The Cunning Gap it the pass that links Brisbane to the east with the agricultural regions to the west of the Great Dividing Range, a string of mountains and extinct volcanoes which runs the length of the eastern side of the Australian continent. Any streams flowing to the east quickly flow into the pacific but water flowing west takes a long journey inland and out to the Southern Ocean, although it may not make it that far during drought. The pass was discovered by Allan Cunningham (1791-1839) who incidentally was chosen by Joseph Banks to collect plants for Kew Gardens. He arrived in Australia in 1816 and under took many plant hunting expeditions in Tasmania, New South Wales and Queensland, identifying many new plant species. The pass was opened up in the 1830’s, a vital link between communities though treacherous due to the steep unstable terrain which still poses problems today.
I had visited Sundown National Park on the Queensland, New South Wales a few time but not from the eastern entrance which is only accessible by four wheel drive vehicles. I ignored the signs and drove in regardless and needless to say didn’t get too far before I had to hoof-it. From where I left the car it was a good two hour hike into the gorge so I was expecting something reasonably spectacular as a reward. It turned out the gorge was more of a cliff, and when you think of ‘red rock’ you imagine the colour of the interior and Ayres Rock. The gorge/cliff is the edge of the volcanic granite that characterises this region which is grey-brown but coloured red by lichens. Hopefully I will be able to rustle up a four wheel drive one weekend and explore a bit further into the park.
Red Rock Gorge.
The black stain of Red Rock Falls which must have only just dried up as there was still a pool at the top quenching the thirst of a herd of goats. As well as goats, I saw several wild boar and two dear all non native to Australia. Apart from a few roos the native fauna illuded me.
The road into the park through sheep country.
Driving through the bush before the road became to rocky.
Acacia sp. in flower throughout the bush are the distinctive colour of the winter months.
Banksia spinulosa var. neoanglica (New England Banksia) in full bloom beneath the granite boulders of Girraween
Here’s a few more pictures from Girraween Nation park. Being mid winter now, the changes from the summer months are subtle. Frost morning and the dry days have left the grass and bracken in the openings golden and russet toned but little else has changed greatly. Acacias, Banksias and Legumes take advantage of the cooler months to flower and will soon be followed by the main spring flowering as the frosty morning disappear. Change here is marked more by wet and dry, and the passing of bush fires. Following the wet summer and and lush growth which is now going crisp in the dry winter weather poses a greater risk for fires than usual of which several large ones are being fought right now around Queensland.
Banksia spinulosa var. neoanglica (New England Banksia).
The woody seed capsules of the New England Banksia waiting for the heat of a bush fire to open. Curious boulders among the Gum trees.
Looking out from the Castle Rocks that rise high above the tree-line, yellow acacias sp. flowering in the foreground.
Leucopogon melaleucoides (Snow Bush) and Acacia venulosa (Veiny Wattle, Woolly Wattle)
Pultenaea hartmanii (Stanthorpe Pea) and tiny white fungi sprouting from a dead twig.
The smooth surface granite boulders covering the path of the underground stream, polished by years of rushing water.
The underground stream at Girraween National park is one place I didn’t get around to exploring until now, in mid winter. Its still rather warm. Spring is just around the corner and the spring flowers are what this national park is renowned for aside from its massive and curious granite features. The underground stream flows over a vast expanse of flat granite which has been eroded over tens of thousands of years into smooth polished curves and bowls where once just a thin crack existed. Huge boulders have broke off the face of the granite cliff face and the stream disappears beneath these but has eroded and polished away enough rock to climb through. The stream is no more than ankle deep now but walking through the forest to the along side the stream many small trees and shrubs were laid flat and bundles of twigs and grass hung in the tree a good meter or more above head height, a sign of how high and fast the water was rushing through at the peak of the flooding in January this year. Huge areas of grass and shrubs growing in the thin soils on top of the granite were rolled up like giant Swiss rolls by the force of the water.
The surface of the polished granite appears like leather compared to the coarse greyish unpolished stone. Lichens and minerals stain the under side of the granite shelf like a giant wave frozen in time.
The path into the park. The bracken browned by frosty mornings.
Granite boulders among the bush and the peeling bark of a Gum tree.
Curved forms of the granite where Bald Rock creek first starts to carve its way down through the granite and a water fall where the stream disappears beneath the fallen boulders.
