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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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Floriade

Floriade is ‘Australia’s biggest celebration of spring’. It has been held in the nation’s capital every year for 27 years for one month during September and October. Each year, designers create themed garden beds using a variety of spring flowering bulbs and complementary annuals. More than a million flowers make up the displays. I’ve been to the last few but I reckon this year’s is the best I’ve seen.
This year’s theme is ’embrace passion’. Beds represent everything from love and nature’s four seasons to fashion and family. My favourite garden bed was the teddy bear bed because the designer cleverly made use of vertical space to make bears with an extra dimension.
Fewer garden related workshops are running this year which was a little disappointing but some of the educational displays, such as the environmental weeds and edible garden set ups, were better than previous years.
Cockington Green has just set up a miniature display garden at Floriade that I’m hoping to see this week. If I make it along, I’ll be sure to post some pictures of it too!
Floriade is not my favourite type of garden because it has a very narrow focus – the plants used only provide visual stimulation for about a month per year. But it does give visitors lots of ideas about how to use such plants in their own gardens where they are free to incorporate plants that are of interest all year round. It also gets people excited about gardening and if just one person comes away from the garden inspired to start their own patch of pleasure, then it’s achieved something good 🙂
If you’re going to be in the Canberra area between now and the 12th of October, why not visit Floriade – it’s free and you might just come away with some ideas for your garden. You can find all the info you need here: www.floriadeaustralia.com
If you’re interstate, overseas or just not able to make it to the event, hopefully these pictures will give you a bit of the flavour of Floriade. And if you’re in the northern hemisphere, why not take this opportunity to plant a spring bulb display.

Children's Passion - Teddy Bear
Children’s Passion – Teddy Bear
One of the teddies
One of the teddies
Passion for Family - People
Passion for Family – People
Can you see part of one of the people?
Can you see part of one of the people?
There's another person here
There’s another person here
Artwork is scattered around Floriade too
Artwork is scattered around Floriade too
Pair of Shoes
Pair of Shoes
Pair of Shoes
Pair of Shoes
More artwork
More artwork
Educational Garden
Educational Garden
Good plants
Good plants
Bad plants
Bad plants
More bad plants
More bad plants
Chickens! - What's a garden without them?
Chickens! – What’s a garden without them?
Check out the neat way of growing fresh greens for your girls
Check out the neat way of growing fresh greens for your girls
Just chilling
Just chilling
Preserving the harvest
Preserving the harvest
Hydroponics
Hydroponics
Wicking beds
Wicking beds
More hydroponics
More hydroponics
Container gardening
Container gardening
What to do with my old car...
What to do with my old car…
Passion for food
Passion for food
Passion for
Passion for hobbies
Fundraising - I bet there are lots of children out there who would like a cubby house like this!
Fundraising – I bet there are lots of children out there who would like a cubby house like this!
Ideas
Ideas
Got an old wheel barrow lying around?
Got an old wheel barrow lying around?
These mobile gardens are great for small gardens that don't have a lot of sun - the garden beds can be moved to follow the sun!
These mobile gardens are great for small gardens that don’t have a lot of sun – the garden beds can be moved to follow the sun!
Strawbale beds
Strawbale beds
Strawbale beds
Strawbale beds
Garden art that's functional
Garden art that’s functional
Edibles and ornamentals can be grown in these funky beds
Edibles and ornamentals can be grown in these funky beds
And sometimes edibles are highly ornamental!
And sometimes edibles are highly ornamental!

The Garden of St Erth

Recently, I visited the Garden of St Erth near Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. This is a Diggers Club garden that incorporates a garden shop and restaurant where fresh garden produce, grown on site, is served daily. The garden is supposed to be at its best in autumn so, having visited in winter I was not visiting it at its best but, nevertheless, I did get a feel for the garden.

