There's a little electric bus doing the rounds at the Australian National Botanic Gardens, silently zipping past far-flung botanical treasures tucked far from the Visitor's Centre. The bus is decorated with flowers and has the catchy name The Flora Explorer. Flora is a beauty and she dutifully hauls visitors around her garden home every weekend and on public holidays too.
The day I impose myself on Flora, she's piloted by Volunteer Fran. Fran is a powerhouse of knowledge about all things botanical and before teaming up with Flora, she used to run walking tours so she knows many of the garden's secrets and luckily, she's happy to share them.
After a quick ticket check, we climb aboard Flora and lurch gently forth on our guided tour of the gardens. Amazingly, despite Canberra's unforgiving and, let's be honest - sometimes downright horrible - climate, the gardens are home to examples of one third of all plants in Australia. Broken into gardens based sometimes on species and sometimes on geographic origin, the tour takes us on a whirlwind botanical trip around Australia. We start with the Eastern mallee, scrubby and wild and head past the lush rainforest hidden under a protective canopy that forms a microclimate for the tender plants below. As we head uphill, we see some unique bottle trees and pause at the arid red centre garden which, as bad luck would have it was planted over a spring that has now been diverted to keep the Sydney basin garden looking lush. We see the western mallee, the rock garden and some living fossil Wollemi pines. We turn back past the rainforest and the tour finishes up, around 45 minutes in all giving a great overview of the gardens and some of the more interesting plants there.
See the National Botanic Gardens from a new perspective
The novelty of the bus made this fun for my seven year old, the information and access to areas I'd not seen before made it fun for me and based on the conversations the overseas tour group onboard had, it was great for them to see the diversity of Australia's wild plants (with a few cameos from the local birds and water dragons. The highlight though was Fran. Her hair was brighter than many of the flowers and her personality and passion were perfectly suited to this job which she obviously loves.
If you'd like to take a ride on the Flora Explorer next time you visit the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra, she runs every weekend and public holidays at 11:30am and 1:30pm. You can get tickets at the Botanical Bookshop located in the garden's visitor centre with tickets for $8 for adults and children and concessions priced at $5.