AUSTRALIA GARDEN VISTAS
by Linda Copeland
For a vacation filled with color and life, what could be better than a late fall trip from the Northern Hemisphere to “Down Under” — at the peak of their spring — to enjoy a continent’s worth of spectacular gardens and natural settings? And while we’re at it, why not throw in an excursion to the Great Barrier Reef and walks among the tall trees of a genuine rainforest? And why not design an itinerary that would follow this peak spring season as it progresses from north to south along Australia’s eastern seaboard — starting with the tropical flora of Cairns in the northern state of Queensland, and ending with the opening of rosebuds on the island-state of Tasmania? And, to give context to the whole experience, how about bringing along some world-renowned and delightfully informative garden experts as tour guides?
Our Garden Vistas tour provided all of that, plus warm hospitality and gastronomic delights everywhere we went, and finally the incomparable experience of touring the vast latitudes of Australia, from top to bottom.
There were 27 travelers in our 2008 group. Two were horticulture professionals and were our tour guides: Allan Armitage, Professor of Horticulture at the University of Georgia and one of the world’s most acknowledged garden researchers and teachers; and Vincent Simeone, Director of Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park, Oyster Bay, New York. The remaining travelers were either avid gardeners and plant lovers, or spouses/partners who enjoyed the group, the visits and the travel.
The tour’s destination and itinerary were determined by Garden Vistas. They work with The British Connection, Inc., who make bookings with coach companies and lovely hotels, and who arrange for air travel on Qantas for those who wish to fly with the group.
Gardens, Rainforests, and the Great Reef
Directly from the airport in Cairns we proceeded to the city’s spectacular botanical garden where we had our first introduction to the vivid and interesting plants grown in the tropics in Australia. Our group was even more awestruck the following morning when we visited Equatorial Exotics, a garden just north of Cairns where we saw a vast and astounding collection of tropical plants from around the world.
To further explore the flora of Queensland, we traveled north from Cairns to the Daintree Discovery Centre, a world-class interpretive facility set deep in the Daintree Rainforest, which can be explored at all levels via boardwalks, ramps, and a high tower. This was a truly enchanting way to experience an incomparable natural setting.
While in the far tropical north, we had an opportunity to explore yet another unique type of natural “garden”: the incomparable undersea display of coral known to the world as the Great Barrier Reef. Our group boarded a catamaran in Cairns and sailed to Michaelmus Cay. From a semisubmersible we were able to view the awesome shapes and colors of the reef and its sea life. Later we donned snorkeling gear for a closer look.
From Cairnes we flew to Sydney. The plant collections of the botanical garden there were displayed against Sydney’s picturesque backdrop, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and world-renowned opera house — all of which remind us why Sydney is rated one of the most desirable urban tourist destinations in the world.
Traveling south from Sydney, we had a full day of garden visits on our itinerary. Mt. Anan, a part of the Botanic Gardens Trust, was our first stop. Marvelous displays of native plants in their full spring bloom awaited us: glorious Waratah, Grevillea, Scaevola, and many varieties of native daisies. At Mt. Anan we were first introduced to the Wollemi Pine, one of the world’s rarest plants.
Private gardens of the Southern Highlands were our afternoon visits. There we found three wonderful gardens (with gardeners who shared their passion). The first was Chinoiserie, a garden of abundant color and a wide variety of plants displayed in a charming arrangement of flower beds; then Prittlewell, a large landscape garden of an artist who designed it with stunning plant combinations, art pieces, and garden rooms to explore; and last, the garden of Margot and Denis Hughes, a study in perfection — uncommon plants, striking color combinations, and thoughtful design.
Before we left the Southern Highlands we visited two more private gardens: King’s Cottage, a fantasy garden filled with nooks and crannies and statuary; and Red Cow Farm, a thrilling composition of many areas and rooms, each with its own special charm.
In Canberra, Australia’s capital city, we visited a glorious hillside garden of native plants. It was exciting to see and learn about so many species unknown to us. Our hosts welcomed us with a lovely morning tea on the terrace beside the pool and overlooking the pond.
Next, we found ourselves in the Snowy Mountains (the highest Australian mountain range) for a night, where we stayed in cottages and enjoyed kangaroos and wombats, delightful mountain vistas, and abundant birdlife on a lake.
After a morning ride along winding roads through the mountains, we arrived at Sunnymeade, a most amazing garden. Walls, archways, pools, statuary — every feature the creation and execution of one man — were the backdrops for a seemingly endless procession of beautiful plants. The garden’s creative genius also served us tea with scones that he had made himself. In the woods surrounding the garden we saw a koala perched in a tall Eucalyptus. Now we knew we were really in Australia.
On the Mornington Peninsula south of Melbourne we visited Heronswood, the home of the Diggers Club, Australia’s largest garden club, an organization to promote sustainable gardening and to distribute gardening information. We lunched at their restaurant, Fork to Fork, which specializes in dishes prepared from the garden’s beautiful and unusual bounty.
An Island in Time
Our wonderfully smooth, moonlit ferry crossing aboard the Spirit of Tasmania took us to Australia’s southernmost state. On the island of Tasmania we found what seemed a bit of a step back in time to a slower-paced way of living. Making our way to the first Tasmanian garden, we traveled through the small town of Sheffield, noted for the huge mural paintings on its walls, mostly depicting historical scenes. The Wychwood Garden is deservedly well known, both as a lovely place to visit and as a setting for events. In Evandale, just south of Launceston, where we stayed that night, we enjoyed the Tasmanian Sauce Company and its offerings, plants and sauces, and then Strathmore, a magnificent historic property where the house has been restored and the land around it has been turned into fabulous gardens.
In Hobart, located at the mouth of the Derwent River, our first garden stop was on Mt. Wellington, the location of a plant collector’s garden. The tree peonies were astounding; each flower alone could be a bouquet! After enjoying tea, we ascended a public walkway through a forest that included native Australian plants — and with great views back down to Hobart.
More spectacular garden visits in Hobart followed. The final one was to a wonderful botanical garden — an appropriate conclusion to an amazing 12-day tour of the gardens and natural habitats of eastern Australia.
There is no doubt that a strong gardening community exists in Australia. The gardeners are passionate about their creations, and many of the gardens we visited are part of
the Open Garden Scheme. The gracious participation of our garden hosts helped make this an Australian experience not to be forgotten.
FOR MORE INFORMATION on extensive garden and horticultural tours see The British Connection, Inc. at www.thebritishconnection.com; call toll-free at 800-420-2569 (in Atlanta, GA); or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.The sales office in London can also be reached by UK phone, 07808211414.
GARDENS IN AUSTRALIA: TRAVEL TIPS
• Getting There: On this tour the majority of the group traveled together on Qantas out of Los Angeles directly to Sydney and then took a domestic connecting flight to Cairns, arriving on the day the tour started.
• When to Visit: To see gardens in their full glory, travel in November. Then it’s springtime in Australia. Start your journey in the north as the season will be further advanced there.
• What to Wear: Bring sensible shoes for the gardens, layers for the change in temperature from the hotter north to the cooler south. Shorts and simple tops are sufficient for Cairns and the Barrier Reef; warmer clothing is needed for the mountains and Tasmania. You can usually dress quite informally for dinner at most hotels, but you may want to bring slightly more formal attire (a dress for women and a jacket for men) for contingencies.