy also mentioned that one of his colleagues identified passionfruit.

Janick and Tucker provide an analysis of the plants contained within the manuscript down to species level and arrange the angiosperms in alphabetical sequence ‘incorporating the folio number in the codex’. This analysis leads the authors to conclude that the artist was ‘concerned with certain features significant to identification’. Their nomenclature follows ‘a concordance of the cited revisions … the Germplasm Resources Information Network, and/or the collaboration of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Missouri Botanical Garden’.

Even though there appears to be ‘a whole quire’2 (Lewis, 2023) missing from the manuscript– this is probably in some museum in Europe, awaiting discovery – I found this book to be of immense interest, as one attracted to the study of manuscripts. To uncover a book describing this mystery in such vivid detail was simply fascinating and made me want to follow subsequent research on the matter.

Unraveling the Voynich Codex by Jules Janick and Arthur O Tucker is published by Springer Cham (2018).


Lewis, M. (2023, Jan 21). The Mysterious Voynich Manuscript. Gone Medieval. Apple Podcasts.

Ouellette, J. (2019, May 16). No, someone hasn’t cracked the code of the mysterious Voynich Manuscript. Ars Technica.

Tucker, AO, Janick, J. (2019). Flora of the Voynich Codex – An exploration of Aztec plants. Springer Cham.

2 A quire is 24 sheets of paper.

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Living collections development and curation: summary of workshop discussion at 7GBGC

Emma Simpkins, Auckland Botanic Gardens/Auckland Council, Andrea Proctor, Andrea Proctor landscapes, Victoria, John Arnott, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Cranbourne Gardens, Andrew Wyatt, Rebecca Sucher, Mariel Tribby, Missouri Botanical Garden, St Louis, Missouri

The Living Collections Development and Curation workshop, held at the 7th Global Botanic Gardens Congress (7GBGC) in Melbourne, Australia 25−29 September 2022, explored challenges botanic gardens face in developing and managing their living collections, and ways to optimise collections for conservation and research.

Research and conservation horticulture in gardens of all sizes

Wild provenance collections add value and diversity to the collections we curate. Depending on the region, there will be different protocols and permissions required. Seeking permission from landowners (private or public) can be slow, physical access may be difficult, identifying how and what to target for collections (site versus species) is complex, and the ability to genetically represent a population in a collection may not always be possible.

Transfer of material to or from a garden requires a complicated web of permits and permissions including landowners, biosecurity and quarantine protocols, traditional owner collaboration and access and benefit-sharing (ABS) arrangements. Protocols have not yet been fully developed for meeting ABS requirements, often limiting collections to in-country. Successful alternatives include large botanic gardens developing out-of-country partnerships to support local gardens to care for their own flora. This way the material ownership remains vested in the country of origin and is not transferred.

While databasing new accessions may be relatively straightforward, maintaining accurate and timely records for existing collections is difficult for many gardens. Ways to ensure plant records are a priority for staff include having a specific plant records role; allocating time in work programs for record keeping, including record keeping in job description Key Performance Indicators; and developing an organisational culture where records are prioritised and valued.

The better documented the collection, the more valuable it is to researchers.

The better documented the collection, the more valuable it is to researchers. Making collections accessible through partnerships with research institutions and searchable online networks builds

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opportunities for collections to be more widely used for research. Inadvertent duplication of research can be a problem in conservation horticulture as it is common for the same conservation criteria to be used across studies, leading to a very small pool of taxa being targeted. The breadth of research can be expanded by selecting a plant two or three steps down the conservation priority list. Broadening our idea of what research looks like in a garden may also expand how and what is used, such as ethnobotanical and medicinal research, plant selection for sustainable water devices like green roofs and sustainable horticulture.

Building and landscaping with collections

A significant challenge related to landscaping with living collections is the lengthy process of master plan development and thematic planning. Policies, processes and red tape − and even

unplanned infrastructure, such as new monuments or artworks − can hinder the implementation of a project. As these obstacles are navigated, one project can multiply into many, often overwhelming horticulture staff and reducing morale. Once a master plan is developed, it can be difficult to find species that fit into a particular landscape concept. Conversely, sometimes valuable wild-collected species do not fit into a master plan, or the species that are chosen by landscape architects are not appropriate or do not include a sufficient variety of species. For this reason, curators and horticulturists are crucial in the plant selection process and a living collections policy is essential.

