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These hardy and colourful 
Callistemon  can be seen in the Gardens during autumn.
Photographs are from
the photographic collection of the ANBG : photos by D Greig, R Boden and M Fagg

March, 2003

Farewell to John Nightingale

Photo : Barry Brown

John Nightingale, Curator, Living Collections, left the Gardens on 14 March to take up the position of Curator of the Alice Springs Desert Park. John had been with the ANBG since 1989 and all Friends who have met him will remember his friendly helpfulness whenever they sought his advice.

We all wish him well in his new position.


Grasses in the Gardens
Growing Australian Plants
Drought and then fire and then more drought ...
Cryptogam Herbarium and Library Tour
President's Report
Friends Briefs
New Communications Officer

 Grasses in the Gardens

Aristida bahrina    Bunch Wiregrass

Pauline March, Member of the Friends

Aristida :  from the Latin arista, meaning awn or beard of grain;
               alluding to the trifid awn.
behriana : after Dr Herman Behr, an early botanical collector in
               South Australia

This native grass is a short tufted perennial to about 0.4 m high, forming sparse clumps, leaves rolled, stems erect and rigid, panicle dense with brush-like inflourescences, often purplish in colour. Each spikelet has two glumes and one fertile floret with a three-branched awn which opens out as it dries looking like a small rotor. In the ANBG it grows in the Rock Garden adjacent to the top path (Section 15h) and with other grasses and lilies in Section 8 and makes a very attractive plant, flowering in late spring and into summer or in response to rain.

Aristida Behriana
                                                                           Photo by John Wilke

In NSW it occurs in the northern tablelands, central and southern slopes and plains and spreads south and west to the southern far western plains usually scattered through open woodlands.

For the home garden, it is a showy little grass suited to a sunny position but adaptable to most positions and soil types.

Aristida is a cosmopolitan genus of approximately 300 species world wide from temperate and subtropical regions frequently found in low rainfall areas and on poor soils. There are approximately 54 species native to Australia. The common name is Threeawn or Kerosene Grass. These grasses make their best growth in spring and summer but most do not produce enough leaves to make them valuable as fodder, except during drought. The 'seeds' (diaspores or units of dispersal) with a very sharp callus cause damage to animal hides and contaminate wool (and socks!). If growing in the home garden, this disadvantage is negated by removing the inflourescences after flowering and before seed development. Propagation is by division or seed, which may be slow to germinate.


Growing Australian Plants

Crowea saligna

Family : Rutaceae

Anne Phillips , Member of Growing Friends

Crowea :    named after Dr James Crowe (1750 - 1807), English
                 surgeon and expert in mosses, fungi and willows.

salignus:     hanging like a willow; salix is the willow genus.

Crowea saligna is a rounded shrub up to one metre high, with deep pink star-like flowers appearing in autumn and winter.

Crowea saligna

Photo by D. Greig

It is usually grown from cuttings, as it is difficult to grow from seed because the seeds are quickly released when mature, as well as being short-lived. The inclusion of ash into the seed-raising media has been successful and smoke treatment may be worth trying.

Suited to a shaded position, Crowea saligna needs well-drained, well-mulched soil. It is a good cut flower. It can be seen at various locations throught the Gardens, and is easily seen on the diagonal path from the Cafe to the Banks Building.

Drought and then fire and then more drought .......
John Nightingale, Curator, Living Collections

The drought that has affected much of southern Austalia continues to have a visible effect on the Gardens into the last half of February 2003. As Canberra's water storages have dropped, we have put in place many measures to conserve water and to satisfy a voluntary agreement made with ACTEW under its Water Restrictions Scheme. Because of this we have had to accept that the plant displays are not as vigorous and healthy as they could have been. Some plants have died, while others continue to look very thirsty. Some soil mixes have become hydrophobic or water repellent under the continuing dry condtions, making it very difficult to get moisture into the soil through normal irrigation practices. Despite some success with using wetting agents to overcome this problem, it seems that no amount of applied irrigation is quite as good for our plants as regular rainfall.

