March, 2002

  This is a sample of our Newsletter's diverse and interesting content.
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  Flowers and Friends: an Exhibition of Paintings

 Shades of Eucalyptus

 Some South Australian Botanic Gardens

What's in a Name 

Friends Briefs

Bot Gos

 Flowers and Friends:
an Exhibition of Paintings

Pauline Wicksteed, Volunteer Guide

The two artists exhibiting works, Helen Fitzgerald and Elisabeth Sherras Clark, are Friends of the Gardens and share a love of nature and an interest in its conservation. Their paintings are one way of increasing public awareness and appreciation of the beauty and value of both native and exotic plants and birds.














Helen Fitzgerald is an experienced artist and teacher. She holds degrees in applied Science and Art Education and studied overseas at the University of Vienna and the University of Perugia. She has had numerous solo exhibitions; her exhibits at Sydney's Royal Botanical Gardens, the National Herbarium of Victoria and Bungendore Woodworks Gallery were sell-outs. Her commissioned works hang in France, Canada, the U.K., Germany, U.S.A., Finland, Japan and Italy as well as in Australia. She has also illustrated five books on flora and fauna of the ACT and alpine areas.

Elisabeth Sherras Clark received her Fine Art training at Oxford University and has taught flower painting throughout Britain. She accompanied plant collecting expeditions to Central Africa and South America and received medals from the Royal Horticultural Society for her paintings. She has shown work in major London exhibitions and in Sweden, Austria, New Zealand and Australia, most recently at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. She now divides her year between England and Australia where she paints from garden specimens.

The exhibition will be held from 6 - 14 April, 2002 and all works will be for sale, with a portion of the proceeds to go to the Friends of the Gardens.


This exhibition features work done by Adelaide textile artist India Flint, who has undertaken extensive research into eucalypts as dyes, testing more than 250 samples from the Currency Creek Arboretum, Mount Lofty Botanic Garden and other sources. Her 'eco-print' process provides a quick testing method for the dye potential of eucalypts, using small quantities of leaves and water and no harmful mordants.

The exhibition includes seven spectacular felt gowns dyed with eucalypt extracts, sample fabric lengths and information about the key species used. It also displays a selection of the more than 250 test samples the artist produced as part of her research and explains the
'eco-print' process developed to test the colours of small leaf samples.

Shades of Eucalyptus will be on display in the Visitor Centre
from 23 February until August 2002.

Some South Australian Botanic Gardens

Pat GibbsVolunteer Guide

There is a great variety of botanic gardens in Australia, and eighty of them are described expertly and illustrated with outstanding photographs in a beautiful book, Botanic Gardens of Australia: a Guide to 80 Gardens, by Leslie Lockwood, Jan Wilson and Murray Fagg (reviewed in our October 2001 Newsletter). The book is beautifully presented, with comprehensive information, and I knew that I would enjoy referring to it at the first opportunity, which came with a visit to Adelaide early in December.

Limited time in Adelaide meant that we had to choose two of the three gardens described in the book. Adelaide Botanic Garden is a formal garden, much older than the city of Canberra, and over one hundred years older than the ANBG (it was established in 1855).

The trees in the adjacent Botanic Park, particularly the fig trees with their buttress roots, give a majestic introduction to the garden.


Fig trees in the Botanic Park, Adelaide

It is full of surprises, including formal European styled settings, and unusual plant family displays, such as the colourful Bromeliaceae.

There are both old and new features such as the Bremen Palm House which was imported from Germany in 1877, and the Bicentennial Conservatory which was constructed for 1988.

palm house

The Bremen Palm House


By contrast the Bremen Palm House is like a crystal jewel box, its doors open and inviting.
It was recently renovated and houses a distinctive collection of plants from Madagascar, which was once a very small part of the great southern continent of Gondwana.



The plants are well spaced, with some horrifically thorny, and most are spectacularly coloured. The air is hot and dry and one feels that these plants must come from a more extreme region than any we know on this continent.