Other barriers related to displaying living collections in a landscape include an array of pests and diseases. Damage by wildlife, such as bats, rabbits and possums, is common, but humans can also cause significant damage through trampling, as well as theft. There is also the issue of diseases, such as armillaria, phytophthora, and other soil pathogens that are difficult if not impossible to manage.

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Workshop attendees split into groups based on four themes to enable detailed discussions. Credit: Emma Simpkins Over 100 people attended the workshop which was first up in the conference program. Credit: Emma Simpkins

Attracting, training and retaining quality horticulturists

Finding skilled and trained staff has become increasingly challenging. As an industry, we can create and support opportunities for staff to be exposed to a range of experiences, for example, by assigning responsibilities for tasks or projects, partnering with other gardens for secondments or internships, providing professional development for upskilling, sending staff to industry-related events, making time and space for conversations about aspirations, and tailoring support to individuals. Discussions with other gardens and institutions should be ongoing to seek new opportunities.

A specialised training program would be beneficial for training people in living collections management and conservation horticulture. Ways we could develop training opportunities could be through industry partnerships, scholarships, professional programs, aligning with local universities and other tertiary training providers and connecting with organisations outside our own. For these to be successful, advocacy of their importance and appropriate resourcing is required.

Retaining and continually engaging staff is important. With competitive salaries being a limitation, we must highlight the other intrinsic and extrinsic benefits of working in a botanic garden. The diversity of work and teams is unique and provides opportunities to learn and be exposed to different ideas and ways of thinking. The ability to rotate through collections builds extensive plant knowledge and staff with a well-rounded understanding of the gardens and collections. Staff value building connections with colleagues, having their contribution recognised and working with a great team culture. They also want to have more opportunities to work as teams in collections, to be involved in research and conservation projects, to be mentored and to see a defined career path.

The diversity of work and teams is unique and provides opportunities to learn and be exposed to different ideas and ways of thinking.

The value of living collections in botanic gardens

A challenge for some botanic gardens, particularly at a regional level, is having a wider understanding of their value and role within their organisations. Regional gardens may have difficulty connecting with relevant teams within their organisation (either council or government departments). Changes within organisational structures lead to continual re-education of our role in conservation and research, as well as affecting our mental and physical wellbeing.

Within our own gardens, we need to meaningfully collaborate and communicate the value of our plant collections. Involving multiple disciplines/departments during collection development planning helps bring teams along the journey where they gain a deeper appreciation for the content, stories and messages our plant collections are trying to tell.

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Documentation/plans build a solid foundation of common knowledge and goals staff are working towards, and every role plays an important part in this. Invite your colleague to meet in the collections themselves, rather than in an office. This is a great way to see ‘real time’ what is happening in the gardens and promotes questions, ideas and shared knowledge. We can explore registering specific collections for accreditation to build their profile and significance at a national or international scale.

Engagement with our visitors is another way to advocate the role of botanic gardens. Human connection is one of the most powerful tools we have available. Visitors love learning about the people working in botanic gardens, so guided walks, workshops and events provide us with a captive audience. Behind-the-scenes tours excite our visitors when they get a glimpse of the work we do. Many of the conference attendees visited the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria Cranbourne Garden and were inspired by the Raising Rarity program, where rare plants are sold to the public. One of the barriers to plant conservation for visitors is understanding what they can do to support it, and purchasing a plant is a very tangible and approachable first step.

Passionate staff are critical to bringing living collections alive and to help connect people with plants and gardens. Credit: Emma Simpkins Developing visually eye-catching and engaging plant collections helps tell plant stories. Credit: Emma Simpkins
One of the barriers to plant conservation for visitors is understanding what they can do to support it, and purchasing a plant is a very tangible and approachable first step.

Working together and conclusions

All gardens want more time and resources to achieve their goals. Establishing relationships between gardens, particularly small gardens, can facilitate staff exchanges and information sharing, as well as opportunities to share plant material or create metacollections by combining the management of disparate ex situ collections into single metacollections. Participation in existing networks, such as BGANZ and the Australian Network for Plant Conservation (ANPC), can enable gardens to work together on conservation by providing leadership or coordination

The Raising Rarity program at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria Cranbourne Gardens sparked interest in many conference attendees as a unique way to connect visitors to plant conservation in their home gardens. Credit: Emma Simpkins

and overcoming permit barriers. BGANZ regional groups facilitate gardens in a region or state to regularly discuss their priorities and projects, which can then enable cross-garden collaboration and capacity building for regional gardens. Smaller regional gardens also offer opportunities for large gardens to spread their collections, reducing collection risk.

