The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 5: Gardens in Asia, America, Africa, Australia

Garden design in Eastern Australia

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937. Eastern Australia, or Moreton Buy. The principal settlement is called Brisbane Town, which, Mr. Backhouse informs us, ' is prettily situated on the rising north bank of the Brisbane river, which is navigable fifty miles farther up for small sloops, and has some fine clear cultivated land on the south bank opposite the town. Adjacent to the government house are the commandant's garden, and twenty-two acres of government garden for the growth of sweet potatoes, pumpkins, cabbages, and other vegetables for the prisoners. Bananns, grapes, guavas, pine-apples, citrons, lemons, shaddocks, &c., thrive luxuriantly in the open ground, the climate being nearly tropical. Sugar-cane is grown for fencing; and there were, in 1836, a few thriving coffee plants, not old enough to bear fruit. The bamboo and the Spanish reed had then been introduced. The former attains to about seventy feet in height, the upper twenty feet bonding down with a graceful curve; and as it bears numerous branches with short grassy leaves, it is one of the most elegant objects in the vegetable world. The surrounding country is undulating, and covered with trees.' (Backhouse's Narrative, p. 358.) ' While walking a few miles down the river,' Mr. Backhouse continues, ' toward a brook, called Breakfast Creek, the waters of which are generally brackish at high tide, we saw a number of remarkable plants, &c. On the margins of the brook, Acrostichum fraxinifolium, a large ash-leaved fern, was growing, along with Crinum pedunculatum, a great bulbous-rooted plant, with white tubular lily-like flowers. Hellenia cï¾µrulea, a reedy-looking plant, with broad leaves and blue berries, and a species of Phytolacca, with pretty pink blossoms, were among the brushwood. By the sides of fresh-water ditches there were a Jussieua, resembling an evening primrose, with small yellow blossoms, and a blue-flowered plant, in figure like a Pentstemon. On the grassy slope of the hills, near the river, Hibiscus Fraseri, with yellow blossoms, like those of the hollyhock, but having a deep purple eye, was in flower. Among the mangroves, the mosquitoes were so numerous that we could not proceed many yards for them, notwithstanding we wiped them continually off our hands and faces. Several striking butterflies were fluttering from flower to flower; some of them having considerable portions of their wings transparent.' (Ibid., p. 360.) In a forest called the Three-mile Scrub, Mr. Backhouse tells us, the forest trees far exceed a hundred feet in height, and a few may be a hundred and fifty feet. ' Among the lofty ones may be enumerated some of the Eucalypti, called iron bark, forest mahogany, &c., and three species of fig with leaves resembling those of the common laurel or the evergreen magnolia. One of these, Ficus macrophylla, was forty feet in circumference about six feet from the ground, and its roots formed wall-like abutments extending from the tree over an area thirty feet across. These fig trees are very remarkable in their growth : they often spring from seeds deposited by birds in the cavities of other trees, at elevations of perhaps fifty feet or more. From these situations they send roots down to the ground, which in their course adhere to the tree; these again emit transverse or diagonal roots that have fixed themselves to others in their course downward. Those that reach the ground thicken rapidly, still spreading themselves upon the face of the foster tree, which at length is completely encased. These gigantic parasites rear their towering heads above all the other trees of the forest, sending out vast limbs, and spreading their own roots in the earth, from which also they sometimes grow without the aid of other trees to sustain them. The trunks and leaves of these and other trees support several species of fern, and some epiphytes of the orchis tribe, with fleshy leaves and singular steins and flowers. Numerous climbing plants, with stems varying in thickness, from that of a packthread to that of a man's body, ascend into their tops, and send down their branches in graceful festoons. Among the slenderer climbers were two species of passion-flower, and one of jasmine. The most gigantic climber, which might properly be called a climbing tree, belongs to the Apocyneï¾µ. It has a rugged bark, and sometimes forms a few serpent-like wreathes on the ground, before ascending and spreading itself among the tops of the other trees. There were also two or three species of Cissus, one with simple, and the others with trifoliate leaves, like vines, and bearing fruit like grapes, about equal in size to English sloes, but sweeter. The fruit of the figs is rather dry, but it is eaten by the native blacks, and by numerous birds. The Moreton Bay chestnut (Castanospermum australe) is a fine tree, with a profusion of flame-coloured blossoms, and leaves like those of the European walnut: some of its pods are ten inches long and eight inches round ; they contain several seeds, in size and colour resembling horses-chestnuts, but in flavour between a Spanish chestnut and a fresh-ripened bean, with a slight degree of bitterness. The natives roast these seeds, and soak them in water, to prepare them for food. One of the ferns that grow on trees (Acrostichum grande) is here as large as a full-grown Scotch cabbage, and is remarkably beautiful. In the margins of the woods, and on the banks of the rivers, the climbers are numerous and very beautiful. Among them are Tecoma jasminoides, a large white trumpet flower, with a rosy pink tube, and Ipom£'a pendula, with elegant pink flowers. In the grass of the open ground is a remarkable climbing nettle, and in the forests the giant nettle (Urtica gigas) forms a large tree. On the basaltic soils, the Moreton Bay pine (Araucaria Cunninghami) is found, and in some places, farther in the interior, it forms large woods.' (Ibid., p. 363.)