News and Events

Botanical Buzz - Giving Support to Pink Silk Flowers and Lantern Seeds

Friday, June 19, 2015

I was told it would happen.  Just a matter of time and our Pink Silk trees before they attracted too much attention from fluttering moths laying eggs.  They burrow into the trunk leaving a tell-tale cocoon of chewed wood called frass.  Usually evident in the trunk fork of our innocent, didn’t deserve it, and otherwise outstanding park trees.

The Pink Silk tree (Albizia julibrissin) was the second choice by our Japanese landscape gardeners, coming after their first choice of Japanese maple.  We voiced our concern about the choice of the Japanese maple as the aspect was full afternoon sun.  While a beautiful tree the Japanese maple is susceptible to sun burn, especially with the heat of our summers.  Fortunately they listened and allowed the Pink Silk tree to take its place beside the waterfall.

What a to-do we had with three metre bamboo poles positioned at 45 degree angles to mark out where the new Silk trees would arch over the base of the waterfall.  Finally, with a lot of effort we finally got the angles right and received the thumbs up from our friendly Japanese gardeners.

When it came time to plant we had regular hardwood stakes to hold the plants just so.  In Japanese such support would be called “sasae”, or “tsae de Karada o sasaeru” meaning to support the tree with a cane.  Don’t worry; our Japanese gardeners will soon set me right with our maintenance program, even though I can imagine them shrugging their shoulders at my inadequate Japanese language skills.

The Pink Silk tree is otherwise well suited to Dubbo.  Coming from Persia, China and Japan the Albizia is a quick growing, 6 metres deciduous shade tree with finely divided Jacaranda-like leaves.

Now what shall we do about those annoying borers?  Simply extract the little bleeders with a length of wire, then fertilise and water in spring and summer.  Otherwise our trees are simply “in-the-pink” for summer flowers and tan-coloured seed pods in autumn, looking like thin Japanese lanterns.

Botanical Buzz - Koi (Flowers of the Water)

Friday, June 19, 2015

When next you come to the Japanese Garden lean over the bridge rail and stare at one of the giant, blubber lipped Koi mouthing sweet nothing back at you.  Spare a thought for why he looks so dazed and muddle headed. 

The KSA (Koi Society of Australia) make special mention of what they call Kohaku (white Koi with red markings).    We have some in our pond and are highly regarded in Japan.   Other colour combinations are also highly regarded including the gold on black.  

To keep our Koi with some natural company we have a Persimmon Tree (or Kaki in Japanese) planted right on the edge of pond.  This tree represents a connection with our sister city Minokamo in Gifu Prefecture, Japan.    Minokamo is well renowned for the high quality persimmon fruit that is produced.  In the early 1600s the Japanese warload Ieyasu Tokugawa passed through the area and after sampling the dried persimmon on offer declared that they were the “sweetest he had enjoyed.”  Ieyasu went on to ultimately win the campaign and eventually unified Japan, with the Tokugawa shogunate lasting for the next 265 years.

For some, like Ieyasu Tokugawa, the Persimmon is a gourmet delight.  Others become nauseated by such luscious sweetness.  I also found out why our Koi often seem “muddle headed” in the section of the pond under the Persimmon.  While the Persimmon is safe to eat, high in calories, rich in Potassium, fibre and Vitamin A, the fruit is reported to have a slight narcotic effect.  Pound the fruit and drop it into the water and the fish become stupefied and easily caught.

On your next visit to the garden, ask the staff for some fish food to coax the fish up to the bridge.  While you are there, try and identify as many different colour combinations as you can.

Botanical Buzz - Autumn chemistry

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Autumn is the perfect time to have a picnic in the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden. The beautiful surrounds and milder weather encourage us to stop, relax and ponder the deeper questions of life…. like why do the leaves of some trees change colour in autumn?

Leaves contain a number of different coloured compounds. Healthy leaves are usually green because they contain more chlorophyll (which is green) than any other coloured substance. 

Chlorophyll is in almost every plant on earth because it is good at absorbing light from the sun.

Plants need energy from light to help them produce food so that they can grow, flower and produce seed.

However, chlorophyll is destroyed by bright sunlight so during summer plants have to continuously regenerate it. This process requires sunlight and warm temperatures.