BGANZ regional groups facilitate gardens in a region or state to regularly discuss their priorities and projects, which can then enable cross-garden collaboration and capacity building for regional gardens.

Botanic gardens, regardless of size, face similar challenges in managing their living collections. Individually, gardens have found ways to address these challenges, often through collaboration and knowledge sharing. The workshop provided an opportunity to share these learnings and reduce barriers to collections management for all gardens.

Read a more detailed workshop summary on the Botanic Gardens Conservation International website.

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Community engagement at Auckland Botanic Gardens

I have the pleasure of being the Education and Partnership Specialist at Auckland Botanic Gardens and the Chair of the Botanic Gardens Engagement Network (BGEN). This combination enables me to concentrate a large part of my professional career on community engagement. I thought that I would share a few of the recent community engagement activities that have been held at Auckland Botanic Gardens to illustrate that you can achieve a range of engaging events with relatively limited resources.

I acknowledge that not all gardens are fortunate enough to have a dedicated team who can focus on community engagement but that doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve some great visitor engagement opportunities using resources that you will undoubtedly have at your disposal. As many of you will appreciate, botanic gardens have multiple audiences – from the time-pressured international tourist, the excited family group, right through to the local resident who wanders through daily. Their needs and expectations vary so one size doesn’t fit all.

Partnerships can be an amazing way to achieve community engagement events while not consuming a huge amount of time and resources. When I first joined Auckland Council the Chief Operating Office had a phrase, ‘Start with yes and then make it happen’. This has stuck with me and is something that I generally try to do. Often you just need to be open to sharing your venue or subject expertise. Pay attention to what is happening outside in your local community and see how you can get involved. For example, we have an active group of community gardens spread out across Auckland where volunteers help to grow food for families in need and enjoy all the associated health and wellbeing benefits of gardening. These groups often operate in isolation so one of the simple things that we have initiated this year is to connect with these smaller groups and offer our large and well-equipped venue as a place to meet and exchange ideas. We are thrilled to be hosting their end-of-year get together later in the year where they can mingle, exchange ideas and see our new wheelchair-accessible raised garden beds. It is a simple but effective way for us to engage with and support this valuable community work.

When I first joined Auckland Council the Chief Operating Office had a phrase, ‘Start with yes and then make it happen’.

In April, libraries across Auckland ran an Eco-Warrior-themed school holiday program. The libraries approached the gardens and asked if we could support this. It was such a simple and relevant thing

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Paul Swift

to do so we agreed to run a Bugs in the Botanic Gardens event in the Potter Children’s Garden, where we explored the worm farms and searched for invertebrates in the leaf-litter and soil. The libraries were able to promote this event at over 50 branches in Auckland, so we had a very successful event simply by being open to this partnership opportunity.

In March we hosted a large regional sustainability event for schools called Eye on Nature where we welcomed hundreds of school children and a wide range of partnering environmental organisations to the gardens.

The children participated in a series of educational activities relating to the sustainability topic of ‘waste’. The gardens team delivered sessions in the Potter Children’s Garden that explored growing your own food and a sustainable water session that showcased the water-sensitive design features that are found in the gardens. These events are a great way to raise awareness of the gardens and to promote us as a destination to return to again and again with family and friends. As an extension to the Eye on Nature school event we also hosted a month-long Eco-Fest where external organisations ran a range of community events such as composting workshops, an environmentalthemed movie at a pop-up outdoor cinema and a large ‘junk play’ session for children. We have a large lawn area in front of our Visitor Centre, which is an ideal venue for events of this size. I believe that you must be receptive to stepping outside a narrow definition of whether an activity fits within a botanic garden realm. You need to be prepared to slowly grow your audience and introduce them to the awe and wonder of the botanical world. With the junk play session, I talked to the organisers about how it would be great to introduce some natural, plant-based resources to the activity as well as the usual plastic junk materials, as this would then align more strongly with our core role of connecting people with plants.

