Blackheath Rhododendron Gardens

Words by
Georgina Reid
Images by
Daniel Shipp
| November 19, 2015

Some landscapes are weird. I don’t mean weird in a bad way, I like weird. In fact, I’m weird. Definitely weird. We all are, really. Some people are better at hiding it than others, that’s all. The landscape that prompted this line of inquiry into weirdness is the Campbell Rhododendron Gardens in Blackheath, in the Blue Mountains of NSW.

Hidden on the northern edge of the suburb, at the intersection between town and bushland, the garden meanders down the side of a hill into a small valley and then up the other side. It’s entirely surrounded by dense bush – tall Eucalypts, smaller Banksias, lots of grasses and the like. The proper people (ecologists etc) would classify it as a dry scleryphyll forest.

And then there’s the rhododendrons. Heaps of them. They huddle around the entry buildings, line the concrete pathways leading down into the gardens, their bright flowers popping against the stately gum tree trunks on the other side of the valley.

The garden covers around 18 hectares, and was started by the Blue Mountains Rhododendron Society, opening officially in the early 1970’s. It’s crown land, and one of the stipulations on agreeing for the society to use the land was that they retain as much of the natural bushland as possible, so the exotics are blended into the bush setting. It’s all rather curious and wonderful.

It’s curious because of the juxtaposition of plants – exotics like azaleas and rhododendrons evoke, in my mind at least, a garden style that’s English, green, pretty, and controlled. Not grey and wild, like this Australian bush setting. Somehow they work together though, primarily because there’s no attempt to make the space be anything other than what it is – and I guess this is what I mean by it being weird. Like a person who refuses to be anything other than themselves, it just is what it is – a bushland x exotica mash up.

The Campbell Rhododendron Garden is obviously well loved. It’s maintained by volunteers and there are many plaques at the bases of plants, dedicated to people who have been involved in the gardens. There are park benches scattered around, and a whole bunch of walking trails throughout the space. It’s a hidden, and strange, jewel. And well worth a visit.

We visited the garden in late September – before the Rhododendron’s were at their best. Drop by now if you really want to see the garden in its full glory.

Campbell Rhododendron Gardens
Bacchante Street
Blackheath NSW 2785
Open 10-4pm, 7 days a week