We caught a glimpse of the Conservatory from the Botanic Park as we entered the garden. It is a unique structure like a gigantic but thin bivalve shell standing on edge and filled to the brim with a tropical rainforest. You can walk through on paths at different levels; at the lower level small birds forage in the leaf litter. It is a moist yet invigorating atmosphere. The Adelaide Botanic Garden has many different sections.

Our second choice, Mount Lofty Botanic Garden, was obscured by cloud on our first visit. After a coffee break we returned to find a dramatic bowl of gardens of many different themes. This is a garden of grand vistas, both in its boundaries and beyond to vineyards, orchards and forest-covered slopes. Plants from many different countries are represented in the garden and we chose to look more closely at the South American gully, with its fuchsias and many grand relatives of the potato. With more time we could have seen plants from New Zealand, Asia and North America, as well as our own native plants. Earlier last year we had visited the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden at Port Augusta, with its saltbushes, eremophilas and their many attendant honeyeaters. This garden is set against the distant, colourful backdrop of the Flinders Ranges and is described and illustrated in the book. It was surprising that in the Mount Lofty Garden and the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden we were the only visitors for an hour or more


What's in a Name?

Bernard Fennessy, Volunteer Guide

In the Australian National Botanic Gardens, the office of the Friends of the Gardens is housed in the Ellis Rowan Building, named in honour of a famous Australian wildlife artist. In the Friends' Lounge there is a set of prints from some of her original paintings, including the Kangaroo Paw.

Marian Ellis Rowan (1848 - 1922) was born in Melbourne. She was always known as Ellis. Her lifelong interest in wildlife painting was probably influenced by family tradition, as her maternal grandfather, John Cotton, was an artist and a naturalist and had written two books on English birds.

Her father Charles Ryan and his family lived at Mt Macedon, Victoria, in a home set in a spectacular 26-acre (10.5 ha) garden which was designed with advice from family friend Ferdinand von Mueller, the Government Botanist of Victoria. Ellis returned here regularly after her marriage in 1873 to Frederic Charles Rowan, and was living here at the time of her death.


Memorial portrait of Ellis Rowan painted from a photo,
by Sir John Longstaff, 1926

Her husband was a British army officer who had fought in the Maori wars in New Zealand and later became a businessman in Melbourne. He encouraged Ellis to continue her wildlife paintings and to exhibit them.

An important botanical mentor and role model was the English flower painter and world traveler, Marianne North, whom the Ryans had met at Albany, W.A. She inspired in Ellis an ambition "to travel the world in search of flowers rare and wonderful". Ellis proposed to do this by painting from life to show flowers in their natural habitat. She embarked on a succession of major field trips. In 1887, for example, at the age of 39, she set out on an ambitious scheme to illustrate the flora of Queensland!

After the death of her husband in 1892, Ellis Rowan did much travelling overseas, including to New Zealand, London and the USA During her London stay of two years, three of her paintings were accepted by Queen Victoria, and Ellis wrote A Flower Hunter in Queensland and New Zealand. In the early 1900's she returned to Australia to continue her project to find and record every species of wildflower on the continent. Her subjects included, in addition to wildflowers, birds and insects of many countries. She exhibited her work in Australia, India, England, Europe and the USA and she was awarded many prizes.

In 1916-18 she twice visited Papua and New Guinea, finding and illustrating many higher to unclassified flowers, and on her second trip, searching for endangered birds of paradise. She painted 47 of the 52 known species. Throughout her painting career she sent Ferdinand von Mueller, the Government Botanist in Victoria,m drawings of the wildflowers she found, usually with samples of the flowers themselves. His annotations are to be found on the backs of many of her paintings.

