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Branching out: Boden's Pin Oak Freefall

Samantha Wellham

Pin Oak (8)The National Arboretum Canberra, (if you haven’t been there, I’m sure you’ve at least heard of it), as a whole is an exceptional display of arboriculture species from around the world. But it’s when you delve deeper into the stories behind the 94 individual forests that the magnitude of it becomes apparent.

Situated right next to a forest planted out with a threatened species all the way from the Canary Islands, is Forest 41, Quercus Palustris.

The Quercus Palustris forest, which is more commonly known as Pin Oak ‘Freefall’, consists of some 200 trees, planted to represent the people who have provided an immeasurable service to the the Australian population via the engineering profession.

But it is not the symbolism of these attractive, strong and long lasting trees that endears me to them, it is the story behind their creation; a story closer to home then one would imagine. This proud conic shaped deciduous tree, deep green in summer and an even deeper bronze red in autumn is a natural beauty which was hand-crafted to life by Dr Robert Boden OAM (1935 – 2009), a pioneering Canberran.

Dr Boden arrived in Canberra at the age of 19 to study forestry, a profession which at the time, was not his first choice. Over time his love for trees grew, with their ecology and inner workings at the core of this passion, a passion he would dedicate his life to. At the beginning of his career he worked closely with Lindsay Pryor working on selecting the most appropriate trees for the new cities avenues, streets, landscaped parks and national buildings.

It was during this time the creation of the ‘Freefall’ came about. The majority of pin oaks only lose their dead foliage when the new leaves sprout in the spring, yet Dr Boden’s tree behaves like most other deciduous trees by defoliating fully as soon as the vivid autumn colours fade. Whilst working at the Yarralumla Nursery, he created them by grafting a cutting from a defoliating specimen onto a regular pin-oak seedling. These trees are now grown in Canberra based on Canberra research and development.

As his career progressed, he began to see the bigger picture, realising that the city was just a part of a larger ecology. His daughter Susan remembers “he enjoyed the way trees framed big landscapes and also how they shaped more secret places in quiet streets and lakeside paths”. His career moved from focussing on the individual tree to embracing the complete landscape of our beautiful city.

Pin Oak (9)

Dr Boden had a fascinating life, full of travel, study, research and family and towards the end of his life reflected on his career in the city he loved and helped create by stating ‘I was lucky. I just happened to know a little bit more about something that everybody loves.’

What better to commemorate the innovative people of Australia then with a tree created by arguably one of Australia’s finest horticultural innovators, avid conservationists and environmental advocates?

Samantha Wellham

Having travelled the world in the horticulture industry, Samantha returned home to Canberra with a passion to create landscapes that are environmentally sustainable and long lasting. Samantha has experience in the 10 years in the horticulture and landscape industry (both commercial and residential). She believes it is these experiences that will take your ideas and values and create a space that is exactly how you dreamt it. More about the Author

  • Susan Boden

    This is a beautiful piece Sam. I was lucky to grow up as Dad’s daughter and we are all lucky in Canberra to share his work for Canberra’s trees. Dad was one of many people who planted and cared for trees and we can share that work today. A tree planted to mark a birth or passing is a fine thing, and we can all keep an eye on our local trees and support tree-planting with Greening Australia and Landcare.

    Great to see landscape and Sam joining the HerCanberra success story!

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