In 1833/34 Baron Carl Von Hügel visited Australia on board HMS Alligator.
Dymphna Clark's translation of Von Hügel's New Holland Journal (1994) informs this series of performative walks. Walking Hobart, Bathurst area and Western Australia in an attempt to re-trace Von Hügel steps 180 years on is a project about slippages and shifts in land and time.
Today I was up and out the door early on
the 7:20 train to Vienna in order to visit the Australian Plant Collection at
the Bundesgarten in Vienna. Before arriving in Vienna I had wondered if such a
collection might exist. This was in light of von Huegel’s famous garden in
Hietzing where he grew many plants both before and after his travels to
Australia and Cashmere.
The cold weather has arrived, while the
temperature is still mild compared to what is in store later in the winter, it
is still a chilling constrast to the sunshine at the start of last week. I met
Herr. Michael Knaack at the Garden, and one of the first things he told me was
how the cloud lying over Vienna can last for upwards of a month, without a
shard of sunshine peeking through. Certainly that could get you down, but I was
hoping it would be good lighting for the photos I was about to snap.
Little written records exist regarding the
history of the plants growing in this collection. The various gardeners have
passed skills and stories down through the generations. Hr. Knaack recounted
the interesting story of South African Africa
Ericas and how, after locating the plants in Vienna, the horticulturists
from South Africa requested to visit the Belvedere Gardens to learn how to
successfully propagate these extinct plants. Michael Knaack clearly enjoyed
telling the story of the visiting scientists gathered around the terracotta
pots with panes of glass as lids.
This collection of plants—originally belonging
to the Hapsburgs—has been kept alive through the Napoleonic wars, the Hapsburg fall and WWI and II. Perhaps
within another culture the collection would have been more carefully documented
and consequently culled and modified over time, but this collection of potted
Southern Hemisphere plants are kept alive and new generations of plants
propagated, simply, it seems because the collection exists. The pots move in
and out of the green houses each year, from summer to winter. Different plants
have taken to this transition from southern to northern seasons better than
others. Hr. Knaack suggests that some plants have adjusted to the new climate
and flower and grow in the warmer months, while many of the banksias insist
upon flowering when they are returned to the green houses for the winter, after
lying dormant for the duration of the European summer. I imagine there must be
numerous plants who never took to the new climate.
Michael Knaack kindly allowed me to visit
the collection a second time. After ten weeks in Austria it seems that Huegel
has bookended the trip… at the beginning with the visit to the Herbarium, and
now this visit to the Bundesgarten.
It is only in the last week—perhaps as my
time here draws to a close or perhaps because the weather has finally turned—that I have felt homesick. I am dying to be back with my family, A prickly
substitute, the plants with their spiky leaves and woody flowers and foliage, provided
an interim sense of home-ness that makes my homecoming feel nearer to hand.
Huegel’s Journal dwells on his homesickness
relatively frequently, and I have mentioned some of these entries before. His descriptions
of the Fremantle hills taking him back to his garden in Hietzing, the green
hills of Tasmania and so on. My experience of Austria has not been a
re-enactment like my walks in Australia perhaps are, but more of a reversal — a
bending of time and space, a folding back to Huegel in Austria and Huegel in
But I am also reminded ofa passage from his journal, written shortly
after he arrived in Western Australia—was it on this walk that he came across
Melaleuca Huegelii, and could this Type specimen be the great-great grandmother of the plant in the black pot at the Belvedere?
Sunday 8th December
This morning I only went for a short walk
round Fremantle. I had been particularly attracted to the great diversity of
the plant family (Labiatae) which
covered the whole of the plain withits
variegated flowers. So far I had not been able to find any seeds but which to
identify them. This was the purpose of today’s walk and I found what I was
looking for and discovered that my unknown flowers belonged to the genus Prostanthera.
I found enough seeds of every species to encourage me to hope that they will
germinate in Hietzing–a splendid acquisition for our gardeners.
 Not Prostanthera. Possibly
Westringia, Hemiandra or Hemigenia.
Melaleuca huegelii Type Specimen, photo credit NHM, Wien
Melaleuca huegelii - noticed on my second visit to the Bundesgarten