On one of our occasional visits to the nation’s capital, my wife Judy suggested stopping off at a display of miniature buildings and locations from around the world called Cockington Green Gardens. I wasn’t convinced that I’d be interested but went anyway. Well, I was completely wrong, it is an amazing place that gives immense pleasure to visitors of all ages.
Cockington Green is located in Nicholls, a suburb of Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory. It is a 20-minute drive from the city, passing Black Mountain and the Telstra telecommunications tower on the way.
Opened to the public in 1979, Cockington Green is one of the region’s landmark attractions and a winner of numerous tourism industry awards.
Visitors to Canberra should not miss this delightful and fascinating display of meticulously crafted miniature buildings set within beautifully landscaped gardens. Created by Doug and Brenda Sarah, Cockington Green Gardens is a family owned and operated attraction, with four generations involved in its operation over the past 42 years.
The original Cockington Green display winds its way through superb, manicured gardens and depicts many of the varied and colourful English scenes that the Sarah family discovered and explored during an extended holiday to the UK in 1972.
Cockington is a quaint English village located near Torquay in the county of Devon that the family enjoyed and fell in love with during their vacation. They subsequently named their Australian Tourism Award-winning business after this picturesque village.
The Peterborough scene is the representation of a street in England where close family relatives of the Sarah family lived, and the manor house was built after Doug saw it advertised for sale in a UK magazine. He was so taken with the look that he decided to replicate it in painstaking detail, complete with its Queen Anne facade.
The main entrance building to Cockington Green Gardens is not a replica of any particular building, but rather an original building with a classic Tudor look. A miniature of the main entrance building is found in the display and provides additional insights into the level of detail incorporated into the models.
All the buildings in the UK section were constructed by Doug. Prior to the display’s opening, he spent many hundreds of hours perfecting the construction of the model buildings, often experimenting with materials and techniques to ensure the buildings could withstand the varying weather conditions. Doug’s knowledge and skills have since been passed down to younger generations who continue to build on the legacy that has been given to them.
Also in the gardens is the Rose Room indoor exhibition, featuring Waverley, a 34-room dolls house, the Parsons Nose Garden Café, a playground and a miniature steam train ride.
Cockington Green’s international display was established in the late 1990s, achieving better utilisation of land taken up by a small lake around which the miniature steam train circled. There were many months of work involved in firstly draining the lake and then creating access to the new international display area underneath the miniature steam train line.
Borgund Stave Church, Norway.
La Boca, Buenos Aires.
In a bold initiative, the family contacted all the high commissions and embassies in Canberra, seeking their support for development of the international display. Those that responded positively were then consulted about which building would best represent their country.
Masada, Israel (top) and Aztec Temple, Mexico.
Many of the early buildings in the international display were supported by an Australian Government regional tourism grant designed to assist in the development of the nation’s tourism infrastructure. The governments of countries represented also provided some funding.
Petra, Jordan (top) then Kiev, Philippines and Zagreb.
When construction of the buildings was underway, the surrounding areas were landscaped to replicate as closely as possible the landscape within which the original buildings were set. Some models including those representing Indonesia, Lithuania and the Philippines were constructed in those countries and shipped to Australia.
The gardens were originally intended solely to complement the miniatures, but over the years they have become a striking attraction in their own right. Overseas visitors often compare them favourably with famous gardens in other countries.
To separate pathways from displays, a spectacularly colourful collection of annual flowers is grown. Almost 35,000 flowers are planted each year to add colour to the display. These annuals are propagated and grown on the premises. New varieties are trialled each season, and plantings are staged to allow for the longest possible flowering period.
The almost two-acre display area also features many trees and shrubs with miniature growth characteristics, generally defined as those having a growth rate of up to 600mm in ten years, although plants with faster growth rates are also used for shorter periods.
Conifers have been used extensively because of the wide range of shapes and colours available in the miniature varieties and because they are naturally suited to the Canberra climate. They are also easily transplanted, which means that any given plant may be moved several times during its life in the Cockington Green Gardens display.
A typical life-cycle will begin with use as a specimen tree in a miniature display landscape, then as a background tree behind the display, then perhaps as part of an outer garden area. Most miniature conifers in the display have been purchased from the Dandenong Ranges area in the state of Victoria.
Many other kinds of miniature trees and shrubs are used, including dwarf elms and maples, many varieties of box, kurume azaleas and an increasing number of Australian native plants.
Cockington Green Gardens is at 11 Gold Creek Road, Nicholls ACT and is open seven days a week from 9.30am to 5.00pm. Adult entry price is $21.00, with concessions available for children and seniors.
Australia is now welcoming fully vaccinated visitors from New Zealand, Singapore, Japan and South Korea and there are signs that its international borders may be open to all by Easter.
Photos © Judy Barford