Member Spotlight

Jurassica jungle harnesses prehistoric power to reconnect younger generations with nature

We visit the Jurassica theme park garden project in Cairns, owned by Matt Mitchley of the Designer Garden Co.

Matt is a member of the Australian Institute of Horticulture and is an accredited Registered Horticulturist (RH 0026)

DESCRIBE YOUR GARDEN: The garden, which is 3000sq m, was built three years ago on a prominent derelict commercial site in Cairns and is part of the 202020 vision project that supports greening of our cities. Locals have loved the transformation. It’s one of the largest collections of mature cycads, pachy­podiums, yuccas, ponytails and succulents, and it creates a modern-day representation of a prehistoric cycad forest. Some specimens are hundreds of years old, such as Macrozamia mooreii, which is native to Carnarvon Gorge. The soil is typical Cairns deep sand, ideal for these plants. The garden is a pilot for a larger, nature-based theme park.

WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL: Many are rescue plants that I’ve collected over the past few years. I’m a landscaper and I’d see them unloved and unwanted at the tip. Now people who know the site contact me, asking if I want special plants they are removing. Many need a crane or digger but I just can’t say no because I don’t want them to die. Some are spectacular — they are just what I’ve been waiting for. There’s a lot of mature, rare stuff around because there were many specialist nurseries in the area in the 1970s.

WHY DO YOU LOVE THESE PLANTS: I’ve always been in love with the Jurassic age, not really for the dinosaurs but the habitat they lived in. I came to Cairns from Eng­land 12 years ago and every garden I went into was like a lolly shop for me, full of spectacular plants. These fierce architectural plants have masculine qualities, especially when assembled together.

BIGGEST CHALLENGES: Bringing in more than 500cu m of fill and the same of bould­ers to form hills and ridges from the flat, weed-infested site.

WHAT’S NEXT: We have just bought a 20ha cane farm in a prominent highway position on the northside of Cairns. We will add another bow and become sugar cane farmers while we develop this as the new Jurassica Theme Park site.

We hope to attract investors for the proposed theme park showcasing natural ecosystems of animals, plants and their habitats. Dedicated to conservation, education and entertainment, it aims to engage children and adults with real­istic displays such as primordial swamps, arid desert, lagoons, volcano and a cycad valley. Our team has designed the whole project and developed a detailed business package for investors.

 The Jurassica Project's roadside location garners plenty of interest from passing traffic. (ABC Far North: Adam Stephen)


Matt is at 0404 972 235 –


Acknowledgements to The Weekend Australian and ABC Far North.