By Greg Bourke –
For us at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah, 2020 commenced with our first day of no active fire in a fortnight. Not a bad way to welcome the new year! With over 90% of our natural areas burnt and over 500 specimens in the living collection fire-affected, we knew we’d be in for a challenging year but of course, that was just the beginning. I’m sure most of you have been affected in some way by last summer’s fires but then there was flooding, hailstorms and of course COVID-19 to contend with.
The smoke had barely cleared when we reopened to the public in January 2020. Despite the added stresses of inquisitive visitors, we felt it important to return to routine, at least in part, to aid with the healing process post fire. We were also mindful of our role in bringing visitors to the Blue Mountains, a region which relies heavily on tourism for its income. The lushness of the Garden’s Formal Garden and surrounds was enjoyed by many, and they did help local businesses bounce back. The Garden also become a critical temporary home for much of the local wildlife who had lost their homes or their food sources.
In the background, the team worked hard to restore critical infrastructure, particularly irrigation which had been damaged. The arborist team assessed damaged trees so decisions could be made on what to retain, taking into consideration safety as well as taxonomic, aesthetic and heritage value. Then of course, there were the weeds! Mild temperatures, increased rainfall and bare exposed soil has been great for weeds.
We remained open to visitors when the majority of businesses shut down in response to COVID-19. Initially, few visitors came but this gradually increased as travel restrictions relaxed and either cabin fever set in or people gained confidence to leave their homes. With interstate and international travel impossible, we saw a broader range of visitors, many who have gained an appreciation for plant conservation and sadly, a few who have seen the Garden as merely a playground or free source of plants and flowers.
I think trampled plants are as frustrating as stolen ones, and the installation of stakes and ropes along many of our paths has been an essential addition for 2020. The significant increase in plant theft is a bigger challenge, as much of what can be found in the Garden, can’t be purchased elsewhere. We’re working to resolve this by increasing the quantity and diversity of our retail plant sales. At least it shows that more people are interested in plants! So, what does 2021 look like for us at the Garden? Rebuilding the collection is going to be a slow process. Sourcing rare plants from overseas will see us reliant on botanic gardens from around the globe to provide material. It will also see a shift in thematics in some areas with an increase in conservation collections of Australian natives, South American, South African, and the family Theaceae, being among the priority groups. And, of course, playing our role in making rare and unusual plants more accessible to consumers.
Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah
Botanic Gardens Greater Sydney