There are many large bowls which are carved out larger and larger during each flood by rocks caught up in the eddies within them which rush around like a washing machine. The bowls and the rounded rocks within them have a fancy geological name but whatever it is it has long since slipped from my mind.
A curiously unnatural feature. I guess it is where the huge expanse of granite, which was created by the slow cooling of a giant under ground magma chamber, cracked and was filled by subsequent lava. Don’t take my word for that.
Leionema rotund folium (Round-leaved phebalium) and Mirbelia speciosa subsp. Speciosa (Showy Mirbelia).
Because of the intermittent rainfall and subsequent intermittent flow of Australian streams and river, they form a series of interlinked pools and marshes rather than a continually flowing channel. That is, at least before the intervention of man clearing the forests and dredging and damming the streams to make the most of every last drop of water in a drought. Sheltered by the forest and stained by tannins these pools create some beautiful reflections.
A Stags Horn Fern growing quite happily in an unexpected place.
The Stags Horn Fern is a native to the warm, wet forests of the east coast. I have seen trees festooned with them in the warm damp air and dappled light of the coastal ranges as well as in the steamy glass houses at Kew. As a child I brought one as a pot plant which once removed from it perfect climate controlled glasshouse in Holland, it slowly turned yellow, went crispy around the edges and bit the dust. I suspect the central heating and lime scale in the water weren’t to it‘s liking. There also happens to be a rather fine specimen growing in the crux of a tree in the school yard opposite the orchard where I am pruning. The temperature in town was -7oC the morning I took these photos and the Stags Horn Fern was growing quite happily out in the open. So it seems they are pretty tough after all.
As I like growing exotic plants back in the UK, it’s always interesting to see the limits to which exotic plants will tolerate and grow happily. Talk to any seasoned exotic plant enthusiast and you will find that ‘cold’ is not just ‘cold’. There is wet cold and dry cold, not to mention the duration. A few hours at -7oC in the dry may not be as bad as a few days at -1oC in the wet. Here the temperature regularly drops below freezing but never remains there for too long, and very little rain falls throughout the winter months. To try and coax one through a winter in the UK, it may have to tolerate many days of freezing and wet conditions. Finding the right micro climate is the key. I used to grow Echium pininana successfully through the winter planted close to a wall where the night storage heater was mounted on the inside. Enough heat made it through the wall to keep the worst of the frost away. If you can get this spectacular triennial plant from the Canary Islands through two winters it will produce towering cobalt blue spires of flowers. I suspect there will be very few gardens in England this year with Echiums in flower.
One of the largest Stags Horn Ferns I have seen growing in the frost free coastal town of Kerikeri in Northland, New Zealand.
So it seems most of this year in Australia will be spent in Stanthorpe. At leas I’ll get to see the seasonal changes of this part of the country, if not the whole country in little pieces. It seems the changes are quite subtle with the predominant vegetation being evergreen. The introduced tree species of the gardens and orchards give away the seasons.
Defiant of the cold is a large cactus tree standing rather incongruously amongst the bare apple trees.
My icy cherry picker and early rhyme frost. Fortunately at this latitude it soon warms up when the sun breaks the horizon.
Bold and brash beading plants.
‘Lyn and Ernie’s Garden’ was the second of two open garden I saw a few months back in Pitsworth. It certainly was bright and colourful with huge swathes of annuals and beading, beneath mature palms and trees. A separate pool garden behind the house was a welcome rest for the eyes with a finely manicured lawn, specimen palms and foliage plants as well as a beautiful gazebo. Throughout the garden were some quirky, interesting and some what odd garden ornaments- each to their own. The did make people to the garden smile.
Some of the sunflowers among the boarders. The one on the left is ‘Teddy Bear’.
The pool garden- an oasis of green in a very bright and colourful garden.
A spectacular Kalanchoe sheltered from winter frosts beneath a Silky Oak tree.
Some of the, lets say, interesting garden ornaments.
The ‘Kearey Garden’.
Back in April I visited two private gardens opened to the public in Pitsworth, S.E. Queensland. Both were small and immaculately maintained suburban gardens and both described as ‘Australian cottage garden’ style, a little bit of anything and everything with the colour wheel chucked out the window. The ‘Kearey Garden’, the first visited displayed many Roses, Day Lilies, Geraniums and Pelargoniums flowering in broad boarders along with many bright brash beading plants like Zinias, Galiardias and Dahlias. Potted succulents lapped up the sun along the north facing walls and a few lurked incongruously among the beading. Moisture loving Begonias and Bromeliads jostle beneath a brilliant Salmon Gum (Eucalyptus salmonophloia) with its perfectly smooth silvery white bark. Exceptionally hot summer days can near 40oC and frosts are not uncommon in the winter months, so the more unusual plants enjoy the protection of a shading pergola along the back and side of the house. The atmosphere is noticeably cooler perfect for the lush foliage plants and the perfect place to sit on a hot day.
