Mini Plants Bring Great Pleasure – The Australian National Bonsai and Penjing Collection

The National Bonsai and Penjing collection is housed at the National Arboretum in Canberra and boasts over 80 miniature trees, some of which are over 60 years old. It is a truly inspiring collection from some of Australia’s best bonsai and penjing artists and could provide something to strive towards for those aspiring bonsai and penjing creators amongst you.

The National Bonsai and Penjing collection have a wide range of inspiring specimens

‘I’ve heard of bonsai but what is penjing?’ I hear you ask. Well, whereas bonsai is the art of growing mini trees and shrubs in containers through regular pruning, penjing is the art of growing mini landscapes in containers. The landscapes can include rocks, ground covers and small objects or figurines in addition to trees and shrubs. Penjing may also have a name, story or piece of poetry associated with it.

A beautiful example of penjing

Bonsai has been practised in Japan for at least 1,200 years and originated from the Chinese practice of penjing, which has been practised for at least 1,400 years.
The Arboretum’s collection contains some stunning specimens. Many of the selected plants are the traditional bonsai species such as Chinese elms and Japanese maples but, being an Australian collection, quite a few use Aussie natives, making the collection a real treat.

A traditional Chinese Elm bonsai
A River Red Gum bonsai – a brilliant example of an Australian native bonsai

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the display for me was that all the plants are outdoors with just a metal lattice over the top of the enclosing courtyard to protect the precious plants and landscapes from hail. The site is subject to severe frosts and also receives some snow but only a few pieces require protection from the cold weather. This protection comes in the form of a glass partition that can be closed to create a small sheltered space. This area is the only section of the courtyard with a proper roof, which provides a spot for heaters that prevent the temperature dropping below 5°C.

This area can be closed off to protect frost sensitive specimens

The collection offers something special at all times of the year. Some specimens flower and even fruit, putting on a display through the warmer months. Many of the plants are deciduous and put on a particularly lovely display during autumn. There is, of course, less colour during winter but the bare branches of the deciduous species have a beauty of their own.

A bonsai in full fruit

If you’re visiting Canberra, I thoroughly recommend a trip to the Arboretum specifically to visit the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection. Do try and pick a day when it’s not raining though.

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Eating your garden produce – globe artichokes

Growing great edibles is very satisfying for any gardener but sometimes knowing what to do with certain crops can be a little difficult. If you’ve ever wondered what to do with your globe artichokes then look no further than this super easy and tasty recipe for hot artichoke dip – from my friend Anita. This has got to be the tastiest way to use globe artichokes Click To Tweet Just adjust the quantities to suit the amount of produce you have.

Ingredients

Approximately 200 g globe artichokes (inedible parts removed)

1/2 cup whole egg mayonnaise

1 clove garlic (feel free to add more if you like lots of garlic)

1/4 cup grated mozarella cheese

1/4 cup parmasean cheese

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

A sprinkle of paprika (to taste)

Method

Very quickly blend all ingredients except the paprika (you want the mix to remain a bit lumpy).

Pour it all into a casserole dish and sprinkle the top with paprika.

Bake uncovered at 180 degrees for about 30 minutes, until golden.

Enjoy hot with bits of turkish bread, pita bread, corn chips, etc.

Can be eaten cold if there is any left over (but that may never happen).

Albury Botanic Gardens – Part 2

Part 1 of this post about the Albury Botanic Gardens looked at the broader garden. As promised, in part 2 of this post, I am going to show you my favourite part of the garden – the children’s garden.

Despite the fact that I am a ‘grown up’ and don’t yet have any children, the children’s garden really called to me. The garden is well designed to be attractive to adult carers while being fun for children of all ages and abilities. If you plan to visit the garden while in Albury, be aware that the children’s garden is closed on Wednesdays (except during NSW school holidays) – note the website doesn’t say anything about this… We were only in Albury for a night and of course it was a Wednesday, so we nearly missed out on visiting this part of the garden. Luckily we were able to pop in after we checked out of our hotel the next day.

