Autumn leaves in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens and Subtropics: garden design tips
Can that really be autumn foliage framing the Subtropical Dome at the Brisbane's Botanic Gardens in the year 2011 ?
Take a closer look: It's Euphorbia cotinifolia with a blaze of maroon foliage that frames the view of the classic geodesic dome at this popular Brisbane tourist attraction. I discovered this and other autumn delights when I paid a visit to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot tha this week.
It was the first week after the autumn equinox of 2011 and I knew the seasons were turning. I was curious to see how climate change is affecting the autumn behaviour of subtropical trees. I soon started to think: What has happened to Brisbane's best known, subtropical trees that usually produce lovely autumn foliage?
Where were the usual tones of orange and gold on trees such as Liquidambar, Crepe Myrtle and White Cedar ? I found a tiny patch of yellow leaves on a large Liquidamber tree near the Band Shell, and a Crepe Myrtle with some bare branches and plenty of green leaves in the Japanese Garden. (Refer photos below & right).
Then I reminded myself that Brisbane Botanic Gardens always turns on a show for autumn. Looking more closely at Kenso Ogata's classic Japanese pond garden, (which was constructed nearly twenty five yeras ago in 1988 - 89), I expected to see more deciduous trees with their autumn leaves.
But this was not to be. There was another surprise. Autumn had come in the form of some small, maroon foliaged shrubs, the occasional pink camellia bloom and a blue pond. No autumn foliage trees were to be seen - just a pond emptied of water to reveal its blue plastic liner.
Gardeners at the Botanic Gardens were taking advantage of the autumn weather to clean out the pond. This gave a good opportunity to see how these clever gardeners plant the normally serene water lilies that float on the surface of the pond.
On this occasion, the lily leaves lay draped and slightly wilted, with their thin, long stems quietly resting about the large black plastic pots in which they reside on the blue plastic liner at the bottom of the pond. Like clusters of patient refugees, they awaited the return of the water and the new prospects it would bring. One day soon, they would once again turn their faces towards the sun and re-establish themselves.
Travelling to the gardens, I had passed by one of Brisbane's stately homes. Its autumn charms are worth mentioning, as they complemented those of the nearby Botanic Gardens. In the garden of the yellow house depicted below, just as I had seen at the Botanic Gardens, there is a design that cleverly combines hard and soft landscape elements. By that, I mean a combination of the hard walls and roofs of buildings with the soft trees, shrubs and garden spaces around them.
What a welcoming entry has been created ! As though to celebrate the arrival of cooler autumn days, the sunlight played upon the warm oranges and golds of the roof and walls.
As poet John Keats said, autumn is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. The restrained use of evergreen trees and shrubs in this garden catches the silent autumn mists as they glide by. It brings forth the mellow fruitfulness of brightly coloured native berries on the trees. And as a third blessing of autumn, there will be bird song, rather than the need for a sweeping up and carting away of a whole driveway full of deciduous leaves, as the months progress.
As though to confirm this abundance of autumn brought forth by walls, roofs and trees, the neighbour's equally beguiling footpath garden caught my eye as I turned to walk back down the hill from this property. The first verse of John Keats's, Ode to Autumn ran through my mind as I passed beneath the canopy:
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
Just as Keats's vines ran in happy proliferation around the thatch eves, here the vines and fruits fell in profusion over a subtle pink wall for all the neighbourhood to enjoy as part of their daily walk. These lovely colours and textures made me recall once again the combinations of walls, roofs and plants that I had seen growing at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens.
Firstly it had been the combination of the curved, reflective, geometric walls of the subtropical dome and the autumn colours of Euphorbia cotinifolia that had created a surprising and unexpected autumn note.
Secondly, it had been the combination of small, maroon foliaged shrubs planted in the foreground of a traditional, shingle roofed Japanese garden shelter that had created a welcome contrast of autumn colours and textures in the Japanese Garden.
Here, the hard and soft elements of the garden had worked together to create the autumn ambiance, rather than just relying upon the foliage colours of traditional deciduous trees and the lovely blooms of camellias.
Not to be cast aside however, an example of this classic combination of traditional subtropical trees with lovely, autumn blooms, sprang back to mind.
Going back to where I had commenced my visit at the entrance gate to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, I saw the frangipani trees with their leaves beginning to fall and the roses with their petals beginning to unfold. Regardless of climate change, there is always something exotic and unexpected happening in the well designed subtropical garden.
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Brisbane Botanic Gardens in Mt Coot tha Road are normally open each day from sunrise to sunset.