The Arboretum story starts to grow

AFTER more than nine years of planning, planting, tending and navigating trial and error, the National Arboretum will open on February 2. 

The National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia has moved into its new home on the 250-hectare Arboretum site from its temporary location in Commonwealth Park, the Village Centre, shop and cafe are up and running, and the temporarily-named Reflection Pavillion is taking bookings for weddings.

“It’s amazing to be open now, but we’re still only at the very beginning of the story for the Arboretum,” says curator Adam Burgess.
“It’s almost surreal that we’re going to be having people coming through the site, after all this time working on the project.”

The Arboretum includes a Himalayan cedar forest and an 80-year-old cork oak plantation, both of which survived the 2001 and 2003 bushfires, but the more recently planted forests are thriving too, says Adam.

“The first forest we planted in 2005, the eucalyptus benthamii, is already looking ‘foresty’ and it’s amazing to see how far it’s come in such a short time,” he says.

“It goes to show that not all the forests will take 50 or 100 years to grow. If you stand in the middle of the eucalyptus benthamii forest now, all you’ll see and hear are the trees. It gives you a good idea of how things will look in a few more years.

“Some of the trees are suffering in the heat at the moment – we’ve had drought, rain, heavy frosts, and now a heatwave, and these trees are babies. They’ve been through a lot but they’re doing well, and they’ll improve as the forests mature.

“Some are thinning out, but I see it as a sign they have the energy to push the leaves off, to conserve water and energy. It’s a good sign.”
The opening of the Arboretum is only the beginning of the story, says Adam.

“The children’s playspace won’t be open for another few weeks, but it’ll be pretty cool,” he says. “It’s all about touch and feel and learn – and it’s close to the cafe for the parents!

“The Waterwise garden will show people how to choose the right plants for their garden and how to irrigate.

“We’ve also got what we call the AIM, or Arboretum in Miniature. We have almost every species of tree as a pot plant, with a view to potentially making each one a bonsai.

“After the opening festival, the plan is to focus more on the scientific, educational side of the site, the sustainability and horticultural aspects. We want to get school groups up here, get the community to enjoy these amazing views, the trees, the sculptural architecture and the forests.

“That’s what the Arboretum is there for; and we’re ready. People don’t realise how much is here when they drive past, and then when they come through the gates, it’s just incredible.”

The Arboretum Opening Festival will include workshops, talks, art and crafts, walking trails, guided tours and live music. There will be no public parking, except disabled parking, available on site during the opening festival.

Free ACTION buses labelled “Arboretum Shuttle” will depart regularly from 9.30am, from the following bus stops:

  • At western entry to Canberra Stadium, corner of Battye and Masterman Streets, Bruce.
  • City Bus Station, rear of  Platform 3.
  • At the Waldorf Apartments, 221 London Circuit, Civic
  • At the front of the Federal Department of Treasury building, western side of Langton Crescent, Parkes.
  • Woden Bus Station, Platform 10.
  • Stromlo Forest Park, Uriarra Road, Stromlo.

For more information at

What’s to see?

The Canberra Discovery Garden

IN February 2012, ACTEW launched a new waterwise community education garden that explores Canberra’s climate, soils and geology, and will teach visitors how to achieve a beautiful, sustainable and water efficient garden in any season.

Southern Tablelands Ecosystems Park

THE Southern Tablelands Ecosystems Park was formed in 2002 with the aim of establishing a demonstration native garden, conservation and educational resource in the heart of Canberra. STEP is now established at the National Arboretum Canberra (forest 20). STEP is planning a microcosm of the vegetation typical of the Southern Tablelands region of NSW and ACT, which complements the Arboretum’s mosaic of forest trees that are rare, endangered, or have ethno-botanical or symbolic values.


Bonsai Pavilion

THE National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia is a collection of some of the finest bonsai and penjing in Australia on permanent display. The Japanese art of bonsai has spread all around the world and is now a familiar site in many countries as well as Australia. The influence of the lesser known Chinese art of penjing is also on show in many of the trees on display at the collection.
The use of Australian native plants as bonsai is a unique asset of this national collection. Nowhere else could you see so many iconic Australian plants in their multitude of forms together with all the more familiar bonsai and penjing subjects.


The Arboretum Playspace will be Canberra’s premier play experience providing a connection between children and the forest that is iconic and immersive. Discovery trails, cubby houses, interactive displays and safe and fun toddler experiences will immerse children in this wonderland, while providing an underpinning message of the global conservation principles of the Arboretum.

Forests and views

OVER the  250-hectare Arboretum site, about 40,000 trees can be explored with more than 90 forests already planted. The Arboretum also incorporates the existing stand of 5000 Himalayan Cedars and the 80-year-old cork oak plantation.
There are 100 forest species planned and all have been chosen from a strict selection criteria based on conservation, symbolic or ethno-botanic values, with more than 103 countries represented. Additionally, some forests have been chosen for their seasonal colour and beauty and to provide a habitat for native animals and birds.
The central valley ceremonial gardens and series of terraces will form an important arrival experience leading to the Village Centre where, through the expansive glass, magnificent views of Canberra can be seen. Additionally, views from the lookout at Dairy Farmers Hill provide unrivalled vistas. A picnic and BBQ area in the Himalayan Cedars forest gives visitors another wonderful location to explore and enjoy the forests.


“NEST III” was created by Richard Moffatt in 2007. The artwork is made from welded steel found objects, mostly abandoned farm machinery. The sculpture is mounted on boulders representing the type of rocky outcrop where an eagle would make a nest. The boulders were sourced from the Arboretum where the sculpture is located on Dairy Farmers Hill.

THE “Wide Brown Land” sculpture was created by Tasmanian-based artist team Marcus Tatton, Futago and Chris Viney (2010).The three words used in the artwork come from the second verse of Dorothea Mackellar’s poem “My Country” written about Australia when she was just 19 years old. Inspired by Mackellar’s own handwriting, it is made from corten steel and steel rod and is three metres high and 35 metres long.


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