Tour of National Arboretum Canberra

The National Arboretum Canberra is home to a lot more than rare and endangered forests (94 of them to be exact) — it’s also a place of breath-taking architectural beauty and clever garden design inspiration.

Even the walk into the Village Centre (aka the heart of the Arboretum) had us swooning with those gabion walls leading the way to the entry!

Take a look around the National Arboretum in Canberra and see why this is a must-visit destination when you’re in town.

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National Arboretum Canberra
Arboretum entry

And once you step inside the Village Centre, WOW! Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects worked their magic to create an innovative building that also has a range of energy-saving measures, supporting the environmental value of the Arboretum as a whole.

“The heart of the building is its main vaulted space, which flexibly accommodates a range of functions, including exhibitions, functions, retail, the café and programmed activities,” says the team.

The building is perched on the northern end of the Event Terrace and overlooks the sculpted land and plantation forests, with panoramic views over Canberra, Lake Burley Griffin, Black Mountain and beyond.

The architecture develops the long-standing tradition of significant garden buildings as transparent enclosures with dramatic internal volumes and sense of indoor-outdoor connection.

“The exterior of the building is a sculptural form in the rolling topography of the site, contrasting low stone-clad wings with a high arching roof clad in weathered zinc, the form of which is inspired by the fronds of the adjoining forest of Chilean Wine Palms.”

Our favourite feature of the Village Centre would have to be the innovative timber structure ceiling and supports that resemble forest-like forms.

Arboretum ceiling
Arboretum ceiling detail

Just outside the main Village Centre in one of those low stone-clad wings is the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia.

If like us you’re not sure of the difference between Bonsai and Penjing — Bonsai is the art of growing miniature trees in pots (it has been practiced in Japan for at least 1,200 years and includes training, styling and maintaining the trees) while Penjing is the art of growing a miniature landscape in a pot or tray (it has been practiced in China for at least 1,400 years and can include rocks, different trees and ground covers and even small figurines or objects).

Did you also know any tree can become a Bonsai? That was another interesting fact we learnt from the friendly staff as we ohhhed and ahhhed over the perfectly manicured collection — many of which were in bloom!

Dry rock wall
Bonsai and Penjing collection of Australia

And just around the corner is Discovery Garden — a series of landscaped ‘rooms’ with water-efficient trees and plants, showing how we can grow a sustainable garden through the seasons.

These corrugated iron planter boxes are a clever solution for anyone suffering from an overly enthusiastic dog gardener like Gina’s dog Arnie! They also create a dramatic visual impact and being on wheels you can rearrange or move the planters to suit the environment or aesthetic needs.

The succulent and cacti garden is beyond amazing — there are cacti in there towering metres high! We love the layers of planting, mixing cacti heights, colours, textures and shapes to create depth and interest.

Discovery garden
Moveable gardens
Cactus garden

The permanent orange planter boxes, filled with a variety of herbs, natives and exotics, were another big winner for us.

Perhaps it’s the fluid forms of the planter boxes or the tranquil water feature in this ‘room’ but it is such a soothing and relaxing space, we didn’t want to leave! Some of the planter boxes are covered in artificial turf (you might be able to spot some in the third photo) which make a fun seating solution.

Orange planter garden
Bright concrete garden

Across the Event Terrace is another striking building — the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion — that was also designed by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects.

“The Pavilion is located on the south-western tip of the U-shaped Events Terrace, looking across the future grassed Amphitheatre to the Visitors Centre and out to the Central valley and the City of Canberra beyond. Its axis aligns with the Capital Hill node of Griffin’s Canberra plan, marked by the Parliament House flagpole, continuing Griffin’s structuring of the city by focal radiating axes,” says the team.

The structure is an innovative and economical arrangement of plywood box beams, clad externally in zinc, each separated by a strip of sun-shaded glass to wash the interior with soft light.

The pavilion is a facility for the Arboretum and is used for functions of up to 120 people, including weddings and ceremonial events.

Margaret Pavilion Arboretum
Pavilion and Arboretum
Pavilion entry
Margaret Whitlam Pavilion
Terrace garden

The Arboretum is full of beautiful places to explore and kids especially love Pod Playground that was designed by Taylor Cullity Lethlean Landscape Architects, who also designed the Arboretum landscape.

We hope you enjoyed this tour of the National Arboretum Canberra. Visit the National Arboretum Canberra website for more information.

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Photography by Gina Ciancio, all rights reserved.



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