Mid-Winter in the Blue Mountains

So far the consensus is that winter has been relatively mild in the Blue Mountains. There have been days starting out with fierce frosts, and there have been periods of bleak rain and uncharitable winds, but these have been interspersed with days of sunshine to take the sting out of the cold nights.

But we are only just past the halfway mark and there could be some cold snaps in store between now and the end of winter. In the upper mountains in particular, seasons tend to pay scant attention to the rigid start and finish dates, and snowfalls have been known to occur in late spring and beyond.

Early morning walks are characterised by frosts on lawns, roofs and car windshields. I keep an eye out for the subtle changes throughout the coldest months, endlessly fascinated at the gradual emergence of buds on bared branches offering the promise of an abundance of blooms when the warmer weather arrives.

There are spots of colour to cheer me on. Bright puffs of wattle blooms, winter bulbs in flower and carpets of spent camellia petals draw the eye. Creamy daphne flowers and early blooming rhododendrons mingle with late-blooming roses and ever reliable geraniums and lavender to provide points of interest. There are still sprays of salvia and delicate fuchsia blooms in the garden, as bright green spikes of freesias and jonquils feel their way into the world.

The cold is a necessary part of the seasonal life cycle and it always surprises and delights me that there is so much activity happening at a time when the natural world appears to be dormant.

What is winter like in your part of the world?

{Photo: red wattle bird spotted against backdrop of winter branches}

 

A Late Winter Walk

Whilst this winter hasn’t been particularly harsh, it seems as though it is finally beginning to relinquish its hold. This is no guarantee that remnants of winter won’t linger on for months, or make surprise appearances such as snow in October, but there is definitely more than a hint of spring in the mountain air.

The incremental lengthening of sunlight, day by day, helps winter to recede. There has been a run of days with more sunlight than rain, and plants are responding by sending out shoots, forming buds and generally bracing themselves for spring. The high temperatures during the day are reaching double digits. Frosts are still in occurrence but they are less frequent and their intensity is diminished.

A late afternoon walk around my neighbourhood further fuelled my suspicions. Daffodils are out, their bright yellow heads nodding politely in the breeze. Camellias are still blooming, their graceful branches weighted down by white, pink and magenta flowers. I brushed past a hedge bristling with daphne blooms, a sensory delight. Lavender plants are sending up spikes, a portent of perfume to follow. The fruit trees are budding, new growth sprouting along the branches. There are flower beds with pansies and violas and calendulas, and daisy bushes are starting to open their bright faces to the sun. Early bristles of hebe plants provide a soft flush of colour against foliage. There are bright flares of wattle in flower, always heartening to see. Rhododendron trees are studded with tightly budded flowers, ready to unfurl. Some early starters are out already, delicate petals with splashes of colour.

But once the sun dips below the horizon the cold creeps back in.  Wood smoke curls its way into the air, fragrant and comforting. There are still stacks of wood alongside most houses, ready for the variable weather ahead. Galahs and cockatoos swoop and pirouette in the air above, probably keen for the spring growth to provide some variety after winter pickings. Kookaburras gather in the tall trees and laugh as the day fades away.

Are the seasons beginning to change in your neighbourhood?

[Photo: wattle in bloom]

Mt Tomah Botanical Garden

The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mount Tomah is located 1000 metres above sea level within the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. The original owners of the land were the Darug people, and ‘Tomah’ is reportedly translated as tree fern. It was originally covered in rainforest, and the fertile soil is attributed to ancient volcanic activity. It is located on the Bell’s Line of Road and the area was initially explored in an attempt to find an alternate crossing to the Blue Mountains.

The site of the botanic gardens has had a varied history, and in the 1930s it was purchased by Alfred and Effie Brunet and used for cut flower production, supplying into the Sydney market. They proposed the transfer of their property to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, and the park has been open to the public since 1987.

The garden is set out over 252 hectares, and is Australia’s largest botanic garden. It is a cool climate garden with plants grouped according to their geography. There are a number of different gardens for exploration, including a formal garden inspired by traditional garden design, rock garden, bog garden, rhododendrons, conifers and woodlands.

Highlights include a Wollemi pine and giant redwoods, the bright rockery plants and the wide grassed expanses, tempting bare feet and encouraging picnics and relaxation. The majority of plants are signposted, and I wandered through rose and vegetable plots, passed by the lushly lawned picnic areas, traipsed through patches of rhododendrons and azaleas, found the rockery and flannel flowers and the extremely unusual turquoise flowers of a Chilean plant.

You could easily spend all day wandering around the sprawling garden, with something of interest just ahead to encourage you on.  There are various tours on offer, and I was able to get a good grounding of the park on a garden shuttle bus tour. There is a fine restaurant and cafe if you feel a bit peckish or forgot to pack your picnic lunch.

This is a magnificent place, breathtaking in its beauty, with much to offer as the seasons change throughout the year.

Where do you go for a slice of botanical beauty?

[Photo: one of many wonderful vistas from Mt Tomah]