The Illawarra Grevillea Park is arguably the best of its kind in Australia. It was established in the 1980s to house the Australian Plant Society’s wild grevillea collection. Since then the park has evolved and now has a broader range of Australian natives. Many of the plants are rare and endangered and have been grafted to enable them to grow in our more humid climate on the NSW east coast.
Set against the backdrop of the stunning Illawarra escarpment (about 1.5 hours drive south of Sydney), and with views to the ocean this is a plant lover’s paradise. At every turn there is something unique to see. It has the quality of a botanic garden. Enter the gardens and you are confronted with a bank of the most beautiful tropical grevilleas in full bloom. The large intricate flowers – up to 25cm in length, present a cacophony of colours – red, burgundy, pink, yellow, apricot, ivory, and many shades in between.
Some, like Grevillea ‘Bulli Beauty’, have been developed in the park. It is an evergreen medium sized shrub with fern like dense foliage bearing beautiful large pink toothbrush flowers. Grevillea Kiama is a similar plant but has more tangerine and rose tones. Many grevilleas readily hybridise and there is always a new and exciting cultivar just around the corner. One that we have just planted is Grevillea Anzac Spirit, which was released to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the WW1 Gallipoli Campaign in the Dardanelles.
In another garden one’s eye is drawn to two large bottle trees, Brachychiton rupestris that stand proudly on garden ridge. The common name derives from the tree’s shape, which becomes bottle like as it ages. The swelling is due to the water held in its trunk. The bell shaped, or campanulate, yellowish flowers usually form between October and December in clusters at the end of the branches. Overall the park is about 40 acres in size with 5 acres of display gardens.
Wattlebirds, lorikeets, eastern spinebills and all manner of honey eaters can be seen in the park, attracted by the nectar laden plants. Families of fairy wrens can be seen hopping around. Hidden under a grevillea is a majestic bower built by the iridescent blue bower bird. His stash of blue pegs, blue bottle tops and blue straws adorn the bower. The smaller birds are attracted by the smaller grevilleas partly because of the protection they provide. One of these, Grevillea delisiana is considered one of the loveliest of all. It is a spreading shrub endemic to the Geraldton area in Western Australia. Its height usually ranges between 0.6m and 2m. The flowers vary in colour with pink, fire red, orange and yellow forms being observed within their natural distribution. Another favourite of visitors is Grevillea wilsonii or native fuchsia. We have a few of these in the garden, including one grafted onto a 1.8metre standard. It has rich red, conspicuous bright, appealing flowers
The park was the brainchild of nurserymen Ray Brown who has managed the park for over 35 years. Ray has travelled all over Australia in search of those special plants – the rare and the beautiful which can now be seen in the garden. He grafts many onto hardier rootstock to help the plants survive the humidity of Bulli. Many of the weeping standards in the park are in fact the result of Ray’s grafting skills.
Every year Ray and his volunteers work hard to maintain, renew, and introduce more new plants. His work has ensured a showcase of the diversity and sheer beauty of the plants that we should never take for granted. The park is also the focus of scientific study by various groups such as universities and our botanic gardens.
No matter what time of year one visits the park there is always something in flower, such is the nature of Australian plants. In fact the park has many who visit on each and every open day, in autumn, winter and spring because they see something different each time they come. Spring however always shows off the most impressive colour palette. At this time the garden is dramatic and the impact of contrasts often electric.
Away from the colour one can stroll into the rainforest. Paths meander through the bush where magnificent trees, vines, ferns and orchids help to create a sense of tranquillity. Step outside the gates of the park and there is another lovely rainforest circuit that takes you over a creek and through some quintessential wet sclerophyll forest. This walk is about half an hour and well worth the effort
You can stay as long as you like in the park. People picnic on the lawn or browse the myriad of books for sale in the 100 year old Grevillea Chapel.
As many of the grevilleas are hard pruned in October, the park will next be open for four weekends in May 2017 when their colourful display is again at its peak, and then again in July and September. The rainforest section of the park and the many grevilleas on show outside the gate are accessible all year-round. For more information on the garden and details of its open days go to either the Illawarra Grevillea Park website or the Illawarra Grevillea Park Facebook Page.