posted on 26 Aug 20 | by

The Castlemaine Botanical Gardens are alive with pre-spring glory at the moment with the rich textures, lichen-covered branches and gnarly forms of the significant trees in full view; lush soggy green grass, meditative sounds of gushing water through Barkers creek and the welcome emergence of daffodils and ducklings!  We took a stroll with Sandra Hodge — horticulturist Team Leader of the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens  — who shared her insights into the treasures to be found in these gorgeous gardens right now. 

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Daffodils, Paper Whites and Jonquils

In late winter many species of Narcissus start to produce bright yellow, white or orange flowers in garden beds and under trees across the Gardens.  It has been suggested that Narcissus was named after the mythical ancient Greek hunter who fell in love with his own reflection so was turned into this flower by the gods. Commonly called Daffodils, Paper Whites or Jonquils, they are a very popular cut flower with Jonquils the most fragrant of all. 

Fun fact: Although considered poisonous they have a long history in medicinal use and are currently farmed for the production of galantamine for treatment of Alzheimers disease.

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The attractiveness of edible plants

Annual beds have been part of the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens landscape since 1920. This style of horticultural display dates back to the Victorian era of temporary displays of colourful seasonal bedding plants. The design intent of the current winter/spring display is to demonstrate the value and attractiveness of edible plants in an ornamental display. The original intent to harvest and also share the harvest with the community has been embraced by our resident Australian Wood Ducks. The edible varieties that have been planted are Kale “Winter Wonderland”, Purple Broccoli, Purple Pak Choy, Calendula officinalis (Pot Marigold) and Viola cornuta “Blue porcelain”.

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Dabbling ducklings

These gardens provide excellent habitat for a diverse range of bird species including Ninox strenua (Powerful Owl) and Chenonetta jubata (Australian Wood Duck). The Australian Wood Duck is successful at nesting in hollows of trees such as Eucalyptus camaldulensis (River Red Gum). Known as a dabbling duck they are often seen around the margins of Lake Joanna or high in trees near water where their staccato chattering will draw your attention. This winter there has already been new ducklings to this landscape who will remain with their parents for at least a month after fledging.

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Euphorbia rigida

In late winter the vibrant lime yellow flowers of Euphorbia rigida (Gopher Spurge) light up the landscape. These flowers will age to pink by early summer and continue to compliment the beautiful blue- grey foliage. It is found growing under the Standard Roses section but beware of the caustic milky sap. A very drought tolerant plant, is has also been used in research for use as biofuel but with such hardy qualities should also be monitored for its weed potential.

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Flora and Fauna reserve

The Flora and Fauna reserve is located over the white wooden bridge connected to the Gardens. A hidden treasure of beautiful remnant indigenous plants that include orchids such as Diuris pardina (Leopard Orchids), Drosera aberrans (Scented Sundew),  Philotheca verrucosa (Fairy Wax Flower) and Acacia pycnantha (Golden Wattles) in bloom at this time of year.

It is also one of the important ecological sites for the endangered Eltham Copper Butterfly which is a great example of mutalism with Bursaria spinosa subsp spinosa (Sweet Bursaria) and Notoncus ants.

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Significant trees

Appreciate the trees in a new light during winter.  Ulmus glabra camperdownii (Weeping Elm) planted in 1870 is found at CBG entrance. This tree was originally propagated as a grafted cultivar in Scotland in 1840 and does not produce seed. Winter is a great time to appreciate its gnarly form.

Ulmus parvifolia (Chinese Elm or Lacebark Elm) is native to Eastern Asia and was distributed in Victoria Australia for cultivation in 1857. A very cold tolerant species with a beautiful mottled flaky grey, tan and red bark is a beautiful feature.

Platanus orientalis (Oriental Plane) this species is rare in cultivation. This tree has beautiful grey, brown,cream mottled bark and spherical balls that hang like decorative baubles throughout winter.

Quercus robur (English Oak) found near the playground is the oldest known tree planted in 1863 to commemorate a royal wedding. Stand in awe of the size and form of this magnificent specimen and image the delights all the fallen leaves have provided for many generations of children.

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Follow the running creek

Cross one of the rustic bridges and take an enjoyable walk along Barkers creek and hear the beautiful calls of many species of frogs and the sound of flowing water at this time of year. This life giving water and riparian vegetation provides important habitat for indigenous fauna.

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Acacia dealbata – Warrarak (Dja Dja wurrung)

This beautiful Silver Wattle can be found growing along the Barkers Creek and produces a plethora of flowers at this time of year. Every part of this tree is useful and has a long history of food, medicinal and cultural use by many nations of indigenous people for thousand's of years. The timber is used for tool-making, the gum is soaked in water to produce a sweet drink or mixed with ash to make a poultice or glue.  It is also an excellent cut flower and is used in a perfumery in France called 'Mimosa'. The foliage is a food plant for a blue imperial butterfly.

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Indigenous garden bed

Take a closer look at the colourful Indigenous garden beds located near the carpark.  Many of these plants exist in threatened plant communities such as Box Iron Bark forest and provide food and habitat for indigenous fauna. Some of the plants here can be commonly found in the area but others are endangered. Philotheca verrucosa (Fairy Wax Flower) and Cryptrandra amaria (Bitter Cryptrandra) both produce a beautiful display of flowers at this time of year and showcase how beautiful and valuable it is to grow these plants and care for our natural enviroment.

Pictured: Fairy Wax Flower

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Lake Joanna

Take a walk around Lake Joanna, a naturalistic island with reflective waters which was completed and filled in 1879.  At this time of year on a frosty morning it is often covered with mist - quite a sight! It provides habitat to many waterbirds including Aythya australis (Hard heads) Phalacrocorax varius (Pied Cormorant ) and Anhinga novaehollandiae (Australasian Darter).