A woman & her baby having a quiet moment in the Camellia Gardens.

A woman & her baby having a quiet moment in the Camellia Gardens.  Look how green & alive it is.

Last weekend some friends took us to the EG Waterhouse National Camellia Garden in Caringbah.  I didn’t know what to expect, except that there was a café & gardens.  What I found was a nature wonderland – definitely in the top 5 of any garden/park I have visited in Sydney.

I have been undergoing a real education lately about the nurseries, gardens & ‘parks’ that are owned by Local Councils across Sydney.  Some of them have been incredibly good.  The Camellia Gardens are not to be missed if you like being in nature & they are entirely appropriate for kids.

They were a project under the 1970 Captain Cook Bicentenary program.  I was told that the area was not much back then & that local residents lobbied Sutherland Council to start a garden on this site.

These little pockets were exquisite.

These little pockets were exquisite.

According to the Sutherland Shire Council’s website, the first plantings happened in 1969. “The gardens are named after the late Professor EG Waterhouse, a leading world authority on camellias, who lived in Sydney. The garden has grown over the years into its present beauty, in part due to the generous donations by numerous groups and individuals.”

The Camellia Gardens overlook Yowie Bay & access to the bay & Kareena Park are from the bottom car park at the end of Kareena Avenue.

Parking was a breeze. There are two car parks – one at the top of the gardens on President Road & another at the bottom of Kareena Road.  Kareena Park is next on my list of places to visit.  If you are feeling energetic, you could combine both on the one trip.

How to describe E.G. Waterhouse National Camellia Garden?  Sublime.  Perfect.  These are not words I use lightly.  From the top entrance you walk through gates into a wide path & are greeted with a verdant green lawn to your left & a very large tree with a cluster of park benches under the canopy.    To your right is landscaping; masses of plants & flowers & trees offering an introduction to what is coming behind a wall of trees in front of you.

The Tea House - pefect in this setting

The Tea House – perfect in this setting

If you turn right you go to the Tea House.  This is a delightful Japanese-style Tea House where you can order tea or coffee, have lunch or simply cake or ice-cream.  It is a good place to stop first so you can buy a couple of bags of pellets to feed the ducks.  At 60 cents a bag, every person will want one.  The ducks live further into the garden though they are free to wander where they like.

Behind the Tea House there is a children’s playground & toilets.  I thought this a smart idea to combine the playground with the restaurant.  The playground was full when we went, yet you could not hear the kids when inside the restaurant.  There is another children’s playground at the bottom of the gardens.

In my opinion the real children’s playground are the gardens themselves.  There is so much for children to see & much would be wondrous in a child’s eyes.  Recent research has shown that children gain immensely from being in nature.  You can find a playground in any suburb, but there are very few places like the Camellia Gardens.  Did I mention that entry is free?

Coleus border adding colour to a pathway.  There were many flowers all through the gardens.

Coleus border adding colour to a pathway. There were many flowers all through the gardens.

We had lunch at the Tea House & the food was fresh & delicious.  The restaurant was full to bursting so it may be wise to make a booking.  There are wide expanses of waist height to ceiling windows connecting you to the greenery outside.

Then we went to explore the Gardens.  Most of the gardens are raised beside the brick & stone paths.  A waterfall follows the path down the hill so the air is filled with negative ions & the sound of rushing water.  There are giant birds nest ferns, flowers in blooms, bromeliads & ferns.  Being the Camellia Gardens they have many Camellias & these flower during the year. Many plants have labels.  There were trees & plants I’d never seen before, such as Podocarpus totara & Felt plant (Kalanchoe beharensis).  There are hundreds of trees, both Australian & exotic.  Many of the trees have a bird or possum box attached.

There is also a scented garden where leaves can be rubbed to emit their perfume.  At times a path opens into grassed areas that look like exotic gardens of the extremely wealthy.  The garden beds & trees around invite you to explore & naturally there is lots of insects & other wildlife to be found.

Gradually, through meandering paths you come to a stop.  Below is a stream with a sandstone bottom & this is the home of resident ducks & one perfectly white goose.  Start tossing pellets to the ducks & the water becomes a boiling pool of ducks vying for the food.  It’s beautiful to watch & also fantastic fun.

Memorial pagoda & seating near the stream.

Memorial pagoda & seating near the stream. This is a lovely cool place to sit.

This area has a pagoda & many wrought iron & wood benches for people to sit in the dappled shade & watch the wildlife.  Both the pagoda & park benches are memorials to loved ones & each has a small brass plaque with their name engraved.  The area surrounding the stream is like a jungle.  Everywhere you look there are trees & a thick understorey. Sandstone boulders are all over the gardens & look impressive.

The set-up is safe for the birds as no one can get too close & be able to hurt them.  Across the creek is a ramp where the birds can walk up to the people, but they decide how close, not the people.  I was impressed with this regard for the safety of the wildlife.

Follow the path to the bottom of the garden & you come into a manicured rose garden & the second children’s playground. It’s a beautiful area with many large trees.  We got caught in a heavy downpour so stood under an Oak tree with branches that cascaded to the ground.  A duck joined us, sitting next to a Scribbly gum.  It is not one tree & then another a few metres away in a military lineup in this park.  Trees grow & are planted in close proximity to each other & the visual effect is wonderful.

Personally I think the Camellia Gardens is a perfect place.  It is astoundingly beautiful. Rather than looking tired or outdated because it was created in 1970, it benefits greatly by the older trees & the many plants that appear to be decades old.  I wouldn’t change a thing, except perhaps add more greenery to the upper playground.

The landscaping changes as you wander through the gardens.

The landscaping changes as you wander through the gardens.

Three full-time gardeners keep everything looking its best.  The gardens are peaceful & full of wildlife.  Although it sounds like it is a steep slope, it isn’t because of the way the paths are directed.  Much of the gardens are suitable for wheelchairs & apparently many local nursing homes bring their residents to visit.  I can understand why.  There are also accessible toilets in the lower end of the gardens.

Many people hold weddings, christenings & other ceremonies in the gardens.  Space is booked through Sutherland Shire Council.

I was pleasantly surprised that the gardens do not look artificial, they are not sparsely planted & they do not have the feel of a theme park. They are designed to be just like nature.  Sutherland Shire Council should be very proud of this place.

The Gardens are open all year except for Good Friday, Christmas Day & Boxing Day.  From Monday to Friday: 9am – 4pm. Weekends: 9.30am – 5pm & until 6pm during daylight saving time.   Entry is free.    At around 30-minutes travelling time from Marrickville it is well worth the visit.

You can find out more & download a map of the gardens here – http://www.sutherlandshire.nsw.gov.au/Recreation/Parks/Camellia_Gardens_Caringbah_South

One of the bridges with flowering Bromeliads in the foreground

One of the bridges with flowering Bromeliads in the foreground

There are all kinds of trees throughout the garden.  Most of them are of significant size.

There are all kinds of trees throughout the garden. Most of them are of significant size.

Showing part of the duck stream with cascading branches.

Showing part of the duck stream with cascading branches.