The stunning Hunter Valley Gardens in New South Wales takes Alan Teh Leam Seng figuratively to different regions of the world

“ONCE upon a time, there lived .....” I could almost hear the words as I set foot inside Hunter Valley Gardens, a family-oriented park in the middle of Hunter Valley town, about two hours’ drive from Sydney.

Almost immediately, characters from tales such as Alice In Wonderland and Cinderella come to mind, transporting me back to the days when life was much simpler and carefree.


The Storybook Garden gives visitors an opportunity to step back in time and relive their childhood memories.

The park also has numerous larger-than-life characters from nursery rhymes such as the Mad Hatter, Jack ‘n’ Jill, Little Bo Peep and Wee Willie Winkle.

If I am this excited, imagine how the little ones will feel at the sight of the spectacular murals at every corner? Each offers excellent photo opportunities for the whole family! Among the favourites are Humpty Dumpty and Little Bo Peep.

PARK OF SUPERLATIVES

The park comprises 10 individually-themed sections that showcase not only gardens from around the world but also native and exotic plant varieties.

Visitors should spend at least half a day here. Things are definitely done in superlatives at the park. It has 8km of walking paths winding through 12 hectares of gardens consisting of over 6,000 trees, 600,000 shrubs and over a million ground cover plants.

Together with its cascading waterfalls, thought-invoking statues and eye-catching murals, Hunter Valley Gardens embodies nature at its best.

The Hunter Valley Gardens Train is a good option for those who want to see the entire place without breaking into a sweat.


The train service starts at 9am and runs on an hourly basis

The 35-minute tour includes live commentary that delves deep into the unique history and development of the place.

Bill and Imelda Roche, founders of Hunter Valley Gardens and self-professed nature lovers, embarked on a mission to bring the place back to life in 1999.

Bill had always wanted to build a garden that would not only be enjoyed by generations to come but also be a source of inspiration and joy for all. Upon retirement, he decided that the time was right to turn his vision into reality.

Together with a team of talented and passionate people including landscape gardeners, architects and engineers, Bill worked on his dream for more than four years.

Hunter Valley Gardens opened its doors to the public in October 2003, with more than 300,000 people visiting the gardens annually.

GARDEN TO GARDEN

Moving from one themed garden to another is akin to visiting different regions of the world.

I am amazed by the different sights, colours and smell that greet me at every turn.

My senses are heightened by the 35,000 rose bushes at the Rose Garden, which is enclosed by four stunning pergolas.

Built in the shape of a corkscrew in honour of the surrounding Hunter Valley vineyards, this section gives an unparalleled view of the 150 different varieties of blooms growing here. Among them are the rare Double Delight, Charles De-Gaulle and Blue Moon.

There are 13 beautiful bronze statues of Imelda Roche and her 12 grandchildren at the heart of the Rose Garden. The sculptures remind me of the beautiful bond between grandmothers and their grandchildren.

Next, I venture into Sunken Garden which has an array of evergreen and deciduous trees as well as smaller shrubs. The highlights here are the majestic 10-metre high waterfall and the garden beds which set the surroundings ablaze with a magnificent display of colours. The best views are from the pergola lookout at the top of the waterfall.

The statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment, greets me at the Italian Grotto. Coupled with the fragrances from lemon, orange and olive trees as well as the colourful blooms from the red bougainvilleas and pink wisterias, this place evokes feelings of a lush Mediterranean garden.

From the top of the Italian Grotto, I can see neighbouring Oriental Garden. Even from a distance, I can feel the harmony, balance and serenity of this place which is heavily influenced by famous Japanese and Korean gardens.

The garden is nicely manicured with natural curves that help promote energy flow.

The main feature at the Oriental Garden is the two-storey traditional Japanese pagoda which sits on a clear pond filled with colourful koi fish.

The slow growing and maintenance-free Korean velvet grass grows around rocks and pavers to create the effect of a finely-textured lawn. It is said to be the largest planting of such a grass in Australia.

Having the Chinese Garden right next door allows visitors to gauge the fine distinction between the two similar designs.

I like the way the green Chinese slate pathway builds up to the traditional Moon Gate which is flanked by two bronze statues of lions, serving as guardians to the entrance.

The incorporation of traditional elements such as rugged rocks, raked decorative gravels and slow-growing grass gives the Chinese Garden a very tranquil setting.

I am tempted to sit under the shade of the fruiting orange grove and indulge in a mini meditation session.

MAKING A WISH

A short walk brings me to the 160-year-old Indian gates. Instead of lions, these are guarded by a pair of sculptured bronze elephants.

I follow the footpath which leads to a stunning mosaic of ground covering plants and pebbles resembling a gigantic chessboard. Standing beside it makes me feel like I am part of a very large chess set.

I also like the contemporary garden design in this Indian Garden propagated with various curry plants that fill the air with their aromatic and spicy scents.

The Indian Tea House is a good place to take a breather. Finely crafted with traditional Indian embellishments and carvings, it reminds me of the days when the British ruled the Indian subcontinent and the Maharajas indulged in their luxuries.

Several hand-carved Indian marble water features and statues smoothen the transition from Asia to Europe when I move to the neighbouring Border Garden.

Representing the four seasons of the year, these fountains successfully evoke feelings of romance and elegance.

The best ways to appreciate this garden is to either stroll along its meandering pathways or simply sit and enjoy a stunning bird’s eye view of the area from the viewing platform.

One thing’s for sure — the intricate floral patterns contained within the well manicured box hedging clearly reflects the classic French Parterre garden style.

The Border Garden, constructed on a level surface, consists of planting beds arranged in symmetrical patterns and separated by smooth gravel pathways.

Together, the different types of flowers in each of these compartments produce a stunning effect. Look out for the intertwining hedges of weeping figs. The industrious gardeners here have managed to create many interesting shapes from these native Australian plants.


The waterways in the Lakes Walk section is indeed a sight to behold

My next stop, the Formal Garden, is the largest of its type in Australia. Influenced by French and English designs, this garden is at its best in autumn when the Manchurian pear trees produce a dazzling array of beautiful white flowers and dramatic bronze foliage.

Before heading off to my final destination, I spend some time at the wishing fountain. Many visitors cast coins into the pool, solemnly hoping that their wish will be fulfilled.

I end my visit at one of the most scenic spots in the Hunter Valley Gardens. The waterways in the Lakes Walk section is indeed a sight to behold. I feel guilty for rushing through this place.

Nevertheless, sights of the stunning Hunter Valley Gardens Chapel and the Lakes Rotunda will remain etched in the deep recesses of my mind.

At the exit, I make a promise to return to see the place bathed in the glorious colours of spring. Perhaps I will be able to attend the annual horticultural talks and festivals that have become the focus for aspiring gardeners from as far away as Sydney, Newcastle and other places in New SThe garden beds set the Sunken Garden ablaze with their magnificent display of coloursouth Wales.

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