The Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens are a trip around the world, from the cactus of the Mexican desert to exotic Japanese bonsai and the orchids of steamy Asia.
Less than 7km from the CBD at Toowong, it is a totally different world, one where ducks bob on a lagoon of lilypads, bunches of bamboo reach for the sky and streams tinkle over rocks in a rainforest.
And you don’t have to been a botanist to appreciate the beauty and peace of walking one of the many paths winding under the shadow of big trees, past lawns, exotic plants and water features or sitting beside a waterfall.
On a warm (hot) summer’s day, it is a cool retreat unless heading into the steamy Tropical Dome to see rare fungi, shrubs and small trees growing around a central pond with water plants. All of them are from the tropics and wouldn’t normally grow in Brisbane.
The children’s trail is fun and not just for the kids. A big weeping fig hides animals to spot in, on and under its branches – fruit bats hanging from a branch, a scorpion on a leaf canopy.
There’s a log that’s home to tiny native bees along with a sculpted enlargement and a sign explaining what they’re up to.
A seat shaped like a king fern promises to “make the forest sing”. More fun than sitting in it is tapping out a tune with your fingertips or using the mallet to play a rising scale following the numbers.
On my first visit way too long ago, I was impressed by the big sandstone rose at the front. It explains that “under the rose” is a symbol of secrecy dating to the middle ages when a rose would be suspended from the ceiling of the council chamber and all under the rose pledged to secrecy.
(For trivia buffs, there’s a suggestion the plaster ceiling rose may have started this way.)
After wandering around astounded that such an amazing and diverse sanctuary had been under my nose, I vowed to get back soon. Naturally, it took visitors to actually make that happen.
First there were the young people from Finland and then the not-so-young Londoners, all within the space of a fortnight, so I could see it all again through their eyes – the lizards, birds, waterways and forest – and marvel at what a beautiful and photogenic spot it is.
The Londoners were impressed that, unlike Kew Gardens, there is no entrance fee.
And each time I have returned, I have spotted something new – a crocodile’s head peaking out of a lagoon (not a real one thankfully), dragon flies hovering over the water, fragrant plants, kitchen and herb garden, (did you know Ylang Ylang is a key ingredient of Chanel No. 5 and got its name from a young beauty of Indonesian legend?) bonsai house, arid and temperate zones, an the Australian plant communities.
Statistically, the Mount Coot-tha Gardens cover 56ha, and have more than 20,000plants representing 5000 species from around the world
They were founded in 1970 after floods swept through the original City Botanic Gardens damaging valuable plant collections and are now recognised as Australia’s premier subtropical botanic gardens.
Open daily 8am-5.30pm (5pm April-August) handy to the city at Toowong