March 2nd, 2022Heading into autumn – Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens
MANY people feel that autumn is the best month for mild, golden days and for beautiful gardens. While it might not have the glorious variety of spring planting, the soft luxuriance and vivid colour that we enjoy up here make autumn a very special time, especially on Wombat Hill.
The gardens have not always been the extraordinary collection of exotic, deciduous trees we currently see. It was a volcanic hill covered in native bush in 1863 when 20 mature trees were felled and turned into a mammoth bonfire to celebrate the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales.
One of the two oaks planted on the occasion is located at the bottom of the little road up to the café – one of the many commemorative “Royal Oaks” that dot the landscapes of the former British Empire. The majority of the original plantings were donations from the local community and they were then augmented by very large numbers of specimens sent to the gardens by Baron von Mueller, government botanist and director of the Royal Victorian Botanic Gardens in Melbourne.
So, what are of special note when the “turning” occurs in the gardens – usually at the end of April. The elms in the Circuit Drive are wonderful, but even better, on foot, is the older elm walk which is ultimately carpeted in golden leaves. The romance of these fluttering yellow flakes is also a feature of the fernery and its historically significant canopy of deciduous trees. Possibly the most breath-taking yellow is the exotic nothofagus between the tower and the toilets up by the carpark. This Chilean beauty is an autumn standout.
For utterly vibrant red, the newly planted nyssas (tupelos or swamp oaks) are unmissable. These youngsters were planted in the entry to the gardens when it was recently refurbished and are something of horticultural beacons with their elegant shape and fiery foliage.
The reds and yellows are not just confined to the leaves of the trees. Over on the lawn above the smaller, Central Springs Road pedestrian entry, is a group of mature, ornamental crataegus trees that have very impressive and colourful berries. They are unusual and highly decorative specimens and off the usual beat around the gardens.
Autumn colours for all our gardens are available at the Friends’ Shed – open for plant sales Thursday to Saturday, 10am-midday. The Edith Cavell chrysanthemums – and other varieties too – are big, healthy pots, as are the beautiful cornuses that have bold red and clear yellow stems that brighten up the autumn and winter garden. But as a foil to all this bronze beauty, we have pots of the showy, fluffy, purple plectranthus ecklonii which have always been a feature of “hill stations” like Wombat Hill and make a wonderful colour statement under trees in cool climates like ours.
The Friends of Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens look forward to welcoming you in what is arguably our loveliest season. Link: www.wombathill.org.au
Words: Patrice O’Shea | Images: Frank Page