Dunedin Rhododendron Festival - 1

 From the Dell in the Dunedin Botanic Gardens.
Botanical Rhododendron

Do I need my coat? No dear - this garden's got a microclimate. Ha! I am with a busload of wise women, and we are in Dunedin, New Zealand, for its famous Rhododendron Festival.

Actually there are three husbands in our tour party. Why are they here? Encouraging or controlling the plant purchases at the many small nurseries? Possibly they are GPs - that's short for Gardening Partners - and are busy writing lists of new rhododendrons to order and pay for when back home. Wow... I want one...

Where's Dunedin?

Dunedin is in the south of the south, as far as New Zealand goes, and is an area which generally gets bad weather press. As a consequence every open garden in the brochure defiantly claims a microclimate. This is further emphasised by each gardener we meet, who says something like this: 'oh yes, a microclimate - we're reasonably frost free - except for this past winter, when we lost all our Vireya rhododendrons...'

Weather Envy!

For me, a keen visitor who gardens in the Canterbury countryside (that's Canterbury New Zealand, remember), Dunedin's public relations campaign for its gardens needs only to mention two things. Microclimates may come, and microclimates may go, but no nasty hot dry winds blow here. And there is delightfully adequate rainfall. I'm so envious!

 Photographed at Larnach Castle Garden.
New Zealand Flax with Azalea

During out tour we visited very private gardens, semi-private gardens, public private gardens, and the very public Rhododendron Dell in the local Dunedin Botanic Gardens. These were really wonderful, planted in a gully with thick edgings of native bush.

Rhododendron Trees

So I spent three fun days walking underneath rhododendron trees, sweeping past hedges of flame coloured Azaleas, peering at lush green ground covers underneath flowering shrubs, and counting the number of ornamental maples that a good spring garden should have.

 White Chatham Island Forget-ne-nots.
Herewaka Garden Border

It's a density thing - one maple per five rhododendrons seems to work the best. And both the red and the green varieties. Flowering cherries are optional extras.

What Have I Done?

I've spied with my own eyes (and duly photographed) a double white trillium, while listening to southern bellbirds singing above in the trees. I've peered at the only stand of Rimu left on the Dunedin peninsula, and sat in the oldest wooden church in Otago.

 Listening to the tour guide at the Botanic Gardens.
Botanical Ladies

I've helped wobbly older ladies when the path was a little steep, and I've expertly taken the official group photograph. I've surprised some of the club members by actually knowing the names of plants like Heliohebe hulkeana, New Zealand lilac, a shrub with gracefully hanging lavender flowers. Ha!

 A beautiful double flowering Azalea.
Azalea at Herewaka Gardens

I've written down lots of scribbly words, munched stale lunch muffins, and gazed in awe at miles (or meters) of trimmed edges and acres (or hectares) of mown lawns. Oh dear! These Garden Club trips are heaps of fun, but just wait until I get home!