The most prominent plant in the garden, a white barked Salmon Gum (Eucalyptus salmonophloia) under planted with bromeliads provides the garden welcome shade.
A bright pink Zinnia and some potted succulents nestled among the beading plants. The gold/orange Graptoveria and silver/pink Kalanchoe.
Shady side passage sheltering a collection of lush and delicate plants that would soon go crisp out in the sun and a flowering Bromeliad (Achmea fasciata).
An unusual foliage plant.
Flowering rose and mimosa sp.
A young palm stands in shadow of a towering Morton Bay Fig and a jungle climber makes it’s way up to the canopy to get it’s share of the valuable sunlight.
Just outside of the small village of Maleny on the wet eastern side of the Great Dividing Range I saw a sign for the ‘Fig Tree Walk’. This is a small 1km long board walk through a small piece of rain forest with some spectacular trees. The most prominent tree and the one from which the walk takes it’s name is the Morton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla). This tree with its wide spread canopy, broad buttresses and tangled roots begins its life as a tiny parasitic plant high up in the canopy of another tree. The seed is deposited on a branch by a bird or fruit bat. The roots of the fig then twine their way down and around the host tree until they reach the ground. It’s at this point that the fig really takes off with all the additional nutrients from the forest floor and eventually strangles it’s host to death. Over time the host will rot away leaving a hollow lattice of roots that grow together to form a single trunk. The hollow trunk forming valuable homes for the forests wildlife. As well as housing and feeding the wildlife these trees are invaluable fore their vast root systems that hold together the forest floor to prevent flooding erosion.
A tree worthy of four photos.
A Morton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla) in its prime.
A second notable tree, not for its necessary grandeur but for it’s notorious leaves, is the Stinging Tree (Dendrocnide moroides). This is not the tree to be wandering around beneath with bare feet but by the time I saw the signs I was too far from my car to be bothered to go back and put on my shoes, so while I marveled at the forest I had to keep a close eye on the path ahead. The large soft leaves are covered with tiny stinging hairs much like those of stinging nettles. Insects feast on these leaves as among the leaves they are safe from most predators that are deterred by the stings. Some insects store the toxins within them so they themselves become toxic and there for unpalatable. The tree can cope with the loss of leaves as the large leaves are soft and have little structure so the tree can quickly grow more without exhausting itself.
Looking up into the canopy of the large leafed stinging tree (Dendrocnide moroides).
One of the soft sting leaves laying on the path. Mission successful, no leaves stepped on, no stung feet.
Wild passion flower.
It’s been a while since I last blogged, so here comes a few in quick succession to catch up on my travels so far. These are some pictures from Noosa National Park, a few hours drive north of Brisbane, where I went for a hike early one morning a few weeks ago when visiting ‘The Lost Garden of Belli Park’. The park sits in a narrow strip of land with the Pacific Ocean to the east and holiday developments to the west. It protects a valuable coastal habitat that is vastly diminished due to beach front development. Apparently it is a haven for fruit pigeons, eastern yellow robins, rufous fantails, satin bower-birds and crimson rosellas as goannas, possums and koalas. As for bird spotting I’m not shore that I saw any of the above although they may well have been sing away in the canopy, as for reptiles and marsupials, they must have been asleep. Plants on the other hand aren’t so difficult. The vegetation in the park is variable and runs in narrow bands parallel to the coast. To the west of the coastal highway is the section or the reserve known as Emu Mountain rising about 90m above the coast. Here the soil is thin and rocky and the vegetation is known as walnut heathland, with plants like small leaved Banksia species, trunkless Xanthoreas (grass trees) and Mt. Emu She Oaks (Allocasuarina emuina) among others. The Mt. Emu She Oak in particular has had its distribution reduced. They now only exist along a 35km range of coast with the major population on Emu Mountain. To the east of the highway is the main, flat coastal section of the reserve. Here rain forest, open Eucalyptus forest and Pandanas palms flank the highway. The forest then open up to a strip of marsh/swamp,dominated by sedges and crossed by a meandering board walk, which is separated from the Pacific Ocean by large dunes. On the inland side of the dunes where there is less standing water grow the curious and variable Swamp Banksia species with their large leaves and flowers varying in colour from rust brown, orange, cream through to green. Beyond the dunes roared the breakers rolling in from the east. I was down on the beach before 6am and didn’t expect there to be many people about, but in the warm coastal air eager surfers were out making the most of the waves coming in on the early high tide.