To reduce our water usage, the water recirculation pumps in the older and leakier water features have been turned off and irrigation of the lawn areas has been reduced, so that the grass is not as lush and green as in normal years. While most of the irrigation of the Gardens occurs in the evening under pre-programmed automatic control there were a number of areas that were only on manual irrigation control, where a horticulturist was needed to be present to turn a tap on. Where possible, these areas have been put under automatic control so that they can be watered in the evening, when irrigation is most efficient. For the areas that still require watering during the day, sprinklers or micro-sprays have been used in the mornings only, to avoid wasting water through the high evaporation rates that occur in the afternoons. As a result, horticultural staff have spent much time over the past few months hand watering the plants that needed it, trying to get the precious moisture into the soil profile where the plants can use it. Horticultural managers and staff have continued to identify irrigation efficiencies wherever they could be found.

The drought was also a major factor in giving life to the fires that destroyed many homes in Canberra and came fairly close to threatening the ANBG from the southwest on Saturday 18 January. The Gardens were evacuated on the afternoon of that day and were closed to the public for a number of days after because of safety concerns. The summer concert program came to a halt for two successive weekends because of the extreme fire danger at the time. Over this period all of Canberra was clothed in dense smoke from the nearby fires making it very unpleasant for everyone. Although the smoke cleared in early February, the drought has continued.

Despite these difficulties, the Gardens has survived pretty well so far. As I write this on Friday 21 February, good soaking rain has been falling since early morning. What a relief this is to us all!  Perhaps the worst is over, but only time will tell. Water restrictions are likely to continue for a while yet, and may even become more stringent as the water supplies could become polluted from soot and other undesirable materials created by the bushfires being washed into the reservoirs by the rain. At least with the days getting shorter and cooler there will be less evapotranspirational pressure on our plants. We will continue to investigate irrigation efficiencies and to make the most of what we have learned from dealing with the drought. I am sure that, with a return to fairly normal weather patterns, the Gardens will flourish, and bloom, again soon.

Cheryl Martin, Communications Officer

Hello! My name is Cheryl Martin and I have rececently taken up the position of Communications Officer in the Visitor Services section of the Gardens. Some of you I have already met and worked with during my first couple of months here at the Gardens and I hope to meet many more of you soon.

Before moving across to the Gardens, I worked for the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts and worked closely with

Commonwealth cultural institutions like the National Library, Questacon and the National Gallery. I have a background in events management and public relations and hope to bring various skills and experiences to this fantastic position at the Gardens.

Already I have had the opportunity to see the Gardens at its busiest during the conert season and school holiday period, when visitors took advantage of the many activities co-ordinated by the Gardens staff, the Friends of the Gardens and the Volunteer Guides.

Cryptogam Herbarium and Library Tour

Andrew Walker, Volunteer Guide

Following the Friends' AGM on 13 February, a group of interested Friends were given a fascinating tour of the Cryptogam Herbarium and the ANBG Library. The herbarium tour was led by Dr Christine Cargill, the Curator of Crytogams, while Catherine Jordan, the ANBG librarian, led the tour of the library.

Christine started her tour by explaining that the term 'crytogam' meant 'hidden marriage' and referred to the hidden way in which cryptogams reproduce. While they are a large and varied group of organisms, all are united by their reproduction by spores. They do not have flowers or seeds. Cryptogams include ferns and fern allies, bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts), algae, fungi and lichens. The herbarium itself is a collection of preserved plant and fungal specimens and their associated data, and is primarily concerned with scientific research and in the documentation of the vast diversity of plant and fungal life.

Within the herbarium, samples of herbarium specimens were displayed for Friends, ranging from the larger ferns on herbarium sheets to the smaller mosses and lichens in special paper packets and cardboard boxes. The group was also shown how the specimens are stored in the herbarium by way of cabinets with drawers for the bryophytes or in boxes on shelves in a compactus, as for the lichens, fungi and ferns.

In the library, Catherine was able to explain to the Friends the resources available on cryptogams, including recently published books as well as those from the rare books collection. For those interested in the flowery prose used by many writers a century ago, two of these are particularly fascinating. In 1893 George Murray started his review of the first, Romance of Low Life amongst Plants by M.C. Cooke (published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge!) by saying :

There must still be in these piping times a number of innocent people who delight to hear of the wonders of Nature, for whom the search after truth has no attraction if it be not marvellous in its revelation ... if such a book had to be written it is plain that he is the man to write it. He ... knows just the kind of thing that tickles.

