Planting Dreams: Shaping Australian Gardens

Planting Dreams: Shaping Australian Gardens

Gardening is a passion for many Australians. It gives pleasure, sustenance and dignity to daily lives. It cuts across cultural, social and national boundaries like few other activities.

(Richard Aitken, Guest Curator)

Saturday 3 September 2016 to Sunday 15 January 2017
Admission: Free
Download exhibition guide


Planting Dreams: Shaping Australian Gardens

Gardening is a passion for many Australians. It gives pleasure, sustenance and dignity to daily lives. It cuts across cultural, social and national boundaries like few other activities.

(Richard Aitken, Guest Curator)

Hand written text states: Planting Dreams, set within a circle of watercolour shapes of leaves.

Curated by garden historian Richard Aitken, Planting Dreams: Shaping Australian Gardens explores the ideas and influences that have shaped the way we make, use and enjoy our gardens.  After searching through the State Library’s collections, he has selected more than 150 rare, beautiful and at times unlikely objects -  spanning over five centuries - to illustrate the rich and inspiring story of garden-making.

The exhibition also features a newly commissioned interactive work by artists Lisa Cooper and Benja Harney. Responding to exhibition themes and Library collections, they have created a monumental installation which visitors can contribute to during the exhibition.


An illustration of an early microscopic image of a pear.
About this item: 

Facsim. of the 1682 ed. printed by W. Rawlins for the author.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Transferred from NQ582.04/1

The anatomy of plants: with an idea of a philosophical history of plants
Grew, Nehemiah (1641-1712)
Digital ID: 
None available
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A hand drawn illustration of Leopard Orchids
About this item: 

Gilt head; Plates hand coloured; Vol. 1 accompanied by m.s. sheet opp. t.p.; vol. 2 included in vol. 1.

‘Lilium superbum’, in John Sims (ed.), Curtis’s Botanical Magazine; or, Flower- Garden Displayed
T. Curtis
Digital ID: 
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An oil painting of a leafy suburban street, lined with wheelie bins.
About this item: 

Collection Day depicts Organs Road in Bulli, New South Wales, about halfway up the steep street looking east, down the hill towards the ocean on a Wednesday morning after the rubbish has been collected. The yellow bins indicate it was a day for recycling collection and the red bins normal household garbage. The bins, with lids flung open, capture the everyday aspect of suburban recycling practice. This loose and lively suburban street scene celebrates the commonplace.

It was painted in late 2010 and then reworked in early 2011. It is painted in oils on marine grade plywood over the top of a painting from 2007 of a factory building in Marrickville, with the title ‘Ming On Trading’ (the name of the building). The first painting was scraped flat with a razor blade and the painting of Organs Road was done over the top. 

Landscape and still-life artist John Bokor grew up in Sydney, living and painting in Marrickville from 2002 until 2007. He now lives in Bulli, New South Wales. Bokor has won several art prizes including the NSW Parliament Plein Air Painting Prize and Eutick Memorial Still Life Award.

Collection Day
John Bokor
Digital ID: 
None available
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1939 Calendar cover depicting a colourful oil painting of a man and woman in a garden.
Yates' Garden Calendar
Digital ID: 
None available
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Black and white engraving of a naked man and woman reaching to pick and apple from a tree.
Adam and Eve (in Brazil), in Theodor de Bry et al (eds), Historia Americae sive Novi Orbis, continens in XIII distinctis partibus: verissimam
Theodor de Bry
Digital ID: 
None available
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A poster with man, woman and child holding gardening utensils photo montaged onto a yellow and blue background stating "Join the army on the food front. Grow your own vegetables".
Join the army on the food front [picture] : grow your own vegetables.
Digital ID: 
None available
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Environmental artist Lynne Adams helps celebrate Planting Dreams 

A colourful plastic sculpture of flowers, hangs from the ceiling - the sign on the window below reads State Library of NSW

Visit the beautiful sculptural work of environmental artist Lynne Adams on display in the Macquarie foyer for the duration of Planting Dreams

Lynne is known for her imaginative and beautiful artworks made from recycled materials, particularly plastic drink bottles. She is passionate about our need as a society to reduce, re-use and recycle our waste. 

Brightly coloured plastic flowers are tethered together to form a sculptural mesh.

Meet the curators

A man with white hair and glasses stands close to the camera with a pool of water behind him reflects the sky.

Richard Aitken

Richard Aitken is recognised nationally and internationally for his expertise in the field of garden history. He has been long a long-time editor of Australian Garden History, the quarterly journal of the Australian Garden Historical Society, and his books include The Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens (2002), Gardenesque (2004), Botanical Riches (2006, Seeds of Change (2006), The Garden of Ideas (2010), and Cultivating Modernism (2013). Richard has undertaken numerous conservation plans for significant historic gardens throughout Australia. He has curated several major exhibitions for Australia's leading collecting institutions.
A woman stands in front of a bookcase of vintage volumes and smiles at the camera.

Sarah Morley

Sarah is a curator working in the Library’s Research and Discovery Branch. She works closely with our Manuscript and Rare Book collections drawing on her experience in collection acquisition, arrangement and description. In 2015 Sarah curated the Australian Inspiration exhibition, a companion to the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Inspiration by Design, and is the liaison curator for Planting Dreams. Sarah also provides support and content for programs, events and the Library's social media channels. Sarah has a passion for libraries, the history of the book, and interpretations of Australia from the earliest records to the present day.

Thanks to our sponsors

Talk - Costa Georgiadis: Gardening for our Future

How Australian communities are creating new opportunities to connect around gardens and gardening.

Author Talk with Bruce Pascoe

Award-winning author Bruce Pascoe talks about the fascinating historical revelations in his book Dark Emu.

Panel discussion - Botanical: Australian Garden Culture

Simon Marnie leads a distinguished panel in a discussion exploring the development of an Australian garden culture.

Planting Dreams: audio guides

Hear Jonathan Jones, Bruce Pascoe and Richard Aitken share their thoughts about some of the items on display in Planting Dreams

Curator Q&A

A quick Q&A with Shaping Australian Gardens curators Richard Aitken and Sarah Morley.


A range of  special Planting Dreams books, apparel and homewares are available now at the Library shop and via Redbubble.

Bringing a rare herbal back to life

Read about the conservation treatment this rare book received in preparation for our Planting Dreams exhibition.

Slide show

The quirky and obscure Hallams slide collection is a curator’s dream, revealing ordinary Australian gardens in the 1960s and 70s.

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