Aged 70 and broken in health from malaria and fatigue, she returned to Australia and in 1920 held an exhibition of 1000 paintings in Sydney. The next year, in response to pressures from women's organisations, the Australian Government, under W.M. Hughes, agreed to purchase the collection. Argument in the Parliament about the price to be paid was still in progress when Ellis Rowan died in 1922. In 1923 the Bruce-Page Government bought 947 paintings for 5000 pounds. These paintings were possibly about one-third of her prodigious output.

The paintings are now in the National Library of Australia, Canberra. A selection of these has been published in Flower Paintings of Ellis Rowan by Helen Hewson (1982).

Bot Gos

Jo Pillinger, Education Officer

Over the last six months or so, things have been really moving in Education at the Gardens. While the facilitated Explainer-led programs are still proving very popular (and we hope to expand this area), we have been extending our focus to provide many more opportunities for school groups to self-guide, or to 'do their own thing'. We believe that a diversity of approach should widen our appeal. But are there pitfalls to self-guiding?

'Self-guide' inevitably means 'worksheets'. There are some who cringe at the sight of kids carrying pencil and paper while on excursions and others who simply can't get enough of it! But with a self-guide program, how can worksheets be avoided?

Here in the Education section, we think we have gone a long way towards performing what has turned out to be quite a difficult balancing act - fun versus 'busy work' ... versus actual learning. We have recently developed two worksheets for younger visitors to the Gardens that avoid all these depressing 'worksheet' connotations and succeed in balancing the fun with the learning. Younger visitors are challenged to look, ponder and marvel.

So what's different? First of all, much of the learning contained in these worksheets is subliminal, i.e. there is no rigorous 'lecture' element. It is a rather frenetic visual mixture of different font sizes and styles, fancy borders, lots of clip art and images, as well as kid-friendly humour that targets our younger audience. It's fun, but that's the intention. Surely kids learn best when they are enjoying themselves!

But amongst all the hype, the educational intention of these worksheets is deadly serious. An open-ended style of questioning encourages our visitors to observe the plants closely then use what they see to ponder and question further for themselves. We want these visitors to observe the plants closely then use what they see to ponder and question further for themselves. We want these visitors to use the 'real' thing and think about their responses. The questions we ask don't always have a right or wrong answer, but rely on the kids' own capacity to wonder and marvel at what they see.

So, if you would like to know more, come down to the Crosbie Morrison Building and ask. Take a copy and walk the walk for yourself and find out why the Education staff wear those odd 'Ask me for the latest Goss' shirts!


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Weddin Mountains Trip

The Friends trip to the Weddin Mountains last September was an outstanding success. We were made extremely welcome by the locals and Noel Cartwright proudly showed us through Grenfell's newly developed Endemic Garden as well as his own magnificent garden before guiding us to some of his favourite haunts in the Weddin Mountains National Park. Many thanks to Pat and Warwick Wright for organising the event.

Summer Walks

During January and February both the 9.30 am walks and the Wednesday evening walks have proved very popular. Over 150 visitors responded to the theme for the evening walk, 'Feathers Fur or Skin - where do plants fit in', challenging the Guides to find Critters and expand their knowledge of the Gardens.

How High is your Helping Hand?

One Friend was recently heard to boast that his Helichrysum 'Helping Hand', obtained at the Growing Friends plant sale on 24 November, was already half a metre tall. Other 'Healing Hands' have been devoured by caterpillars or shrivelled up through lack of water in the summer heat. Let us know how your 'Helping Hand' has progressed and we'll tell the world in the next issue.

Tenth Anniversary

February 2002 was the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Friends' Volunteer Guides Service. The Gardens held a celebration on 19 February to mark the event.

Friends Website

A new page, Kids Talking About Australian Native Plants, is now on our website. It has been designed mainly for primary school children but everyone else is welcome to read it. Connect via the button on the Friends' Home Page (or click here). Naturally, the website also has information about forthcoming events in the Gardens (click here).

Archive Index

Friends' Home Page

Compiled 12 March, 2002 by Shirley McKeown   -  email : wombats1@tpg.com.au