Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens
As the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens approaches its 20th year, it's tempting to look backwards and focus not only on its unique and historic plant collections, its magnificent and exotic trees, but on some of the less-visible quirks of a long and notable past.
Originally a 50 acre land grant to a convict for a garden and farm, the 14 hectare Gardens sit on a hillside above Hobart. Its utilitarian purpose, fruit and vegetable production, continued with the formal establishment of the Gardens in 1818, but it was ten more years before the arrival of its first superintendent, the application of scientific botanic principals and the systematic planting of trees, grapevines, seeds and cuttings from England and beyond.
Driven largely by Tasmanian Governor George Arthur, the Gardens' various expansions included an unusual feature on its western boundary. Readily accessible to visitors at the entrance, this feature known as the Arthur Wall was designed with an internal heating system – essentially inbuilt fireplaces to circulate hot air through central cavities to enable exotic fruit and flowers to grow adjacent.
Built in 1829 and common back in England, the heating element of the sandstone and brick wall proved unnecessary in Tasmania; the trees planted next to it thrived without assistance.
A second, even more imposing convict-built wall transects the eastern section of the site. Named after Sir John Eardley-Wilmot, Governor from 1843. This is perhaps the Gardens' most remarkable non-botanic feature, a brick wall some 280 metres long and four metres at its highest.
The explanation for its construction, traditionally, was to keep out grasshoppers yet even with its significant dimensions it could scarcely have been sufficient. While Wilmot's various problems as Governor led to his dismissal after just three years in office, his magnificent wall remains, a backdrop to a brilliant series of displays of floral displays and climbing plants.
A third, impressive feature awaiting visitors is the tall, elegant entrance gates that culminate a tree-lined carriage drive off the visitor parking area on the Gardens' western side. Erected in January, 1878, this wrought iron structure replaced a far less grand entrance, a narrow doorway in the adjacent Arthur Wall. Back then, visitors rang a bell to alert the gatekeeper before signing a visitors' book.
The entrance gates to the Gardens are some three metres in height and ten across and warrant close inspection. Flanked by massive gate piers, a pedestrian gate and railings, the crest of the main gates bears a coat of arms, complete with a lion and a unicorn.
But a more subtle motif is interwoven on its latticed steel bars. Look carefully and you'll find the Roman god of fertility, Bacchus, and everywhere, small bunches of grapes – appropriate symbols for a place showcasing nature's great beauty.
The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens are open seven days a week from 8.00 am.