Some of Australia's state capitals believe their botanic gardens are better than anyone else's. So Melbourne thinks its gardens are superior to Sydney's, for example. I will always be fond of Sydney's (above) because on my very first full day in Australia, I walked round from Circular Quay, past the Opera House and into the Royal (no less) Botanic Gardens: it was a beautiful morning and I was impressed. But I also quite liked Perth's (below). I love the more-than-glimpses of steel, concrete and glass through trees.
I've wandered through the Brisbane's City Botanic Gardens many times. We went there on our very first day here, the 2nd of January, 2010. The first thing to catch my eye then was a splendid grey-green fan palm, shortly followed a well-disguised Monitor Lizard.
I remember feeling other-worldly: meantime, my feet were being bitten by sand flies, or mozzies; I never did find out which.
Since then, we've often cycled through the gardens on our way along the north shore of the Brisbane River. A few weeks ago we took a flask of tea and Tim Tams to enjoy the gardens on a sun-day afternoon.
The City Botanic Gardens nestle inside a wide loop of the Brisbane River. If you're travelling upstream, they present a tranquil green contrast to the concrete hurly-burly of the Captain Cook and other bridges and the roller-coaster Riverside Expressway; and a foil to the high-rising CBD.
These 'heritage gardens' are the city's original botanic gardens. Six acres of 'botanical reserve', a sort of experimental farm garden, were established in 1855 under the care of botanist Walter Hill to identify suitable crops (including cotton and sugarcane) for the Moreton Bay penal settlement, which had been founded 30 years before. He didn't overlook the recreational aspect of a garden and added some ornamental plants. In 1865-66 the garden was extended to about 40 acres and included an area known as Queen's Garden, hence the sign on the Alice Street entrance (George Bowen was Queensland's first Governor).
The Botanic Gardens were flooded eight times between 1870 and the devastating flood of 1974. The subsequent loss of plants led Brisbane Council to establish additional gardens in 1976, the so-called 'discovery gardens' at the foot of Mt Coot-tha west of the city (see More botanics, March 2011). But many fine old trees survived the deluge in the City Gardens, some of them dating from Brisbane's foundation. These include the Bunya pines planted by Hill along the river, and Banyan figs, natives of India that were planted in the 1870s and have since produced spectacular curtains of aerial roots.
Some of these, by Alice Street, remind me of a prisoner's hand reaching through the bars of his cell.
There are wide-open sweeping lawns and tucked away, secluded dells; ponds and riverside; spaces in which to play with friends and hideaways from city work stations; the gardens provide a green break, a breather, a sanctuary. Other features include a rainforest, a bamboo grove and a mangrove boardwalk.
A few days ago, I fancied a cooling respite from shopping in the city. I wandered round the gardens wherever my eyes led me. I was struck by three essential elements: colour, texture and the juxtaposition of foliage. This is what I saw:
I particularly enjoyed the backlighting effects as the sun dipped lower.
And I came across an old friend.