Garden inspiration: Coledale Rainforest Retreat

We've discovered a good way to learn about the rainforest species of the Illawarra: attending a half-day course at the Coledale Rainforest Retreat. Courses are run by local plant expert Leon Fuller, and take in the amazing range of rainforest species to be found in the Coledale area. You can find out what grows where and why, what might work in your own garden (or even in your house, as many rainforest species can cope with the limited light available in doors; more on this later).

One iconic rainforest species we saw on the course was the Red cedar (Toona ciliata) which was just coming into leaf, and looked like a little sunset against the green shades of the other plants around.
The new leaves on red cedar are red or brownish-red, gradually turning green. Image by Emma Rooksby.
Red cedar is a bit large for most suburban gardens (it can grow to 80m or more in height given enough time), but it is a stunning plant and one to consider if you have the space. Grown in full sun, it often reaches no more than 8m or 10m in height, generally with a broad, spreading crown.

A much smaller alternative is the Bleeding heart (or Homalanthus populifolius), which you can make out in the middle of the photo below. Its heart-shaped leaves, and their tendency to turn red before they fall off the tree, make it a decorative option. 
The centre of this shot shows a bleeding heart, including a few reddening leaves. Image by Emma Rooksby.
Tree ferns are very versatile, and can tolerate a fair amount of sun. This one is a rough tree fern (Cythaea australis) decorated with a giant pepper vine (Piper novae-hollandiae).
A well-decorated tree fern; the vine is Giant Pepper Vine (Piper hederacea). Image by Emma Rooksby. 
This picture shows one of the views from Coledale Rainforest Retreat, which is located on one of the escarpment benches, so you can look up at the sandstone rock-faces above.
View of the top of the escarpment, including the Hawkesbury sandstone cliffs, from Coledale. Image by Emma Rooksby. 
Rainforest species are not for every garden. Our garden for example is on the north-facing slope of one of the Illawarra escarpment foothills, where the sunny and exposed conditions are not really suitable for rainforest. But gardens on south or east slopes, particularly those near a watercourse, could make use of rainforest species. And some, such as the bleeding heart, can cope in a wide range of conditions.
Happy growing!

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