As noted, the Gardens are located at two sites, one of 90 hectares on the lower slopes of Black Mountain in Canberra, and the other of 80 hectares in the Jervis Bay Territory on the New South Wales south coast (see Figures 1.1 and 1.2). Facilities for visitors include a visitor information centre, bookshop and kiosk in Canberra and a display shelter at Jervis Bay. Parking and picnic areas and public toilets are provided at both sites, as are marked trails to help visitors to explore and understand the Gardens.

Major buildings have been erected on the Canberra site to provide facilities necessary for maintaining the plantings (the Nursery complex and trades depots), research, Herbarium and library facilities and office accommodation. Special-purpose buildings such as the Environmental Education Centre and the Banksia Centre have also been constructed. Infrastructure at Jervis Bay is limited to a single administration building and associated workshops and nursery facilities.

The living collections

The living plants cultivated at the two sites represent about 5900 species, or about one-third of the species of flowering plants known to grow naturally in Australia. The majority of the collections is maintained in open-ground plantings in the developed sections of the Gardens. The component of the collections that cannot be readily cultivated in open-ground plantings, for climatic and other reasons, is maintained as a permanent pot collection in the Nursery and in glasshouses.

The Gardens are arranged in numbered sections, each with a planting theme: taxonomic themes (based on botanical relationships), such as the Acacia, Eucalyptus, Proteaceae and Rutaceae sections; biogeographic themes (based on ecological or geographic relationships), such as the Rainforest Gully, the mallee shrubland, the Sydney Basin flora and the Tasmanian flora; specific environments, such as the Rock Garden and aquatic pools; and educational themes, such as rare and endangered plants, cultivars of Australian plants, and variations in growth and form. Other areas are planted for aesthetic effect, especially around buildings.

The Herbarium

The Herbarium forms the basis for the scientific documentation and authentication of living plants grown in the Gardens. It is a reference collection of some 270 000 preserved plant specimens and is a nationally and internationally recognised resource for the scientific community. Specimens of most plants in the living collections are held in the Herbarium and this information is linked to that in the photographic collection.

The Herbarium collection includes mounted dried specimens labelled with information from the field notes of the collector; these are often associated with spirit-preserved material, wood samples and photographs. Some specimens are duplicated in the public reference collection housed in the visitor information centre in Canberra and at Jervis Bay.

Data collections

Data collections held at the Gardens comprise the extensive photographic collection, the library and the Integrated Botanical Information System (IBIS) computer information system, which, as well as containing the most up to date references to the names of all Australian vascular plants, contains the information that links the Herbarium collection, the living collections and the photographic collection in a manner that facilitates cross-referencing.