When the children were younger and we lived a bit nearer the city, the Adelaide Botanic Gardens were one of our favourite places to visit on the weekend. Entry is free and there are open grassy areas where children can run around and play Frisbee or ball games. It's something of a little oasis in the city centre, the only issue can be finding parking when it gets busy.
The Botanic Park
Plane Tree Drive offers paid ticket parking, but if you don't mind the walk you could park on the streets further down the River Torrens and enjoy a riverside stroll to the gardens and park. This was what we did on our last visit. We parked on a side street near St. Peter's Billabong and followed the river as it flowed west, taking us under the busy highway. On the other side a footbridge takes you across the river where you can go up and cross through the Botanic Park to reach the gardens.
We were heading in on a cooler day, following a record breaking heatwave which broke 47°C (117°C). We didn't know what to expect with the gardens, how well any of the plants had survived the furnace, but even as we crossed the river clues that something hadn't survived it, reached our noses. We discovered on our return to the river that, sadly, the local grey-headed flying-fox population had taken a hit and their bodies were dotted around, decomposing.
The Botanic Park is an expanse of lawn encircled (or should that be entriangled?) By Plane Tree Drive, named for the plane trees which edge the park. It's a great opportunity for picnics and games which require plenty of space and the varied trees dotted throughout this arboretum offer shade from the summer sun.
There is also a collection of Moreton Bay figs which line the Botanic Gardens side of the park, their huge size and striking, buttress roots making them a memorable and enticing attraction.
The park was obtained by the Botanic Gardens in 1866 and the development of it began in 1873. Rather than planting pretty flower displays there, the focus was to go on trees, planting them for education, display and preservation. They retained as many of the existing river red gums as they could, but few remain today. They are fiercely protected and known as the remnant trees.
The Botanic Gardens
The main entrance from the park side is the Friends Gate, where North Lodge, the home of the Friends of the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide, is located.
The Friends are a volunteer group which help with guided tours, information and raising money to support the gardens and keep it free and educational for all. A noble cause, but it was my love of old architecture which first drew my attention to the building.
From the Friends Gate, walking straight ahead leads you down a pathway lined with more fig trees. A lovely avenue, where I got distracted and failed to photograph, or was perhaps too busy trying to catch up to my family who were on a mission. The gardens are large, with lots to see, but there are plenty of signs to guide visitors and help them decide where they want to go next.
For my family I think it was somewhere to sit down and eat and it was a rather lovely spot they found.
My husband and eldest daughter weren't feeling like exploring much. The weather may have cooled a little, but it was still very warm and with the cloud cover it was feeling muggy too. If they'd have joined us, they could have found reprieve in the air conditioned Museum of Economic Botany.
Very little plant life appeared to have suffered greatly during the heatwave, a testament to how well the gardens have been established and are cared for. We didn't head into the museum straight away, instead braving the heat for a bit longer to explore the gardens a bit more. However, I did pop in briefly after admiring this bush outside.
Feeling a little cooler from the quick air conditioned visit, I went to find my youngest daughter, Izzy, photographing by the lily pond. She was trying to sneak up for some close ups on a dragonfly, but it kept moving away from her.
We didn’t cover much of the gardens that day, but it wasn't a day where you'd want to be rushing anyway. Originally Izzy wasn't that interested in the museum, but by the time we'd visited the Palm House…
…strolled through the Cactus and Succulent Garden…
…and tried to find shade in the Garden of Health...
…my mention that the museum was air conditioned suddenly made it the desired place to be. With a trip to the toilet on the cards, our route back to the museum took us via the café kiosk next to the pond. The outside dining area is shaded by a huge tree and surrounded by the plants that must appreciate that shade.
I also couldn't go past the Amazon Waterlily Pavilion without popping in.
Unfortunately, the waterlily pond was empty for renovations. After 150 years, I guess it shouldn't be surprising that some leaks had developed. Still it was fascinating to see the internals of the pond, which you never normally see.
The Museum of Economic Botany is sponsored by Santos, an oil and gas producer. It's hard not to find that rather ironic.
Inside I got drawn towards a display case which, among many other things, had woodworm damaged books and some quotes from some of the people who founded the museum. The first basically explains that botany is a huge party of the economy and people should know what plants the many things produced come from. The second quote really struck me:
”…my friends have asked me what is meant by the term ‘Economic’ in connection with this Museum. My idea is that, as every botanical exhibit in the Museum has a use and a value to mankind, the word is most appropriate since they show what can be made of various plants, and this waste can be prevented… it would be well were everyone to study how to prevent waste and make the most out of everything that comes their way.” Albert Molineux 1881
So nearly 140 years ago people were already very much aware about wasting resources and making the most of what was there, yet still we are trying to educate people in this as our wastefulness has only increased. One has to wonder if we are fighting a losing battle.
As I stood reading this, I was next to the desk of one of the Friends of the Botanic Gardens and I think the lady on duty may have been getting a little bored, because she struck up a conversation with me and shared some of her knowledge on the items and history of the building. She awed me with the beauty of the ceiling decorated with real gold, fascinated me with some history of the busts and damage to some of the exhibits from woodworm and we had a giggle over the saucy looking shape of the coco-de-mers. I only wish my camera could perform better in the indoor lighting to share more with you.
coco-de-mer or double coconut.
By the time we came out of the museum everyone was wanting to head home. So we said goodbye to this oasis…
…and headed back towards the river, having a quick drink from the old drinking fountain by the gate.
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