Rockhampton Botanic Gardens
We first visited the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens some years ago and were consideribly intrigued. How, we asked ourselves, did such an extensive and obviously long established Gardens come to have been developed in a comparatively small city such as Rockhampton?
Figure 1. A roadway island containing Livistona rotundifolia , Phoenix roebelenii ,
Rhapis excelsa and Sabal sp .
But before describing the present Gardens and particularly its palm collection, what answer can be found to the question posed above? The history of the development of the Gardens is well set out in Baker's "The Garden Story" (1969, the Gardens' centenary year). It explains a good deal about what can be seen there today. Remarkably 96 acres were originally put aside for the Gardens and of this 10 acres on the slopes adjacent to the Murray Lagoon were first developed. Early in its history the Gardens were watered from the lagoon and the area closest to it was therefore the easiest to maintain. The Tropic of Capricorn passes through Rockhampton but its rainfall is extremely variable with many very dry years. The soil is mainly loam. Goats are usually a menace to vegetation but here they made a useful although involuntary contribution to soil fertility: surplus goats were rounded up in the town area, transported to the Gardens, slaughtered and cremated in large pits. Their ashes were then transferred to the Gardens as fertiliser.
The Gardens first curator, Mr. J.S. Edgar reived assistance from the man who was unquestionably the most celebrated Austrlian botanist of the nineteenth century and a man whose name has been attached to many plants, including palms: Ferdinand Mueller. Melbourne-based Mueller was a prolific correspondent (2,000 letters per year) and Kynaston (1981) indicates that he distributed "over 500,000 plants throughout the colony". This collaboration with Edgar resulted in the introduction of many important species of plants although Mueller never visited the Gardens personally.
Figure 2. Mixed specimens in lower Lagoon Lawn dominated by
Archontophoenix alexandrae and very tall Cocos nucifera .
As the Gardens developed they became and have remained a focal point for the Rockhampton community. Between 1902 and 1939 a tram-line brought people in from the city. Plants were on sale there. Swimming was permitted in the lagoon. A children's playground and a small zoo were developed and exist there to this day. Photographs taken in the 1920's show a variety of mature palms. But 96 acres is a big area and clearly development had to occur little by little. Paved areas for meetings and barbeques have been established under enormous Banyan trees. A Japanese Garden was built there in 1982 by Japanese from Rockhampton's sister city in Japan, Ibusuki. An existing flowering tree area has, since 1985, been extended. A large tropical fruit garden was begun in 1986 and now contains 120 species and cultivars of tropical fruits and economically important plants. There is also an avenue of pines (Pinus pinea) grown from seeds obtained from Gallipoli and established in Australia's bicentennial year.
Figure 3. A group of young Coccothrinax fragrans .
The gradual process of development has had some attractive consequences. For one thing the Gardens are very unpredictable. The open spaces are of every size and shape. Palm plantings likewise vary: for example, areas planted densely with a variety of palms (see Figure 1), single specimens and groups of a single species (Figure 2). Figure 3 shows a very attractive example of a recent group planting: four Coccothrinax fragrans , while Figure 4 depicts a group of Dypsis leptocheilos . In some areas older palms tower over others of lesser stature, creating a multi-layered effect.
Figure 4: Vigorous young specimens of Dypsis leptocheilos .