Another compound found in the leaves of many plants is carotene which is yellow. Carotene promotes the absorption of light by chlorophyll.

Some leaves also contain anthocyanins. These are responsible for the red skin of ripe apples and the purple of ripe grapes. The formation of anthocyanins requires light and a high concentration of sugar in the sap. The former requisite is why apples often appear red on one side and green on the other; the red side was in the sun and the green side was in shade.

As autumn progresses nutrient flow to the leaves reduces and chlorophyll regeneration declines. If the leaves contain carotene, as do the leaves of the ginkgo bilobas growing in Shoyoen, they start to turn yellow.

The brightest autumn colours are produced when dry, sunny days are followed by cool, dry nights. Bright sunshine destroys chlorophyll and cool temperatures prevent its regeneration. In addition, dry weather (by increasing sugar concentration in the sap) and bright sunshine enhance anthocyanin production creating vivid red and purple colours.

Kick back and watch chemistry, biology and physics at work in the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.


Botanical Buzz - Autumn

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Autumn is one of Shoyoen’s most spectacular seasons. Over the next few months the garden will begin to glow with colour. Liquidambars, Chinese Tallows and Ginkgos will create a dazzling gold and red display which will give visitors reason to pause in delight.

The four seasons are highly significant to the Japanese. Shinto, Japan's native belief system focuses upon the cycles of the earth and the annual agrarian calendar. Expressions of Shinto beliefs include the recognition of divine spirits (kami) in natural elements such as old trees, mountains and waterfalls, and seasonal festivals.

Aki matsuri, autumn festivals thank the kami for a good harvest.

The seasons have also been used by poets, artists and gardeners as a way of giving expression to the Buddhist philosophy that change is intrinsic to the nature of existence. The beauty of the seasons and the poignancy of their inevitable evanescence have inspired many poems, paintings and gardens.

Traditional Japanese poems and paintings using a seasonal theme not only celebrate the sensual appeal of the natural elements but also imbue them with human emotions. Melancholy sentiments, invoked by a sense of passing time and loss are common. The lovely but short-lived blossoming cherry trees (spring) and the beautiful but stark image of persimmons remaining on trees after their leaves have fallen off (autumn).

The persimmon tree in Shoyoen, presently heavy with ripening fruit, has a much more positive association. It was planted to celebrate our Sister City relationship with Minokamo. Dojo Hachiya-gaki,  dried persimmon have been a speciality of Minokamo for hundreds of years.

Traditional Japanese gardens are much more than the creation of an “ideal” landscape or a work of art. Studying Japanese gardens may reveal essential truths about the nature of human existence.

A gentle stroll or meditation in Shoyoen can provide insight into an all embracing natural cycle of unfathomable beauty and complexity.



Botanical Buzz - The remarkable Solanaceae family

Monday, January 12, 2015

Attractive ornamentals, important food crops, medicinal plants and deadly killers; the large Solanaceae family has it all.

Solanaceae is a cosmopolitan and ancient plant family containing 90 genera and over 2700 species. Plants belonging to the family grow on every continent except Antarctica and range from the down-to-earth potato to the ubiquitous petunia and the stunningly beautiful Angel’s Trumpet.

One of the defining characteristics of the Solanaceae family is five-petalled flowers, with the petals fused at the base.

In addition to potatoes, other important food plants belonging to the Solanaceae family include tomatoes, capsicums and chillies. All of these plants came from South America to Europe in the 16th Century and gradually became an integral part of the European diet.

The nutritious and low maintenance potato was particularly successful in Europe. By the 1800’s, a single variety, the high yielding Irish Lumper was the principal food crop of the poorest regions of Ireland.

Lack of genetic diversity made the Irish potato crops susceptible to disease. In the 1840s repeated crop failure due to potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) precipitated the Great Famine during which approximately 1 million Irish people died and a further 1 million emigrated, reducing the population of Ireland by 20 – 25 percent.

Many of the plants belonging to the Solanaceae family are poisonous. The most notorious of these is Nicotiana tabacum  (tobacco), arguably the most deadly plant in the modern world.

Australia has roughly 20 different genera. One of the more common native species is Solanum aviculare (Kangaroo Apple). Solanum aviculare is an important traditional Aboriginal food source and is also commercially cultivated to produce modern medicinal products.