Loose parts junk play. Credit: Auckland Botanic Garden Bugs in the Botanic Gardens Easter school holiday activity. Credit: Auckland Botanic Garden

Obviously, children and families are just two of the groups that we need to engage with. In March and April, we ran some more adult-orientated Drop and Learn sessions in both the Gondwana Arboretum and the Herb Garden. These are free, hour-long drop-in sessions that provide visitors with the opportunity to meet the relevant garden curator and learn a little more about the garden and collections. We vary the topics with some specific gardening-related tasks, such as pruning or tool sharpening, through to more general-interest seasonal guided walks. We are steadily building these events and are starting to see some regular return visitors attending, which demonstrates the appetite that many people have for engaging with our specialist gardens and gardeners. The best thing about these events is that we all have amazing gardeners who only have to give up an hour of their day to share their passion and knowledge − and the public just love the opportunity to talk with the gardeners first-hand.

We are steadily building these events and are starting to see some regular return visitors attending.

Some of your communities will be ‘internal’. We are incredibly fortunate to have a very well established and active Friends group here in Auckland and they generously support staff development and conference attendance. It makes sense, of course, that we look to support and engage with this important group. We recently took 26 Friends around the Native Plant Ideas and Manuka Gardens, and the relevant garden curators shared their plans and passion with an eager and receptive audience.

During the Easter School holidays we ran a series of family-friendly activities ranging from loose parts nature play to fungi exploration with the Mushroom Smith, a local mycologist and educator. By creating engaging and educational fun experiences for our younger visitors we help them

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Herb Garden Drop and Learn with Paula. Credit: Auckland Botanic Garden

appreciate the amazing world around them. We also help them create positive ‘memory making’ experiences here in the gardens so that they will hopefully continue to visit, enjoy the gardens, and become lifelong supporters of our work. Some of these events, such as the loose parts play, are simple to resource. I asked the garden staff to collect any interesting leaves, foliage and seeds from around the site and then we simply made these available for children to engage with. They built imaginary animals with pinecones and twigs, created mandala patterns with petals and leaves and generally just slowed down and explored the beauty of these botanical building blocks. Again, a cheap and easy way to offer a family-friendly activity without having to bring in expensive resources and expert staff.

If you are interested in community engagement and education within the botanic garden sector, and BGEN, please get in touch by emailing me at

Pippa and Jeff leading a Friends ‘Famil’ in the Native Plant Ideas Garden. Credit: Auckland Botanic Garden Botanical loose parts play session. Credit: Auckland Botanic Garden

Botanic news: from home and abroad


After 11 years of dedicated service to Botanic Gardens Australia and New Zealand, CEO Eamonn Flanagan has announced the end of his term with the organisation. His last day will be 30 June 2023. It is expected that a new CEO appointment process will begin shortly.

See the CEO’s Report for Eamonn’s thoughts on his 11 years with BGANZ.

BGANZ member opportunities

BGANZ continues to promote grants, scholarships and training opportunities. Be sure to get the weekly eNews for all the latest details – and if you know of any grants or opportunities available to botanic gardens’ employees and our members, please forward details to us and BGANZ will circulate. Email the details to, or if you would like to receive the eNews.

BGANZ Regional and Professional Groups

For more information on any of these groups – email or the Chair/contact of each group linked below.

Regional Groups

BGANZ Regional Groups provide local member networks with mentoring, support and capacity building. There are four regional groups (NSW/ACT, VIC, QLD, and NZ), enabling networking and information sharing.

BGANZ Victoria Chair, John Arnott, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria Cranbourne Gardens.

BGANZ New Zealand Chair, Wolfgang Bopp, Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

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Eamonn Flanagan CEO, BGANZ

BGANZ Queensland Barry Meiring, Tondoon Botanic Gardens, Gladstone.

Both Barry Meiring and Cody Johnson (Bundaberg Botanic Garden) look after the BGANZQ Regional Group. Part of Barry’s role is to represent botanic gardens from across QLD at BGANZ Member Committee meetings.

BGANZ New South Wales/ACT Michael Elgey, Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan.

Mike Elgey is the NSW representative and Michael Anlezark, from Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Garden, is the Chair of BGANZ NSW/ACT.

Part of Mike’s role is to represent botanic gardens from across NSW and the ACT at BGANZ Member Committee meetings.

