Transport Canberra and City Services


Nursery History

Taken in 1920 outside the dispatch office
Taken in 1920 outside the dispatch office

Taken in 2009 outside the dispatch office
Taken in 2009 outside the dispatch office

The concept of Canberra as a garden city has always been an important aspect of the overall program for the development of the nation's capital. Early in the city's history it was realised that trees and shrubs would have to be raised locally if the garden city concept was to be achieved.

Yarralumla Nursery exerts an influence on Canberra's scenic beauty far in excess of its size. Through the propagation of millions of trees and shrubs subsequently planted in the National Capital, it deserves credit for much of the charm of the city's streets, parks and private gardens.

Origins

The first government Nursery was established in about 1911 on three acres of sandy alluvial soil at Acton on the site of the National Museum, and the first trials to establish suitable species were planted there during 1912 and 1913.

Thomas Weston, the first Superintendent, recommended that the Nursery move to Yarralumla, where work was started in 1914, with the first plant being produced in 1916. The production Nursery occupied more than 28 hectares (70 acres). Until the early 1970s some of this area was used for the Parks and Gardens research department and the Department of Health's plants quarantine. Another 130 hectares (330 acres) was to be used for various permanent plantings. This larger area became part of Westbourne Woods (now Royal Canberra Golf course) or Weston Park.

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Functions

The chief roles were to:

  • propagate and supply plants for public landscaping in Canberra and to tenants and owners of houses in Canberra and rural leases;
  • conduct research into plants suitable for the region;
  • supply potted plants and cut flowers on request for government institutions in Canberra; and
  • supply seed and plant material to research institutions and government nurseries outside Canberra.

As the Nursery grew it became a large and fundamental part of Parks and Gardens and the development of Canberra as a whole.

Yarralumla Nursery is now operated by the ACT Government as a self funded business enterprise and comprises two sites: 10 hectares (25 acres) at Yarralumla where plants are propagated, wholesale plants are dispatched and where the retail garden centre serves the general public; and 21 hectares (52 acres) at the Pialligo annex where deciduous trees are propagated and grown in-ground.

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Plantings

Many of the mature trees seen around the Nursery date back to experimental planting by Thomas Weston including the first results of the hybridisation of Eucalyptus species. The windbreaks and entrance borders were planted between 1915 and 1920. An experimental orchard with a large range of varieties was planted in 1916-17. The heritage-listed "English Garden" forms a large part of what is now the southern boundary of the Nursery.

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Research

Both Thomas Weston and Lindsay Pryor had policies for actively seeking seed and plant material for trials to establish which plants would be most likely to succeed in Canberra's harsh climatic and soil conditions. Although early figures do not exactly reflect the situation, there has been a steady increase in both the numbers and percentage of native species grown at the Nursery. As much material was collected locally as available, but the Nursery was also in regular contact and exchanged material with a number of interstate and international institutions, including: commercial nurseries, government and municipal nurseries such as forestry commissions, and overseas collections such as botanical gardens and private collectors.

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Highlights

  • The number of people working at Yarralumla Nursery peaked at 70 in the 1940s. The Nursery currently has 18 permanent staff.
  • It is estimated that Yarralumla Nursery has grown over 50 million plants in its 100 year history. At present, 400,000 plants are being produced each year. About 1,100 species are propagated of which approximately 50% are Australian natives and 50% are exotic.
  • In the late 1970s, the Nursery pioneered the direct sowing of Australian Trees (principally Eucalypts) into specially designed tubes. This process has now developed into a state of the art process using specially designed containers that produce a stable, high quality root system. The Nursery now produces approximately 60 species by this technique. Many of these are propagated each year especially for Landcare groups and rural plantings.
  • Customers of the Nursery now include the general public, new home owners (plant issue), private contractors, rural land holders, state governments and councils as well as the ACT Government.
  • The Nursery still collects a large portion of its own propagation material. The bulk of this is collected from the local region. This is to ensure that species grown will be suitable for this region's severe climatic and soil conditions.

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Key landmarks

  • In 1991 the Nursery was placed on the interim register of the National Estate joining Westbourne Woods in recognition of its role in beautifying Canberra.
  • In 1993 the Nursery boundary was relocated to place the English Garden outside in the general parkland of Weston Park.
  • In 1995 the Nursery became the second nursery in Australia to achieve certification as a Quality Assured Company to the International Standard ISO 9002.
  • In 1996 the Nursery underwent a major restructure to improve its efficiency and maximise opportunities to expand into new markets.
  • In 1998 the Nursery introduced the first line of a series of rare and threatened Australian species. Some of these have been released in conjunction with the Australian National Botanic Gardens, The Australian Network for Plant Conservation (ANPC) and the Eurobodalla Botanic Gardens. The growing and sale of these plants not only serves to promote awareness of rare and endangered species but also assists in funding projects to help preserve them by royalties paid to the ANPC and Eurobodalla Botanic Gardens.
  • 1998 also saw the beginning of the monthly Australian Plants Market and Information Day. On this day a number of local Australian plant growers can be found at the nursery selling their specialist lines and offering free advice. This market heralded the "Plants Local to the ACT Region" section of the Garden Centre.
  • In 2000 the Nursery exported a number of Australian species to the European Market. This has continued with a large order of Eucalypts to Tunisia in 2001.
  • The Nursery has coordinated the purchase and supply of much of the plant material used in the Floriade Festival in Canberra each spring.
  • Since the early 1990s the Nursery has been pro-active in removing plants identified as environmental weeds from its plant list. This was formally recognised in the year 2000 with it being awarded 'Bush Friendly' status by the ACT Government.
  • In 2001, the Nursery won the Outstanding Employer of a Woman in a Non-Traditional Vocation at the ACT Training Excellence Awards.
  • In 2006, The Nursery was awarded the Chief Minister's Inclusions award of excellence.
  • In addition to its other functions, Yarralumla Nursery is a valuable training ground for horticultural apprentices with at least one apprentice undertaking an apprenticeship at the Nursery each year since 2007.
  • The Nursery installed a water recycling system in 2007 as part of its water management strategy.
  • The Nursery was involved in several major projects in 2008 including the ongoing propogation and production of several rare species of plants for the National Arboretum Canberra.
  • In 2010 the Nursery won Best Government Nursery in ACT/ NSW as a part of the Nursery & Garden Industry Awards.
  • The Nursery was once again successful in winning Best Government Nursery as a part of the Nursery & Garden Industry Awards in 2011.
  • "In 2012, the records held at the Yarralumla Nursery were digitised, securing their content against loss or damage and making it possible to make them widely available for researchers and more general consultation. These records included approximately 15,500 handwritten index cards and three substantial ledgers have been made and deposited with the Territory Records Office."
  • "In 2014, Yarralumla Nursery celebrated its 100th birthday. A community event involving tours of the nursery site, miniature horse rides, and displays of old machinery and vehicles was held on Sunday 6 April 2014. It is estimated that since its establishment in 1914, the Nursery has propagated over 50 million plants to help beautify Canberra's landscape."
  • "Yarralumla Nursery has undergone significant upgrades to the site over the last three years, with the works valued at $1.67 million."

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Contact Details for Yarralumla Nursery

Regular Opening Hours

Monday to Friday:
7.30 am to 4 pm

Saturday/Sunday/public holidays:
Closed

Address

Banks Street
Yarralumla ACT 2600

Contact Numbers

Phone: 02 6207 2447

Facsimile: 02 6207 2455

Email: yarr.nursery@act.gov.au

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We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the ACT, the Ngunnawal people. We acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region.

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