Those of us who garden and who love plants possess an extra gift when we travel to different continents.  Not only do we enjoy all of the wonderful experiences as we immerse ourselves into a new culture, we notice and are fascinated by all of the plant life we encounter.

I shared with you last summer what I saw and learned in Italy.  This summer I was in Australia, specifically the wonderful city of Sydney, and while it was winter in the land down under the flora was certainly not in dormancy!

One of the most exciting aspects of travel for me is seeing plants that I am familiar with in the horticulture business in their native habitat, or used in completely different settings.  I saw this in Italy, and I definitely experienced this in Sydney.

One of the very first plants I noticed was on the short train trip from the airport to Sydney’s Olympic Park, where our group of World Youth Day pilgrims spent our first night.  Magnolias were blooming in people’s gardens, the same magnolias that bloom in April in the Okanagan.  But, it was winter in Australia.

I was still trying to wrap my head around that one as we arrived at the Olympic Park.  During our first walkabout (I love that Aussie term) I quickly saw huge Washington palms, blooming Bird of Paradise plants used in public plantings, rosemary and French lavender in bloom and much more.

In our garden centre we sell gardenias, Rhapsis or Lady Palms and sanseverias as tropical houseplants.  In Sydney they were all used as we would use geraniums and pansies, massed together for effect.  My head was spinning and my camera was clicking, as I had anticipated seeing all kinds of new plants that I didn’t recognize but never dreamed I’d see so many “familiar faces.”

Clivias and agapanthus are two beautiful and sought after plants back home.  In Sydney they were commonly used in public places.  The agapanthus weren’t in bloom but the clivias were and they were breathtaking.  Click, click, click went the camera!

My plant identification skills were put to the test on several occasions as members of the group asked me what we were looking at.  I saw species of ficus, or fig trees in many locations, including Hyde Park, where massive trees line the central walk.  The date palms and the huge Norfolk pines were impressive too.

Again the fact it was winter had me confused.  The figs still had their leaves, while the Platanus (Plane) trees and several others, including the ornamental pears and Celtis, had lost theirs, because it’s winter.  Plus it was dark by six every evening, in July.

The five foot tall Crassula (Jade Plant) that I noticed blooming in several gardens used as flowering shrubs, had me clicking my camera shutter madly again, as did the poinsettias in full bloom in a couple of gardens.  It made sense, as their blooms are triggered by short day length and June 21 is the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere.

Even on the other side of the world Italy calls me it seems.  I simply had to visit the Italian district in Sydney, in a district known as Leichardt.  There were trattatorias and coffee bars aplenty and the familiar sound of the language but with an Australian accent.   But the best part was the grove of olive trees planted in the public park on the main street.

Sydney is a tremendous city, the Australians are so friendly and so much fun and the plant life is astounding.  There’s much more to experience next time, as the locals told me that the flora show in the other three seasons is even more amazing.

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