Not everyone gets an opportunity like this, to play a major role in creating a botanic garden from scratch. Listening to Acting Manager, Helen Paulsen talk about the birth of the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens, you have not only a sense of the scope of the project, but also her joy at its success. And yes, TerraCottem has had something to do with it. But before we let Helen tell the story, it’s worth setting the scene…
The earliest written records of the site show that John Mackay camped there on his journey of exploration. It next features during the late 1870s as a state government acclimatisation site where, on some of the best soils in the area, various economic crops were trialled from – sweet potatoes (a success) to apricots (not wildly so). In the years that followed, ‘The Lagoons’ — as it is best known locally — served as the city’s water reserve, a water treatment plant, the town soil supply, unofficial picnic precinct for the local landholders, sugar cane growing, and since the 1970s, open parkland. But by 1985 the countdown had begun, started by the increasingly vocal local chapter of The Society for Growing Australian Plants. A decade or so later, a landscape designer was appointed, the site was agreed and Helen joined the Mackay Council to help set the brief and source funding…
“We began construction with phase one in May 2002 which officially opened a year later. The entire project is estimated at more than $14 million for the entire project which will cover 48 hectares. Stage one cost $3.6 million and with that we were able to build not only the main administration building, the visitor centre and viewing deck, but also some significant garden areas – the Sarina Proserpine Range area, the Tropical Shade Garden, the Tropical Sun Lawn, the Malta Precinct, the Hedges and Screens Garden, the Japan precinct and a Regional Habitat Forest.”
“Tube stock planted with TerraCottem is better than using advance plant stock, because the boost it gets means it will double the other in size in12 months. And there’s no contest between spending $1.85 and $185.” – Helen Paulsen
Stage two quickly followed with a further astonishing list of experiences, among them, “the Coal Gardens, the Torres Strait Islands precinct, Under the Banyan Tree Play Garden”; and stage three is now in the planning stage.
“When we first started out, there was definite resistance to spending this sort of money on a botanic garden – people couldn’t see the use. But within 18 months that had changed and the positive response has been overwhelming. I’ve people – grey nomads from the south – who make a point of stopping on a yearly basis because it’s changing so fast that it’s a pleasure to see.”
There’s only one sad note in this story, and that’s the fact that Helen didn’t have the chance to see TerraCottem in action on her patch until late during phase one. But since that trial, TerraCottem’s soil conditioning technology has been used to plant everything in the Garden from that point on, and it’s now also specified by the City of Mackay in all its landscaping – street trees, gardens – as well as any commercial developments.
As for Helen’s fateful trial, “I found a difficult bit of soil – compacted, windblown and dry – that wouldn’t grow grass. We couldn’t dig a hole with a crow bar so we brought in the back hoe. We applied the TerraCottem to all but two control sites, then planted tube stock. Everything was watered once a week for the first three months until the pressure to use staff elsewhere forced us to leave them to fend for themselves. And in that first year, all the treated plants not only lived but they grew 1.8 metres as compared with the control plant (the other died) which grew to 900 centimetres. They were literally double the size with more leaves and they looked much, much happier.”
This test, along with the results, was timely. Who would ever have thought water would be an issue in Mackay – but it is. “Since 2003 our wet seasons have failed us so that instead of 1.2 metres of rain we’re only getting 600. Given our role in preserving many of the threatened, endangered and vulnerable local plant species in this area, we’ve had to ensure our collection is safe from drought, and TerraCottem makes this possible.”
To read more about TerraCottem’s unique soil conditioning technology, click here.