One of the joys of traveling is that you can visit gardens in other parts of the world—places with different climates growing plants totally unlike those in we have here in Colorado. I just returned from a long overseas trip that included visits to botanic gardens in both Australia and Singapore. Talk about different! On the one hand, the tropical blossoms and exotic ferns were a delight to the senses. On the other hand, there is no way I could ever grow any of them at home, except as houseplants. And even then, our low humidity would discourage most of these species.
Today I’m going to point out some highlights of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens, located right next to the famous opera house. In January, I’ll share my impressions and photos from the Singapore Botanic Gardens, one of the loveliest in the world.
We timed our visit to Australia’s east coast to coincide with the arrival of spring. Primarily, I wanted to come when the birds would be singing and in their breeding plumages. I really hadn’t considered the flowers. Silly me.
I’m used to paying admission to the Denver Botanic Gardens so it was a lovely surprise to discover that there is no fee for the Royal Botanic Gardens. They’re located in a large park overlooking the harbor, and you can wander about at will. (Parking in the underground garage, however, will set you back a week’s salary—or at least it seemed that way! I suggest you look for alternatives.)
Having grown up in southern California, I immediately recognized many of the plants, if not their locally common names. After all, Sydney and Los Angeles have similar climates. But I specifically wanted to see Australian plants, so we headed first for the native plant section.
There, under a canopy of various eucalypts (known as Gum trees), I found a fascinating assortment of wattles (Acacia) and bottlebrushes (Callistemon), along with colorful Banksia, Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos), Grevillea, and other curious species. The plants here are unlike those found anywhere else in the world—undeniably Australian.
The native plants were attracting native birds, so I hung around to watch. I couldn’t get enough of the noisy Rainbow Lorikeets, which were dining on the towering flowers of the Gymea Lilies (Doryanthes excelsa). There were other birds, too. Everywhere I turned I saw Australian White Ibises. Dusky Moorhens shared the ponds with Chestnut Teal and Pacific Black Ducks, plus two species of cormorant: Little Black and Little Pied. Silver Gulls wheeled overhead or begged for crumbs. Noisy Miners shared the lorikeets’ preference for native flowers. While none of these are rare, they were new to me, and I spent as much time taking pictures of birds as I did plants.
We stopped for a fish and chips lunch at the café, located at the end of a wisteria-shrouded path, then strolled next door to the gift shop. Books on Australian plants shared shelf space with ceramics, herbal soaps, and colorful scarves printed with botanic designs. I drooled over the beautiful examples of Aboriginal art, repeatedly reminding myself that it wouldn’t fit in the suitcase, and was in any case far outside our budget.
After lunch, we wandered over to the nearby fern grotto and lath house, where tree ferns spread their lush fronds overhead, underplanted with huge Bird’s-nest Ferns. Other living fossils—cyads, palms and a rare Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis)—completed the timeless landscape. I thoroughly expected to see a dinosaur lurking in the foliage, so I wasn’t the least bit surprised when we stumbled across a two-foot long Australian Water Dragon, their reptilian descendent.
The day was warm and the expansive lawns were full of picnickers, children playing, and romantic couples relaxing under the enormous fig trees. Broad plantings of Clivias (South African natives) brightened the shadows, while bromeliads with leaves of crimson and yellow glowed in the sunshine.
We could have spent days strolling the endless paths. Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens are aptly named, as they’re truly fit for a queen.