Over a hundred years ago, when Walter Burley Griffin designed Canberra he envisaged, as part of the design, a continental arboretum; a place that would showcase iconic trees from all over the world. Burley-Griffin’s vision of a world of trees did not eventuate until late 2003 when the ACT Government saw the opportunity to make the original vision a reality. A design competition was held and on 31 May 2005 the announcement made, with the winning entry proposing a hundred forests and a hundred accompanying gardens.
The master plan for the development of the 250 hectare site proposed a mosaic of permanent gardens, outdoor sculptures, cafeteria, visitor centre, hotel, bonsai display, children’s garden and playground, reflective pavilion and a spacious outdoor events space.
An expert panel selected the tree species for the National Arboretum from the United Nations’ ‘Redlist’ which is an international listing of all trees with an endangered conservation status. From that list only trees that could cope with Canberra’s extreme climate were chosen.
The plantings of the National Arboretum have been designed for a unique experience and pleasure of being enveloped in a forest of one species. Of significance is that they are also botanical arcs and seed banks for the future, preserving the biodiversity of these species. The topography of the site informs the planning, with elements contrasting and harmonising with the dramatic landform.
Canberra, as the capital of Australia, is well placed to promote the importance of plants in a worldwide sense. Already a number of representatives from different countries have planted a tree that is indigenous to their country.
The Arboretum commenced in 2006 with the Camden white gum (Eucalyptus benthamii), a threatened Australian native species. New trees have been incorporated into the existing stands of Himalayan Cedar (Cedrus deodara) and Cork Oak (Quercus suber). Major civil works commenced on site in 2010.
The National Arboretum Canberra will become a centrepiece of Canberra’s centenary celebrations in 2013 and a place of unequalled beauty and relevance for future generations.