Not-quite-hanami at the National Rhododendron Gardens

When I lived in Japan, a highlight of every year was hanami, or cherry blossom viewing. Strolling through parks or picnicking with friends under zillions of pretty pink petals is something like a rite of spring (marred only by the stumbling drunks and people who bring boomboxes and hideously loud tasteless music to said parks and picnics). I recently found out about the cherry blossom festival which was at the National Rhododendron Gardens in Olinda last weekend, and, feeling nostalgic, decided to pay a visit (not feeling nostalgic for crowds of people, I went with my boyfriend on my day off yesterday instead of on the actual festival day).

Unfortunately, either the crowds of people scared all the blossoms away or they haven’t really started blooming yet, because the “Golden Mile” of cherry trees was fairly much blossom-free, as this photo shows. Of course there were a few flowers here and there, but nothing like the profusion of pink that I’d expected.

Not that visitors to the garden would have been complaining There are plenty more beautiful blooms – this kurume azalea “bowl”, or slightly sunken garden, is apparently the largest in the southern hemisphere.

One does have to remain slightly skeptical about claims like this – I mean, are there really that many kurume azalea bowls with which to compare this one?! Anyway, it’s certainly a sight worth seeing.

If you’re not fond of azaleas, there’s many other flowers to admire in the huge gardens. Ornamental crab apples…

 …magnolias…

…rhododendrons (hardly surprising given the garden’s name!) – the gum tree in the background gives you an idea of how massive this particular rhododendron is …

…*azalea alert!*…

We really enjoyed the red carpet experience…

I love this version of the usually-yellow daffodil (oops! More azaleas in the background!!).

One of the more interesting parts of the garden is the section with proteas and banksias. They’re such primitive-looking, sculptural flowers and provide a real contrast to their “prettier” counterparts.

(I had to get the BF to take this shot because I was too short. Men are handy sometimes!)

These azaleas were more my height, haha…look away now if your eyes are sore because the colour is just a little bit intense…

Rosemary and rhododendrons – not the combination you’d usually think of, but really, are there any flowers that don’t go together?

(There are lots of birds in the gardens which I didn’t manage to capture on film because most of them are so little and quick. Last time we visited we saw a lyrebird, which was super-exciting because I’ve looked for them every time I’ve walked through the Dandenongs and never seen one. This one was just strolling around digging for worms and seemed completely unfazed by our suppressed squeals of delight. Note, it has a leaf stuck to its foot, lyrebird feet are big, but not THAT big.)

As it did the last time, our stroll yesterday finished at the pond in the kurume bowl. The surface is just like a mirror, perfect for reflecting all that beauty. 

We’ve decided to visit these gardens every  month if we can. Even without all this colour, it’s a lovely place for a walk – and picnic, if it’s warm enough – and it’s FREE (although donations are certainly appreciated). A highly recommended day out for any time of year!  
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