Gardens linking cultures

Joan Dillon

Images John Dillon

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The Northern Territory, and Darwin in particular, has had a long association with the countries north of Australia, dating back to early records that show sea-trade with Asian neighbours and the influx of the Chinese during the gold rush era. It is a truly multicultural city, geographically closer to Asia than to Australia’s east coast and home to many people from neighbouring countries, Europe and the Americas. The student population of the university reflects this diversity. Formal links through teaching and research partnerships are maintained with a number of Asian universities, as Joan Dillon found out.

The University’s extensive and constantly changing Casuarina Campus in Darwin’s northern suburbs contains two tranquil and distinctive gardens, one Chinese and one Indonesian. They are very different in design but both reflect the important educational and cultural links between Australia and these two neighbours. The University Foundation, generous individuals, local cultural organisations, and various levels of government in China and Indonesia supported their establishment.

The Chinese Garden was constructed between 1995 and 2001 on a bare patch of rather arid soil and is now a peaceful haven to be enjoyed by staff, students and visitors. It is essentially a walled garden entered via a traditional moon gate guarded by two stone lions. Green tiles, again of traditional design and individually fixed to comply with the cyclone code, top the stone wall. A zigzagged bridge crosses a large pond and is a symbol of the University’s aim to provide a cultural bridge to the wider community.

From a 3 page Feature Article in Issue Thirty Five
Moon gate.
Mr Tao Xingzhi, the Great Educator, a famous contemporary educator and master of philosophy.
The Pendopo, a striking Indonesian wooden pavilion. Inset Pendopo corner with carving.
Create a Butterfly Haven with Nectar Plants

Claire Bickle



Gardeners around the world are concerned about the plight of honeybees and butterflies. These two insects are often used as barometers to assess the health of our gardens and our planet. Following the feature article about host plants for butterflies (issue 32) by Paul Plant, Claire Bickle continues to topic with plants that provide nectar for butterflies.

The importance of habitat and host plants for butterflies cannot be ignored however once butterfly eggs hatch and eat their host plants, pupate and turn into butterflies they need to feed and thus nectar sources are required.
Planning a garden that has a large range of plants that are a food source for these butterflies is not complicated; in fact a lot of people find themselves with a garden full of butterflies all because they have planted a myriad of flowering plants.

Butterflies have a vital role in our ecosystem.

Butterflies, bees (both honeybees and native) and a great diversity of other insects are attracted to flowers which provide a natural source of highly nutritious nectar.

Lists are provided for:

  • Favoured butterfly nectar plants: Non-native
  • Favoured butterfly nectar plants: Australian Natives
From a 5 page Feature Article in Issue Thirty Five
Marguerite Daisies (Argyranthemum cultivars). [CB]
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus). [CB]
Native Butterfly Bush (Pavetta australiensis). [CB]
Botanical Links



As Chair of the Queensland network of Botanic Gardens, Kate Heffernan recently spent several weeks visiting most of the botanic gardens in the state. The Queensland Botanic Gardens Trail brochure was created by an honorary committee and printed by fundraising among gardens. The trail promotes the wonderful resources of Queensland’s Botanic Gardens. There are rail trails, pub trails and food trails…now there is a trail of botanic gardens for garden lovers to discover.

Imagine a chain of gardens, stretching across the whole length and breadth of Queensland. Each with its own landscape character and plant collections, yet each linked in the chain through their commitment to the philosophies and role of botanic gardens across the globe.

In Queensland there are over twenty botanic gardens. Some are grand gardens funded by supportive local authorities and dedicated volunteer groups. Some are less glorious, their funding diminished, or the enthusiasm of their founders replaced by bureaucracy and indifference, yet they still entice curious visitors to observe the fascinating world of plants.

A Queensland Botanic Gardens Trail now connects the network for travellers keen to see indigenous plants and discover something of the pre-European regional character, or visit gardens where they can learn about non-native plants which perform well in the local environmental and climatic conditions and contribute to the cultural and social and economic environment of the area.

From an 4 page Feature Article in Issue Thirty Five
Queensland Botanic Garden Trail Brochure Cover
Small Bolwarra (Eupomatia bennettii) is a glossy leaf small shrub.
The Arts and Ecology Centre at Maroochy Regional Bushland Botanic Gardens.
Grass Trees - Xanthorrhoea

Heather Knowles

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Along with wattles, gums, grevilleas and bottlebrushes, Grass Trees are internationally associated with the Australian bush. Heather Knowles takes a closer look at these icons.

Grass Trees with their skirts of persistent old leaf bases, or with their trunks blackened by fire, make a dramatic feature in the landscape, especially when growing in large groups.

These are plants that reflect a slow relaxed country – slow to extremely slow growing, sometimes as little as one to two centimetres per year.
The floral industry uses leaves and flower spikes, both fresh and dried, extensively in arrangements and many Australian artists have featured Grass Trees in landscape paintings.

Aboriginal uses include using the dried flower scapes for making spear shafts, making fire, obtaining nectar from the flowers and using sap and resin as glue for toolmaking. Prior to the invention of plastic and acrylic compounds, the resin was also used by early Europeans for varnish manufacture, perfumery and was burnt in churches to provide a pleasant fragrance.

