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The first voyage of James Cook on HMS Endeavour introduced the Australasian flora to European botanists for the first time.  I’ve often wondered before about how daunting this must have been, to see familiar plant families diversified to such a degree in Australia along the East coast.  Indeed Cook named Botany Bay in honour of the rich diversity he found there.  The true hero of the voyage of course was Joseph Banks, who, as a botanist, must have wondered on his inclusion on a mission whose primary purpose was to observe a transit of Venus near Tahiti in 1769.  It wasn’t until the second sealed orders were opened that the bulk of the mission, to seek evidence of the postulated “Terra Australis Incognita” or “Unknown Southern Land” became known, and Bank’s role explained.

Of course, prior to Australia The Endeavour crew spent six months mapping the coast of New Zealand, whose flora must have been, if anything, even more challenging that that which was to come.  The islands’ isolation, having arisen from the seabed and never been land-bridged to a continent, meant their primary colonizers were comparatively few; these evolved along very unique pathways. Ecosystems emerged without many of the plant families which are so influential elsewhere; it must have been like being on a different planet.

It seems strange that over 200 years since the first sightings of the exciting plants from the Unknown Southern Lands that they are still quite alien to the British garden.  We are very familiar with plants from other parts of the world, as evidenced in our car-parks and suburbs – stuffed with muck from all over the place!  At VBG we hope to grow more exciting relatives of such omnipresent stalwarts, there is more to Buddleja than the Butterfly Bush, take a look in the South African Section.  More exciting is to see the Australasian flora as it would have first been viewed.  Our New Zealand Garden is planted to represent a section of the wild, seed from plants in association just as Simon Goodenough saw in the 1980s.  In the Australian Garden, plants are grown exactly as listed by Banks two hundred years previously.  On a sunny day the only British element you can see as you immerse yourself in this landscape is the sky…