“Gardens and plants play an important role in the Bible,” says gardening writer CEDRIC BRYANT.
OVER many years as a garden designer, I’ve been asked to create gardens with specific themes, from all-native to English-style, from Shakespearean to a biblical garden.
As part of the Yarralumla Government Nursery, established by the father of landscape design for Canberra, Charles Weston, in 1914, there’s an English garden which was planned and created by Jack Moore, the assistant manager of the nursery in the 1960s.
He created it to trial exotic trees and shrubs suitable for urban planting in the ACT. The gardens are now maintained by the ACT branch of the Australian Garden History Society.
Gardens and plants play an important role in the Bible. Some years ago I designed a large garden with a biblical theme on a rural property near Tidbinbilla. Unfortunately, although the homestead was saved, the gardens and an historic 19th century slab hut were destroyed in the fires a few years ago.
However, there’s another biblical garden in Canberra overlooking the lake, almost a hidden gem that not many people know about, at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture in Barton.
The origins of this garden have a fascinating link with another biblical garden in Wales. In the 1950s, Dr Tatham Whitehead, professor of botany at the University of North Wales at Bangor, decided to establish a biblical garden in the grounds of Bangor Cathedral, one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain. His special interest as a botanist was biblical plants, of which he conducted extensive research, including bringing plants from Israel. Part of his research controversially suggested that Eve did not give Adam an apple because they didn’t grow in Mesopotamia. The only edible fruits in that part of the world were apricots and quince. So it appears it was an apricot, not an apple.
Whitehead’s botanical research developed a list that identified 148 individual plants mentioned in the Bible, which was the basis of the Bangor Cathedral garden.
On a trip to Wales, the deeply religious Gerald Hercules Robinson (1893-1972), a highly successful Sydney businessman, visited Bangor and resolved to establish a similar biblical garden on land he had bought near St David’s Anglican Church, Palm Beach, NSW.
He based his Palm Beach garden on Prof Whitehead’s layout and it was opened in 1966. Robinson established a trust in perpetuity with himself and his daughter Beatrice as trustees. He died in his sleep in his beloved biblical garden in 1972.
Beatrice, who had been ordained at St Andrew’s Cathedral in 1965, vowed to continue the work of her father, dividing her time between religious duties and the care of the garden until she died in 1994.
In 2006, the residential property was sold with sufficient funds to maintain the Palm Beach Bible Garden and to establish another at the Centre for Christianity and Culture in Canberra. It was opened on August 3, 2008, by former governor-general Sir William Deane.
The garden entry is free and is open to the public at all hours.
All the plants are clearly labelled along with many other features including a labyrinth. It is suggested to park in the top car park at 15 Blackall Street with a short walk of about 100 metres to the garden. During office hours a comprehensive, coloured booklet is available listing 68 of the plants in the garden.
My special thanks to Hazel Francis, centre manager for a guided tour of the garden.