Autumn in Australia’s eastern ranges

Across Australia’s eastern ranges, Australia’s forests are beginning their long recovery. This year’s autumn rains have been heavier and temperatures lower than in years past, when hellish mega-fires burnt a million hectares of bushland across the continent.

Above: The Morton National Park regenerates after the 2020 bushfire season.

When the smoke was smothering our cities in 2020, scientists warned us that a billion animals would be burnt in the blazes. In the wake of the inferno, that number was revised upwards to three billion creatures dead, while botanists estimate that up to 7 billion plants could have been razed.

Restoring from such a cataclysm will take years, but with two long La Niñas hitting the eastern seaboard in a row, Australia’s pyrophytic (fire-loving) plants have been spurred back to life, and the bush is starting to revive.

Above: banksias, acacias and wildflowers in the charred landscape. A landslide turns a valley into a quagmire.

One haven amidst the charred landscape was the Mount Tomah Botanic Garden, which was narrowly saved from total destruction thanks to the efforts of bush firefighters, staff and residents who fought back the flames for more than a month. While around one quarter of the Garden’s plant life was affected by the fires, today the black scars are slowly fading.

Above: a singed redwood, an ancient Brown Barrel, and a protea in bloom – Mount Tomah Botanic Garden.

A relic of the pre-European forest – the enormous Brown Barrel (Eucalyptus fastigata) pictured above – withstood the flames to live on into its third or fourth century, despite lacking the underground lignotubers which make other eucalyptus invulnerable to fire. 

Above: a protea about to blossom, a venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), and autumnal colours at the Mount Tomah Botanic Garden

Further to the south, in the Morton National Park (Kangaroo Valley) the fire-swept forests are also in full recovery after a long dousing of rains. In the gorges and plateaus overlooking the Shoalhaven River, countless banksias, acacias and wildflowers bring bursts of vivid reds, oranges, and yellows to a still charred landscape. The rains here have been so heavy and so consistent that valley walls have given way, cutting off roads and walking tracks to all but the wombats.

Above: Autumn arrives at the Mayfield Garden, Oberon.

West of the rugged mountains, the rolling hills of New South Wales’ tablelands are a haven for deciduous trees. Cool-climate towns like Orange have long inspired anglophile gardeners, but the family-owned Mayfield Garden is a new masterpiece. At 1,100 meters above sea level, Oberon is the perfect location for this ode to Old World gardening, and now, three decades on since the first sod was turned, the garden is finally maturing.

Above: The bluestone bridge, waterlily pond, and obelisk at the Mayfield Garden, Oberon.

Set out across 65 hectares of terrain, the scale of the gardens is breathtaking. Just as you think you have seen everything – the waterlily gardens, the heath, the grotto, the bluestone bridge – there is a new path to take and a new corner to discover. You’ll stroll through all of Europe and reach the orient in a day, starting at the the rolling English landscape style, stopping by the straight-edged formal French design, and ending with a Chinese pagoda and Egyptian obelisk.

Like the European aristocrats who turned their country estates into vast gardens, the Mayfield Garden is the product of one investment banker’s lifetime of riches. If only more of today’s mega-rich followed this example, and instead of spending their fortunes on yachts and jets, left a legacy of oaks, maples and chestnuts.

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