Sunday, March 19, 2023

Paddington Reservoir Park, Sydney Australia

The business district spread out along Oxford Street in the Paddington neighborhood.

I spent the winter of 2022-23 in New Zealand and Australia.  At the end of my trip I stayed for 9 wonderful days in Sydney.  Blessed with near perfect weather I fell in love with this dynamic metropolis and could see myself living there.  Warm almost tropical weather tempered by the proximity to the harbor and sea, it seemed like paradise.  Towards the end of my stay I spent a day at Bondi Beach, a beautiful arc of golden sand in a suburb.  The city has some beautiful beaches and this is the most famous. Flying home to the still chilly Pacific Northwest of the US made me wonder why I didn't stay longer.

Bondi Beach

When I boarded the bus from the beach to return to Surry Hills where I was staying, I got off so that I could walk through the Paddington neighborhood, which I hadn't explored yet.  I found the distinctive facades of turn of the century buildings painted in pastel colors to be quite charming.  Sydney has a variety of great neighborhoods spreading out from it towering central business district.  Paddington got its start when a road project was built that went around a land grant that the owner wouldn't allow to be crossed, pushing it in to this area  In 1822, Juniper Hall was the only building on what became Oxford Street, the main thoroughfare that passes through the neighborhood.  

Juniper Hall

The land Paddington built upon were old paddocks of Victoria Barracks, an early military housing site.  Merchants built shops to cater to the soldiers and a suburb grew without having an industrial base like other parts of the growing city.  The Paddington reservoir was built to supply the area's water needs.  It was completed in 1866 and was soon enlarged to the east, but didn't go in to operation until 1878.  Its lifespan as a working reservoir was only 21 years.  It was decommissioned in 1899 when a new larger reservoir was constructed in nearly Centennial Park.  It was then used for storage and later as a workshop.  In 1934 half of the space was leased to a garage service station which operated until part of the roof collapsed in 1990.  The Walter Read Reserve was a lawn with benches built on the roof behind the station that was a popular gathering place for residents.  It went in to disuse after the roof collapse, which was caused by corrosion of steel supports.  

The Reservoir Service Station  and the Walter Read rooftop garden on Oxford Street in 1964

There are lots of beautifully landscaped small parks iin Sydney that are well used by the people who live nearby.  They are well maintained place to walk a dog, sit on a bench, or bring the kids to play.  The climate here is wonderful for growing plants of great variety.  Sydney is sub tropical bordering on tropical.   The soil is generally very sandy but plants seem to thrive and grow to great size.  The light coming through a tunnel of giant trees is a wonderful thing in a big city and most streets are shaded by expansive canopies.  I walk most of the time when I'm traveling so I can discover things I would otherwise miss.  And I take a lot of photos along the way.

Giant Fig Trees create a tunnel of green on a side street in Paddington

Walking along Oxford Street,  suddenly I was looking down in to a sunken garden with arched arcades and the filigree umbrellas of tree ferns.  What I discovered is a repurposed reservoir that was built in the 19th Century to supply water to a growing city.

The Paddington Reservoir Park

In 2006 the architectural firm of TonkinZuliachaGreer Associates were hired to design a new urban park here.  The city's original concept was to recap the collapsed sections and build a new park on top, but the firm was rightfully captivated by the ruined look and the possibility of building a sunken garden crossed by an elevated walkway.  The Tree Ferns play off the Victorian fernery, which was a popular trend during the time Paddington was being built.    

A rectangular pool intersects with columns in a lush setting of Tree ferns and sedges.

An isolated section of roof makes an island hanging garden over the pool.

The plantings are fairly simple with limited plant pallet that gives the space a cohesive feel.  The tree ferns are various heights creating compositional triangles, which feel Zen, and bridge the garden combine beautifully with the arched arcades.   A wide staircase depends from the street level down in to the garden.

Tree Ferns create umbrella canopies over colored and textural masses of plants. 

Down inside, soaring columns lift your eyes up to the overhead architecture.  A shade trellis was built on cross beams in the open part of the restructured roof beams.  Cast in aluminum, the pattern is of the bricks of the former roof that had collapsed.  It connects a structural element that is very modern to the historical original in a most clever way.  Trailing plants create hanging gardens, draping the arches with greenery.  

