Australia’s Gardens: A Feast of Exotic Plants & Stunning Views

The ubiquitous kangaroo paw graces a walkway at the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney.

Earlier this fall, I spent three weeks in Australia, where I visited gardens in New South Wales and Western Australia.  It was early spring in Australia, so the gardens weren’t in full flower.  But I saw plenty of rhododendrons, azaleas and other low-pH soil-loving plants.

I would like to share a few of these treasures with you, this month and next, in case you’re ever in the neighborhood and want to visit one or more of them.

Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney, NSW.  In addition to offering gorgeous, skillfully arranged plants, this 74-acre garden offers magnificent views of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.  I saw the rare Wollemi pine, as well as more common Australian plants, including palm trees, kangaroo paw, bottlebrush trees and waratah.  A kookaburra even showed up and provided entertainment.

The Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney offers views of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Winterwood in Mount Tomah, NSW.  Owner Don Schofield bought this property about 40 years ago after it had been devastated by a bush fire.  Since then, he has singlehandedly transformed the area into a private garden that rivals several of the public gardens I visited.  The landscape’s sloping contours, along with Schofield’s intuitive sense of color and layering, create a magical environment.  I couldn’t  help but be impressed with Schofield’s quiet stewardship of the land.  He noted that his favorite plant is enkianthus, because of its long-lasting fall color.  Unfortunately, this plant prefers moist, peaty soils with a pH below 6, which pretty much rules it out for Colorado gardeners, but not, perhaps, for gardeners in other areas of the U.S.  Because Winterwood is a private garden, you would likely have to arrange a small group tour with Schofield if you wanted to visit.  This lovingly tended garden, however, is well worth your time.

Winterwood’s broad, grassy pathways invite visitors to stroll from one colorful vista to another.

Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre in Cowra, NSW.  In 1944, Japanese prisoners staged an escape from the Cowra prisoner of war and interment camp.  Three hundred prisoners escaped, and 250 were killed.  In 1960, the Japanese government arranged for all of their war-dead in Australia to be re-buried in Cowra.  This gesture sparked a friendship between the people of Japan and the people of Cowra Shire.  The Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre, established in 1979, recognizes and develops that relationship.  This 12-acre garden is the largest Japanese garden I’ve seen.   Unlike many Japanese gardens, the Cowra garden enables you to see long, medium and close-up views of the landscape.  Large expanses of green lawn contribute to the garden’s serenity.

The Cowra Japanese Garden commemorates the healing of relations between the people of Cowra and the people of Japan after World War II.

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