Professional Groups

Botanic Gardens Engagement Group (BGEN) Chair, Paul Swift, Auckland Botanic Gardens. BGEN is a professional development network for gardens staff and volunteers working in the areas of education, interpretation, visitor/public programs, adult learning and outreach and community engagement. Please visit for more details.

BGANZ Collections and Record Management Group (BCARM) Chair, Sheree Parker, Geelong Botanic Gardens. BCARM aims to increase communication and information and experiencesharing between botanic gardens about plant records-keeping, assist with the development of standards and best practice and support staff training where appropriate. BGANZ has partnered with the botanical database software company Hortis to enable members to gain access to the latest technology, developed specifically for botanic gardens, at discounted prices for members. Please visit for more details.

Botanic Gardens Day Working Group Rebecca Harcourt, Tim Uebergang and John Arnott lead a small team that work on Botanic Gardens Day each year. The group aims to build and enhance the successful features of previous years, including #plantchallenge, webinars, forums and Botanic Gardens Day on the last Sunday in May.

BGANZ Arboriculture Pilot Working Group (BARB) is about to commence. Contact Ian Allan, from Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah, if you are interested in finding out more about this group devoted to all things trees.

We are always aiming to increase member opportunities and encourage members to take the next step in their professional development.

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An outstanding volunteer

For the past year or so, Karen Zeng, a PhD student from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, has been volunteering behind the scenes helping with BGANZ’s social media. Karen has done an outstanding job and we would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of BGANZ and its members, to thank her. Karen’s weekly posts on BGANZ’s social media platforms have helped promote, educate, entertain and inspire our members – and anyone else who might have seen them.

We asked Karen to write a few words on her time with BGANZ. She writes:

‘I’m a PhD student at UNSW Sydney, looking at how and when invasive species benefit from escaping their natural enemies. I fell into my path with the lofty goal of saving the environment through cold, hard science. But the more I learn, the more I am convinced that the solution to our environmental crises lies not in technology, but rather in the foresight and kindness of people. And what better way to grow connections between people and their environment than a botanic garden?

So, I signed up to help out for Botanic Gardens Month last year and have greatly enjoyed my stay. Under the mentorship of Rebecca and Eamonn, I was able to learn not only about how botanic gardens are run but also skills such as writing, social media management and most importantly, the power of good news. My approach to choosing articles is to ask what effect each post might have on people; with the goal of providing a little joy and inspiration, fun facts and finally promoting both member gardens and botanic gardens in general.

As I approach the end of my candidature as a both a student and BGANZ volunteer, my next step is uncertain, but I know that my time with BGANZ will be cherished. I would highly recommend volunteering for BGANZ social media to anyone wanting to learn more about botanic gardens and how they are run, and if you want to put all that social media scrolling time to good use.’

Thank you again, Karen, for these kind words and your help over the last year.

If anyone is interested in continuing in Karen’s footsteps, please email Rebecca at

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Karen Zeng

Seasol advertorial

A sunny day in winter is a perfect time to visit your local botanic gardens to recharge the batteries and soak up fresh air and − with any luck − sunshine. Plantings in botanic gardens offer a range of plants, from trees and shrubs to perennials, to view and appreciate.

Botanic gardens often have areas of open space including lawns to enjoy, as well as pathways to wander and explore, which makes them an inspiring place to visit alone, with a friend, or with the family.

An old, well-established botanic garden – such as those found in Australian capital cities and in many large towns – includes plantings that show gardeners how plants develop over time as well as the size and structure of mature specimens such as trees.

As botanic gardens often have many plants collected from around the world, they reveal a diversity of plants beyond those generally encountered in a garden centre. Viewing and experiencing the huge range of plants that can grow in your local area may also inspire gardeners to investigate unusual or rare plants or to develop a special collection of a plant group that has unique appeal.

Botanic gardens also demonstrate how plants are maintained. Many botanic gardens share this knowledge with home gardeners through lectures and demonstrations by garden staff, for example, by holding rose pruning demonstrations in winter.

Success in home gardens

If you are inspired by a visit to a botanic garden to undertake new plantings in your own garden, then it is important to look after the soil as well as the plants – just as in botanic gardens.

A key ingredient for maintaining healthy soil is Seasol, which encourages beneficial soil microbes and good conditions for root growth, whether you are growing ornamentals or vegetables to feed the family.

