Technically, we all know that July is midwinter. But this year, as the Eurobodalla Shire Regional Botanic Garden prepares to reopen on July 4, the feeling of renewal means that in these parts it feels decidedly like spring.
It’s been a hard year for the much-loved facility, located amongst the natural forest in the Mogo State Forest just five kilometres south of Batemans Bay.
On New Year’s Eve, the 35-year-old gardens were destroyed by the 2019 bushfires; almost every plant in the Botanic Garden was affected, although the visitor centre, new café, herbarium and upgraded propagation facilities remained (mostly) intact.
Preparing for reopening has been a journey of fits and starts. Shortly after the fires, just as the work of clearing paths, replacing garden edging, building bridges and spreading mulch over the 103-acre site began, disaster struck again. This time the cause was COVID-19, which limited access for staff and the scores of volunteers who were ready to jump in and help with the rebuild.
Months later, the people power has paid dividends: locals and visitors will soon be able to picnic, walk (some, not all) trails and enjoy the Botanic Garden’s peaceful landscape despite its fire-altered state.
“We just tried to take one step at a time,” says the Garden’s Horticulturist, Luke Cumming.
Cumming has tended to the Gardens for over six years. He says that while over 80 per cent of the planted displays were lost in the fires, the native bush has quickly demonstrated its capacity to bounce back.
“The regeneration of the natural bush has been spectacular,” he says.
The first species to recover have been some of the smaller ground covers and climbing plants.
“We are seeing good numbers of Brachyscome [a daisy], Scaevola aemula [Fairy Fan Flower], Brunoniella pumilio [Dwarf Blue Trumpet], Chrysocephalum apiculatum [Yellow Buttons], Commersonia hermaniifolia [trailing shrub] Arthropodium milleflorum [Vanilla Lily), Kennedia rubicunda [Dusky Coral Pea], and the climbing Hardenbergia violaceae,” says Luke.
Garden staff have also enjoyed observing the abundant germination of numerous local species of Eucalypt, Corymbia, Acacia and Hakea.
But the next blossoming Luke wants to see in the Botanic Gardens is of the human variety.
“It’s absolutely vital that people come back – it’s a community asset,” he says.
He’s not the only one feeling that way. Both locals and tourists are vocal about their love of these gardens. Some come for the walking tracks and picnicking opportunities; young families flock to the (still intact) play space; and locals share their knowledge of local plants by helping sell natives in the botanic garden plant shop. Meanwhile Tripadvisor overflows with reviews about the gardens as a peaceful (and free) alternative to local attractions or a break from the beach.
It’s hardly surprising then that over the last few months local community groups, Council teams and the large pool of longstanding volunteers all made it known they were keen to help with the rebuilding efforts.
“People have offered both to donate money and to get in and physically help,” Luke says. “The support that has poured in over the last few months has been overwhelming.”
Another silver lining has been the chance to rethink the gardens’ next thirty years.
“The garden is becoming a better place, and a stronger place with a much greater chance of future survival. Over time it will also become a more beautiful place as the fire has forced us to rethink the landscape by creating new sight lines and question the need for so many old fences. We now have the opportunity to plan and build vibrant new plant displays and facilities,” says Garden Manager, Michael Anlezark.
While visiting the gardens will still be the serene, rewarding experience it was pre-2020, Michael hopes visitors are understanding.
“Despite the huge recovery efforts we have put into the garden it is still a much damaged landscape that will take years to fully recover,” he says.
Nonetheless, as a place to explore, reflect and relax, there’s no doubt the Botanic Garden has much to offer while the rebuild continues.
“I’m really looking forward to having people come and allowing them to see firsthand what’s here,” says Luke.