Spring is nearly here and that means it's time dig out your picnic basket, book a date at your favourite indoor-outdoor bar and go hunting for wildflowers. Even if you don't have time for a weekender in the Australian Alps, where, after the snows have melted, magical carpets of everlasting daisies, billy buttons and mountain eyebrights take over the slopes, you can get your blooming fill without straying too far from Sydney. In and around the city, there's a bunch of pretty gardens, national parks, reserves and nurseries specialising in wildflowers that burst into happy colours when the warm weather arrives.
KU-RING-GAI WILDFLOWER GARDEN, ST IVES
This 123-hectare refuge from the city is in St Ives, on the edge of Ku-Ring-Gai National Park, about 20 kilometres north of the CBD. If you need a break from absolutely everything, park yourself on the grass somewhere, kick back and relax. Alternatively, jam as many species as you can into your visit by conquering a bushwalk or two. There's a stroll for every type of walker, from the easy, 900-metre Senses Track to the two-kilometre Solander Trail, which takes in some of the garden's most striking flowers, as well as some stunning rock formations. A more strenuous adventure is the 4.5-kilometre Mueller Wilderness Path, along which you'll meet wallabies, crayfish, red gums, waterfalls and creeks. Entry is free and opening hours are 8am–5pm daily. This weekend is a good time to go — the Wildflower Art and Garden Festival is happening on August 27 from 9am.
Australian Botanic Gardens.
AUSTRALIAN BOTANIC GARDENS, MOUNT ANNAN
Pretty much every plant in the Australian Botanic Gardens' 416 hectares is a native that was grown from a wild seed or cutting. So that you can learn more about them — and to maximise their prettiness — they're sorted into themed gardens. In the Wattle Garden, you'll find more than 950 species of Acacia, dotted with shady Sydney blue gums. Meanwhile, the lush gully of the Banksia and Grevillea Gardens is home to grevilleas, waratahs, banksias, hakeas and rainforest plants, all frequently visited by nectar-feeding birds. The Australian Botanic Gardens are in Mount Annan, about 60 kilometres southwest of the CBD. They're open every day 8am–5pm in autumn, winter and spring, and 8am–7pm in summer. Entry is free.
Can't get to Mount Annan? Head to the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney's CBD, and aim for the Australian Native Rockery in the Lower Garden (Bennelong Precinct).
SYDNEY WILDFLOWER NURSERY, HEATHCOTE
Keen to create your own wildflower garden, so you can have the little beauties on tap? Get yourself to the Sydney Wildflower Nursery. This Sydney institution has been a 100 percent native plant specialist for over 40 years — these guys actually supply Mount Annan and the Joseph Banks Native Plant Reserve from time to time. A whopping 1200+ species are available and there's a specialised bush food section, including rosella, which makes excellent jam, hibiscus, which you can substitute for spinach, and tree ferns, which have edible stems. So, you can add to your kitchen garden while you're shopping for aesthetic purposes. Sydney Wildflower Nursery is at 9 Veno Street, Heathcote, about 40 kilometres south of Sydney CBD. Opening hours are 9am–5pm, seven days a week.
Bjørn Christian Tørrissen.
JOSEPH BANKS NATIVE PLANT RESERVE, KAREELA
Sutherland Shire Council created this reserve in 1969, to honour Joseph Banks, the botanist who travelled with Captain James Cook on his first voyage to Australia, taking in Brazil, Tahiti and New Zealand along the way. Among the landscaped garden's 2.2 hectares of sandstone, there are banksias (of course), grevilleas, lilly pillies and acacias, as well as areas dedicated to bush tucker and medicinal plants. Four kilometres of paved walking paths let you explore them all on foot. Joseph Banks Native Plant Reserve is 23 kilometres south of the Sydney CBD. Opening hours are 9am–5pm daily, except Good Friday and Christmas Day.