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Unit 3 - The Ideal City

Lesson plan
Activity - Green Thumb


When the National Capital was founded, the Limestone Plains were largely treeless and the surrounding hills were mostly bare from overgrazing. In 1913, English horticulturalist Charles Weston was appointed Chief Afforestation Officer and Horticulturalist to supervise the regeneration of the landscape and the planting of the urban environment to reflect Walter Burley Griffin's award-winning design. Weston set up a nursery and arboretum (a place where a variety of trees and shrubs are cultivated for scientific, educational and ornamental purposes). This allowed him to assess a wide range of exotic and native trees and shrubs suitable for the greening of Canberra.

By 1920, 780,000 plants had been propagated and planted in the Canberra area. Many of these plants are now established street trees and can be seen in the suburbs of Canberra today.


Students collect and propagate seeds from locally available plant species.


  • follow instructions and attempt to germinate a local plant species from seed
  • understand the role of Charles Weston and the greening of Canberra
  • understand the harsh environmental conditions of the Canberra region and the propagating attempts made to overcome them
  • identify the link with Walter Burley Griffin's design for the National Capital


Exhibit title - Planting a City - Charles Weston
Location - The Ideal City, section 6

This activity relates to the important contribution Charles Weston made in the successful greening of Canberra (refer to map supplied in National Capital Exhibition Interpretation Guide).


  • seed collection guide
  • student activity sheet
  • seeds
  • seedling mix (mixes are available at nurseries)
  • used punnets (sourced from nurseries)
  • hand spray bottle for watering


  1. Note: This activity should ideally be carried out during the months of spring and autumn. Seed collection of native species with woody seed pods can be carried out at any time of
    the year. Collection of acorns from English oak trees should occur in autumn when acorns
    are dropping from the tree.
  2. 2 Prior to the classroom activity, ask students to collect seeds from their backyard or, alternatively, supervise students as they walk around the school and collect seeds from suitable trees and shrubs.
    To assist students in this task you can provide them with the seed collection guide found in this education kit. The guide offers examples of suitable plants for easy seed collection.
  3. Back in the classroom, introduce the topic by setting the scene with the class. Use the image of Charles Weston and picturesque Canberra to reinforce his role as Chief Horticulturalist.
  4. Examine with the class the variety of seeds collected by the students. Divide the seeds into native and non-native species. You can explain that Charles Weston used native and non-native species in his landscaping designs.
  5. Hand out activity sheet.
  6. Supervise the students while they select and propagate their seeds by following the instructions outlined in the activity sheet.
  7. Establishment of the students' seedlings may take several weeks and, during this time, the punnets containing the seeds should be located in a warm environment. It is very important that the seedling mix in the punnets never dries out, so watering will be required every day, including weekends.
  8. Once seedlings have been established, a program for greening the school yard can be developed or, alternatively, students can take their seedlings home and plant them in their own garden. Be aware that if English oak trees are propagated, they will eventually grow into very large trees.