Picture of St Erth's garden shop
St Erth’s garden shop

The garden is comprised of an ornamental, almost woodland type section as well as a food section. There is also a separate berry garden across the road.
Berry beds
Berry beds

The ornamental section surrounds the productive section and is furthest from the cafe and shop. The garden map points out a number of special trees that are scattered throughout this part of the garden and if you have an interest in less common trees, you will appreciate this aspect of the garden. Small signs point out interesting specimen plants. Unfortunately, most of these plants were dormant when I visited the garden so I could not take pleasure in this aspect of the garden. In fact, despite the fact that Diggers sells a number of winter flowering perennials and annuals, the garden was curiously lacking in such plants. There were a few sections of hellebores but only a limited selection of species and forms were included. As a results, the ornamental section of heathy garden was somewhat disappointing. I can see it’s potential in the warmer seasons however.
Hellebore bed
Hellebore bed

The edible section of the garden was a little more interesting. It was surrounded by a more densely packed but open ornamental section (no trees to cast shade on the vegetables in this part of the garden). This part of the ornamental section was much more interesting than the other parts. Given Diggers’s emphasis on beneficial insect attracting plants though, I had expected many more such plants in this area but again they were curiously absent. It was nevertheless, packed full of interesting plants, thoughtfully arranged to create a pleasing view. It was also charming in that it attracted a range of animals. Obviously the organic practices employed by the Diggers crew have paid off because I saw a kookaburra find a tasty lunch consisting of lizard and a blue wren was flitting around the garden as well. Anyone who lives nearby this garden would surely enjoy sitting in this area for a peaceful afternoon filled with beauty. The garden is a bit ‘remote’ for most Victorians to visit regularly though.
Ornamental section next to the edible section
Ornamental section next to the edible section

The edible section itself consisted of annual vegetable, largely perennial vegetable and fruit beds. The fruit section contained an array of delightfully espaliered fruit trees. If you’re interested in espalier, St Erth might be worth a visit just for that reason. The vegetable beds were however a little disappointing. Straight rows and monoculture sections abounded. For an organisation that encourages companion planting, it was surprising how little of it was evident in the garden. They also use black bird netting which is more dangerous for animals as they can’t see it easily and so often get caught in it.
One of the vegetable beds
One of the vegetable beds

Another interesting thing I noted, was that the plantsman markers that Diggers sells (for the purposes of labelling plantings) were mostly blank (except for faint traces of permanent marker) or had printed labels affixed to them. Clearly, writing on them with permanent marker (as they are advertised) is not a long term labelling solution. I’d be wary if you’re thinking if purchasing some.
Plantsman markers
Plantsman markers

Overall the garden had some interesting highlights and would probably be a pleasant outing during the warmer months when there is more colour and interest. It would likely be of interest to tree and espalier enthusiasts and it would make a nice setting for the workshops Diggers runs there regularly. I suspect though that Heronswood (their main garden, on the other side of Melbourne) would be much more impressive. Their plant trials are largely done at that garden I believe so it would likely be more interesting and ‘action packed’.
Garden entrance
Garden entrance

The plant shop on the other hand was fantastic. Shelves full of heirloom seeds were very tempting and I was rather sorry I couldn’t take any of their plants home (due to quarantine restrictions). Everything looked healthy and mostly weed free. They had a good variety of plants that can be planted now as well as seeds for the warmer months. The potatoes were making my fingers ‘itch’ to get planting. Diggers members receive a discount on all plants and seeds and have access to some members only varieties so if you’re a member, the garden would be worth a visit just so you can check out their merchandise in person and save on shipping costs.
Another ornamental section adjacent to the ornamental section
Another ornamental section adjacent to the ornamental section

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to sample the fair in the cafe but those who did looked like they were thoroughly enjoying it. I saw the chef head out to harvest fresh leeks for some of the meals so I have no doubt that the food would have been tasty if only because of the freshness of the ingredients. There certainly aren’t many places I’ve been to where you can get that – other than your own kitchen of course.

If you’re interested in visiting the Garden of St Erth, head over to: http://www.diggers.com.au/gardens-cafes/gardens/st-erth.aspx. Entry is $10 for adults, free for children under 16 and free for Diggers Club members. If you’ve visited a garden recently, why not tell us all about it at www.facebook.com/gardenrealm.