The Canberra Discovery Garden is located at the National Arboretum, just 6km from Canberra's CBD. The National Arboretum is a 250 hectare scenic property with 94 forests of rare, endangered or threatened species of trees. The Visitors Centre is the hub of the whole property, with a café, restaurant, gift shop, playground and two gardens located outside on the Events Terrace. One of the gardens is the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection and the other is the Canberra Discovery Garden, where visitors can learn how to grow a sustainable and water-efficient garden in any season.
As I write this, on a 39 degree day in Canberra, the need for a water-wise garden couldn't be more evident. Lawns are turning brown, flowers are shrivelling up and yet grasses, flaxes, succulents and hardy water-wise plants in gardens around the city are keeping their colour and flourishing. They may be flourishing - but the people of Canberra are wilting! The Canberra Discovery Garden is a great resource for Canberrans and all Australians to visit and get some ideas of what to plant in dry climates - as well as still looking this green and colourful (below), all year around.
The garden is the creation of ACTEW Water Corporation, which supplies Canberra with its water to homes and businesses. As this city doesn't have any major commercial water users, the main consumers of water in Canberra are the residents - using it in our homes and mainly on our gardens. With drought and lowering dam levels, it is important for Canberrans to select water-wise plants and trees to preserve water, however the same tips can be applied to most Australian locations.
When you first walk into the garden there are several circular planter boxes on wheels, which is a clever idea for keeping plants in the shade when it gets too hot, then rolling them outside when it rains. There is also a stunning display of annuals and vegetables which can still be grown, despite any water restrictions. There is signage to read which explains the denseness of Canberra's clay soil in particular, and recommends watering slowly, as well as mixing it with sandy loam or other soils to provide drainage - all good tips for the budding gardener in us all.
As you walk through the garden there are shady areas to the left and right of the path, to show what shade-loving plants are also water-wise. Down the centre however, is the succulent and cacti garden which is just simply stunning in its colour, lines, shape and effect. This is the ideal garden for those who don't like to do too much, as these plants thrive on neglect. Varieties of cacti and succulents include Royal Agave, Silver Jade Plant, Red Torch Cactus and Sea Urchin Cactus.
At the back of the garden is a small water feature, as well as displays of Kangaroo Paw, Woolley Bush and other species of plants and shrubs that enjoy a harsh climate. There is also a compost area to show how to utilise it in the garden, as well as planters with water-wise herbs. Talks and demonstrations are planned to be held at various times of the year, to teach people the tips and tricks of owning a water-wise garden. See the National Arboretum What's On for more details.
Next time you get a chance to visit the National Arboretum, why not walk out onto the Events Terrace and have a look around the Canberra Discovery Garden. I personally learnt a lot and now have a list of plants that I need to track down at my local nursery for my own garden. If you have a friend or neighbour with plenty of succulents, perhaps do a trade or ask for some cuttings to start off your own succulent garden - for free. It is possible to live in a hot and dry Australian climate and still have a garden that looks attractive, with little water or maintenance. Water-wise doesn't have to mean boring, when you can still achieve colour that looks this good...