Chocolate & Spice

chocolate, spice and the other pleasures in life

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Tea and Camellias

Did you know that tea is made from the newly-sprouted leaves of the camellia plant? I didn't, not until I took a guided walk at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne a couple of weeks ago. Earlier that week, I had gone on another guided walk on herbs and spices and found it such an interesting way to see and learn more about the RBG that I had signed up for this walk immediately after.

The RBG is very much part of my routine here in Melbourne, being only 5 minutes walk from our apartment. A few times a week, I walk the "Tan" as part of my exercise regime and A and I jog/walk the same route on weekends too. Quite often on sunny days, I take a book, some cookies or a sandwich and make my way to my favourite spot overlooking the central lake for a pleasant afternoon. The RBG is an ideal place to daydream, to smell the flowers (literally), to relax and to rejuvenate in peace and quiet, having over 36 hectares of sprawling grounds. Solitude is readily available to those who seek it. But the sheer enormity of the grounds of the RBG made me realise that too many nooks and crannies lay unexplored so it seemed like a good time as any to sign up for some of their guided walks.

The Friday for the camellia walk dawned grey, wet and cold, having rained continuously the day before up to early that morning. I wasn't sure the walk would still continue but right about 9:30a.m., the sun made an appearance and I decided to make my way down.

Assembling at the RBG's Visitor Centre, our group (comprising mostly retirees and visitors to Melbourne) were greeted by our volunteer guide, Jenny, who has been in charge of the camellias in the RBG since she started volunteering in 1991. That made her somewhat of an expert on camellias as was evident from her detailed knowledge shown throughout the walk. Jenny started our walk with a display of camellia flowers in the foyer and gave us a short history of the camellia and the various species. If you look closely at the photos in this post, you'll see that camellias come in all shapes, sizes and colours.

Camellia x Williamsi "Hari Withers"

Setting out on our walk, Jenny took us around the camellia displays in the gardens, including some areas not usually accessible to the public (one of the perks of going on these walks) and entertained us with trivia about some of the different varieties. Like the orchids in Singapore's Botanic Gardens, some of the camellias had been named for important personages, although not all of these personages quite took to the particular camellia named after them! Lasting 2 hours and ending with a steaming cup of tea at the RBG's Tea Rooms, the RBG guided tour was truly an enjoyable way to spend a Friday morning and meet people.

Camellia reticulata "Sir Eric Pearse" (named after a Channel 9 newsreader)

If you find yourself in Melbourne some day, do stop by the RBG as part of the many places to visit. Volunteer guides at the RBG conduct twice daily (non-themed) walks around the gardens as well as themed walks, usually according to the seasons, such as the upcoming "Walk on the wildside" (1, 7 and 29 October) to view the wildlife in the RBG. There is also the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne, a division of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, located about 50 minutes from Melbourne, which highlights the natural flora and fauna of the Western Port and Port Philip Bay regions and where the award-winning Australian Garden is located. For more information on the fees and dates of guided tours, do check out the RBG's very informative website.

Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne
Birdwood Avenue
South Yarra Victoria
Australia 3141
Tel: (03) 9252 2300



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