I've wanted to learn more about Wittunga Botanic Garden for a while and last Tuesday was my chance to do so. We joined the Friends of the Botanic Gardens on a guided tour of this 13-hectare oasis in suburban Blackwood. Silja, our volunteer guide, met us at the Shepherds Hill Road car park at 10:30am and off we went after a brief introduction.
We headed towards the lake to see the newly planted grasses, sedges and rushes on the lake wall across from us. These plants were propagated from locally gathered seeds. It is hoped that as they grow they will not only supply food and shelter for a range of fauna but also help stabilise the land alongside the lake and clean its waters.
As we continued walking, Silja gave us a rundown on the history of the garden. Wittunga was originally a private home with extensive apple and pear orchards. It had been established by Edwin Ashby, a naturalist who often spoke publicly on the importance of Australian flora. He also developed a watering system that still influences how we sustainably care for native vegetation today. Bequeathed in 1965, the garden was opened to the public ten years later. Although not accessible, Ashby's original residence Wittunga House can easily be seen from the Terrace Beds.
Besides South African and Australian shrubs, the Terrace Beds is also home to one of the only remaining old fruit trees. The Japanese Persimmon has kind of a similar shape to an apple tree and produces fruit around the end of autumn when its leaves are falling off. We could see that the local wildlife has been feasting on these sweet and tangy orange-coloured fruits. Wished I could have some too!
On the other hand, the Kaffir Apple does not seem to be as popular. Native to South Africa, they are in season here throughout autumn. Their small round fruits have soft golden flesh which tastes somewhat like the starfruit I used to enjoy as a child back in Malaysia. But, apparently, the taste buds of local wildlife have not been tantalised by them.
We then went on to explore the collection of plants from Kangaroo Island and Fleurieu Peninsula. This collection includes the Daisy Bush, Blue Gum and Grey-Barked Eucalypts. Although just a remnant of the ecosystem, the Grey Box Woodland still provides natural habitat for our koalas to this day.
The two other flora worth seeing in autumn are Featherhead and Blood Lily. Covered with lots of hairy leaves, the Featherhead shrub looks rather attractive as it 'glows' in the sun. And, I really love the unique tongue-shaped leaves of the Blood Lily which, believe it or not, have been used to dress wounds in the past.
The guided tours are free and available every Tuesday except when the forecast is a maximum of 36 degrees or more. There is no need to book, just rock up at the Shepherds Hill Road car park at 10:30am. I learned quite a fair bit from this tour and would recommend it to anyone with the slightest interest in botany.