of The Botanical Ark Retreat
How we came to grow tropical flowers
This is a case of how first impressions can make lasting impressions. In 1970, when I (Alan) was 19-years-old, hopping his way across the Pacific Ocean, travelling to Australia, I stopped for two weeks in Western Samoa. On visiting Aggie Grey’s Hotel, I was confronted by a large waxy flower, shaped like a lobster claw, saturated in tropical reds and yellows and greens, hanging from a plant at eye level. It was a heliconia. I had never seen anything like it and, as it turned out, neither had Australia.
Years later, with the help of those flowers, we won Australia’s Best Backyard and our prize included a week at the same Aggie Grey’s. Funny how things go round.
Anyway, while we were overseas collecting ethnobotanical plants, we also collected flowers. We collected lots of them.
Discovering “new” flowers
When people ask if we’ve discovered ‘new’ flowers, Alan says, “If its new to me, then I “discover’ it. If it’s new to science, then it’s quite special. Much of what I have found is either new to me or to horticulture. Most are known to science, although some are not”.
Alan has discovered a few new varieties of ginger in Asia and a couple in Africa. And he has had plants named after him. The Heliconia Hybrid (H. psittacorum x H. spathocircinata) is named ‘Alan Carle’, it’s a small flower with merging yellow and orange.
Alan and Susan have named other cultivars, like the heliconia hybrid ‘Hot Rio Nights’ and ‘Fireflash’, and a couple of others have yet to be named by taxonomists.
Fireflash took about five years to multiply from a single plant to as many as one million. It’s now found in many tropical countries in all hemispheres.
Growing heliconias commercially
Meanwhile, we realised that if we waited to sell our fruit from trees that could take years, sometimes decades, to start fruiting, we would go broke. So we started growing heliconia’s commercially as cut flowers. Some of the 150 species that can be grown as cut flowers can last up to five weeks in a vase. And so it came to pass that by 1985, we were Australia’s largest producers of heliconias.
We would get up at 2a.m., pick flowers until sunrise, when foliage and flowers would wilt with the heat, then pack them off to markets throughout Australia as well as Hong Kong and Japan. Everything was going well until 1989.
In that year, Australia experienced a six-month-long nationwide pilot strike. It devastated many businesses, especially for rural markets. It made us think about our priorities. We concluded that we had drifted from our original emphasis on ethnobonical interests and we stopped growing flowers commercially.
But we still grow many varieties of heliconia, punctuating our garden with shrieks of red and orange and yellow and green. Rather like a land version of the colourful Great Barrier Reef fish. Guests welcome the beautiful flower arrangements throughout The Botanical Ark Retreat.
- Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
- Click to print (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)
Garden Tour reviews
You can book a garden tour when you book your stay at The Botanical Ark Retreat on this website.
"The visit at the Botanical Ark was ..................... we can't find words for it --- more then exceptional --it will stay in our mind as a long life experience. It was amazing and we learned a lot (which is truly under estimated to say it in this way)."
Andrea and Manfred, Germany.
“The best experience yet on our Around The World Trip, Thank you.”
Roy and Sam, USA
Winner of Channel 7's Australia's Best Backyards 2007.
Read more about this and other awards.
“An amazing garden”
Sunday Life Magazine
“A Noah’s ark of plants.”
“A rainforest garden sanctuary.”
Asia-Pacific Troical Homes
Read more from the media
Our (approx.) location
Precise location and directions are emailed for confirmed bookings.