Two nice iron gates restrict access to the areas of the reservoir under the original remaining roof, which is planned to be used as event space once the funds are available.  New wooden supporting columns painted a dark red brown replace the original cast iron columns to support the long brick vaults in the ceiling.  The added stairs await the time when the area will be accessible.  

Brick vaults are supported by new wood columns in a space that will be repurposed for events.

Being sunken, the garden is quiet compared to the street level.  There were a few people there doing a photo shoot but it was so peaceful and a delight to walk around.

The firm that designed the garden has a very impressive portfolio of work on a broad range of projects you can see here: This project  reminded me very much of parts of the Roberto Burle Marx Sitio Garden outside of Rio de Janiero.  Burle Marx, who has been called the Father of Modern Landscape Architecture incorporated historic architectural pieces in to arcades and walls in his private garden adding to the ambience of the old plantation the garden inhabits.  I imagine that the designers of the Paddington Reservoir Park are aware of his work in Brazil.  

Repurposed stone arches outside The Studio at the Sitio Burled Marx in Brazil

This Sitio Burle Marx wall was built using salvaged stone architectural pieces.  It was an inspiration for the creation of the Rajasthani wall I built in my garden.

A view from above looking down in to the sunken garden

A simple security fence with gates allows you to look down in to the gardens when they are closed.

Informational signs tell the history of Sydney's reservoir system and of the Paddington Reservoir site.

I love traveling and the adventures that unfold along the way.  I must have walked hundreds of miles this winter and seen countless inspiring landscapes.  So glad that I got off the bus and walked through this lovely neighborhood and happened upon this magical place.  Thanks for reading, Jeffrey

A section of the original walls is repurposed to create a large raised planting bed at street level.


Friday, February 3, 2023

The Fernery, Auckland Domain, New Zealand

A variety of ferns inside the Fernery

New Zealand is a land of ferns.  They cover the floors of lush forests and scramble up the trunks of trees.  Or they can be trees themselves growing 30, 40, even 60 feet tall!  There are approximately 200 species of ferns native to the islands and 40% of those are endemic, unique this country.  Ferns are ancient plants, dating back to the Carboniferous Period over 300 million years ago.  That fossil record is the coal we mine for energy today.  Coal is the most used fossil fuel for producing energy in the world.  

A hand sized fiddle head of Cyathea medullaris, the Mamaku, or Black Tree Fern

The Auckland Domain, or Pukekawa, is New Zealand's largest city's oldest and most important park.  It covers about 190 acres of what is the crater of a volcanic explosion, called Pukekaroa.  The Earth's crust is very thin in the Auckland area and there are 7 of these volcanic cones in the city.  A large rather homely Neoclassical building houses the Auckland Museum at the top of the hill.  There is a magnificent collection of Maori art there, a museum of Natural History, and a war gallery.  The park was once the home of the Auckland Botanical Garden and there are many spectacular specimens of trees.

Metrosideros excelsa, Pohutukawa Trees arch gracefully over a path

Down the slope across broad lawns with towering trees is the Wintergarden, two historic Victorian style Glass Houses, one temperate and one tropical.  Linking the glass houses is a sunken formal garden with a rectangular lily pool, framed by handsome pergolas.  These were constructed as part of the Auckland Exhibition in 1913-14.  The designer was William Henry Gummer, who had previously worked with the famed English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and Daniel Burnam of the United States.

The Temperate Glass House and Lily Pool at the Wintergarden

The Tropical Greenhouse is closed for seismic upgrading.  All the the structures have historic designation.

Interior of the Temperate Glass House

Beyond a curved brick wall and pergola is the beguiling opening to the Fernery, a lush trellised grotto filled with green luxuriance that was built on the site of a former scoria rock quarry.  In the 1830's, pteridomania, or Fern Fever swept over Victorian garden society.  From terrariums to grand collections, ferneries were accessible to a broad range of people.  There are 226 species of ferns native to New Zealand and about 40% of those grow nowhere else on Earth.  What better place to create a Fernery.

Gateway to the Fernery

The Fernery was constructed at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929.  The town council couldn't provide the money needed to build it so funding was provided by 20 local business men as an employment relief project.  100 men were hired and completed the project in 5 weeks.  The first 74 ferns were donated from a local collection.  Over the next two years many donations were made by local horticulturalists and a Maori Association keen to educate people in the many ways that ferns were used by Maori society as sources of food and building materials, when the collection listed 80 native species.  During World War II the garden declined from lack of funding and neglect, which continued until the gardens were restored in 1994.

