If, instead of a the bustle of streets or the heights of skyscrapers, a city’s worth was measured in plantlife, then Adelaide surely would rank among Australia’s richest.
Founded at the height of the Industrial Revolution in 1836, Adelaide was a city designed to avoid the squalor and slums which the colony’s metropolitan emigrants (Australia’s only free settlers) had left behind in England.
The original urban centre is a square mile of grid streets surrounded by a thick belt of scrubby parkland, with the North Adelaide annex a quintessential representation of the ‘country-town’ ideal of suburbia with its air of roses and lavender.
The Garden City ideal is often disparaged by the turbocharged urbanites of Sydney and Melbourne, who see Australia’s two premier Garden Cities, Adelaide and Canberra, as sluggish backwaters. But as an early adopter of the Garden City movement, Adelaide can now boast a bronze medal in the global ‘liveable cities’ contest, behind only Osaka and Aukland.
And its crown jewel is, of course, the Adelaide Botanic Garden, which has served as a centre for botanical research and recreation for 165 years. Opened to the public in 1857, the Adelaide Botanic Garden today forms 51 hectares of gardens, wetlands and ponds complete with an 1875 glasshouse for palms, an 1881 Museum of Economic Botany, and a 1954 State Herbarium.
A highlight is the purpose-built Amazon Waterlily Pavilion, which houses the extraordinary Victoria amazonica waterlily, famed for its enormous 40cm-diameter lily flower and lily pads the size of a human arm span. The flower opens for only two days and nights, attracting beetles with its pungent scent. Once inside the petals, the flower closes to trap the beetles within, where their intoxicated scurrying pollinates the lily.
This visitor missed the spectacular event, but the Blue Nile Waterlilies (Nymphaea caerulea) – the sacred flower of the pharaohs, who believed the flower emerged from a world of darkness carrying the sun god Ra in its golden heart – were in bloom (See above).
The Adelaide Botanic Gardens is surely one of Australia’s most beautiful public gardens, and Adelaide itself Australia’s finest Garden City.