On Friday, February 29, I went to see three public gardens in Sydney, taking my sister with me for companionship.
The first stop, and in some ways the best, was Lisgar Gardens in the northern Sydney suburb of Hornsby. The sign at the entrance explains its origins:
It is a tribute to the local council that this garden, a skilful blend of formal and informal, is so beautiful and well-maintained. It is also one of Hornsby's best-kept secrets. We saw no-one in the hour we spent exploring its many paths.
Garden two was the Swain Garden at Killara, another north shore suburb. Although roughly the same size, it was a quite different experience. The bones were there, but so too was an air of neglect. This garden was donated to Kuringai Council by its owner, a Sydney bookseller, and is cared for (if I may use the term loosely) by various clubs. What this appears to mean is that it's nobody's child. Signs designate which club - Soroptimists, Rotary, RSL - is responsible for which area, so you know who's letting down the side. At least the birds are appreciative: a large family of kookaburras and a pair of king parrots were in residence. Once again, we seemed to be the only human visitors.
The last garden we visited was Kuringai Wildflower Garden. By far the largest at 124 hectares, it is more accurately a bushland reserve threaded with walking trails of varying length and difficulty. There's a large hall adjoining the parking lot where assorted bits of information are posted on the walls, and someone does an informative display with samples of plants that are currently in flower. These are identified with both common and botanical names, but there's no indication of where one might find them in the landscape. The place looks as though it might be staffed, but was eerily silent both times we found ourselves there.
Partly because it seemed so deserted, partly because the Australian bush does not readily reveal its attractions, I found myself losing enthusiasm. But once we set off on one of the trails, we soon became absorbed by the remarkable plants native to this country. Rusty gold candles of Banksia serrata and chubby green brushes on Banksia marginata glowed in the sunlight.
Scribbly gums showed off their colourful bark with its characteristic etching.
We saw a little wallaby cruising along the edge of a picnic area.
And admired this grass tree near the parking lot.
The weather was beautiful, sunny with a hint of autumn chill in the shade: a perfect day for our outing. Granted it was a working day for many, but I found it strange that there were no tourists, retirees, or mums with young children enjoying these public places, all of them free and within easy reach of the city.