If you've been living under a rock, you might not know that Cranbourne East, a residential suburb about 50kms south east of Melbourne, is the fastest growing suburb in terms of people, in Australia. The flood of residents has given rise to an influx of bogans (normal in any housing estate), an upswing of crime (new houses are often full of shiny things) and endless cries for public transport infrastructure to cope with the area's growth (trains, anyone??).
But it also has something very different. A mere stone's throw across the South Gippy Highway is the very excellent 'Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria at Cranbourne' where one can easily spend the best part of a day exploring the different gardens, structures and waterways and generally forgetting the rest of the world exists.
On a morning forecasting fog, followed by sunshine and blue skies (and probably snow later), I packed a lunch, made a coffee, and embarked on what ended up being an almost two hour journey to the gardens. There was definitely fog (which didn't fully lift til about 11am), a fair bit of traffic (hence the long commute) and two kangaroos (don't ask), but once I got to the gardens there were very few people around. The gardens are huge so even if there are a lot of folk visiting, there's plenty of room to spread out.
I kicked off the day with a walk along Manna Gum and Tea Tree Tracks to work the driving kinks out of my body. It was still a bit foggy and quiet and things got a bit creepy when I noticed loads of spindly webbing around bits of tree which clearly indicated lurking spider monsters. As if it's not bad enough having predators obviously at body and head height, I began to notice holes in the ground that looked big enough for bull-ants to drag small children into. Best not to linger too long here then.
As the fog began to lift, I had a quick think about whether or not I should hoof it to the lookout at Trig Point and then to Australia Garden where all the good bits are, but concluded that I was too lazy to walk 1.5km there. Oh, and back. I was definitely too lazy to walk back. So I drove to the Australia Garden, went into the garden proper and began wandering.
I started at the Escarpment Wall Sculpture and followed the Rockpool Waterway down to the fancy-sounding Rockpool Pavilion. I had hoped to get some pictures of the grandly named picnic shelter sans people but there were a few individuals inconveniently dotted about slurping beverages and stuffing cake into their faces, so I opted to press on towards the Melaleuca Spits. My ramble took me through a River Walk, around a River Bend, through an Arbour Garden, up Howson Hill and down to a Seaside Garden. Don't you just love the names? Each area is monikered with something that describes it, from Forest Garden to Scribbly Path. I'll leave it to you to work out why.
As I was photographing at Melaleuca Spits, a ranger appeared out of nowhere and started telling me about the influx of ducks (say that three times really quickly) that had come to Cranbourne and the impact they'd had on the place. Basically, they were shitting everywhere, and he was not happy. I think if he'd had his way, he'd impose a duck immigration cap and future ducks seeking a better life at Cranbourne would be moved on. Say, to French Island or perhaps even Phillip Island. Anyway, I heeded his advice to always look before I sat, and steered the conversation towards the history of the place.
Here are the salient points:
From the Spits I moved on to the Seaside Garden which had blue thongs half buried in the sand and matching recliner deckchairs just begging for someone to sit in them for a bit. Being a slothful boofhead, I obliged and besides, it was nearly lunchtime by now so it was as good a place as any for a vegemite sambo.
North of the seaside plot is the Elisabeth Murdoch Promenade, off which sits a series of five gardens. This large structure caught my eye and turned out to be in the Lifestyle Garden.
Being quite partial to a bit of symmetry and pattern, I managed to spend over an hour taking about 1,000 photos of this structure. The gardener there must've thought I had OCD because I was re-arranging chairs, picking up leaves, trying to move the sun - the usual stuff a photographer does to get a halfway decent shot.
After a mooch through the other gardens, I crossed the Ian Potter Lake via the Lily Pad Bridge to reach Gondwana Garden. This patch contains botanical species that represent the connection between ancient rainforests and modern terrain and contains plants considered not particularly fussy about the weather. It is Melbourne, after all.
From here I ventured into the Weird and Wonderful Garden, so called because it was full of stuff that was considered either weird or wonderful. Or both. There are huge chunks of Avoca stone, massive Queensland Bottle Trees, cycads and rock orchids all over the place. This led on to Gibson Hill and its rather spiffy views, and then down to the Arid Garden. At the edge of the Arid Garden, I found myself overlooking the Red Sand Garden (the one that's apparently best seen from above; no I haven't forgotten about the view from the cafe. Patience, dear reader...we'll get there) and I decided that yeah, it probably is best seen from above. You can't walk on it so you can really only have a visual experience of it. It's a bit of a shame because it's a huge space that would be great to explore, but it's a safe space for animals - so no people allowed!
Unsurprisingly, the Eucalypt Walk took me through various eucalypt gardens (imagine the smell walking through the Peppermint Garden - yum) and then up to the Visitor Centre where I could look out over the Red Sand Garden properly.
Now about that view from the cafe. You're probably thinking this is going to be a long boring anecdote about how I got ripped off in the cafe by paying $32 for a piece of stale cake and a coffee, but you'd be wrong. I brought my own stale cake.
No, the story goes that apparently the architect of the Visitors Centre didn’t play nicely with the landscape designers and when the latter asked the former for a building that enabled peeps to enjoy the view, the architect promptly set about drawing up a structure with no balcony and small windows that didn't allow an unobstructed view. And it looked like this:
I'm not sure that I believe that story, but it does seem that the building doesn't maximise the view as the artists of the Red Sand Garden might have intended. At this stage, it looks quite meek and mild, probably trying to blend into the landscape and not overshadow the red disc of planty art below it.
Now, it looks like this:
The Visitor Centre has been extended and a balcony added, allowing visitors to take in the view. The only problem now of course is the bloody trees! I know it's a garden but did they have to put tall growing trees right there?!?!?
And why don't I have a picture of the sand garden from the cafe? Because it was shut. It was after 4pm and the cafe had gone to bed.
So here's one of my favourite pictures from the day instead:
This place is more than a garden. It's an outdoor museum, and a tribute to architectural processes that construct places for people to really experience. It's aesthetically beautiful, entertaining, cultural and informative (allow a full day if you intend to read all the notices!) and even if you're not into plants, gardening or art, you'll probably still really enjoy a visit here.
The cherry on the top? It's FREE!!!