A brief reflection

Stephen Forbes (a Diggers Director) shares his experience as the former Director of the Botanic Gardens of South Australia

The Amazon Waterlily Pavilion is a structural glass conservatory

A brief reflection

For 15 years I had the privilege of leading the Botanic Gardens of South Australia — a rich, botanical jewel in the heart of Adelaide.

When I arrived at the gardens, the most recent masterplan was dated from 1874. Managing a botanic garden is certainly a long-term enterprise, but there had been quite a few changes in Adelaide over the intervening 125 years, so I faced a few new challenges heading into the new millennium.

These challenges included securing the gardens in an age of climate change, protecting their viewsheds from proposed developments on the boundaries, and conserving what the community loved most about the gardens, all while regenerating the gardens and revitalising the research and education programs.

Botanic gardens are institutions built on a foundation of plant collections that allow us to explore the plant world in a systematic way. The ideas developed have had a major influence on our relationship with the plants that are the basis of our past, present and future.

My directorship at the gardens was a culmination of years working as a botanist, ecologist, nursery manager (nationally and internationally) and as a senior manager in botanic gardens in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

My first few years were focused on planning and building partnerships. The Botanic Gardens of South Australia became the first institution outside the USA to be accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, something we can all be proud of.

With support from the State Government, by 2006 we were able to find partners and philanthropists to fund and deliver our plans for the future of the gardens.

Many of these achievements are illustrated here (below and right).

I see the biggest challenge for the future as maintaining public funding for an institution cherished by the community. While the market is viewed as the arbiter of value, and the officials describe costs of maintaining cultural institutions as ‘a burden on the taxpayer’, research indicates that taxpayers are comfortable with supporting public gardens.

The community’s and visitors’ love for, and trust in, their botanic gardens, their authority, and the value of their programs suggests they’ll remain resilient and an enduring part of our communities.

Have you heard about the City Crops program?

Stephen was instrumental in the City Crops program. This program explores growing enough of a crop to feed a family for a year. For example:

• In 2013 this included growing enough wheat to keep a family in bread for a year. The wheat was then milled and baked into bread.

• In 2014 it moved to beer, where enough barley was grown to keep a family in beer which was brewed by Botanic Ale in conjunction with Tim Cooper and Alistair Turnbull from Lobethal Bierhaus.

• In 2015 children planted and harvested a sweet corn crop in association with the RAHS for its 175th anniversary.

• In 2016 a lucerne crop was sown to support a cow to produce enough milk for a family for a year.

Other major projects completed during Stephen's tenure include: Adelaide Botanic Gardens

• An Australian Garden designed by Kate Cullity from TCL to illustrate how native plants can be used in courtyard gardens.

• An Eremophila Garden supported by the Australian Plants Society and the expertise of Dr Bob Chinnock — Australia’s Eremophila explorer and taxonomist.

• A Cactus & Succulent Garden complementing the historic Palm House’s Madagascan collection.

• The Garden of Health illustrating the importance of plants in Western, Aboriginal, Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.

• Construction of the First Creek wetland aquifer storage and reuse project as an education resource and to provide water security for Adelaide Botanic Garden & Botanic Park.

• Construction of the Little Sprouts Kitchen Garden for early years children in 2015.
Mount Lofty Botanic Garden

• Purchase of the O’Leary Estate to enhance Mount Lofty Botanic Garden and to preclude adjacent development.

• Construction of a lakeside circuit trail and new visitor pavilion.


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Clive Blazey visits Japan for the Botanica Spring Garden tour

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Owner and garden creator Jeremy Francis takes us through the four seasons at Cloudehill

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Andrew Carrick tells the story of re-establishing lilies in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens

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Julie Willis creates Heronswood’s summer perennial border and explains its subtleties.

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John Christie tells us why trees are an integral part of the gardens at Cruden Farm

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Georgina Reid wonders why we don’t value the natural world

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Gardening with Biologicals

Stephen Forbes explains the importance of what we can’t see in our gardens

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Clive Blazey introduces the wonders of Singapore's Gardens by the Bay

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Marcelle Swanson visits inner-city fruit grower and author Louis Glowinski

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Clive Blazey discovers a garden where citrus, dates, mangoes, peaches and apples thrive

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Andrew Laidlaw describes how the first Global Garden of Peace is taking shape in Gaza

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Clive Blazey visits the 'world's most romantic garden', the inspirational Ninfa in Italy

Playing with Perennials

Q&A with Heronswood's Gardeners

Get to know Heronswood's talented gardeners

Seed Savers Garden coming to Heronswood

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Sissinghurst gardens is given the kiss of life

Tommy Garnett, our finest garden writer, describes the redemption of Sissinghurst

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Ines Balint shares a special garden connection and love of food with her family in Serbia

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A new garden development that highlights why ‘it isn’t easy being blue’ in the flower garden.

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A dramatic landscape garden that marries horticultural skill with an artist’s eye.

The grandfather of citriculture

Marcelle Swanson talks to world-renowned citrus expert Ian Tolley about his life's opus ‘Commonsense Citrus’

Three up and coming gardeners

Tony Fawcett explains why an outstanding gardener should be on every farmer’s list of go-to gurus

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Clive Blazey talks with Will Ashburner and Frank Broersen

Vegie gardening from Alaska to the Sunshine Coast

Kevin Redd doesn’t follow the rules, choosing to experiment with the vegies he loves, no matter what his climate.

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Marcelle Swanson asks Joost Bakker about his philosophies for a sustainable future

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Stephen Forbes

Stephen has been the Executive Director of the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide since 2001, and has published widely in the cultural history of plants, biodiversity conservation and urban landscape management.

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