Spring is in the air, and I’m tip toe-ing through the tulips and wildflowers of South West Australia, a region which is bursting into the colours of an artist’s palette. Each year from September to November nature puts on a magical display for anyone who cares to notice.
The South West in springtime is something to be shared and in 1999, the Festival of Country Gardens was conceived to showcase gardens in the area. The 2011 Festival includes 12 open gardens in the regions of Balingup, Bridgetown, Manjimup, Donnybrook and Nannup. The Prelude is on now until the 9th October but the Main Festival will run from 3rd – 6th November 2011 and features 19 open gardens.
Expect heavenly hectares of natural growth as well as cultivated country gardens that have been spruced-up not only for the world at large, but also for keen gardeners who can meet the owners in authentic settings, while ramblers will enjoy the guided walks.
“It’s an exuberant time of year and, weather dependent, it’s a peak time for flowers, especially roses, and perennials such as daisies and irises,” explains Peta Townsing, chairman of Blackwood Country Gardens Inc and Festival organiser. “Apple and cherry trees should still be in blossom for the Prelude and by the Main Festival poppies, pansies, marigolds, stocks and valerian ought to be flowering along with a host of other plants. In the spring woodlands, orchid enthusiasts can expect to have a field day spotting spider, sun, cowslip, donkey and enamel orchids and members of the pea family – look out for the curiously named egg and bacon plants.”
It has to be said that Nannup is blooming lovely during early springtime, with tulips, hyacinths and daffodils flowering voluptuously, and if you’re snappy you can expect some kaleidescopic photo opportunities – so make a date for early springtime because you’ll need to be there early. Tulips flower into mid/late September providing there are not too many hot spells.
Today, before the sun bursts onto the electric yellow of the Acacia trees I find myself looking down onto a valley of morning mist between Bridgetown and Nannup. The drive is picture perfect with sylvan vistas of rolling hills and patches of wild flowers. You might prefer to meander along the Blackwood River Drive from Nannup to Balingup which has been voted Western Australia’s number 1 tourist drive.
Head 2kms south of Balingup to the 60 hectare Golden Valley Tree Park, and be impressed by the almost feral Irish Strawberry Tree. “Once a shrub it now thinks it’s a tree having grown taller than the average house to cover an area of about 1,000 Sq metres,” says Peta. In the Arboretum you’ll find over 3000 trees, including 30 different species of oak – not normally found in the Southern Hemisphere. Many of the trees date back to circa 1880 when two farming properties, Golden Valley and Yungerup were established on the site. “The Strawberry Tree was probably one of the first plants to be cultivated on the homestead for decorative appeal, and the heirloom variety of pear tree, called “Josephine”, is also of historical interest,” explains Peta.
In Nannup, Holberry House will be glammed-up for the main Garden Festival with camellias, a woodland garden with hellebores, bulbs and irises, planted around the tall gum trees, while the delightfully named Wombledoone (named for the Wombles) incorporates the things that everyday folk throw away into blue themed garden art. Discover quirky garden fun and blue wrens, 120 rose bushes, a boutique vineyard, cottage orchard, and 140 Pawlonias.
Ramblers can expect the unexpected. “Spring is the best time to enjoy the forest as suites of wildflowers peak in a splendid display of colour, variety and beauty. You never know what you might discover,” says Jenny Dewing a Bridgetown farmer who runs the forest walks. Jenny discovered a new plant species on her bush block near Bridgetown. “It’s a Scaevola, a ground cover with dainty white fan flowers. The State Herbarium identified it as a new species and it was later named Scaevola ballajupensis after Ballajup Rock where it occurs. So far this plant hasn’t been found anywhere else and it’s been given a priority conservation status.”
Western Australia attractions
But the Festival is not entirely about the flowers. The towns themselves are noteworthy and quaint. Walking around the historic mill town of Nannup is like stepping back in time, and the vintage cars that are sometimes on parade during the festivals, hardly seem out of kilter with their surroundings and I feel as if I’m being entertained by some of the finest pedigrees of the auto world. Although last year I spotted a curiously shaped antique car which I overheard someone joke, “Looks just like a Dunny on wheels – definitely a mongrel not a thoroughbred!” I thought it looked rather cute 🙂
And the Nannup Tiger? Does it really exist? “Is it myth, fact or legend,” I ask Louise Stokes, owner of Holberry House . “The viability of the Nannup Tiger or Thylacine seems to have been reignited,” she tells me, “and the question is now being asked, when will one be found, rather than, does it exist?”
The last known Thylacine died in Hobart Zoo in 1936, but whipping up some hysteria around the more recent sightings there have, allegedly, been tales of Nannup locals painting suitably coloured stripes on sheep.
So if you’re considering a trip down to the flower-filled gardens and tall woods of the South West and happen to spot – on a wonderful world type of day – a striped, wolf-like creature, then pay attention. It may be a sheep or it could be a carnivorous marsupial with an enormous jaw. Survive to tell the tale and you might become a legend yourself.
For a full list of the Country Garden Festival’s open gardens and walks look out for details at Visitors Centres, visit the website , or contact Peta Townsing, Chairman Blackwood Country Gardens Inc and festival organiser: Tel (08) 9764 1111
Art in the Garden Village – art, music, crafts and gardening fair – coincides with the Main Garden Festival. It’s a collaboration between the Nannup Arts Council and The Festival of Country Gardens.
Nannup Visitor Centre 9756 1211 www.nannupwa.com.au
Bridgetown-Greenbushes Visitor Centre www.bridgetown.com.au 9761 1740
Balingup Visitor Centre 9764 1818 www.balinguptourism.com.au
Golden Valley Tree Park, Balingup www.goldenvalleytreepark.org.au
Holberry House, Nannup: Guesthouse and Gardens and Sculpture Walk (open daily): www.holberryhouse.com.au Tel: 9756 1276
Wombledoone Garden, Dean Road: 9756 0165
Especially Tulips: Nannup: Tel: 9756 1286
Tulips with a Difference, Boyup Brook: www.wabulbs.com Tel: 9767 3069
Nannup Lavender Farm: www.nannuplavenderfarm.com Tel: 9756 0242
Ford House, Bridgetown: www.fordhouse.com Tel: 9761 1816
Windy Hollow Homestead: Tel: 9761 2523