The Gift of Life Garden

Gift of life garden plan

The Gift of Life garden commemorates organ and tissue donation and transplantation. It will be a place for quiet reflection and appreciation of the wonderful gift of donors and their families, the renewed life of transplant recipients and the work of the medical and health professionals.

It comprises winding paths, a mixture of plants, rock features, cascading water, viewing portals and a nook with an inspiring symbolic sculpture.

The importance of organ and tissue donation and transplantation will be brought to the attention of visitors to the National Arboretum from around Australia and beyond and may encourage them to consider become donors.

The Australian Government through its DonateLife Program encourages Australians to increase their awareness of the importance of organ and tissue donation in saving lives through highly successful transplant procedures within our hospitals.  Having discovered the facts and made a decision, people are encouraged to register on the Australian Organ Donor Register and to discuss their decision with their family and close friends.  Registering is very important as it leads to much higher consent rates by families to donation and to many more lives being saved. You are also encouraged to register to become an organ and tissue donor.


The Gift of Life garden was established through close cooperation between the National Arboretum Canberra and Gift of Life Incorporated, a Canberra-based not-for-profit association which promotes organ and tissue donation and transplantation.  It seeks to express the cycle of life through the careful selection of plantings and the subtle placement of a number of elements. In discussion with family members of donors and a donor recipient, the element that connects them and indeed us all, is the constant underlying rhythm of a heartbeat.

The garden reflects on traditional Japanese garden design that places importance on the subtle balance and location of elements rather than creating focus on specific features. The materials used are simple and site specific; decomposed granite, granite rock, timber segments, corten steel rings and a perennial based planting colour scheme which reflects the cycle of life within seasons. Overlaid to these soft, muted tones is a grid of white trunked trees that give structure to the garden and create a ceiling to the space.

Designed by the team at Somewhere Landscape Architects led by Alex Dalglish and constructed by Eifer in 2018. Opened by Ms Tara Cheyne MLA on 25th November 2018 in the presence of the the Hon Ken Wyatt , Australian Government Minister responsible for organ and tissue donation, and numerous representatives of the Canberra transplant community.

The establishment of the Garden, with a funding commitment by the ACT Government, was announced by Chief Minister Andrew Barr in late 2016. Significant funding was also provided by the Australian Government’s Organ and Tissue Authority reflecting its importance as a national project. The remaining funding was generously contributed by private donors:

The garden and landscape features

The seating area towards the rear of the garden is deliberately off set so that there are no axial statements through the garden. The line of the path to this space refer­ences Rosalie Gascoyne’s work “Suddenly the Lake” that depicts a Canberra landscape as a landscape in motion. The gathering space was chosen as one for inward reflection whilst at the same time affording outward looking views. The inclusion of an underground pulsing light, references the constant heartbeat and transfer of energy.

To celebrate the ideas of generosity of spirit and healing, the garden includes portals through the existing hedge to enable outward looking views. Whilst the decision to be an organ donor includes inward thought, the act itself is outward and altruistic. The portals through the Bay hedge pick on up specific views out of garden including; Dairy Farmer’s Hill and the Brindabella mountains, the Plane tree Grove, the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion and the Wide Brown Land sculpture.

The placement of granite rock throughout the garden is about permanence and references Rob­ert Murase’s work “The Talking Stones”. Haiku poems have been engraved on two of the rocks within the garden that have relevance to the gift of organ and tissue donation and the continuance of life that donation provides. The Haiku’s are:

White bark birches grow
transcending time together
in silent travel

Stars align tonight
despair and hope intertwine
a part forever

Gift of Life Incorporated commissioned the corten steel sculpture ‘Confluence’ within the Garden by Bungendore artist Keith Bender. With intersecting circles representing life forming a sphere and ECG shapes crossing over depicting heartbeats, it symbolises donors and recipients coming together to enable organ donation and transplantation to proceed enabling many more to survive.

The stabilised decomposed granite path gently weaves through the garden, providing outlooks along the path as it approaches the reflective pond. The pond includes granite rocks, a pulsing subterranean light source and a gentle waterfall to create a contemplative and relaxing sound element within the garden.

A grid of white-barked Himalayan Birch trees will eventually create a ceiling to the site, in places punctuating the path and framing views out of the site. Voids created within the bay tree hedge by large corten portals will enable outward looking views across the site.

Plants will change with the seasons to create a muted and textured palette. Species have been chosen not only for their suitability to the Canberra soil and climate, but also their foliage texture, flower colour and soft and evocative scents.

Seating is provided and there is space for a small marquee for events and celebrations, to enjoy gatherings within the garden space.

Species list


Betula utilis var. jacquemontii


Nerine Rosea / Nerine Alba
Calostemma purpureum
Allium sphaerocephalum
Echinops 'Taplow Blue'

Perennials, grasses, groundcovers and shrubs

Arthropodium cirratum
Chrysocephalum hybrid ‘Silver and Gold’
Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster'
Correa alba
Dianella caerulea 'Cassa Blue'
Perovskia atriplicifolia
Pennisetum alopecuriodes PA400 Purple Lea ®
Rhagodia spinescens ssp deltophylla
Rosmarinus officinalis
Sedum 'Matrona'
Westringia 'Mundi'

Gift of life garden

Gift of Life Garden - water feature

Gift of life garden

Gift of Life Garden – concept design