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Could “Bleak City” – Australia’s drizzle capital – really have a desert garden?

Not yet on many visitors’ “radar” is Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens’ very different but equally rewarding “other half”, 45 kilometres southeast of the CBD.

Cranbourne Gardens – formerly/more formally known as Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne – is utterly unlike its inner-Melbourne sibling.

The original”, established in 1846, is Victoria’s greatest garden; it is also one of the world’s great botanic gardens.

The Cranbourne Gardens began in 1970, but really got cracking in this millennium.

Pictured above, its Red Sand Garden is the most immediately arresting element in its Australian Garden.

As one who generally prefers nature “au naturel”,  I sceptically gazed across the not-remotely-trying-to-be-natural, highly manicured, very geometric and still “raw” expanse of the Australian Garden.

My beloved and I and a good friend had just spent a very pleasant few hours walking, then picnicking in the nicely-shaggy, natural bush part of the Cranbourne Gardens.

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At lunchtime we were joined by a southern brown bandicoot.

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Southern brown bandicoots were once commonplace across southern Australia; they are now largely absent/ critically endangered.  Only in southwest WA do they thrive, albeit under a different name – quenda.

Depending on whom you choose to believe, the quenda is or is not a subspecies.

Anyhow, post-bandicoot, post-bush, we walked into the Australian Garden.

I thought, “ten minutes in this artificial environment will probably be more than enough”.

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90 minutes later, the gardens were about to close, and we wished we had walked into the Australian Garden an hour or two earlier.

It is full of nice surprises, ingenious, intricate…and highly educational, without being tedious about it – if you would like inspiration and good information on water-saving and cultivating Australian plants, this is the place.

Xanthorrhoea (grass tree)
Xanthorrhoea (grass tree)

It has not an accidental or lazy square millimetre.

Just a few steps – or just a few turns of a chair’s wheels in this remarkably-accessible place – will yield something new and different, immediately in front of you.

A member of the Dampiera genus, I think. As you can see from the sand grains, each flower is small
A member of the Dampiera genus, I think. As you can see from the sand grains, each flower is small

Often, just a few steps will also afford a new vista.

The Cranbourne Gardens are going to be rather more wonderful in 10 years time, but they are already wonderful, right now.

Grevillea, directly in front of late afternoon sun. All photos copyright Doug Spencer.
Grevillea, directly in front of late afternoon sun. All photos copyright Doug Spencer.

Published in Australia (not WA) nature and travel photographs

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