Regular applications of Seasol when planting help to aid plant establishment and promote healthy growth. It also helps to strength plant cell walls making them stronger and more able to cope with extreme weather conditions such as frost and cold in winter.

Seasol is derived from a blend of the finest brown kelps from around the world including King Island Bull Kelp Durvillaea potatorum, which is sustainably sourced from storm-cast material collected from the remote west coast of Tasmania and from King Island.

Seasol International is a proud sponsor of BGANZ.

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8th Botanic Gardens Day 2023 –Inspirational Plants and People

Botanic Gardens ‘Month of May’

I hope you enjoyed the month as much as we did! Huge thanks to all the gardens, staff and volunteers who obviously put a lot of effort into this year’s events, both online and onsite. What an inspirational group of people you are!

A special thanks goes to our Botanic Gardens Day Ambassador Costa Georgiadis, who again hosted our four webinars every Thursday evening, visited Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens on their 20th birthday and phoned in to chat on the radio early on a Sunday morning! His passion and enthusiasm for botanic gardens is truly inspiring – as is his energy.

We’d also like to thank our volunteers, Emma Simpkins, Kimberley Blythe, Helen McHugh and Karen Zeng, who helped us monitor our social media throughout the month.

I’d like to personally thank the people behind the scenes who helped me pull everything together for the month: John Arnott, Amalia McLaren-Brown, Helen McHugh, Brenden Moore, Alison Morgan and Tim Uebergang.

4th Botanic Gardens Seasol Plant Challenge

We are delighted to announce this year’s winners in the following three categories:

1. A year’s supply of Seasol for regional member gardens (including Friends groups) for their fantastic efforts onsite and/or online during the month of May goes to:

• Friends of Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens, NSW

• Friends of Maroochy Regional Bushland Botanic Gardens, QLD

• Hunter Region Botanic Gardens, NSW

• Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens, QLD

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Costa Georgiadis at Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens. Credit: Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens

• Pangarinda Botanic Gardens, SA

• Shoalhaven Heads Native Botanic Gardens, NSW

• Tondoon Botanic Gardens, QLD.

2. The mini prize pack winners, who answered Costa’s curly questions correctly at the end of the webinars, are:

• Leanne Terrington from Cockatoo, VIC

• Alexis Bardebes from Ormeau, QLD

• Jon Kingston from Stanmore, NSW

• Breanna Hill from Christchurch, New Zealand.

3. The winners of the $50 Seasol hampers for the best #plantchallenge individual (public) entries are:

• Belinda Burns, Stanhope, NSW

• Glenn Smith, Glen Alpine, NSW

• Yaz Boussoualim, Hilton, WA.

Glenn writes: This unusual flower from Western Australia is from Hakea petiolaris – Sea Urchin Hakea in the Australian Botanic gardens, Mount Annan. The flowers are just a little larger than a golf ball and grown directly on the stems between the leaves.


Webinars hosted by Costa Georgiadis

Belinda writes: Living in western Sydney suburbia, it’s nice to provide food for our native birds after vigorous land clearing. They look amazing styled in a contemporary garden. What the honeyeaters and lorikeets when in bloom enjoy a feast. You can’t go past Grevillea Excelsior.

Yaz writes: Did you know that there are over 360 species of grevillea? How many species you’ve seen so far?

We are hugely grateful to our webinar presenters and host, Costa Georgiadis. The webinars were very popular and the feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive.

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To give you an idea of how popular they were, here are some numbers from Costa’s FaceBook page as we went to print!

Webinar 1. Bushfire recovery: through community, conservation and collaborations 4.7K views.

Webinar 2. The Ian Potter National Conservatory: a national showcase for tropical Australian native flora. 8.4K views.

Webinar 3. A botanical banquet – exploring our plant palate. 4K views.

Webinar 4. Healing and medicine using indigenous plants and knowledge. 5.9K views.

You can watch all these webinars on our YouTube channel here

Webinars for industry professionals

A very successful online workshop was hosted by BCARM, the BGANZ Collections and Records Management group, It’s all about the plants! Botanic gardens and their plant collections. There were 57 attendees and so far, 148 people have watched it via our YouTube channel.

The Botanic Gardens Engagement Network (BGEN) also hosted an excellent webinar for those specialising in this area, Zippy’s Bush Kindy Kings Park – Big adventures for little nature lovers aged 3-5 years. This niche topic was reflected in the number of attendees (16).

