Tuesday, 3 March 2015

A surprise - beautiful Begonias

On a recent trip to Daylesford in Victoria's Spa country we visited the spectacular Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens in order to have lunch at Wombat Hill House the cafe run by renowned two-hatted chef Alla Wolf Tasker (she of The Lake House at Daylesford fame). What a lovely adventure it was. The cafe was charming and the food delicious as one would expect. And the setting was lovely. We sat in the cafe garden and if I closed my eyes and dreamt I could have been in Italy or the South of France. Gravel underfoot, lovely quirky tables and the lushest of lush herb gardens made it the perfect setting on a lovely late summers day. 
A lovely outside garden - I could have been in Europe!
Yes I know - too dark - sorry -  but the inside of the cafe is quirky and interesting
The wonderfully named Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens are a delight with some magnificent old trees and plantings as well as lush green lawns - what a cool delight on hot day. You have a birds-eye-view of Daylesford and the surrounding countryside. 
Lovely Wombat Botanic Gardens
But it was a hothouse of begonias that really 'blew me away'. I must say I have never had much time for the old fashioned begonia. They kindled up images of little old ladies and gents potting their plants in the 'fernery'. But these were just amazing. It made me want to visit the Ballarat Begonia Festival which just happens to be on this weekend (7-9 March 2015). 
The Alf Headland Conservatory - what a sight to come upon
And so a little history. In 1690, Charles Plumier, a Franciscan Monk and botanist, discovered 6 new plants in the West Indies. He dedicated the new genus to his patron, Michel Bergon, who had a strong interest in botany, and was at that time Governor of Haiti in the Antilles. (I bet you didn't know that!)
Beautiful Begonias
The Wombat Botanic Garden collection was started by W. Gascoine, Curator from 1885 - 89 - a Frenchman and experienced horticulturist, who grew tuberous begonias in the Conservatory. The plants were grown again in the 1930's in a new glasshouse. The curator Bill Greville obtained 45 plants from the Ballarat City Council and 30 from Queens Park in Essendon and soon had 250 tubers including a 'lost' one named Daylesford. When Alf Headland was appointed part-time caretaker in 1956 he found tubers in the woodshed. He became an expert in their cultivation. The Conservatory is named after him.   
Gorgeous colours
They look like full blown roses
Sometimes in life one happens upon a lovely surprise. Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens, Wombat Hill House and the amazing Begonias on display was one of those happenstance surprises. So take a drive to Daylesford and spend some time at the Wombat Botanic Gardens, have lunch in the cafe and press your nose to the glass in the Conservatory hothouse - just go between March and May (although I went in February!)

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