Thursday, 30 October 2014

From the Herbarium to the Bundesgarten - 1790 to 2014

Bundesgarten Greenhouse - Belvedere

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.

Propagating Ericas

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 Australia.

But I am also reminded of  a 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 with  its 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[1]. I found enough seeds of every species to encourage me to hope that they will germinate in Hietzing­–a splendid acquisition for our gardeners.

[1] 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


  1. Thanks for this. I wonder if we can get M. huegeli from the Belair nursery. It looks like an attractive tree.

  2. It is a native of WA:
    Common name, Chenille Honey Myrtle
    Not at all endangered.