Here are some pics from the coastal section of Noosa National Park.
Board walk emerging from the white paper bark woodlands crossing the swamp to get down the beacch.
Yellow Iris like flower in amongst the reeds and sedges of the swampy section.
One of the variable swamp Banksias alongside the board walk.
Swamp Banksias species one of which is being eaten by a hungry beetle.
Early morning surfers catching the high tide at 6am.
These are some of the tough creeping plants that hold the dunes together against the wind.
Muscle shells on an old corroded gas can now high and dry in the dunes.
And here are some more pics this time from the western Emu Mountain section of Noosa National Park.
Banksia and Calistemon species.
Xanthorea seedhead and dodder scrambling through the endangered Mt. Emu She Oak (Allocasuarina emuina).
Banksia seed capsule and another open woody seed capsule. Sorry, don’t know what this chap is.
The Lost Garden of Belli Park is not so much ‘lost’ but well tucked away, nestled in the rain forest on the wetter eastern side of the dividing ranges an hour north of Brisbane. The verdant green backdrop of the rain forest sets the tone of the plantings throughout the property. This is with out a doubt a tropical garden. The house is surrounded by mature palms planted over the last 18 years, the most prominent of which is a mature Raphia Palm (Raphia vinifera) in full flower. These palms with several mature ornamental trees provide the shelter and shade for the colourful and bold tropical under story. The trunks of some of the larger trees were cloaked with Philodendrons and Devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum), Brugmansia and Tibouchina trees were in full bloom, Cordyline cultivars add splashes of colour, mature clumps of Heliconias and Gingers fill the damp air with scent and the ground beneath all these plants were swathed with Bromeliads and Tradescantias. In the deepest shade the bizarre flowers of the Bat plant Tacca hovered over glossy rain soaked leaves.
The meandering paths lead from the bright busy boarders around the house into the surrounding rainforest that makes up the most of the 55 acre property. Entering the forest the canopy closes in around you and riotous colours are replaced with green. Stags horn and birds nest ferns grow from the crux of bows and Alocasias hold their leaves up to the light. The atmosphere enhanced by the sound of the heavy rain dripping from leaf to leaf and the mist drifting through the trees further adding to the sense of envelopment. Despite the rainfall the previous week had been dry and one of the most prominent features of the garden, a 12 meter high waterfall, was sporting only a coating of moss and algae and no cascading water. Perhaps the day after I visited the rainfall would have made its way into the creaks and the falls would be in their full splendour. From the rainforest paths you emerge onto a grand sweeping lawn sweeping down away from the house to a large lily pond and out to views out over distant hills.
The one thing that struck me most about the garden is how similar it is to the Exotic Garden I worked in back in England, both in terms of plants and style. The one difference being the distinctly different climate. The frost free climate enables a whole wealth of plants to be grown that simply couldn’t be protected back in England. As for those plants that both gardens have in common, in The Lost Garden they do seem to have the edge. The Brugmansia trees aren’t limited to the size of your biggest plant pot and the height of the greenhouse roof. The Cannas and Gingers form massive evergreen clumps only needing the old flowering stems removing every now and then. Bromeliada are free to pup and form thick carpets, even working their way up tree trunks pup by pup rather than being restricted to pots. Here in tropical Queensland the plants have the conditions to reach their prime and the garden looks luxuriant year round. In contrast, back in chilly England, time after time visitors arrive in the garden and their jaws drop in amazement at the unexpected. Defiant of the winter the draw back is the massive extra work load of the spring plant out and the autumn dig-up, not to mention the heating bill. This work load does however afford the opportunity to change the planting plans year on year and enjoy the seasonal variations however dreary the winters may be while the boarders are bare. There seems to be benefits to creating tropical gardens in both locations and at the end of the day I guess it all depends on where you are.
It was great at last to go and explore an Australian garden at last. The garden was open for the Australian Open Gardens Scheme. Here are some more pictures for your delectation.