The dream of opening a Botanic Garden in the city can be traced as far back as Colonel Light. It would take nearly two decades for this idea to be realised with the 1954 establishment of the Garden at its current position just outside the square mile. It would take another three years before it was opened to the public in 1857, with its first plant the cautious choice of a large cactus.
Once opened, the Garden became one of the many organisations Sir Henry would volunteer his time to throughout his public life. Perhaps one of the most public incidents in his time as a Governor came in the depression of 1894 – after he had retired from Parliament – in which he was called on to defend the board’s decision to clamp down on the unemployed men who had taken to camping on the grounds of the adjacent Botanic Park, having been moved on from other parts of the Park Lands by the Council.
He said at the time: "The men have just as much right to camp in my garden as in the Botanic Park, which is of far more public importance than the Park Lands which the corporation refused to allow them to remain any longer."
He also added, in a strong show of provincialism just a few years out from Federation; "I have reason to believe that many of the men now camping in the Botanic Park came from other colonies, and that some are Queensland shearers. They smoke their pipes, they have money to spend in drink, they are accustomed to camping out and in fact they regard the thing as a sort of spree. They have heard that we are a softhearted and kind people over here, and it is true that South Australians are always willing to help cases of distress. One thing is certain that no Government can allow its authority to be openly defied, and that is what these men are trying to do.”
The Garden is also home to the Museum of Economic Botany, the last colonial museum of its kind in Australia. With such an emphasis on agriculture in the early colonial economy, these institutions were invaluable in educating new arrivals about how to successfully cultivate crops and plants in environments quite different from those they were used to farming back in Britain. Designed by E.J. Woods under Botanic Gardens director Dr Moritz Richard Schomburghk, the Greek style building was opened in 1880, and many of its original exhibits are still on display today. Take the German-made papier mâché fruit, an effective way of demonstrating the size and shape of different kinds of plant life in a far more tangible way than illustrations could.