The National Rhododendron Gardens.


Living in Melbourne means having a reasonably diverse range of scenery on your doorstep – from miles of beautiful beaches to foggy temperate forests, snowy mountains, vineyards and dry bushland. Closest to where I live, on the eastern side of the city, are the Dandenong Mountains (well, let’s be honest, hills) that have large areas of national and state forests and hundreds of kilometres of walking tracks. There are also many gardens and arboretums and one of the best is the National Rhododendron Gardens.

The gardens are over 1.5 km in length and doing a full circuit can add up to 5km (approximately 3 miles) and it’s all quite hilly.

Right now the rhododendrons are in full flower, the magnolias are a bit past it and the azaleas are almost out.

 

The gardens open from 10 till 5 and parking at this time of year can be a nightmare so I got there at 9:55 to find the gates already open. When you’re out to take photos it’s really nice to beat the crowds.

By the time I left there were hundreds of people there, quite a lot of them tourists form east Asia and many a giant tour bus in the parking lot.

 

 

I was slightly annoyed to have completely missed the cherry blossoms again – I never seem to remember to go, despite having two blossom trees at home to remind me. I consoled myself with a piece of chocolate brownie form the new cafe (research!) and watched a bunch of elderly people complain that the shuttle bus that takes you around the gardens cost money to ride – which seemed a bit churlish considering the gardens were free entry. No pleasing some people, I suppose!

 
So if you’re nearby, go have a look! It’s well worth it and there’s acres of lawn and many a kookaburra just waiting for picnickers to leave their crusts:-).

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Canada and Alaska: Burchart Gardens!

The Burchart Gardens are the main reason why we came on this trip, as Mum had seen them on tv and wanted to see them in real life. I did five minutes of research and had read that the best time to come was in spring to see the bulbs blooming. We’re here in late summer so I didn’t expect it to be super impressive.

We had a special deal with our tour group to have breakfast at the gardens before having about an hour and a half to walk around. Breakfast was in a nice greenhouse-style room, but from what I could see through the windows and on the way in, I was itching to get out and walk around.

The gardens are stunning. I’ve never seen anything as perfectly manicured or colourful. The gardens have several separate spaces. A rose garden, Japanese garden, smaller sections of parterre and dahlias etc then the quarry garden, which was the first space that the original owners planned out and the view you’ll see if you google the gardens.

Every area was astounding in its perfection, but the dahlias were what really grabbed me and I think I’m going to have to attempt them at home because wherever I see them I find them irresistible. I think you can see why!

We were encouraged to annoy the gardeners by asking them questions, and so we learned that 75 gardeners take care of the property and they are open 363 days of the year. They also do fireworks on saturdays, so time your visit for then!

Next: cruising up the inside passage! Also, I giggle when anyone refers to ‘the inside passage’.

Here Comes The Planet 51 to 53 – Amanda’s Victorian Roadtrip

We break from our 2013 travel videos to bring you something closer to home.

As you may have read on the blog, recently Amanda and her mother Jen went on a “classic Australian road trip” around Victoria. Now that the exclusivity contract I had with the video’s producer has expired (“Don’t put it online before we show it to mum at Christmas!”) we are pleased to present this epic journey to you at last.

Split over three parts, we start just across the Victorian/New South Wales border in Albury, with its “iconic” Hume Dam. Also in this episode, a cruise up the Murray River on the Emmylou paddlesteamer in Echuca.

Also, you’ll all be happy to know we’ve started writing* a new horror film based on this episode: “Cry of the Cockatoo”.

* We haven’t.

Continuing the road trip, Amanda and Jen visit a pheasant farm in Swan Hill, as well as a deserted winery.

Also, we learn some fun facts about birds!

Concluding the road trip, Amanda and Jen travel from Swan Hill through to Castlemaine and back home to Melbourne, stopping at gardens and historical houses along the way.

Also, there’s a big fish.

What did you think of their road trip adventure? Have you been on any epic family road trips yourself? Let us know in the comments. 😉

New York: The Cloisters

A couple of days ago we spent a lovely (albeit freezing) day seeing the Metropolitan Art Gallery, starting with its smaller and less visited gallery at The Cloisters. The Met is divided into two properties, the enormous building in Central Park and the much, much smaller Cloisters, located at the northern end of the Manhattan.

Many of the ‘Top Things to do in New York’ articles I’d read mentioned The Cloisters but didn’t really describe it in much detail. Our friend Sean wanted to go so we agreed to meet there at 10am.

It really was a long subway ride north – by the time we got to the right stop pretty much everyone had gotten off except a bunch of old ladies. There’s an elevator specifically for the Cloisters and Tryon Park from the station platform and it goes a surprisingly long way up through the hill. We walked out and into Tryon Park, a truly gorgeous stretch of landscaped gardens that was glowing with colour in the morning sunshine. We really picked a good time to see the city – I can’t imagine any other season being so visually impressive.

See what I mean? Beautiful!

The Cloisters building is relatively new, but is built to resemble a medieval cloisters and contains many elements that are genuinely antique. Old doors, stained glass windows, alter pieces and furniture are built into the structure and compliment the quite impressive collection of medieval art and artefacts. Impressive in terms of quality, not quantity – but I quite liked being able to peruse in detail a small but excellent collection.

The effect of the building somewhat spoiled by the bus stop and street lights.

They have some astonishingly well preserved tapestries – in fact you may well recognise this one, which is part of a set that tells the story of a unicorn being hunted and caught.

Poor, sad unicorn!

There were some really incredible books that were about 1000 years old, hand written (obviously) by monks and the writing and illuminations are so perfect that it is no wonder their art was preserved for holy subjects almost exclusively.

Another charming aspect of the building was the medieval garden, in which grew medicinal plants and edible herbs. It was arranged and tended beautifully. There were quince and fig trees and even the remains of hops vines.

My garden dreams of gardens like this.

There was a special exhibit there when we visited. The choir from Salisbury Cathedral in the UK had collaborated with an artist to record a special musical piece where the artist had recorded each member of the 40 strong choir individually then each voice was played at the gallery through an individual speaker. This meant we could walk between the speakers and hear what each voice sounded like and how the rest of the choir sounded to each member. It was amazing. The song was written in the middle ages by one of the most famous composers of the genre (don’t ask me who) and was very complex and extraordinarily uplifting. You could see everyone in the room being overcome by the beauty of the music.

The music was so right for the setting. A shame I can’t really convey it in a blog.

I’ll leave you with one last image, from a tapestry that was ancient. However I couldn’t help the fact that, because it looked rather cartoonish and I was surrounded by American accents, I could almost hear the two other characters saying in sad, Californian teenage voices to Jesus “OMG… you’ve got like… holes in you,” and Jesus, equally bewildered, replying “Like, yeah, god, I know… bummer.”

Or is it just me?