It's a sparkling spring morning on the day I sit down with Judy West, right in the centre of the botanic gardens of which she is the director.
After our talk, she will continue working on her presentation the following night, via Zoom, at a major symposium at the Kew Gardens of London. It's part of Kew's regular report on the state of the world's plants and fungi, and West - who has been director of the Australian National Botanic Gardens for the past 10 years - will be the only speaker from Australia presenting before at least 2000 delegates.
It's a vote of confidence and a sign of the gardens' standing in the world. What with the kudos, and the weather, and the steady stream of visitors, it's a good time for the gardens to be marking its 50th year.
If only the year itself hasn't been such a god-awful catastrophe so far.
As a national institution based on highly curated natural surrounds, the gardens has been affected more profoundly than most by the succession of disasters that 2020 has thrown up, beginning, of course, with the heatwave and bushfire threats of the summer, complete with the choking smoke and strong, hot winds that forced it to cancel most of its summer events.
January brought a freak hailstorm that ripped through parts of Canberra, cutting a swathe of incredible destruction through the gardens, leaving it with a $2 million damage bill.
And then there was COVID-19, and all that happened next. Oddly, though, the advent of the pandemic, subsequent lockdown and then reopening of the capital has been something of a boon for the gardens, giving staff time to work on repairs without visitors around.
And, as Canberrans have emerged from their homes, desperate for solace from the natural world, what better place to find it than the beautiful oasis in the middle of the city?
When talk first began of setting up a botanic gardens for the fledgling national capital back in the 1930s, such adversity 90 years into the future could never have seemed possible.
But when Linsday Pryor, the young research forester from South Australia, was appointed Superintendent of Parks and Gardens in Canberra in 1945, he was already imagining an institution that would go on to achieve great things.
He began just weeks after the Second World War ended, securing a budget of 1000 pounds to begin working on the gardens, on the lower slopes of Black Mountain.
Of course, his main task at the time was to populate the city's streets with trees, a mission that took him around the world on a quest to find species that could withstand Canberra's unusual climate.
Working with what was, to all intents and purposes, a blank slate as far as trees went, and in keeping with the 'Garden City" ethos of Walter and Marion Griffin, who had conceived the city's design, he set about planting a range of exotic and native species up and down the streets of Canberra's inner suburbs, ignoring all arguments pitting one (native) against the other (exotic).
But when it came to the growing botanic gardens, the sole mission was to plant natives, and create a centre for scientific, rather than merely recreational, purposes.
History records that a late-night call from Pryor to prime minister Ben Chifley in 1949 was "all that it took to arrange the ceremonial planting of the 'first' trees", and just two days later Chifley and the then director of London's Kew Gardens planted an oak and a eucalypt to celebrate the start of the gardens.
The eucalypt is still there, just inside the gardens' main gates.
From then on, work on the gardens was steady: Pryor appointed a botanist, evicted dairy farms from the mountain slopes, oversaw the mapping of the gardens' boundaries, contour ploughing for water conservation and the opening of two annexes, in Jervis Bay and Mount Gingera.
By the time he left the role to be a professor at the Australian National University, passing the helm onto David Shoobridge, things were well under way.
In 1960, botanist Betty Phillips began linking the living plants with pressed scientific specimens - unique for botanic gardens at the time - and oversaw several major collecting trips across the country to ensure the collection was as "national" as possible.
The car park, parks and bridges were positioned in the steep gullies, and the gardens opened to the public in 1967.
Three years later, the gardens was officially opened by prime minister John Gorton, and the misting system went into the dry gully to create what is today the beloved rainforest, complete with ferns, moss and boardwalks through the foliage (heaven, as generations of parents can attest, on one of Canberra's increasingly hot summer days).
Despite the ups and downs ... being able to maintain an incredibly diverse and rich collection - that's really the wonderful thing that's here for everyone to enjoy.Curator of living collections David Taylor
The site was renamed the National Botanic Gardens to acknowledge its status, and Robert Boden became its first official director in 1979.
In the 1980s, a cafe replaced the humble pie-van, an amphitheatre went in - today still popular for weddings and concerts, and the Prince and Princess of Wales (that's Charles and Diana to you and me) opened the visitors centre.
But it was the 1990s when the gardens really came into its own, having established a community of dedicated Friends, and merging with the CSIRO's plant collection to form what is today the Australian National Herbarium.
It also set up Australia's second website (after the ANU) to make data and scientific information available to all.
On this sunny morning, West observes the visitors watching a duck and its tiny hatchlings wander amongst the water dragons and weekday visitors.
Around us there are glasshouses, rock gardens to show off plants from the desert and the mountains, a soon-to-open banksia garden, a lawn to feature eucalypts, wattles, walking trails, lush lawns and picnic grounds.
And, the Rainforest Gully, among the worst hit by the hail, which was so localised that West, in a plane on the tarmac waiting for the storm to pass so she could take off to watch the tennis in Melbourne, barely knew it had happened.
She talks of the role played by the National Seed Bank, housed in a building a few hundred metres away, that ensured the city's native plant species weren't lost in the aftermath of the summer fires. The growing seed bank, which is soon to get a new building, houses some 7700 seeds from 4000 different plants.
The centre conserves the country's native plant species, in some cases for hundreds of years, while a team of biologists, curators and volunteers collect seeds and work to understand how they germinate in order to protect those threatened by urban sprawl, natural disasters and increasingly by climate change.
West has spent her decade at the gardens building collaborations with research teams, drumming up finding, and, five years ago, overseeing a 20-year masterplan for the gardens that has given it a more solid direction for the future.
Work on the new Seed Bank is expected to begin next year. Meanwhile, there are still pockmarks in the some of the boardwalks from the hailstorm, and things are barely back to normal in the not-quite-post-COVID world.
Still, while the 50th anniversary celebrations that had been planned for some time have long been nixed, watching visitors discover - and in many cases rediscover - the gardens has been the perfect metaphor for how far the institution has come.
"September this year is only 5 per cent lower than September last year ... the car parks have been overflowing by 10 o'clock in the morning on these nice sunny days," she says.
"I feel a little bit like people have rediscovered the gardens, because you'll find that with young families, the adults haven't actually been here since they were kids. So I think that now we're probably seeing all this revisitation."
Mercifully, along with the ANU and the CSIRO (also caught in the hailstorm's path of destruction) the gardens was able to obtain funding to carry out repairs well before Comcare had officially provide compensation - a vote of confidence in the importance of its work.
There's also, thanks to climate change and a global pandemic, been a surge of interest in science as a whole; the work being done by the gardens has never seemed more urgent.
Curator of living collections David Taylor, who has worked at the gardens for 20 years, says while the year has been bad, the fact the gardens has survived and flourished is down to more than just the drought-ending rain of recent weeks.
"Throughout the history of the gardens, we've been fortunate that we've established this incredibly diverse, scientifically linked collection," he says.
Not only are the grounds themselves a source of joy and wonder, but the gardens' meticulous record-keeping over more than five decades means it's possible to trace the origin of each specimen and planting.
Layers of history, there to walk through in this most contemporary of settings.
"That's all there for everyone to use and enjoy, and I guess that that hits back on the purpose of why we're here," he says.
Both he and West think that Pryor - and all those who came after - would be proud at what the gardens has achieved in 50 years, that the first 1000 pounds weren't spent on a pipe dream.
"And through all the challenges of the past 50 years, we've been able to maintain that through thick and thin," Taylor says.
"Despite the ups and downs, and despite the weather, and all sorts of things that have happened to the place, being here through that process, and being able to maintain an incredibly diverse and rich collection - that's really the wonderful thing that's here for everyone to enjoy."