Once you pass through the entrance, it feels like a primeval world of plants with ancient histories.  The garden is steep sided surrounding a deep pit where lava rock was once quarried.  A path rings the upper area with stone steps leading down into the old quarry.  The restored trellis is beautifully patinated with lichens and blends in perfectly to the lush landscape, providing shade to the collection along with native Nikau Palms (Rhopalostylus sapida).

A handsome trellis shades the garden from bright sunlight

The striped trunk of a Nikau Palm amidst the ferns

Varieties of Tree Ferns are the most distinctive in the garden 

Green is the dominant color here.  The delicate texture of so many fronds in different shapes and heights cover the slopes in feathery lushness.  When I was working on Camp Glenorchy on the South Island four and five years ago I spent some time learning how to identify the many types of ferns I saw in the forests there.  I have forgotten many of the botanical names beyond the genuses now.  I love the way various species have adapted to different growing conditions.  

I grow a number of ferns in my garden in Portland, Oregon.  Polystichum munitum is the most common fern in Western Oregon.  Polystichum setiferum, the Alaska Fern looks more like its New Zealand counterpart, Polystichum vestitum.  This is the species I used the most successfully at my project in Camp Glenorchy on the South Island.  They seem to be the toughest and most adaptable fern for the area, as most of the other species, including wonderful red tinged Blechnums didn't survive due to irrigation issues.  
Polystichum vestitum growing along a path to a cabin with mosaic medallions I made in 2017

I don't know the identity of this fern, growing with Corokia cotoneaster, Coprosma, and Lancewoods

There is an extensive list of ferns native to New Zealand on the Wikipedia page on the subject. if you want to do research in to the many genuses and species.

Steps leading down to the bottom of the garden, where a small goldfish pond resides.

Tree ferns are the most dramatic members of the family, developing trunks and sometimes skirts of dead fronds, and expansive umbrella like canopies that create filigrees against the sky when looked at from below.  The tallest can reach 60 feet in height!  Tree ferns don't tolerate the cold winters and wind in Glenorchy so we weren't able to plant any at the camp.  They grow in lush abundance on the coastal side of Mt. Aspiring National Park which encompasses the spectacular mountains you see from town.

The leaves of ferns are called fronds.  They emerge as a tight coiled spiral that unfurls.  Ferns reproduce by producing spores, or sporophytes, rather than flowers.  Some species produce non fertile and fertile fronds.  The genus Blechnum is known for this phenomenon.  The Pacific Northwest native Deer Fern, Blechnum spicant is an example of this, producing upright narrow spore bearing fronds in Spring when moisture is more prevalent.  Spores disperse by wind or on water, and once the egg is fertilized by the sperm, forms a thread or heart shaped stage called a gametophyte.  These are a rarely seen stage in the fern's development.  

New fronds unfurling on a Crown Fern (Blechnum discolor)

From towering giants to tiny ground covers, ferns adapt to a variety of conditions.

Blechnum penna marina is a miniature ground cover fern

King Ferns (Ptsana salacina) is a large fern with starchy roots eaten by Maori people

There are labels if you can find them making it much easier to identify the many species.

Boston Fern is probably the most commonly grown fern for indoor gardens

I am unable to identify many of the ferns in the garden.  I did a lot of research when I was here 4 years ago but I don't have the memory banks for all of the botanical names anymore.  

A lovely colony of ferns on a tree fern trunk


Something between a fern and a moss

Tree ferns with skirts of dead fronds

When I retuned to Glenorchy in January 2023 I worked at the camp for 6 weeks but was able to do a few hikes at the end.   Here are some of the ferns I encountered on my journeys.

A handsome group of Blechnum discolor with another fern growing underneath in the Kowhai Reserve near Kinloch by Lake Wakatipu

Pellaea rotundifolia along the Lake Rere track

Asplenium on the Lake Rere Track

Blechnum penna marina and Polystichum vestitum on the Lake Rere Track

A bog filled with Athyrium?

Needless to say, ferns are fabulous and if you have the right conditions there are so many species you can grow.  Before you know it you may have your own Fernery.

Thanks for reading, Jeffrey