You can watch both these webinars on our YouTube channel here.

Botanic Gardens Day on the radio!

Virginia Heywood, John Arnott and Clare Hart from Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, and Tex Moon from Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden spent the morning of Botanic Gardens Day chatting to Melbourne’s community radio station 3CR on its Gardening Show.

They were joined by special guests Costa Georgiadis, Jill Grant from Friends of the Australian Botanic Gardens Shepparton, Tim Entwisle from Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria and Kellee Reisinger from Geelong Botanic Gardens. It’s received some very nice feedback.

If you missed it live, you can listen to it here

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L-R: Clare Hart, John Arnott, Virginia Heywood and Tex Moon at 3CR

Member garden events

Member gardens from every state and territory in Australia and from both islands in New Zealand celebrated Botanic Gardens Day in their own way, big and small – with events ranging from workshops to guided walks to forest bathing!

In some cases, the day serendipitously coincided with a garden’s birthday or anniversary. A selection of photos from the day are included at the end of this article. More photos from the day can be viewed on our website,

For those gardens whose events were not impacted by the weather (like Shepparton and Williamstown ☹), attendance was excellent. For example, Emerald Botanic Gardens, QLD, estimates it had around 1,000 visitors – not bad for its first Botanic Gardens Day celebration in a town of about 15,000 people!

Please email me at with your estimate. This will help us promote the day to future potential partners.

Speaking of partners, a big thank you to our partner Seasol International for their fantastic support with the Botanic Gardens Seasol Plant Challenge 2023.

Lismore Regional Botanic Gardens

Cutting the cake for the 10th anniversary of the Lismore Regional Botanic Gardens. From left: Life Member Rose Hand, who had the nursery in her own backyard for many years; Tracey Whitby, President Friends of Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens; Lismore City Mayor, Steve Krieg; Thelma James and Mick Roberts, Bundjalung elders; Life member Geoff Walker; Jenny Dowell, former Mayor of Lismore 10 years ago at the Official Opening and Friend LRBG for many years.

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Local aboriginal elder Mick Roberts about to do his Welcome to Country on Botanic Gardens Day

Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens

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The Potty Potters plant sale at Tamborine Mountain Regional Botanic Gardens. The weather was perfect for us. Not a cloud in the sky and little breeze. Our visitors on the day were very generous and we raised nearly $2,000 through plant sales as well as a couple of hundred from the sausage sizzle, which sold out before midday. We also raffled a beautiful painting offered by a gentlemen out of the blue! We were blessed with a local acapella choir singing in the gardens as well as a busker providing music.

Credit: Tamborine Mountain Regional Botanic Gardens

Botanic Gardens Day at Cooktown Botanic Gardens. Many family activities ranging from a botanical/plant information hunt and playing on the world’s only botanic garden cricket ground! Credit: Peter Symes Gold Coast Regional Botanic Gardens Credit all photos: Nikki Murphy Cooktown Botanic Gardens Tamborine Mountain Regional Botanic Gardens

North Coast Regional Botanic Gardens

Coffs Harbour girl guides planting some Swamp Mahogany trees (koala are living in this area) at the North Coast Regional Botanic Gardens. The lady in the photo on the left has the guide name “Banksia” and was involved in the early establishment of the garden as a young guide leader in the 1980s. This planting was one form of commemoration for the work of Alex and Cynthia Floyd.

Emerald Botanic Gardens

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Credit all photos: Central Highlands Regional Council

Maroochy Regional Bushland Botanic Gardens

Botanic Gardens Day was celebrated in style at the Maroochy Regional Bushland Botanic Gardens over the weekend with two guided walks on offer in the glorious sunshine, exploring the theme of ‘inspirational plants and people.’ On Saturday Malcolm shared the botanical stories associated with different eucalypt species, including the botanists who described them. Then on Sunday Elaine shifted the focus of these botanical stories towards banksias, macadamias, the bunya, and a number of other unique Australian plants. The walks were fully booked and attended by 17 people across the two days. Well done Malcolm and Elaine!

Credit: Mandy Botterell, Sunshine Coast Council


Hervey Bay Botanic Gardens

A super huge THANK YOU to everyone who came along to our recent BGANZ Botanic Gardens Day –was a wonderful day with over 1000 people visiting the Gardens

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