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Slow Food Marches On

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Lush life flows from extended rescue operation

The Australian

By Cherry Ripe

None of the finalists in the [Slow Food] Ark of Taste award are as globally focused as Australians Alan and Suzi Carle. They run the Botanical Ark, an extraordinary private garden on the edge of the World-Heritage-listed Daintree wilderness in far north Queensland.

2 Bot Ark Retreat media (14 of 15)It’s a Noah’s ark of plants. According to the judges’ report, theirs is, “a lifelong compulsion to find and save endangered rainforests plants.” One of the international jurors of the awards noted: “It’s as if the judging criteria have been written with them in mind”

The Carles, who describe themselves as ethno-botanists, arrived from the US nearly 30 years ago. They were motivated to start collecting by the rate at which rainforests were being destroyed. So they set about travelling the world, amassing an astonishing collection of rainforest plants and fruits, the germ plasm of which they share with other botanical gardens.

The Botanical Ark’s 12ha are so lush that it’s hard to believe that 19 years ago there wasn’t a single tree on the property Now it is a sanctuary for more than 3000 species of plants, including 400 species of fruits and nuts.

The first of their (now more than 50) collecting trips yielded more than 80 species of fruit that had never been grown in Australia. Some of the fruits they introduced two decades ago, such as the black sapote and star apple, can now be found in supermarkets. 

The Carles’ self-funded work is increasingly receiving recognition: they won a Jaguar award for excellence this year and the Singapore Government has commissioned Alan Carle to design a 1ha ginger garden featuring rare species.

When they arrived here, the Carles lived in a small hut plagued by scorpions, with no power or running water. Economic survival remains difficult, even though they put in 80 hours every week. 

There was no outright winner in the Ark of Taste award but all the finalists came away with some loot. The $4000 the Carles received will help towards replanting and restoring the damage caused by Cyclone Ron last year.

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