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The Roxby Downs Arboretum, South Australia

Volume 3 Number 7 - February 2001

John Zwar

Roxby Downs is a relatively new mining town of approximately 4,000 people, established in 1987. It is close to the centre of South Australia, 580 km north of Adelaide. The average annual rainfall is 160 mm (6”). The land is characterised by parallel east-west running sand dunes with a pH neutral to slightly alkaline; between them are swales (small valleys) of heavier soil, underlain by limestone, pH 8 to 9. Despite the arid climate, the area is well vegetated. Trees, including native pine (Callitris glaucophylla), bullock bush (Alectryon oleafolium) and occasional native apricots (Pittosporum phylliraeoides), are found on the dunes; mulga is common on intermediate soils between the dunes and swales; and western myall (Acacia papyrocarpa) and quandong (Santalum acuminatum) are found on many of the swales.

I put forward a proposal to establish an arboretum at Roxby Downs. As Coordinator of the Roxby Downs Tidy Towns Team (a small group of volunteers that coordinates the town's entry to the annual state-wide Tidy Towns Competition), I applied for funding in July 2001 through Australia’s Open Garden Scheme, seeking money to begin the development of the Arboretum. A plan was prepared by Tidy Towns Team member Daryl Wake.

Australia’s Open Garden Scheme (AOGS) is a non-profit organisation committed to promoting the knowledge and pleasure of gardens and gardening across Australia. It does this by opening Australia’s best private gardens. In 2001/02 more than 745 gardens nationwide are included in the programme. The AOGS uses its financial surplus to support garden-related projects which will be accessible to the public. This year Aus $5,000 was available for each State and Territory, providing one grant of $3,000 and two of $1,000 for community garden projects. On 18th August, ABC Radio announced that the Roxby Downs Arboretum proposal had been awarded the $3,000 grant in South Australia.

The Arboretum will enable us to assess the suitability of a wide range of trees for local conditions. Residents will be able to visit and select species which appeal to them, having seen their size and growth habits under our harsh conditions, which may be quite different from information in books. As part of their experience of the outback, visitors to the town will find the Arboretum a place of interest, with its collection of labelled arid-zone trees and shrubs. Local schools will find it a useful educational resource.

Besides the AOGS grant, we have asked our municipality to provide a free piped water supply, assist with the building of paths as required and help publicise the Arboretum. Our Tidy Towns Team will commit funding to the Arboretum as available. Voluntary help and donations of needed materials are being sought.

The area selected for the Arboretum is a sand dune reserve of three hectares. There is some shrub growth – this will be retained. This site adjoins “The Green House”, an environmentally-friendly house surrounded by an arid-zone demonstration garden, which is open to visitors to show and promote appropriate building technology, energy and water conservation (see website The two projects are obviously compatible. The site is open to the public at all times, and footpaths leading from the town centre to the southern parts of the town pass through it.

It is our intention to install drip-irrigation to all plants, demonstrate the use of a variety of water-saving mulches and to label all plants. A shelter, with seating and information signs is proposed; this will also serve as a picnic area. We plan to plant an aesthetic mix of appropriate species as they become available, rather than follow a taxonomic or geographic theme for the Arboretum. The intention is to grow plants of known provenance from wild-collected seed whenever possible, and we will be seeking seed and surplus plants from other arboreta or botanic gardens to expand our collection. We intend to maintain a database and advice from other arboreta or gardens on simple but effective database software, which can be maintained by volunteers would be appreciated.

We are about to form a local support group of volunteers willing to help with the development of this exciting project. We intend that the development of stage one will commence in September 2001, before our hot summer begins, depending on water being made available to the site. An attractive stone wall with a name plaque is proposed for the main entrance to the Arboretum.

We think the Roxby Downs Arboretum will play a valuable part in displaying a range of arid-zone plants in an appropriate setting, where visitors will be able to select species for their gardens and learn more about them. Advice and comments from others involved in similar projects will be welcomed. We look forward to the challenge of establishing South Australia’s first arid zone arboretum.