Day Trip: National Rhododendron Gardens, Olinda

Words by
Georgina Reid
Images by
Jessica Grilli
| November 22, 2016

Rhodora! If the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky
Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing
Then Beauty is it’s own excuse for being.

Rhododendrons have captivated humans, like American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, for thousands of years. The name originates from ancient Greek and means rose tree (‘Rhodo’ means rose, and ‘Dendron’ means tree). Consisting of just over 1000 species, the genus was first described by Carl Linnaeus in his Species Plantarum in 1753. They’re an incredibly diverse genus – Rhododendrons grow in the cool highlands of Nepal and China, the Appalachian mountains in the USA, and the tropical rainforests of North Queensland.

People love rhododendrons, of course. Any plant that transforms itself in spring with an overabundance of huge flowers in all the shades of pink, purple, red and white will always be a crowd pleaser.

What I love about plants that are loved like this are the human structures that pop up around them. First comes the society, in this case the Australian Rhododendron Society, and secondly, the garden. Anyone for a visit to the National Rhododendron Gardens in Olinda?

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Nestled amongst the tall mountain ash forests of the Dandenong ranges in the small town of Olinda, the National Rhododendron Gardens is the place to go if you are interested in ‘rhodos’, as those in the biz call them.

With around 40 hectares of parkland and planting, the gardens were opened in 1961, after the Victorian government granted the Australian Rhododendron Society a lease of land in 1960. Society members propagated many of the early plantings from their own personal gardens; the collection has grown over the years through the donation of seeds and plant material from international rhododendron societies and plant hunting trips to India, Nepal and New Guinea.

Nowadays, the garden is a much loved day-trip destination for Melbourne city dwellers looking for a nature injection on the weekend.

It also features much more than rhododendrons, as you’ll see in the accompanying images. There’s a daffodil walk, cherry blossom avenue, thousands of azaleas and rhododendrons, native rainforest walking trails, plenty of South African flora such as proteas and leucadedrons, and much more.

Pack a picnic, grab a friend, and escape to the hills for a day of plant love!

National Rhododendron Gardens
Open every day except Christmas
10am – 5pm (last entry 4:30pm)
The Georgian Road, Olinda
Free entry

If you need MORE plant when you’re up there, check out Little Lands terrarium store in Olinda, visit Cloudehill Garden, and take a stroll down Sherbrooke Falls Trail. Head home tired, happy, and full to the brim of green. 

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The Rhodora
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1839

In May, when seawinds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals, fallen in the pool,
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! If the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
Then Beauty is its own excuse for being:
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask, I never knew:
But, in my simple ignorance, suppose
The selfsame Power that brought me there, brought you.

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