Garden Inspiration: Illawarra Rhododendron Gardens

Nestled on a sloping site under the north-east slope of Mount Keira, the Illawarra Rhododendron Gardens contain some of the richest rainforest in the region.

The landscaped parts of the gardens take up perhaps a quarter of the 32-acre site, and include camellias, azaleas and other species, as well as many varieties of rhododendron. Lush lawns and ornamental lakes are complemented by picnic and barbeque facilities with wonderful views of Mount Keira.

Spectacular view of Mount Keira from the Gardens. Image by Emma Rooksby. 
For us, the bushland part of the site was the real inspiration. The site is sloping, with pretty winding paths and some rainforest species that, according to Leon Fuller's Wollongong's Native Trees, are very hard to spot elsewhere in the region, such as Neolitsia dealbata, Sarcomelicope simplicifolia, and Symplocus thwaitesii- I would give common names, but they don't seem to have them.

A very young White Bolly Gum (Neolitsea dealbata)- showing the distinctive white undersides of the leaves. Image by Emma Rooksby. 
These are all 'small' trees, between 8 and 15m high, and could be grown in a larger suburban garden with a rainforest focus.

Although much of the site is still regenerating, there are some very large examples of Red Cedar (Toona australis) and also many younger red cedars coming up - an encouraging sign!
Leaves of young Red Cedar trees against the afternoon sky
We took the loop walk round the gardens, which took around 45 minutes including some stopping and gawping. It would be easy to spend a few hours wandering around, and well worth the $2 entrance donation. The Gardens are maintained by volunteers, an impressive effort for such a large and special piece of the Illawarra.

Lichen, moss and little creepers. Image by Emma Rooksby. 

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