The erect inflorescence consists of many minute flowers arranged as a spike located on a woody scape. These flowers are attractive to birds and insects, especially bees and butterflies.

Species presented are:

  • Swamp Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea fulva)
  • Blue Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea glauca)
  • Johnson’s Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea johnsonii)
  • Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea latifolia)
  • Bottlebrush Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea macronema)

From a 4 page Feature Article in Issue Thirty Five

Blue Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea glauca).
Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea latifolia).
Bottlebrush Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea macronema).
Shady Foliage Characters
Noel Burdette

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When it comes to flowering plants, many gardeners share Noel Burdette passion for plants that bring a celebration of colour to a garden. This article complements the recent article about flowering plants for shady gardens (Issue 32) and focuses on the contribution foliage can provide.

Living and gardening in the subtropics or tropics has granted us with an immeasurable plethora of choices when it comes to plant species, yet some gardeners seem at a loss to choose suitable plants to grow in shaded gardens.

To be perfectly honest, for shaded areas, there is a greater choice to be had from foliage plants than from high performance flowering plants. Many, if not all of the plants listed in this article will, at some stage produce attractive or even fragrant flowers, yet the main focus on their cultivation is their ability to hold our interest and provide texture, colour and form and most importantly a greater plant biodiversity.

Before choosing any plant for semi-shaded or fully shaded areas, take a close look at the situation.

The biggest issue when choosing plants for these shaded corners is the quality of the shade itself. Is shade provided by a building, a garden structure or a large tree? Does the shade source impact on the soil pH, fertility, moisture levels or compaction?

Garden structures such as arbours and gazebos often have established plants around or over them which can cast heavy shade and extensive root systems that provide competition to new plantings. Competitive root systems are also likely to occur adjacent to established trees. In both cases, the soil will require amendment in the form of additional fertiliser and building up the soil using organic matter prior to planting.

Species discussed are:

  • Caladium (Caladium cultivars)
  • Pewter Bush (Strobilanthes gossypina
    – unresolved botanical name)
  • Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyeriana
    – also an unresolved botanical name)
  • Chocolate Plant (Pseuderanthemum alatum)
  • Bird Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus syn. A. australasicum)
  • Corn Plant (Dracaena fragrans syn. D. deremensis)
  • Chinese Evergreens (Aglaonema cultivars)

From a 4 page Feature Article in Issue Thirty Five

Caladium bicolor – cultivar.
Dracaena fragrans ‘Bausei’.
Aglaoenema cultivar.
Another look... Government House Darwin

With the assistance of Dermot Wait Senior Horticulturist at Government House Northern Territory

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Following on from Joan Dillon’s article on the gardens of Government House in Darwin (Issue 34), there was interest from our readers to learn more about some of the interesting plants that have been donated to the gardens. With the assistance of Dermot Wait Senior Horticulturist at Government House Northern Territory, this article hopes to highlight some of the many fascinating plants grown in the gardens.

There have been many plant enthusiasts and supporters of Government House gardens who have donated plants over the past 19 years. Without the wonderful generosity of these people and many others from the local horticultural community and nurseries, the gardens would not have these plants.

Over the years, Government House staff have also donated many cuttings, orchid kiki’s, bromeliad pups and advanced potted plants. Of note is a group of large Birdnest Anthuriums (Anthurium cubense) that are now growing happily under the shade of a Raintree (Albizia saman syn. Samanea saman) on the eastern slope.

From a 4 page Feature Article in Issue Thirty Five
Lady Slipper Vine (Thunbergia mysorensis).
Heaven Lotus (Gustavia superba).
The stunning Cordyline fruticosa ‘New Guinea Fan’.
Arno King




Making a beautiful garden is a highly creative process and a key component is utilising plants to create a stunning picture. How the plants are arranged and how they resonate with one another is critical to the success of the garden.

But what do you do if you have an existing garden with plantings that you love, but which you know could be improved? Where do you start?

One step at a time
Take a critical look at the plantings in your garden and decide which are the most important planting features. It may be a stunning jacaranda tree or a mass planting of spider lilies on a bank. These plantings are your ‘star performers’.

Now that you have identified your ‘star performers’, the fun can start. It is time to select some companions for them. Think about the character of the plants you have identified. In what style of garden would you expect to see them? Think about the colour of the leaves or flowers.

Combine 3 plants
To begin with, consider groupings of three or more plants using your ‘star performers’ as the lead. Pick two more plants that complement each other and the ‘star’. They need to be plants that perform well in your garden or in neighbouring gardens.

Perhaps it is wise to try one of each plant initially. If they grow well and look good in the association you have created, you will need to buy or propagate more to make a continuous drift.

From a 2 page Feature Article in Issue Thirty Five
A mass of red with Coleus and Cordyline complemented with the spots of red in the background. Cheryl Boyd Garden, Qld.
Vriesea heterostachys (syn. Vriesea petropolitana) and Friendship Plant (Pilea involucrata) groundcover have similar colourings but contrasting shape and texture.
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