Three times in the past few days I have walked outside into the open and noticed wattle perfume in the air. Each time I've looked around and nary an acacia could I see. Perfume from invisible wattles is so quintessentially Australian - don't you think? I remember it from my childhood in WA. We lived in an area with 60 different species of wattles, all flowering late winter and early spring and many throwing their perfume, almost literally, for miles.

I believe the Wurundjeri people know the Silver Wattle as the 'Muyan' and its blossom represents the change of season from winter to spring. For me the very small clusters of wattle petals amassed in the bush, is a sure sign of longer days to come and opportunity to get out and enjoy the outdoors.

Walking over the former Olinda golf course last week wattle perfume was drifting up from the National Rhododendron Gardens and I noticed the first of the big Rhododendrons flowering. Checking with long-time Rhododendron grower, Rod Boulter, he tells me this is R. Auguste van Geert. One sees Auguste everywhere in the hills of the Dandenong Ranges, something to do with its colour I expect: a flaming puce-pink heading to purple. R. Auguste van Geert stands and shouts from the rooftops against the green bushland of its surrounds. It also grows big and smothers itself with flower. The huge old specimens on the golf course can be seen for miles and is a favourite amongst visitors for photos.

Walking around the golf course has become the thing to do in recent times. A year or two back the golfers gave up on the golf course. Playing golf on the edge of a mountain always was problematical, balls forever rolling off down into the forest never to be seen again. So the golfers upped and went elsewhere and it took a while for dog walkers to spot their opportunity, but now the place is busy with them. While Parks Victoria determine what the future use of this site will be, dog walkers from all over seemed to have gazumped them and are staking their claim for this great spot to get outdoors. There were at least 30 dogs and their hangers-on enjoying themselves while I was strolling through the other day with Tillie (my Border Terrier see pictured). Mind you, I don't think it's compulsory to have a dog to enjoy the walk. I'm fairly sure non-dog people are also welcome to admire the mountain views.

Tilly at Cloudehill

The golf course is next to the National Rhododendron Gardens. I'd managed to go quite a while without visiting the Rhodie Gardens despite walking past on my way to work every day for yonks. However, last Spring (the last weekend in September to be precise) intrigued by the tremendous increase in the numbers visiting, I popped in for a stroll and was completely bowled over by, on one hand, the very substantial crowd, on the other, the sheer quality of the gardening to be seen.

I understand from speaking to those in the know, and perhaps also from some of those who don't (speculation and rumour is always alive in the hills), that there was a time where the custodians of the Rhodo Gardens – Parks Victoria were not all that happy about looking after thousands of upstart Rhododendrons. Their role was  conserving and protecting environmentally vital and ecologically important stretches of mountain side and coastline across the State.

Luckily for all of us, their survey investigations into this only proved that there are a number of extraordinarily rare and endangered Rhododendrons growing happily in the gardens here in Olinda. These species were originally planted by very knowledgeable and highly energetic nurserymen and enthusiasts in the 1960s and 1970s. Indeed it seems a few plants are so rare that they are on the verge of extinction in the wild.

This is collection of world significance and deserves to be cared for properly. At this point I must say is hats off to Parks Victoria for the job they do in treating this asset with such respect. They a have a great team who have lifted the maintenance standard to a level the collection deserves. So, come along and see the fruits of their work. The Rhododendrons of the National Rhododendron Gardens are blooming now and they will be putting on their usual springtime extravaganza all the way through to mid-November.

The National Rhododendron Gardens is yet just one of many amazing Cool Climate Gardens open to the public in Melbourne's Dandenong Ranges.

Jeremy Francis is the owner and curator of Cloudehill Garden and Nursery one of the Dandenong Ranges top Cool Climate Gardens that attracts visitors year round.  

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