Belonging to a famous family can cast a long shadow but the pretty Lycianthes rantonnetii with its abundant small purple flowers has found its place in the sun at Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

                                                                                                                                    By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Japanese aesthetics and Shoyoen

Friday, January 09, 2015

Shoyoen (the Japanese Garden) soothes and revitalises the spirit of all who enter through its beautiful sukiyamon (gate). Breathing becomes deeper, hearts beat slower and worries become less troubling.

However, the visitors who are most richly rewarded are those who are inspired by this living gift from our Sister City Minokamo, to seek further knowledge and understanding.

Shoyoen, and every element within it, provides valuable insight into Japanese aesthetics.

Outside of the Japanese Tea House is a tsukubai; a composition of stones and a water laver sheltered by a Japanese maple. The purpose of the tsukubai is to provide an opportunity for visitors to ‘purify’ their hands and mouth before entering the Tea House.

The tsukubai is a work of art embodying ancient Japanese aesthetics including wabi (transient and stark beauty), sabi (the beauty of natural patina and aging) and yƫgen (profound grace and subtlety).

Art and aesthetics are integrated into all aspects of Japanese daily life. Shoyoen is an outstanding example of this cultural philosophy. The traditional western perspective, on the other hand, separates art from daily life and views it as an expression of individuality.

Like all of the architectural elements within Shoyoen, the tsukubai unifies beauty with function. This is typical of Japanese art. In western art, unnecessary ornament and novelty often undermine the function of an object.

Exclusive use of natural materials in the construction of the tsukubai reaffirms the Japanese relationship with nature. Stones and water are fundamental elements of a Japanese garden and are accorded a higher level of importance than the plants. Their significance can be traced back to prehistoric Japanese religious practices.

The Japanese philosophies which underpin the design of Shoyoen and its architectural elements challenge western notions of art, beauty and taste. Critical examination of these differences provides a valuable opportunity for greater cultural awareness, self-awareness and personal growth.

                                                                                                                              By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan  


Botanical Buzz - Gardenia

Friday, January 09, 2015

Heavenly scents are entrancing visitors at Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

The Magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora), Chinese Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides ) and the Gardenias (Gardenia augusta Florida a variety of Gardenia jasminoides) are all in flower and their white and creamy white flowers are producing a spectacular visual display and an olfactory delight.

Of these beautiful plants Gardenia jasminoides has an ancient and particularly fascinating history.

The genus Gardenia belongs in the coffee family, Rubiaceae and was named after the Scottish-born American doctor and botanist Dr Alexander Garden FRS (1730-91). Although Alexander Garden was declared to be “the most famous physician of colonial times” he might have disappeared into the mists of time were it not for the plants named after him.

Gardenia jasminoides is a tropical evergreen plant native to Asia and has been bewitching plant lovers for over one thousand years.   There is evidence that Gardenia jasminoides was cultivated in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). Both wild and double-flowered forms are depicted in paintings from that period.

The delicate white fragrant blooms are used in the lei necklaces of the Hawaiian islands, as boutonnières (buttonholes) for men in formal dress and are one of the classic wedding flowers. Gardenia jasminoides is also the national flower of Pakistan.

Gardenias are called “kuchinashi” in Japanese. This literally means “no mouth” and is a reference to the fruits which do not open, even when ripe.

In Japan the ancient game of “Go”, is traditionally played on tables which sit on four feet shaped like kuchinashi. This is supposed to suggest that onlookers keep their mouths closed and refrain from making comments during games.

Gardenia fruits are used in China both as a source of yellow dye and for various unsubstantiated medicinal uses.

Beautiful flowers, delightful scents and fascinating histories; a visit to the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden is always memorable.

Botanical Buzz - Water Lily

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The serene and transcendent beauty of the water lily may be observed in Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

Water lilies belong to the ancient family Nymphaeaceae, named after the nymphs of Greek and Roman mythology. Its fossil records extend back to the Cretaceous period, the time of dinosaurs.

The Nymphaeaceae are aquatic, rhizomatous herbs usually pollinated by beetles. The family includes the genus Nymphaea which contains roughly 35 species in the Northern Hemisphere, and the genus Victoria which contains two species of giant water lilies endemic to South America.

