This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Those who visit Sydney's infant turrets, and the new-born glories of the "southern seas," should not pass by the beauties of these Gardens. If they do not impress one with hoary wisdom and the dim associations of the past, which are so inseparable from the name of Kew, they, on the other hand, go very far to demonstrate that our colonies are not wholly given up to "gold-getting," but are intensely anxious that botanical science should flourish among them. For this purpose these Gardens were established, and likewise to furnish a home for those floral beauties which her sons may bring from far. The extent of the Gardens is about 40 acres, and they are bounded on the north by part of the famous harbour, which is designated as one of the most picturesque in the world. From this point the sea-view is very fine; ships ride at anchor within a few yards of a low sea-wall, and give to the whole scene a grand nobility which canvas only could express. We were told that the Gardens were naturally of a rocky, barren nature, so that in many places large quantities of rock had to be quarried away, and vegetation assisted by the introduction of soil. This has been judiciously done; the natural irregularities of surface having been interfered with as little as possible.
The grounds are divided into two divisions, and known as the upper and the lower garden. The upper division is the older, and gives a fair notion of early efforts at landscape-work. Then they had no time to trouble with curves - straight lines and plenty of them being considered the two things necessary. However, we should not like to hear of it being modernised, as it could not undergo such a change without slaughtering some of the finest exogens we have yet seen. Amongst the number may be mentioned three fine specimens of Araucaria excelsa. They are said to have been planted in 1818; and from measurements recently made we quote the following : No. 1, 112 feet high, and 13 feet in circumference 3 feet from the ground; No. 2, 111 feet, with a circumference of 11 feet a like distance from the ground; No. 3, 94 feet, and 14 feet in circumference 3 feet from the ground. No. 1 is a magnificent tree, and may justly be considered one of the finest in cultivation. In this division there are also some remarkably fine examples of Palm-culture, Kentia Forsteriana, the noble thatch-Palm Cocos plumosa, the Cocoa-Palm of Brazil, which rears its feathery head fully 100 feet above the lesser forms of vegetation at its base.
The Date-Palm is also a striking object, more especially the reclining variety Phoenix reclinata; as seen in fruit it reminds one of the fabled productiveness of this class of plants. We are now close to the glass department, consisting of Fern-house, Croton-house, and orchard-house. In the Fern-house is a good collection, with many fine As-pleniums lately added from Fiji. The Croton-house had also received many additions from this sunny isle of the south, which is so prolific in rarities of vegetation. Around this department several varieties of the Stag's-horn Ferns were flourishing exceedingly well. They were attached to branches and stumps of trees; many of them had been worked into specimen form, several feet in circumference. Here are located the valuable additions of museum and library. The first of these places was undergoing repairs, and we therefore saw it to disadvantage; yet, from what we saw, we would infer that it must be of valuable service to botanical students, and of general interest to the public.
We now come to the lower garden, which is the more modern division. Here, stretched on every side, is a magnificent carpet of green turf, which has retained its spring-like freshness throughout an exceptionally dry season. A closer inspection made us aware that it was largely composed of "buffalo grass" (Stenotaphrum glabrum), and that, owing to its long, fibrous-rooted character, it is expressly adapted to withstand long drought. As a lawn-grass for dry soils or hot climates it cannot be equalled. An artificial lake, with its miniature islands, is the next attractive feature. The islands are richly covered with semi-aquatic vegetation, while the lake is occupied with representatives of the Nymphaea family, many of which were in bloom. Advantage has been taken here and there, where space permitted, of grouping together plants having the same general character or properties. If this plan were to some extent carried out in private gardens, it would in many cases heighten effect, and give to the whole a special interest. In one instance we noticed a group furnished from the "bush" district, among which the Silky Oak, Grevillea robusta, and the famous Moreton Bay Pine, Araucaria Cunninghamii, formed conspicuous objects.
In close proximity is another group of Proteaceous trees, principally natives - such as Stenocarpus, Helicia, Hakea, and Bank-sias. Dotted here and there were many fine specimens, of which we could only afford to take a passing notice - such as Erythrinas, in many varieties, gaily covered with their coral-like flowers; Dracaena draco, a specimen 12 feet in circumference and 10 feet high, which seemed to draw attention even from the most careless observers; Salisburia adiantifolia, the Maiden-hair tree of Japan, most striking in appearance, and so like an Adiantum that from a distance false impressions might be made; Tecoma velutina, a very free-flowering shrub, much like an Allamanda from its pale, trumpet-like flowers. Jubea spectabilis for symmetry of form can hold its own under any condition, more especially when it reaches a height of 15 or 20 feet. This plant was presented to the Gardens by Sir W. Macarthur, and does credit to the donor. Banksia serrata is likewise worthy of notice from the rusticity of its bark, which makes it a special object of interest. The Coniferae family is not so well represented as might have been expected, and comes very far behind New Zealand in this respect. No doubt one cause may be the greater dryness of climate.
Near to where we stand is a small monument, erected to the memory of one of Australia's great explorers. In 1S36 he received the appointment of Government botanist, but resigned two years afterwards, with the intention of returning home, but death frustrated his purpose. Such is the short history of Allan Cunningham, whose life-object seems to have been the good of others rather than the promotion of self-interest.
The outside culture of tropical fruits has, to a great extent, proved a failure. The Custard-Apple, Bread-fruit, Alligator Pear, and Man-gosteen, with many others, have been repeatedly tried and as often failed. This is rather surprising when such fruit as the Pomegranate blooms and fruits with great profusion. As to the floral department we cannot say much; our visit being towards the end of autumn, the great display of the season was over. The system of bedding is chiefly carpet-work, and fine-foliaged soft woods are much used for the purpose.
In bidding farewell to these Gardens, one felt in full sympathy with the words of Anthony Trollope, when he says of Sydney, it is one of those places which a man cannot leave without a pang and a tear. That such gardens have a refining and educative influence, is clearly seen by the almost entire absence of prohibitory notices. It is said a Frenchman can easily pass a vineyard without partaking of the fruit, which to an Englishman is a very difficult task. Our colonial cousins, however, have proved that even Englishmen can protect that which is held for the public good, without the proverbial legal cautions.