Canberra is Australia's national capital located in the Australian Capital Territory. Referred to as the 'Bush Capital', it is a planned city developed during the early 20th century and featuring many buildings of national significance such as Parliament House, the War Memorial, the National Library, High Court and foreign embassies. Generous roads and large-scale public landscaping mix with areas of indigenous vegetation. Canberra has many public and private gardens to see and visit, including sculpture gardens, indigenous plant gardens, massed bulb displays and exotic gardens of roses and perennials that thrive in the cool, inland climate.
The Southern Monaro is high tablelands country south of Canberra with several large estate gardens to see by private tour.
Garden Travel Guide to Canberra, ACT and Southern Monaro
Getting to and around Canberra and Southern Monaro
Canberra is the capital city of Australia located in the Australia Capital Territory, about 150km inland within the state of NSW in Australia’s south-east. It has an International airport with connecting flights to/from all major cities and is an easy 281km (3 hour) drive south-west of Sydney or 660km (7 hours) north of Melbourne. There are also twice-daily bus connections from Sydney and a daily train.
In September 2016, Singapore Airlines will commence a ‘Capital Connect’ flight 4 times each week between Canberra and Wellington, the capital of New Zealand.
Seeing Canberra’s garden destinations is easiest by car, although there is also an extensive ACTION bus network that uses a pre-paid ‘tap-on-tap-off’ MYWAY card.
Southern Monaro towns of Cooma and Bombala are on the Monaro Highway heading south from Canberra, and Berriedale and Jindabyne are south-west on the way to the high country and ski fields of Kusciuszko National Park. All towns are connected by 1-2 daily bus services from Canberra.
Canberra and Southern Monaro climate
Canberra and the Southern Monaro enjoy 4 distinct seasons: spring (Sept – Nov), summer (Dec – Feb), autumn (March – May) and winter (June – August).
Canberra has around nine hours a day of sunshine in summer, dropping to around five hours in winter. January is the hottest month with average maximum temperatures of 28°C and many days above 35C, although it still cools down overnight. During winter, snow falls in the nearby Australian Alps. Average daily temperatures in the city in winter are around 11°C; dropping below 0°C at night. The average annual rainfall is 629 mm with October the wettest month.
Canberra natural topography and vegetation
Canberra is 570m above sea level and is partly encircled by the Brindabella mountain range and has several peaks which give great views over the city and surrounding countryside, including Mt Majura, Mt Taylor, Mt Ainslie and Black Mountain. Before and during Canberra’s development, the local indigenous eucalypt forest was mostly cleared for either sheep grazing or pine timber plantations.
The floral emblem for the Australian Capital Territory is Royal Bluebell – (Wahlenbergia gloriosa)
Canberra’s well-planned suburban and city streets and landscape are almost a city arboretum as they are extensively planted with avenues of both native trees and also exotics which provide a spectacular autumn foliage display.
Southern Monaro climate, topography and vegetation
Southern Monaro is a high, elevated plain around 1000m above sea level and in a rain shadow caused by the higher peaks of the Snowy Mountains to its west, so it has a lower rainfall than Canberra, with only 430-500mm each year. Summers are warm but winters are the most severe in Australia, with heavy frosts and some snow falls.
The Southern Monaro is predominantly merino sheep grazing country.
Canberra and Southern Monaro garden styles
Canberra’s central area, with its impressive Parliamentary triangle layout, was designed by Americans landscape architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney in the early 20th century. It creates a stunning built landscape on a grand scale, best viewed from Mt Ainslie which looks along the central axis to the War Memorial.
Canberra is a city mostly without front fences or street power poles, allowing gardeners to develop substantial front gardens. Older gardens close to the city favour large exotic trees and English style shade-loving plants, while many newer suburbs feature modern landscape designs with plantings of exotics and Australian natives. Water restrictions, the much-admired gardens at Parliament House and their innovative use of native species, and also a leaning towards more sustainable gardening practices mean both public and private Canberra gardens now feature less lawn and more indigenous plantings.
As Canberra is the national capital, there are many large Embassy and High Commission gardens, although due to security requirements most are behind high fences, however the gardens which reflect their respective style and plantings can still be clearly seen.
The population of Canberra live mostly in low density houses or, increasingly, in apartments sited in and around major shopping hubs.