A sign showing information about the children's garden
The children’s garden is a great feature in this garden

The first thing you’ll see in the children’s garden, is the life-sized dinosaur. Pretty much all children are captivated by dinosaurs at some point so it’s a great addition to the garden. The best bit though, is the fact that there is a speaking tube built into the structure. I’m sure it’s a big hit with the children – but even us adults had a go too 🙂

A large, long-necked dinosaur (probably a brachiosaurus))
A huge dinosaur guards the entrance of the garden
a side on view of the dinosaur
The dinosaur really is huge!
a silver speaker is embedded between the lips of the dinosaur's mouth
A closer look at the dinosaur’s head reveals a speaker that is connected to another speaker in the dinosaur’s tail allowing children to talk to each other (or make dinosaur noises) from the extreme ends of the dinosaur

There’s also a smaller dinosaur that children can climb on. The surface around it is nice and spongy so if anyone falls off, they’re protected from serious injuries. I’d still recommend carefully watching any children in your care though.

a smaller dinosaur
The baby dinosaur was very cute
giant clay broken eggshells
Where there are baby dinosaurs there must be empty eggshells!

Other than the dinosaurs, there were many other sculptures throughout the garden.

an imitation wood sculpture with lots of colourful 'carvings'
There are some amazing sculptures in the garden
a colourful scene with a mushroom house
An example of one of the colourful additions to the sculpture in the previous photo
a multicolour tower adorns the top of the sculpture
This is the largest of the additions to that sculpture
six small colourful inserts in the sculpture
More additions to the sculpture

Indeed, I think the ratio of plants to hard-landscaping features was pretty good.

a carved owl on a lectern is surrounded by listening animals
The garden has a good mix of plants and sculpture features

And the sculptures aren’t just for show. The castle below is actually the public toilets and drinking water fountains.

The public toilet is in the shape of a yellow castle
Even the public toilet has been made fun in this garden
a lizard
One of the ‘carvings’ on the castle that is the public toilet
A lizard's head pokes out of the wall of the castle and when you press the button water pours out of its mouth into a 'pond' where the drain is situated
Even the drinking fountains are decorative

There are also educational sections for the garden. Both adults and children alike can see what edible plants are in season at any given time of the year. The central sculpture within the edible garden even illustrates the transformation of a female squash flower into a ripe pumpkin.

Four curved, raised garden beds are filled with edibles and surround a lovely statue
The edible garden beds
The sculpture in the centre of the edible garden beds has a pumpkin in the centre. On top of the pumpkin is a female pumpkin flower complete with immature fruit at the bottom and the unopened flower petals at the top
The pumpkin sculpture shows a mature pumpkin and what the female flower looks like before it opens

Speaking of plants, the species selected for the garden have obviously been carefully chosen to simulate a prehistoric environment.

prehistoric looking tree
The plants in the children’s garden were carefully chosen to mimic the kind of landscape we expect dinosaurs lived in
small cycads
A dinosaur garden isn’t complete without some cycads
a huge tree sits in the middle of a path
There are some huge trees in the children’s garden for the little ones to admire

There are also places for adults to sit while they keep an eye on their young charges.

a bench is provided for adults to sit and watch their young charges play
There are thoughtful additions for parents and guardians

I particularly admire the way the garden designers have used plants as interactive elements to the garden. The living cubbies are a perfect example and they would be easy to replicate in a home garden.

a bench can be seen in amongst giant bamboo
There are lots of special places for children to explore and play in
Narrow bamboo is planted closely together to create the walls of a living cubby
Smaller bamboo is also used to create a living cubby

In addition to living cubbies, there is also a hut built from dead plant material. Again, this is something a home gardener could consider putting in their own garden.

a hut built from bamboo canes
Older children could potentially help their parents/guardians to build something like this in their own garden

Just like the broader gardens, the children’s garden contains a (fully fenced) water feature with the added benefit of a water-relevant mural behind it.

a fenced in water feature sits in front of a building with a mural of turtles and amoebas
The water feature is safely fenced and the building next door has been painted to create an interesting backdrop for the children to look at

Really, I could go on all day about the many wonderful features of this garden.

a wooden foot bridge has yellow buttons built into it
The yellow buttons in this bridge make noises
sculptures can be entered by small children
Some of the sculptures are a little more interactive
one of the 'carvings' in the sculpture above is five fingers with a little head on top
I love the detail on these sculptures!
a water pump children can use to pump water into a small pond
What would a children’s garden be without an interactive water feature?
a tree has been bent and curved and coiled around itself as it grew
This fantastic creation (yes it’s a living tree) would be at home in any garden – whether it’s for children or adults

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the Albury Botanic Gardens and are inspired to visit if you’re ever in the area. Even if you can’t visit the garden, hopefully you’ve picked up a couple of ideas for things you might include in your own garden – whether it needs to be child friendly or not.

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