Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens

A brief tour around this famous Botanic Garden, 'Down Under'.
by Adam St. Clair
Chamaerops No.18, published online 23-07-2002

Top: City skyline, with palms: Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens, with skyscrapers and Phoenix palms.
Bottom: Xanthorrhoea australis (‘Black Boy’), the Palm Lawn, and hidden Fern Gully.

Forget your preconceptions about Australia despite the fact that they're all probably true. While a third of the country lies within the tropics there are lots of deserts and sunshine here at the bottom of the continent, we have a warm-temperate climate that is, well, a little bit disturbed. Well, certifiably psychotic really. Despite our latitude being similar to that of Athens, Australia looks at Melbourne's weather the same way that southern Europe looks at Britain's. Their condescension aside, our only climatic hazards to horticulture are occasional light frosts, roaring summer heat waves and unreliable rainfall. No snow.

These unbelievable gardens turn 150 in 1996. I could happily ramble on about the beautiful vistas, sweeping lawns, hills and lakes, but you want palms; what's hot and what's not, what thrives and what dies. There are three palms that are common throughout the gardens:
Livistona australis (Victoria's only native palm), the C.I.D.P. (Canary Island Date Palm - Phoenix canariensis) and Archontophoenix cunninghamiana. They seem to pop up everywhere and are producing seedlings freely (at least, mine were free). It's surprising to see CIDP's so much in abundance around the gardens as they are so common anyway around Melbourne. The frequency of Livistona australis is also surprising as they are very rarely planted around Victoria, Washingtonia being preferred (which it much resembles). Pity.

The other Aussie, Archontophoenix cunninghamiana, called the Bangalow Palm, is a handsome one. They all seem to have different coloured crownshafts; green, brown, purple. This, when combined with the masses of bright red fruit makes for a very attractive palm.

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