Botanical gardens at risk

THE botanical gardens, along with Lake Wendouree, are among Ballarat’s biggest tourist attractions.

But horticultural groups are angry over cost-cutting measures they say are turning the gardens into just a “pretty park”.

The Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens, the Ballarat Cactus and Succulent Society and the Ballarat Bonsai Society said yesterday they were concerned over the recent redundancy of the garden’s nursery manager and problems accessing the Robert Clark Centre.

They were also concerned a $2 million bequest, which built both the Robert Clark Conservatory and resource centre, was being ignored.

Ballarat Cactus and Succulent Society secretary Bill Morrison said he wanted the site to stay a botanical gardens, not just a pretty park.

“I don’t think it’s understood what the gardens mean to Ballarat,” Mr Morrison said.

Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens president Elizabeth Gilfillan said the Robert Clark bequest ruled the conservatory had to have four interchangeable displays annually, but now it only had one static display with interchangeable plants.

Ms Gilfillan said, during a meeting with Ballarat City Council chief executive officer Anthony Schinck and growth and development director Eric Braslis, she was told the changes were made for financial reasons.

“But with the (nursery manager) redundancy there is no horticultural expertise,” she said.

Ballarat Bonsai Society representative Janice Marty said the only plants being grown in the gardens nursery were begonias, with other plants being outsourced.

“There was $900,000 given in the bequest for nursery facilities at the Robert Clark Centre and SMB for training purposes,” Ms Marty said.

“That’s $1 million now redundant.”

They also said Robert Clark Centre bookings for garden groups had to be made 12 months ahead.

“But the centre was purpose built for horticulturally minded community groups. We were the envy of other towns.”

Robert Clark descendant Jane Cowles said while she wasn’t involved in any horticultural groups, she was concerned her great uncle’s bequest was being undermined.

Ballarat City Council chief executive officer Anthony Schinck said changes had been made to better use resources, expand services and increase standards without using extra funds.

“More importantly, these are changes that have been informed and supported by staff planning for the future of services,” Mr Schinck said.

He said the council was also working with Robert Clark Centre’s main users to encourage greater community use of the space.

“It is hoped that recent and planned improvements to the centre will in fact improve its attractiveness and we hope to encourage more community groups to use the facility for business and private functions.”