Due to Canberra’s 4 distinct seasons there is always something to see in the regularly open public gardens: form and structure in winter, delicate blossoms in spring, restful shade in summer and glorious colour in autumn.
In the Southern Monaro there are several signifiant large country homestead gardens featuring exotic trees, perennial borders, bulb meadows, stone walls and lakes.
Best open gardens to see and visit in Canberra and Southern Monaro FREE entry
• Parliament House – there are many private courtyards featuring interesting designs and planting within Parliament House which can be viewed on a guided tour
• Old Parliament House Gardens – arbours, rose gardens and rose-covered arches and pavilions. Self guided tour. Open summer 7am-8pm, winter 7am-5pm.
• Australian National Botanic Gardens, self guided and guided tours available
• National Arboretum Canberra – Canberra’s newest public garden with a large collection of local indigenous, native and exotic trees that thrive in the cool, dry climate. Smaller sized gardens are under construction. Self guided and guided tours available
• Lanyon Homestead, self guided and guided tours available
• Floriade massed bulb displays in Commonwealth Park, mid September to mid October
• Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Australia
• Lennox Gardens (includes the Beijing Garden)
Gardens to see in Queanbeyan (a NSW town a short drive from Canberra): visit the new Sensory Gardens in Ray Morton Park on the banks of the Queanbeyan River, especially designed for those with disabilities.
There are also two excellent nursery hubs:
• Heritage Nursery, Yarralumla
• Pialligo, featuring numerous specialist nurseries, cafes and gift shops.
Best open gardens to see and visit in Canberra and Southern Monaro PAID entry
• Government House – the home of Australia’s Governor General is open 2-4 times a year for public fundraising events and open days.
• Cockington Green Gardens – 2 acres of miniature village with appropriately scaled gardens, self guided tour
• Open Gardens Canberra – selected quality private gardens open over a weekend, mainly during the spring and autumn seasons
• Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve – indigenous plants, wetlands boardwalk, ornamental metalwork, opportunities to see platypus in the wetlands
• TulipTop Gardens, Sutton – 10 acre garden open mid September to mid October
• Private Gardens of the Monaro creates group tours (including catered meals) to several magnificent Monaro gardens.
Canberra and Southern Monaro Garden Festivals and Events
• Floriade and Floriade Nightfest – mass bulb displays – 4 weeks from mid September to mid October.
• Lanyon Plant Fair – rare and unsual plants for sale at the historic Lanyon Homestead – mid March
• Tuliptop Gardens Festival – 4 weeks, mid September to mid October
• Windows to the World – most Embassies and High Commissions open to the public including the gardens and grounds – 4 weeks, mid September to mid October
• Truffle Festival – 8 weeks, July to August
• Burra Open Gardens (near Queenbeyan) – early November
How to find Canberra private gardens (not regularly open to the public)
Most private gardens open during spring and autumn and are privately advertised or promoted through Open Gardens Canberra.
Best time to visit gardens/garden festivals in Canberra and Southern Monaro
Spring (Sept – Nov)
Autumn (March – May)
Alternatives to gardening activities in Canberra
Visit National Capital Exhibition and walk around Lake Burley Griffin
Sited along Lake Burley Griffin visit the National Gallery of Australia, National Portrait Gallery of Australia, National Library of Australia, National Museum of Australia, National Archives, Questacon, National Carillon. Most have fabulous cafes and gift shops.
Also worth a visit is the Australian War Memorial, Royal Australian Mint, Australian Institute of Sport. All have fabulous cafes and gift shops.
Walk parts or all of the 140km loop Centenary Walk
Enjoy ‘The Poachers Way’ (collective of Canberra businesses promoting regional produce and wares including wineries, restaurants, cafes and galleries within the ACT or just outside).
Tidbinbillla Nature Reserve and Namadgi National Park
Fun Facts about Canberra
The site of Canberra was selected for the location of the nation’s capital in 1908 as a compromise between rivals Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s two largest cities.
The city’s design was influenced by the garden city movement and incorporates significant areas of natural vegetation that have earned Canberra, the capital city of Australia, the title of ‘The Bush Capital’.
The word ‘Canberra’ is popularly claimed to derive from the word Kambera or Canberry which is claimed to mean ‘meeting place’ in the old Ngunnawal language, one of several Indigenous languages spoken in the district by Aboriginal people before European settlers arrived.
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