With chapter headings like Moor Balls, Boiled Algae, Gory Dew, Sexuality in Agarics and Blood Rain, he certainly does!   However, Cooke evidently was not too impressed by Nardoo (of Burke and Wills fame). He wrote :

The 'Nardoo' must be classed as famine plants which have been resorted to in dire extremety and which for a time have sustained human life. As such they are to be remembered, although no one would think of resorting to them, as articles of food, unless impelled thereto by necessity.

The preface of the second of these rare books Whys and Ways of the Bush by Christopher Mudd, makes it abundantly clear for whom the book is written :

This book is not for Botanists. They are few in number. Government Departments issue books for them. This one is for the People. It is a humble attempt to get men and women into touch with the delights of our Australian Bush. This touch is enobling and adds a new world to a man's life.

Mudd was obviously fascinated by lichens. He wrote :

Lichens are mysterious and wonderful plants ... Some species of lichens are as fine as cobwebs; others more like coarse lace work cut out of fine leather. Their work is to turn hard rock into organic soil, by a process of microscopic root penetration and chemical action. They hold the soil for moss and fern to utilise. The matted mass of lichen growth can defy wind and rain sweeping away the manufactured soil. To see and revel in these paradises of Cryptogams - neither mushroom nor moss - is to discard the idea of "lower to higher".

While such language may lack the scientific objectivity that would be expected today, it is certainly effective in conveying the author's enthusiasm for his subject.

President's Report 2002 - 2003

Pauline Wicksteed

We have started 2003 rather perilously, though the Gardens has not been directly affected. However, closures have occurred on some days and there has been restricted access on total fire ban days. The Gardens suffered damage in September when high winds and falling branches caused a potential danger to staff and public.

Our many activities have fulfilled our objectives in supporting the Gardens, but Council needed to make some changes to the Friends' Constitution and this need became more immediate when we received a generous offer by Friends to finance a special project in the Gardens. We have no power to receive tax-deductible gifts and so we have been working through the process to set up a Public Fund as required by Environment Australia and the Australian Taxation Office to obtain this status.

The major sources of revenue for the Friends continued to be derived from membership fees and from summer concerts, Grazing in the Gardens, plant sales and an art exhibition. Again the concerts have drawn large audiences, though concerts on two weekends had to be cancelled because of the bushfire situation. In spite of various competing musical events at other venues around Canberra we attracted good crowds. Friends and staff have given their time and enthusiasm generously in running the concerts and collecting donations at each performance.

Enjoying the Summer Concerts        Photos : Andrew Walker

Grazing in the Gardens was another successful evening with over 320 participants. Again the food and music was well received and the new rockery lawn development was a pleasant space for the pre-dinner gathering. Council wishes to thank Bev Fisher and the volunteers and staff who assisted for the smooth running of the evening.

The Photographic Competition for High Schools and Secondary Colleges was held again in 2002. There were 200 entries and $2900 in prizes was awarded at the well-attended presentation. We thank Barry Brown and Denise Ferris who had the difficult task of judging the entries. Details of the competition, as well as photos, are on the Friends' website.

The Gardens projects we fund come from a twice-yearly call to staff and members of the Friends to put forward suggestions which must then be approved by the Director. Funding in the last year was given for the design work for the extension of the Rock Garden and redevelopment of the adjoining lawn area. Planting was carried out last spring and an official launch of the garden took place on 27 October.

Other projects were : the purchase of tree ferns for the Rainforest Gully; photographs chosen from the ANBG collection, to be enlarged and framed for public exhibition; additional palms for the Rainforest Gully; renovation of section 131, the garden in front of the Ellis Rowan building.

As with so many other societies we have been faced with the dilemma of how to deal with the public liability insurance cost increases. We are fortunate that Parks Australia insurance covers Friends' Activities on site, excluding medical expenses. Volunteers are deemed to be staff for insurance purposes and so are covered for medical expense. However, the extent of cover is limited after age 65. Off-site activities have required separate cover for a stated number of walks and tours beyond the Gardens' boundaries.

A new Guides training course was held through the year with 26 successful applicants. The Guides training program won the ACT Adult Learners Week Award in August. During the year Guides gave 849 walks with 3500 visitors shown around the Gardens. From February to March an extra daily walk at 10am has been offered as well as twilight walks on Wednesday evenings.

