«Expressing the love–hate relationship Australians have with their landscape». In conversation with TCL’s managing director on The Australian Garden
The Australian Garden in Melbourne, Australia
Located in the south-eastern outskirts of Melbourne, Australia, comes a botanical garden comprised of twenty-five hectares of Australian species and landscape design at Cranbourne done by Melbourne and Adelaide based architectural and urban design studio, Taylor Cullity Lethlean with specialist botanical consultation and collaboration from landscape architect Paul Thompson of Plant Design Pty Ltd. delegated the name ‘The Australian Garden’. TCL’s managing director, Perry Lethlean walks us through the project that has been awarded the title of ‘World Architecture Festival Best Landscape Project 2013’ in depth, «The Australian Garden was one of the first major projects our studio embarked upon. The client brief was clear that this was not to be a conventional botanic garden that might group plants according to bio regions or scientific classifications, but instead to create a garden that displayed the beauty and variety of our flora in bold and creative means. We were able to team up with Paul Thompson and a range of artists and sculptors as well as undertake detailed exploration of context, site and community, with a focus on the poetic expression of landscape and contemporary culture». The history of the site on which the project lies was originally used for sand quarrying and was with time altered to serve the purpose of creating botanical gardens during the 1970s. Planning commenced in the mid-1990s with the first phase being completed in the year 2006, the following phase was then opened in October 2012. «The site is situated within a three-hundred-hectare indigenous bushland park. Within this park was a twenty-five-hectare sand mine, which became the site of the Australian Garden. Following the cease mining operations, the landscape was left denuded; causing a stark contrast between this barren site and the surrounding flora». Lethlean goes on to explain, «via the artistry of landscape architecture, The Australian Garden brings together horticulture, architecture, ecology, and art to create the largest botanic garden devoted to the Australian flora. It seeks, through the design of themed experiences, to inspire visitors to visualize our plants in such novel means. The completion of the Australian Garden came at a time when botanical gardens worldwide were questioning existing research and recreational paradigms and refocussing anew on messages of landscape conservation».
Lampoon review: Australian Garden’s design approach
The continental island, Australia, is dominated by deserts and semi-arid lands and surrounded by the ocean and through the design of this botanical garden visitors are given the metaphorical journey of the water and Australian landscapes. «On the east side of the garden, exhibition gardens, display landscapes, research plots and forestry arrays illustrate our propensity to frame and order the landscapes in more formal manners, whilst on the west, visitors are subsumed by gardens that are inspired by natural cycles, immersive landscapes and irregular floristic forms. Water plays a mediating role between these two conditions, taking visitors from rockpool escarpments, meandering river bends, melaleuca spits and coastal edges». As one journeys through the botanical garden one starts with the absence of water; arid landscapes, slowly the water starts to appear in the rock pool and then becomes abundant further through the rest of the gardens. In addition to the garden experiencing different microclimates, with places that are exceedingly hot and others cool and as a result, in some areas species were planted from the Northern Territory Central Australia, the highlands in Tasmania and coastal Australia as well; all juxtaposed against another.
The choice of the trees in the botanical garden
In contemplation of creating the garden that showcased Australia’s breadth and diversity, a number of criteria were adopted for the preference of plants for the area; as it was one of the first botanic gardens in Australia committed to the display of native flora the idea was to use plants that were solely indigenous to Australia as well as working with plants that had the ability to grown in sandy, low nutrient soil conditions of the existing site. Lethlean describes «The outcome utilizes 170,000 plants across 1700 species all adapted to the challenging site condition, these species selected not only for their suitability to low organic media, but also their adaptation to low water utilization and drought tolerance. The Australian plant designer, Paul Thompson, was a key co-designer of the project and led the detailed planting selection and design». When coming to define the sustainable strata imposed in this project, water management, material procurement, recycled materials, use of indigenous flora and working existing substrate were deemed the necessary steps to repair the former sand mine land and transform it into a public garden that meets the client’s and public’s needs. «The primary focus for the garden was to create a demonstration for the usage of Australian species, as this was one of the first botanic gardens in Australia to utilize native plants, the garden had an educational role to uphold. This would have a larger flow on sustainability benefits, including increasing local biodiversity». The project is seen as a window into the country’s broader landscape of rich biodiversity and urban context, intertwining both the values and importance of the diverse ecologies and in turn transpiring to be advocates for their protection and rehabilitation.
Urbanization and increased level of mental illness
With eighty-four percent of Australia’s population living in cities, towns and suburbs; the chances are high of one living in an urban environment. Studies have also proven that urbanization is directly associated with an increased level of mental illness including depression – opting for natural based solutions must be considered. Landscape and urban forestry in a country such as Australia is an expanding field of professional endeavor. «It is critical that we must green our cities as fast as possible. In particular, street trees are the urban design tool to connect communities, green our cities and tackle climate change. It has been demonstrated that urban forests have social, environmental and economic benefits. Not only do trees reduce temperatures, reduce emissions and mitigate stormwater runoff; they also create ecosystems and biodiversity corridors – for communities, trees encourage outdoor activities, increase sociability and a sense of local identity». Creating greener areas is not only purposed for aesthetic values but it also means creating new job opportunities and investments, with this project setting a prime example, TCL’s managing director discloses how the garden has molded a more interactive community with a positive social health, «the garden is a large undertaking and now employs a number of horticulturalists, managers, educators and retailers to be an economic driver for the region. Since the project’s opening the site has been framed by new urban development, with the garden now as a recreational resource for the local community. This is further supported by volunteers who represent the project on site, to assist visitors in orientation, information and interpretation». Over the years following the completion of the project The Australian Garden has illustrated the potential to rehabilitate landscapes after a period of neglect, host biodiversity values, becoming a community and social destination that celebrates Australia’s flora and landscape.
TCL – Taylor Cullity Lethlean
Is one of the world’s most acclaimed landscape architecture and urban design firms based in Australia. Over the span of twenty-five years, TCL has managed to create a range of projects that vary in both public and private settings, ranging from urban waterfronts to desert walking trails.