Do you love brilliant wildflowers? Right now, you’ll find them thriving in the sandy, nutrient-poor soils derived from the Hawkesbury Sandstone, the bedrock on which Sydney is built. It’s the infertility of the soil that’s responsible for striking and unique plant forms which are quintessentially Australian. Thousands of visitors flock to the National Parks north and south of the city in the Spring time in a spontaneous celebration of our native plants.
Muogamarra Nature Reserve near Cowan, NSW
If you live in the outer Sydney suburbs on top of the Hawkesbury Sandstone, you may not need a garden of your own at all. Here, the native bushland, a dry sclerophyll forest with an understorey of shrubs, is abundantly endowed with colourful flowers, vibrant and varied foliage, and quirky, even bizarre seed pods and fruiting bodies. The beautiful and diverse species create a natural bush garden which, like most of our domestic gardens, is at its dazzling peak in the Spring.
Vibrant colours of Spring in the Sydney region
As in grand estates, there are sculptures and water features aplenty in this wild bush garden. The pale cream- to honey-coloured sandstone in the rock faces has been sculpted into striking textures. Rather than artificial lakes or fountains, there are waterfalls, crystal clear creeks, and the lazy meandering Hawkesbury River, to rest the senses and reveal majestic vistas.
Hawkesbury River view
I recently found, in a diary belonging to my late father, pioneering conservationist and bushwalker Darby Munro, an entry from the 1st of September 1973, when he went bushwalking near what is now the Muogamarra Nature Reserve. Darby wrote:
The wildflowers were magnificent…There were clear pools and streams of water everywhere in this area which is permanently established in my affection as the very best bushwalking country in Australia. The ground was sprinkled with myriads of Glossodia minor. Native rose, Eriostemon boronia and black-eyed susan provided the principal display…even the rocklily orchids were in flower.
Muogamarra Nature Reserve, about 40km north of Sydney and overlooking the Hawkesbury River, is open to the public only 6 weekends per year, and is renowned for its wildflower display. Michael and I went there last weekend, camera batteries charged and ready for photographic action.
The flower assemblage we saw was not quite the same as my father had observed, but was equally magnificent. Here’s just a small sample of what we saw.
Eriostemon australasius (detail)
Eriostemon in full glory
Conospermum longifolium in bud
Conospermum longifolium in flower
Restricted public access has allowed this area to remain close to its natural state. As well as the wildflowers, there were some quite fancy looking insects enjoying the spring sunshine and the attractions of the blossoms.
Can you see the beetle in this Dillwynia floribunda?
Gompholobium grandiflorum in bud
Gompholobium grandiflorum with a big shiny green visitor
Mauve-pink Grevillea buxifolia- my favourite
Banksia seed pods
As my father observed, this is wonderful bushwalking country. The pathways following the tops of the plateau make for easy walking, with many exposed sandstone outcrops providing vantage points for glimpses or vistas of the Hawkesbury River a couple of hundred metres below.
Incidentally, the Hawkesbury Sandstone is the stone from which many of the outstanding Colonial buildings in Sydney were constructed. We owe much to this geological formation created by a massive, ancient river, not the least being our natural Australian native bush garden.