I like gardening, but it doesn’t like me much.
Where I live we are plagued by drought, strong winds, the kangaroos and wallabies eat everything, and the soil is more rock than dirt. I classify it as industrial strength gardening!
If I can’t grow a garden, I can appreciate the hard work of others and there are few better places to see that than in the Royal Botanic Gardens in the heart of Sydney.
And, it’s free!
The Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) covers an area of around 30ha and is home to 28 000 different plants. There was no way I was going to be able to take all that in in one visit, so I thought the best way to approach this green oasis was by participating in one of the free walking tours conducted by garden volunteers.
Jan, our volunteer guide, collected us from the Visitor Centre/Shop and explained the plan for the morning. As there are 60 volunteer guides, there are 60 different free walking tours as each person showcases different parts of the garden and the many plants and trees they are passionate about.
And Jan was passionate!
What I wasn’t expecting was a history lesson as well as a botanical one. It was fascinating to learn about the early origins of Sydney as well as the importance of this area for the local Cadigal people of the Eora nation.
In the early days of colony, this part of Sydney was set up as the food bowl with many attempts at growing crops to feed the population of convicts and their masters. These attempts failed miserably as European crops struggled in the poor, sandy soils and the colony nearly starved. All the time the white man was ignoring the wisdom of the Cadigal people and their bush tucker knowledge. Later, when the pioneers discovered better soils for agriculture, the gardens were fenced excluding the riffraff from the Governor’s Domain (hence the name The Domain park) before developing into Australia’s scientific home for a diverse range of botanic species.
It was a glorious Winter’s morning with a crystal clear blue sky that Sydney is renowned for. Our small group was made up of Sydney locals, a couple from South Australia, a French couple and a young German man. All of us fascinated by the soaring trees, sculptural plants and bird life.
Even though the Gardens were still very much clad in their Winter garb, the roses neatly pruned and other plants slumbering in their manicured beds, there was still plenty to see and learn about. The Gardens are full and complex and the layers of leaves and textured tree trunks are pleasing to look at and with a guide, you do look deeper than simply strolling by.
Jan pointed out the strangler figs slowly taking over an ancient paperbark tree, all but hidden by the fig’s roots and tendrils. She introduced us to the indigenous bush tucker garden showcasing important native foods and plants for weaving and medicine.
A feature of the garden, operating as a living laboratory, are all the introduced species brought in from various expeditions from around Australia and the World. The Queensland Kauri Pine (agathis robusta) was planted in 1853 and is simply breathtaking as it soared above us, as was the rare Australian Red Cedar which was almost logged to extinction.
Walking along the paths filled me with awe at the power of Nature and its ability to survive drought, fire, wind, predators AND adapt to all conditions. One animal nearly brought the Gardens undone and that was the Flying Fox. Unfortunately 10 000 flying foxes decided that the Gardens were prime real estate and their nesting seriously damaged and killed a number of trees, as well as making the lawns and paths incredibly unpleasant for humans. The flying foxes were eventually moved on by the Garden staff broadcasting loud music at dawn every day as the animals were returning to roost. I wonder was it opera, rap or 1980’s pop music??
For the bird lovers out there, the Gardens are home to a large number of bird species including the noisy miner, the ibis (affectionately known as flying garbage cans) and we were lucky and privileged to be shown a pair of powerful owls tucked away high up in the treetops. For more technical information, the Gardens produce a free ‘Birds of Sydney’ brochure to further enhance your bird knowledge and garden experience. It’s not all about plants, they are proud to promote both the native flora and fauna.
The RBG also produce a quarterly brochure showcasing what is happening in the garden each season and a monthly ‘Must See’ brochure which focuses on the special blooms that are out. I dare you to visit the Gardens and NOT learn something.
The walk was scheduled to run for 1.5hours, but after two hours Jan thought she had better let us go and reluctantly get on with our day. It struck me that you could visit the Gardens on a weekly basis and learn something new or see something different every single time. The passion of the volunteers is infectious and such as warm and wonderful way to welcome visitors to Sydney.
Eventually it was time to leave this patch of tranquillity and serenity and head back into the hum of 5.7million people. I will definitely be back.
Do you have a favourite Garden?
What: As well as the free walking tours, the Gardens run more specialty tours to learn about Aboriginal Heritage, What goes on behind the scenes at the Garden, Garden Nightlife, and Bush tucker tours. Prices start from $41 per person. If you looking for a beautiful gift, I can really recommend the Shop in the centre of the Gardens. They have a stunning collection of native plant and animals books as well as a vast range of gardened themed gifts and food.
Where: The Royal Botanic Gardens are located adjacent to the Sydney Opera House or about a 10minute walk from Martin Place.
When: The Garden gates open from 700am until sunset every day.
Why: To exercise, relax, learn, admire and experience a sensory overload.
How: The Gardens are an easy walk from Martin Place or Circular Quay train stations. Public buses drop off along Macquarie Street, Circular Quay or at the Art Gallery of NSW (bus 441) in the adjacent Domain. If you insist on driving, metered parking is available in the streets surrounding the Garden, but expect to pay handsomely for the privilege.
Who: All the Gardens are suitable for walkers of all ages and levels of fitness. There are sets of stairs in some places, but clear, clean and smooth paths are plentiful. This would be the perfect place for little travellers to blow off some steam or for older travellers just to ‘chill’.
Related Posts: Another beautiful walk that edges the Garden provides spectacular views of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Check it out here.
Related Blogs: For more garden inspiration with a wonderful artistic twist, check out Wendy Whiteley’s Garden nestled into a secret pocket of Sydney’s North Shore.
#RBGSydney #freetour #gardeninspo #bushtucker