Telling the understorey

Barbara Payne of Quandong Designs, our pro bono landscape architect, is completing her work on the landscape design for the STEP site. This project is supported by an  ACT Environment Grant entitled Growing Our Natural Capital, awarded to STEP in September 2010, by the former Chief Minister Jon Stanhope and the National Arboretum.

Barbara has developed some exciting ideas and design concepts for STEP’s forest and has developed a framework that draws on the site’s features such as the slope, the contours and the  water flow lines and compliments the tree planting pattern on the STEP Block. She has also designed 4 large, colour posters that explain the design concept and future plans including some innovative ways to create some no-frills but attractive visitor activity nodes that will enhance the visitor experience at the STEP garden. The themes of the four posters are:

  • an overlay on the TCL tree planting plan for the STEP site to mark the location of the 16 eucalypts we have planted;
  • a design of the main garden, paths, and other site structures and the pattern of understorey plantings;
  • information about the 16 eucalypt species and the main vegetation communities characteristic of the southern tablelands ecosystems; and
  • information about the shrubs, herbs, grasses, vines and wetland plants associated with the eucalypts we have planted.

Barbara sought guidance from David Shorthouse and Geoff Robertson to ensure that the understorey planting plan reflects the range of southern tablelands’ flora and ecosystems. Her work has developed a method that simplifies the natural complexity of southern tablelands ecosystems enabling a broad sample of shrubs, herbs and grasses to be presented to visitors in the context of the dominant eucalypts found with them. Visitors can enjoy both Barbara’s poster images and experience a heightened enjoyment of the actual trees and plants on the site. Later they can draw on that experience when they go into the Australian bush, or when they design or renovate garden spaces for personal enjoyment or professional purposes. In future the STEP website will include an online presentation of this information so that visitors can access this information on an ongoing basis.

Barbara’s design has assisted us to divide the STEP site into a series of different areas and to decide how to use them. With Barbara’s guidance we have now defined where the water course down the STEP site should be, identified the main ‘garden’ area, and marked the locations of two pathways on either side of it. This design structure for the STEP block reflects the earlier work undertaken for STEP by John Nightingale which identified the canopy coverage, the contours and the water course on the site.

As a result of this design work we now have a plan for where to plant our garden areas, where to place our pathways and where to focus other activities. For example Barbara’s plan has incorporated an idea that we place groups of large rocks at strategic points on the path from the water tank down to the ephemeral wetland. This work has been done with the help of Arboretum staff. The placement of rocks gives the STEP garden six focus points for interpretative signage which will intuitively encourage visitors to stop and engage with the STEP story at each of these points.  Each point will provide a new chapter in the telling of the southern tablelands ecosystems’ story. The locations of the two main paths will naturally connect with ten of the sixteen  eucalypt species that have been planted on the site.

Three other species are linked by the main cross path. The grant we have received from the Dahl Trust is enabling us to design signage for these interpretation stops.

STEP’s central garden design is completed and planting  began this autumn.

Barbara has also developed a detailed design for a central garden, an area about 25 metres wide and 150 metres long. The total area of the central garden is about 3,750 square metres. It is to be divided into plots 9 square metres each. This will provide approximately 375 mostly square garden beds. Each bed will be planted with understorey species selected to match the tree species already planted there. The first four of these garden beds were planted with four hundred specimens of four species from the grassy woodland ecosystem by community volunteers and STEP members who came to celebrate the STEP Environment Grant launch on 20 March this year. The under storey species planted were river tee tree (Leptospermum obovata), kangaroo grass (Themeda australis) and flax lily (Dianella tasmanicus) and River Tussock (Poa sieberiana).

Barbara has suggested that STEP develop some concepts for an organic environmental sculpture to be created for the STEP garden in the future. She has also identified a space which can be used as an outdoor classroom or sitting space for small groups.

The Arboretum staff, especially Adam Burgess and Trevor Tindale, have assisted STEP with the placement of the rocks in the STEP garden. Using heavy machinery, Trevor and his plant operator Drago moved large rocks from other sites in the National Arboretum to the STEP site and then carefully placed them in groups of five or six and where possible presenting the rocks with a level surface facing upwards so that they provide a simple seating space suitable for visitors.

STEP held  its  21 May event, which will see the first stage of building the two main pathways on the STEP site. This is the next major project for the STEP Botanic Garden. The National Arboretum is providing rolls of two metre wide weed matting and enough mulch to provide a ten centre metre deep layer of mulch on top of the weed matting. Additional areas for a similar pathway are beside the wetland and around the water tank.

The next stage of the STEP project is to plan for the species required for each plot and work out a timetable for planting for the next four seasons. We will also invite groups such as the Australian Native Plants Society and the Friends of the Grasslands to contribute particular plants and labour for a selected group of garden plots.