The days are getting shorter and the sun is starting to lose its bite. Staring out my window, tinges of red and orange edge the trees…ahh, it really is looking a lot like Autumn.
The Blue Mountains in New South Wales is a gorgeous destination at any time of the year, but never more so than when all the deciduous trees are aflame with Autumn colours. As I just so happened to be driving past the turnoff to the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens, it was an easy decision to turn right, park the car and wander a while.
Come walk with me through … the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens Mt Tomah.
Mt Tomah is located on the eastern edge of the Blue Mountains and only 36km from some of Sydney’s western suburbs. On the brilliant Autumn day I visited, it was school holidays and busy with young families. The children were loving the space to run and play, including all the twisting, secret paths that lead into hidden pockets of garden.
Just to balance the age equation, there was also a senior citizen’s bus tour. Needless to say, their pace of exploration was slightly more sedate.
The Botanic Gardens were opened in 1972 to celebrate the many botanists and explorers who pushed westwards from the early colony of Sydney. The original garden site was a cut-flower and bulb farm before being gifted to the NSW Government. According to the Garden’s website, the word “tomah” is the indigenous Darug word for tree fern.
The area was first visited by naturalist George Caley in 1804 and botanists and horticulturalists have continued to flock to the area over the centuries. I can only imagine their excitement and amazement as they contrasted the soft and prolific foliage of the plants in their home countries (i.e. in Europe) against Australia’s sparse and brittle botany in our harsh landscape. Even today some parts of the garden are still closed as sections recover from the devastating 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires. It reveals the power of Mother Nature to bounce back from disaster, even if that bounce is a slow one.
After parking the car, I quickly realised I had absolutely no idea where I was or where I should start my exploration. Some of the signage was a little confusing and it seems I had parked in Woop Woop (Australian for ‘somewhere extremely remote’ and/or ‘in the middle of bloody nowhere’).
Following the twisting and turning paths, I eventually found the Visitor Information Centre and was completely underwhelmed by the lack of both Visitors and Information. A rather prickly attendant (had she been hanging around the cacti section too long?) wasn’t about to share her knowledge of the garden and simply pointed me to a QR code and offered to sell me a map for $5. Hardly the welcome I was expecting and her frosty response encouraged me to strike out on my own.
I suspect you could spend a whole day exploring these gardens and still not see everything on offer. While I was searching for Autumn colours, I couldn’t help but admire the contrast between the hard surfaces of the rock walls and paving, and the trickling streams and other water features. Spiral paths showcased cacti and other hardy plants and yet only metres away were the most delicate ferns and cool climate shrubs.
Apparently, volunteers do offer guided tours of the gardens and these would be ideal to really understand its key features and overall layout. As I am not a real gardener, I simply enjoyed it for its beauty not botany. The downside of my directionless approach is that the visit did feel a little superficial. In my defence, I guess there is no one correct way to experience botanic gardens.
Wandering aimlessly for a while, I admired some late hydrangea blooms and the blue haze lingering over the surrounding mountains and valleys. I understand the Blue Mountains got its name from this general blue colour which is generated by the release of eucalyptus oil into the atmosphere.
Eventually I stumbled onto the section of the garden that contained the introduced and deciduous species. This is where I should have found endless Autumn colours, however I think I was about two weeks too early. The riot of colour I was expecting was a little subdued or perhaps it was just working itself up to a riot! Oh well, I now have the perfect excuse for a return visit next Autumn.
Where is your favourite spot for Autumn (or Fall) colours?
What: The Garden covers 186ha and entrance is free. If you would like a guided tour, they are held on Sundays at 1130am and bookings are recommended. I also recommend you wear good walking shoes as some of the paths are quite steep and there are steps and stairs.
Where: 105km west of Sydney on The Bells Line of Road, Mt Tomah NSW 2758.
When: The Gardens are open seven days from 900am until 5pm. You can visit any time of year – Spring and Autumn would be perfect.
Why: For gardening inspiration, a dose of fresh air and Vitamin D with a side of beauty, and quality, free entertainment.
How: There is no public transport servicing this area. You will need your own car, hire a taxi or join a commercial bus trip.
Who: For flora fans, energetic children, strolling seniors or those who want to get hitched in a gorgeous garden.
Related Posts: Want to armchair visit some other Australian gardens? Have a read of my post about an Autumn wander in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens.
Related Blogs: Instead of Autumn colours, Jo is revelling in the floral exuberance of a Portuguese Spring.
Read About It: For a real dose of Australian literary and floral history, grab a copy of the children’s book, Snugglepot & Cuddlepie by May Gibbs. Written in 1918, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie are gumnut babies who have all sorts of delightful adventures out in the Australian bush. Available from Book Depository.
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