Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden near Burnie in the state’s north west is a public garden in search of love and appreciation writes Jennifer Stackhouse.
The 11-hectare Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden (EVRG) was established 41 years ago by members of the Australian Rhododendron Society (North West Tasmanian Branch). The first planting was a magnificent, yellow-flowered rhododendron called ‘Golden Dream’. The plant is still going strong says volunteer General Manager, Geoff Wood, but the golden dream of those original founding members of EVRG has become a little tarnished as the garden continues to struggle for both recognition and funding.
The garden is a major tourist attraction in the north west yet it has failed to get the recognition it deserves from major bodies such as Tourism Tasmania says Geoff. The garden has a lot to offer – not just spring blossoms. While it was seen as a woodland garden planted to showcase rhododendrons by those founders, who were rhododendron enthusiasts, it is now much more. It is worth visiting at any time of the year as it has collections of trees including maples and flowering cherries, massed wisteria, water features, garden buildings including a Japanese-style tea house, art works, shaded walks and a tearoom with views across the garden. Indeed, there are more than 24,000 plants in the garden including rhododendrons.
EVRG is building a reputation as a function and wedding venue, welcomes visitors of all ages and is updating its database so its valuable collection of plants can be easily located through electronic tagging.
Renovations scheduled for 2023 will see its kitchen updated and additions that will incorporate a gift shop.
The garden relies heavily on volunteers and has only one full time employee, its Horticultural Manager, a part-time administrator and two casual gardeners. Other major roles including General Manager and Function Coordinator are voluntary. Geoff is standing down from his voluntary role in 2023 and is unsure who will replace him. He currently works at least 30 hours a week for the love of the garden.
How can we help?
EVRG operates on entrance takings (admission for adults is $15 or concession $13), earnings from functions including weddings and grants for special projects. They are not able to seek grants to pay staff however and Geoff feels the garden is desperately in need of more full-time employees.
One lucrative source of income was from tourist ships berthing at Burnie as these provided visitors through the summer months. The two-year hiatus on cruise ships visiting Tasmania during COVID has seen tourist numbers plumet dramatically since March 2020.
Geoff wants is more people, including Australian Garden History Society members, to put Emu Valley Rhododendron Gardens on their radars and to visit or become a Friend of the EVRG. He’d also like to build relationships with like-minded organisations and has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Garden. And if anyone wants to volunteer to work in the garden or help in anyway don’t hesitate to get in touch on 0427 722 060.
Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden is at 55 Breffny Road, Romaine (just a 10-minute drive from Burnie) and is open 10am-4pm daily (except Christmas Day and Good Friday). Peak flowering of rhododendrons is from September to November while autumn colour peaks from May to June however the garden is worth a visit in any season. Admission is $15 (adults) or $10 (concession). Children under 16 free. For more information see www.emuvalleyrhodo.com. Phone (03) 6433 1805.