Three excellent issues of the Newsletter have been produced, each one with a superb cover picture and interesting and varied content. Between issues the Occasional Newsletter keeps us in touch with other planned activities. We now have to arrange our own mailing of the newsletter because of changes to the ANBG system. This has added a substantial cost to the Friends.

The new Activities sub-committee arranged an interesting and varied program this year with talks, bush walks, bird walks, a weekend enjoying the spring treasures of the Bundanoon area and special evenings for new members. We hope members are finding these events stimulating. The Friends acknowedge the Gardens' assistance in publicising events and activities and in providing signage for Friends' events.

Growing Friends had a successful year with propagation activities and subsequent sales. Two plant sales were held during the year and members of the group assisted Gardens' staff with propagation workshops for schools and the public during Science Week.

We have had a pleasing increase in memberships - 1254 at 1 February, compared with 1062 in 2002. Council at its last meeting passed a resolution that membership fees will need to be increased in our next financial year, due to increased costs.

The Friends were approached by the royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, on behalf of Botanic Gardens Conservation Interntional, to ask if we would sponsor a delegate from a neighbouring country to attend the 5th International Congress on Education in Botanic Gardens. We agreed to sponsor Mrs Endo Guof, Education Officer of Department of Forests at Lae, PNG.

We have agreed to host the conference of the Association of Friends of Botanic Gardens in April 2004. Originally a Victorian association, it has now been expanded nationally and we are the first Friends group outside Victoria to host the conference since it became a national association.

In January Council reviewed the Strategic Plan to see that we reached our goals for 2002 and to set those for 2003. This year we expect to achieve a more integrated promotion of the Friends' activities with the appointment of Cheryl Martin as Communications Officer. The roles of Council members are to be reviewed, as is the method of funding projects. We will also launch the Public Fund as soon as it is finally approved.

In reviewing our year we acknowledge the great amount of support we receive from the Director, Robin Nielsen, and all the staff, both in the information they share and by active involvement in Friends' events.

As I complete my term as President I would like to say how much I have appreciated working with the Council, the Members and the staff in the achievements made over these years. The Friends have become a very visible part of the Gardens, especially the Guides, who project the special nature of its collection. I am sure our relationship will long sustain the importance of this Australian garden.

Friends Briefs

New Friends Council

Pauline Wicksteed and Loris Howes have recently retired from the Friends Council, each having served two full terms as President and Vice President respectively. We thank them both for the significant contributions they have made to the development of the Friends over the past few years.

Andrew Walker (Newsletter editor and volunteer guide), and David Mellowship (Membership Secretary), were elected to the positions of President and Vice President respectively at the Friends AGM held on
13 February. John Burdett, Barbara Podger and Warwick Wright, all of whom have been 'active' Friends and volunteer guides for some years, were elected as new Council members. Fortunately for the work of the Council, there will be much needed continuity in the key positions of Secretary (Margaret Mansfield) and Treasurer (Beverley Fisher). Shirley McKeown (Web site) and Alan Munns also remain on the Council and Margaret Lynch (Activities Co-ordinator) has agreed to continue her involvement until her departure from Canberra later this year.

New Membership Fees

Friends were advised at the recent AGM of increases in membership fees, to be implemented from August 2003. Friends' membership fees have not changed since the inception of the Friends in 1990 and, while the benefits to Friends have increased since then, the costs involved in running the organisation have increased significantly, to a point where they have reduced our capacity to support the Gardens. The new fees still compare favourably with those levied by equivalent organisations associated with other national institutions in Canberra.

Rainforest Gully

Twenty seven Friends joined the lunchtime walk on February 20 to look at the enhancement of the rainforest gully plantings, a project supported by the Friends. Horticulturalist Toby Golson and Collectons Officer Stuart Donaldson pointed out the large number of wonderful epiphytes (ferns and orchids) that have been placed throughout the gully as well as the mature specimens within the Queensland plantings which have enhanced the thematics of the gully. These included a large group of Cyathea cooperi, a number of Stenocarplus sinuatus, Livistona australis and Archontophoenix cunninghamiana. A further 50 A. cunninghamiana are on order and are to be added to the plantings north of the middle bridge.

Archives index

Friends' Home Page

Compiled March, 2003 by Shirley McKeown   -  email : wombats1@tpg.com.au