Nymphaea caerulea (blue Egyptian lotus) and Nymphaea lotus (white Egyptian lotus) were considered extremely significant in Egyptian mythology and often appear in ancient Egyptian art. Ornaments of both blue and white lotuses were found with the mummy of Rameses ll.

To this day, water lilies continue to make an impression on the human psyche. They famously feature in the works of the founder of French impressionist painting, Claude Monet (1840 –1926). Water lilies have also been chosen as national floral emblems. Nymphaea lotus is the floral emblem of Egypt and Nymphaea nouchali  (also known as Nymphaea stellata) is the floral emblem of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The Victoria amazonica is the largest water lily in the world and one of the most fascinating. Its circular leaves grow up to 3 metres in diameter and its flowers have an intriguing pollination strategy which involves changing gender.

When the nocturnal flowers open for the first time they are white, female and emit a strong pineapple-like scent. This attracts the scarab beetle pollinator.  As daybreak approaches, the flower closes, trapping the beetle inside. By the time the flower opens again on the second night it has changed its colour to pink and its sex to male. The beetle emerges covered with new pollen ready to seek out another white, fragrant, receptive water lily.
                                                                                                                                By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Japanese Maple

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Escape from the noise and chaos of the world in the tranquil Japanese tea garden (roji) in Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

The purpose of the roji, which traditionally means alley way or path, is to help release the visitor of their worldly cares and prepare them, mentally and spiritually for the tea ceremony. 

The roji is in two parts, an outer and an inner roji. The Japanese Tea House sits within the inner roji.

The roji is designed to re-create the quiet atmosphere of a retreat deep in the mountains (shinzan-no-tei).  Solitary visitors often seek out the roji to read, meditate or simply allow themselves to re-connect with nature.

A Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) provides a focal point within the inner roji. Although it is at its most striking in autumn, the mass of new, distinctively-shaped, pretty green leaves celebrate the arrival of spring in the roji.

Japanese maples are native to Japan, North Korea, South Korea, eastern Mongolia, and southeast Russia. They are small, slow growing deciduous trees with a graceful shape and beautiful autumn colour. 

They have been cultivated in Japan for centuries and there are many different cultivars with widely varying leaf shape and colouration. Near the bridge in the Sensory Gardens are fine examples of Acer palmatum Atropurpureum which has magnificent bronze-purple, feathery foliage.

In Japan, Japanese maples are of significant cultural importance and strongly associated with “peace” and “calm”. They are often found in traditional Japanese gardens where they may be aesthetically pruned to accentuate their natural beauty.

Japanese maples regularly feature in Japanese literature, legends, poetry and art. The maple leaf and the cherry blossom, symbolising autumn and spring respectively, are the most important seasonal motifs in Japan.

Shake off your worldly cares and re-connect with nature at Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.
                                                                                                                                By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Sakura

Monday, October 13, 2014

Enjoy a uniquely Japanese custom this weekend at Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden. Stroll amongst the spectacular cherry blossoms and participate in the ancient custom of hanami.

Hanami (Japanese for “flower viewing”) is the Japanese tradition of enjoying the beauty of cherry blossoms (sakura). In Japan, mature groves of cherry trees in full blossom look like soft, delicate and abundant clouds of petals. People flock to see them and experience the ephemeral loveliness. 

A typical hanami consists of holding an outdoor party under cherry blossom trees during the day or night. Food, beer and sake are enjoyed as visitors bask in the cherry blossoms that fall from the trees.

The tradition is widely believed to have started over twelve hundred years ago during the Nara Period. At that time farmers believed that the arrival of the cherry blossoms revealed omens which would impact upon the success of their crops. They prayed and offered food to the spirits of the trees.

During the Heian Period (794 to 1185) Emperor Saga acknowledged the custom with celebratory feasts and parties under the cherry trees in Kyoto's Imperial Court. While originally limited to Japanese royalty and the elite upper class, hanami spread to all citizens by the Edo Period in the early 1600's.

The cherry blossom was also considered an especially beautiful and important symbol for Japanese samurai because at the height of its beauty it would inevitably fall to the ground to die. Samurai also had to be willing to sacrifice themselves in their prime, and the cherry blossom was considered evidence that this is the natural way of things and could even be beautiful and pure.

Cherry blossoms only last for a brief time so plan your visit to Shoyoen within the next couple of days to ensure that you do not miss this spectacular and culturally significant display.

                                                                                                                           By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan