Garden inspiration: Wisemans Park and the Illawarra Flame Festival

Well it's been a warm and dry winter so far, and with the long-range forecast suggesting more of the same (or worse), it's hard to find natural areas that are looking inspirational in any conventional sense. That's to say, if you're after lush greenery and plants looking their absolute glossy, showy best, you will be disappointed almost wherever you look. 

But next Sunday August 19, there's a different form of inspiration on display at Wisemans Park in Gwynneville. It's the Flame Tree Festival, an arts and sciences festival that looks at how flame affects our lives. There are all sorts of presentations, performances and activities, all happening on or near Wisemans Park between 10am and 2pm. You can find out more about building in bushfire prone areas, shop for local native plants, or watch fire buskers do their thing. It's a family-friendly event and you can find out more here or on facebook

Wisemans Park itself is profoundly inspirational, though not in a glossy showy way. It contains one of the very few remaining pockets of Illawarra Lowlands Grassy Woodlands, a critically endangered ecological community that has been almost completely obliterated by development on the Illawarra coastal plain. Here you can see a range of understorey species like Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) and Weeping Grass (Microlaena stipoides), growing beneath striking local eucalypts like White Stringybark (Eucalyptus globoidea) and Forest Red Gum (E. tereticornis).

Kangaroo Grass understorey at Wisemans Park. Image by Mithra Cox, reproduced under CC BY-NC 2.0
As well as hosting a critically endangered ecological community, Wisemans Park also contains some unusual and endangered species. You might see a Scrub Turpentine (Rhodamnia rubescens), a species that has been nearly wiped out by a Myrtle Rust that reached Australia less than a decade ago. And you could come across a Red Kamala (Mallotus philippensis), a pretty little tree whose viability is being threatened by the hordes of deer that are running rampant in the Illawarra. They just love eating its seedlings!
Gunning for an All-time Worst Photo Award here, this is a Scrub Turpentine (Rhodamnia rubescens) that is growing at Wisemans Park. Image by Emma Rooksby. 
If you come along to Wisemans Park on the 19th at 10.30am or 12.30pm, you can join botanist and horticulturist Carl Glaister on a guided tour of the park, and see some of its wonders for yourself. 

You can also find lists of species that grow in the area on the Illawarra Bushland Database, or head down to explore for yourself. Who knows, you might see some of the orchids that have been recorded in the area!

Tiny Rock Ferns and Vanilla Lilies, holding on in weed-free areas of Wisemans Park, are some of the inspirational local plants. Image by Emma Rooksby. 
Another of the park's amazing eucalypts is Cabbage Gum (Eucalyptus amplifolia).  Image by Byron Cawthorne-Mcgregor.

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