Hello Blossoms – Fact Sheets – Gardening Australia


SERIES 32 | Episode 22

Japanese garden

The Japanese Garden is a major attraction for visitors to Auburn Botanic Gardens, about 12 miles west of Sydney. It’s easy to see why. Usually associated with Shinto shrines, the impressive red “Torrii” gate marks the entrance to the Japanese Garden and, like in Japan, signifies the transition to revered space. A large ornamental lake, a traditional tea house, bridges, man-made waterfalls and seating encourage visitors to sit contemplatively and reflect. The design of this area is inspired by the famous garden of the Ryoan-ji Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan, which can be seen through the “dry landscaping” elements of the garden. The ‘raked gravel’, small mountains, rock formations, and large stone steps across the lake area are all inspired by kare-sansui (meaning traditional Japanese gardening). The result is peaceful, meditative and evokes the essence of nature, rather than imitating it.

And while the non-living elements of this landscape are fascinating, Paul Clark, Supervisor of Premium Parks for Cumberland Council, encourages visitors to explore the gardens at different times of the year. “The fall color here, especially around the lake, is magical, but there are so many flowers and shows all the time,” he says.

Cherry blossoms are blossoming, a visual feast so spectacular that the Botanic Gardens have a nine-day festival to celebrate, with the annual event drawing thousands of visitors. “This is our version of Hanami,” says Paul. Hanami is a traditional Japanese custom of welcoming spring, appreciating the temporal beauty of nature – a celebration of the fleeting beauty of flowers, sharing of food, drink, song and friendship under the cherry trees in flowers. “Auburn is considered one of the most multicultural places in Sydney,” he says, “so this festival is a wonderful way to celebrate culture, connection and community under the beautiful cherry blossoms.”

But it’s not as simple as simply setting festival dates from year to year – cherry blossoms are notoriously finicky, and their flowering time can vary by a few weeks depending on the weather. “It’s always a bit difficult, because we have to set a date for the festival and lock it all down, but the cherry blossoms like to keep us on our toes, so we are watching them very closely from the end of July and keep our fingers crossed! “. As a rough guide, the buds start to swell and burst from early to mid-August, but thanks to the different varieties planted in the garden, there is usually something in bloom throughout the month. Most trees are around 50 years old.


The first to bloom each year is the Prunus campanulata, the Taiwanese cherry. “These are our indicator flowers. They bloom first and let us know that our main show is on track and should arrive in a week or two! While Taiwanese cherry isn’t the main card, it’s just stunning with masses of single, bell-shaped blooms from deep cherry to magenta, held for a short time. “It is a beautiful, neat tree,” says Paul, “and makes a good specimen in a home garden, given its narrow shape. It also does well in a warmer climate, so that’s not a bad option ”.

The “original” cherry blossom tree is the Japanese cherry blossom tree, Prunus serrulata, also commonly known as Sakura. “It’s the tree that launched a thousand cherry blossom festivals in Japan,” laughs Paul. Although there are several found in Auburn Botanic Gardens, Paul finds them not to be the most successful tree in the garden. “They flower mid-season here, and there are some excellent cultivars available, but they are best in a cooler climate than Sydney.”

Prunus X blireiana, the double-flowering plum, is the star of the cherry blossom show here, with Paul explaining that “60 percent of the main flowering show is this variety.” This ornamental plum cultivar is a cross between Japanese apricot (Prunus mume) and purple-leaved plum (Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardi’) and is the favorite tree in gardens for a number of reasons. “We just found out that it’s best suited to Sydney’s climate, more than Japan’s,” says Paul. “The flowers are abundant, from double pink to mauve with a scent,” he explains, “and the foliage, although you can’t see the leaves now, they’re impressive. Reddish to purple in the cooler months before they fall, and a purplish green in spring and summer ”.

Home gardens

Would this make a suitable characteristic plant in home gardens for anyone wishing to house their own Hanami? “Absolutely”, says Paul “This one would always be my first choice – a nice vase shape, and only reaches about 4m high with a similar gap”. And the biggest bonus of this strain, according to Auburn gardeners? “It’s sterile, so it doesn’t produce fruit, which means less cleaning for us,” laughs Paul (many ornamental varieties produce inedible fruit). This variety blooms on wood for one to three years, so it should be pruned after flowering is complete. Paul’s Tips for Home Growing: Plant in a location that isn’t blown by the wind, or you’ll quickly lose the flowers. They like moist, well-drained fertile soils and a location in full sun is preferable.

Featured plants

TAIWAN CHERRY Prunus campanulata
JAPANESE CHERRY Prunus serrulata
PURPLE LEAF PLUM Prunus X blireana
JAPANESE BOX Buxus microphylla CV.
AZALEA Rhododendron sp.
RED PINE FROM JAPAN Pinus densiflora

Filmed on the land of Dharug | Auburn, New South Wales

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