The northern Hemisphere is getting ready for the golden colors of Autumn, but in Australia, Spring is being welcomed with open arms. So, too, at the Hunter Valley Gardens. This 25 ha. (60 acre) privately owned, themed garden was created from scratch in 1998 and opened to the public in 2003. By far the most fun (and delightfully kitsch!) is the “Storybook Garden”, with lifesize plaster figures making nursery rhymes come alive.
You can stroke Mary’s little lamb, hug Humpty Dumpty, roll down the hill with Jack and Jill, have tea with Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter. If you think this is just for children, think again. No matter how old you are, it will bring out the child in you!
On the more serious side, there are ten gardens that show horticultural traditions in various countries or periods in history: the Chinese Garden, the Italian Grotto, the Formal Garden, the Rose Garden, etc. Sixteen full-time horticulturalists (and no volunteers!) care for “eight kilometres of walking paths, more than six thousand trees, one million ground covers and six hundred thousand shrubs. A floral display featuring a variety of plants and statuary, all of a standard that you won’t see elsewhere in Australia,” according to the official website. And it is true – I spent a most enjoyable day there, enjoying the various scarecrow figures that had been created by schoolchildren from the valley, walking around the lakes and enjoying a good lunch at the restaurant. This was the time of the Spring Flower Festival and thousands of annuals were in full bloom.
Bill Roche and his wife Imelda have created a stunning attraction, rightly called “the jewel of the Hunter” – and all this after retirement (well, yes, and the necessary small change to be able to undertake this venture in a most professional manner).
But this is not the end of my visit to “The Hunter” as the valley is locally referred to. In fact, most people come to this part of the world for a completely different reason: vineyards and winetastings. Even I, a non-drinker, tasted a most subtle “Sweet Shiraz” – almost a port – at Golden Grape Estate, that I would definitely want to have in my cellar. And as we all know, where there is good wine, good food follows, or maybe it is the other way around. At any rate, you can easily spend a week here and not be bored, visiting the vineyards, tasting the local specialties – olives, olive oil, cheese and all the good things that go with it…