Stephen RyanGarden travel to broaden your mind

I am about to jump on a plane and head off to France to lead a tour of gardens and châteaux of Normandy and the Loire Valley and if you haven’t booked it’s a bit late now! But the idea of travelling across the world to see gardens and gardening that I may well have little hope of emulating started me thinking. Is it just horticultural eye candy or is there more to it than that?

Chateau of northern France

Chateau in northern France

I don’t have the money to buy a château in the first place and it would certainly be more than difficult to start anything like those that I will see in an Australian environment. Even were I capable and cashed up, it would look dam silly in the Australian environment anyway. I’ve never seen a château look right out of France, even as a McMansion in one of our newer suburbs.

I believe that we can all learn from what we see no matter if it is damp, green and cultivated like Northern France, or dry and primitive like the deserts of Namibia. We don’t have to want what we see but can take lessons from it and just enjoy the experience. I love seeing tropical vegetation and being exposed to a whole lot of plants I’ve never seen before as it broadens my experience and stops me from getting a big head about everything that I think I know about plants.

Those of you who have followed my blogs will remember that I travelled to Namibia to see possibly the world’s weirdest if ugliest plant (Welwitschia mirabilis) and this seemed like a good enough reason to organise that holiday. It has in fact become my favourite method of trip selection. Just find an iconic plant and then travel there to see it. This didn’t stop me from seeing lion and elephant, which in fact would be hard to miss in that country.

The world's ugliest plant in Namibia

The world’s ugliest plant in Namibia

I have been down the Amazon to see the giant water lilies (as well as piranha and anaconda!) and I’ve travelled to California to stand amongst the giant redwoods. A trip to Chile found me amongst the monkey puzzle trees (Araucaria araucana) in the snow and hopping with excitement when I found their national floral emblem Lapageria rosea flowering in the wild.

In Chile with monkey puzzle trees in the snow

In Chile with monkey puzzle trees in the snow

Other highlights included the plant with the tallest inflorescence in the world, Puya raimondii, a giant pineapple relative in Peru, and the boabs of Madagascar where I hope to be leading a tour back there in 2016 for ASA (Australians Studying Abroad) – and we’ll see lemur and chameleon as well.

Lapageria rosea in Chile

Lapageria rosea in Chile

I’m even hoping to travel to the Soqotra Archipelago next year to see the amazing Dragons Blood trees (Dracena cinnabari) and at huge expense I have bought the ‘Ethnoflora of the Soqotra Archipelago‘ to start my research. Of course there will be lots more to see as this area has 825 known plant species and 307 of them are endemic! Look the place up on ‘the net’ and you may understand my yearning to go there.

If such adventurous travel is a bit daunting don’t be put off, as there are plenty of iconic plants in less far-flung places that should get your blood pumping. What about our famous mountain ash trees, which are the worlds tallest hardwood trees, or if overseas travel is your desire then the huon pines of Tasmania could float your boat.


Goblin Forest Egmont National Park

You could come with me to New Zealand in November this year and see some kauri pines (Agathis australis). I will be taking a tour around the land of the long white cloud visiting ‘The Gardens and Natural Landscapes of New Zealand’ with ASA, so why not check it out? I promise more than just some huge trees!

It is always said that travel broadens the mind and it is never more so than for a lover of the natural world and I for one want to be on my deathbed (a long time from now!) happy that I did all that I could to see as much of this wonderful world as I could.



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Stephen Ryan

About Stephen Ryan

Stephen Ryan grew up and still lives at Mt. Macedon in Victoria where he has run his nursery Dicksonia Rare Plants since 1980. He was for 3 years host of Gardening Australia on ABC TV and is a regular on Melbourne’s 3CR. Sunday garden program. He has written 4 books and innumerable articles for magazines both in Australia and abroad and is also a sought-after speaker at garden clubs.

2 thoughts on “Garden travel to broaden your mind

  1. Sounds good. The intrepid plant collector! Enjoy the tour to France … we look forward to a post-trip blog post!

  2. Hi Steven
    I visited Madagascar in 2012 – a fantastic country but the trip wasn’t particulalrly botanically orientated and I didn’t do it justice – so I am very interested in your planned trip in 2016. Please keep me posted.

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