I’m really a country bumpkin at heart. Growing up surrounded by orchards, I love my trees, adore peace and quiet and have a particular aversion to endless concrete. But it has to be said, living in Sydney is starting to do things to me.
Less than three kilometres from the city centre, our house is surrounded by trees (proper, 30 metre trees), we have the beautiful harbour on our doorstep and significant, untouched, natural bushland, not to mention the idyllic Balmoral beach, right here in Mosman.
But we also have the Opera House, just a short ferry ride away; we can watch the Lion King and Jersey Boys at the theatre down the road and we are spoilt for choice with cafes and restaurants. And gradually, against my better judgement, I find myself subconsciously becoming a bit of a city snob.
And so when Paul suggested we visit the Ballarat Botanic Gardens, in rural Victoria, I actually found myself wondering if there might be an alternative activity for the afternoon. And I am hardly one to turn down a garden visit.
After some debate, Paul won and off we went. I spent the next two hours berating myself; the gardens were fantastic.
Yes, there were the usual bedding displays, but these were immaculate, thoughtful bedding displays.
Yes, there were the rose gardens, but these were the healthiest roses I have ever seen.
Yes, there were the token natives, but these were beautiful, well pruned, natives-that-make-you-want-to-get-right-out-and-plant-them-in-your-own-garden natives.
And there were also areas of genuine inspiration. Really intricately thought through, tasteful, skilful design. That told me.
The foxgloves flower spikes mirror the form of the birch trunks; the white petal margins tying perfectly with the white bark. The mass planting of both suggestive of a natural, cool temperate woodland.
Then there were the displays in the Conservatory, reserved for more tender plantings.
A mass of colour, but so much more than that; thoughtfully staged with enough foliage plants to really bring the colours to life.
These hanging baskets in the conservatory link the inside and outside environments, drawing you to the window to admire the view.
And I loved the colour-themed borders, with benches tucked away into the foliage; perfect for a spot to reflect and take everything in.
There were such wide ranging styles of planting, from the Victorian era gardenesque, to soft, contemporary perennial mixes and subtropical succulent displays.
The gardens even host 52 mature trees listed on the National Trust Significant Trees Register. This oak tree must be the largest, healthiest oak I have seen in Australia. It is really quite something, by any standards.
There are also seventeen 1880s marble statues in the garden along with bronze busts of all 27 former Australian prime ministers. Tony Abbott has yet to arrive but I had a fun (yes, really!) history lesson from Paul walking along the avenue.