Far North Queensland Gardens – A Horticultural Respite – All in Our Own Backyard

By Annette Irish FAIH RH0008 (Photos: Annette Irish)

Once a year a horticultural respite trip is part of most avid gardener’s time table. 2020 Headlines: COVID19- Overseas, Australian garden events, most Interstate travel and Open gardens – cancelled or constrained. “Woe is me who loves to mix my travels with horticulture and garden tourism”.


Dilemma – Where to visit? When to travel?
Where’s the best weather in Australia in July?
Where can you travel with a few hours flying?

Answer ….. All in our own backyard! Far North Qld!


Itinerary – Michael Ferrero, international plant hunter, friend and local born Port Douglas horticulturist organised 9 private gardens, 5 nurseries, Flecker Botanic Gardens, Munro Martin Park, special Italian delis, Rusty’s food market and seaside park walks.

Accommodation – Horticulturally themed Lilypad Inn , owner Matt Mitchley, MAIH RH.

What Can You See That Compares With Any International or Australian Gardens?

South to the Cassowary Coast and Gordonvale Districts

Pat Pensini’s magnificent gardens at Sundown. Vandaceous Orchid garden reminiscent of SE Asia, swathes of aroids, orchids, Begonias, Philodendrons, palms, Crotons, rare flowering shrubs, flowering Tecomanthe plus Amherstia in flower with their pendulous fire engine red blooms. The list of species is extensive.


Left: Croton Right: Amherstia

Left: Croton Right: Amherstia

On to a Mirriwinni garden poised over tumbling waters of granite boulder Pugh Creek, Chris sells Heliconia flowers from her huge collector’s gardens… pity it was between seasons.

Overnight in Babinda Quarters, formally the historic nurse’s home and local landmark, The Quarters is a restored Art Deco guesthouse.

No garden tour is complete without a visit to a quirky garden that excites the senses. At Babinda, Colleen presents an intriguing Bawdy, Bold and Beautiful ‘Belgique’ tribute garden adorned with cheeky ornamentation.

Bev and Lyle Squires’ Little Mulgrave River garden is a collection of 80 Mangosteen, 50 Rambutans, rare palms and fabulous tropical plants.  Bev’s Mulgrave Gardens  is plant eye candy! Swathes of Cordylines, palms, Crotons, ferns, aroids, vertical wall, pavilion with ponds … makes a lovely venue for ‘weddings, parties … anything’.

At Deeral don’t miss a visit to Tropicolor Nursery owned by Robyn and Snow Ganley. Robyn’s reputation goes before her as one of Australia’s leading breeders of Crotons and Cordylines and a visit does not disappoint.

West to Atherton Tablelands. Picture opportunity in a Mareeba front garden, a huge Combretum falcatum, Central African native, then onto Mareeba Garden Centre to see what the locals grow.

Food time – Dino’s Deli Mareeba to shop for Italian antipasto, then picnic lunch in the historic town Yungaburra

Be stunned by street planting of the most beautiful Tibouchina mutabilis ‘Illusion’. The large flowers fade through five colours – white with deep lilac edge, purple to lilac to pinks at one time. Onward to Lakeside Garden Centre and Old Kulara Nursery for purchases of Combretum and a dwarf Ylang Ylang tree.

At Malanda a large perennial garden displays rarer Alstroemeria plus roses, Gerberas, Salvias, Carnations, Sweet William, Corn Flowers, Amaranthus, Chrysanthemum and Heliconias for the local flower market.

Time to head north past Mossman Gorge into Wyanbeel. Surrounded by the southern Daintree National Park are 2 acreage gardens of Wynne and Bruce Robinson and Liz and Mark Schoenwruck with collections of fruiting and flowering plants. Sat by Whyanbeel Creek the vistas from the gardens include towering plateaus, peaks and rugged slopes of the Main Coast Range. Wynne and Liz have aroid collections and tropicals for sale.

Back in Cairns visit to the Conservatory, Flecker Botanic Gardens is a must. A photographer’s kaleidoscope of cycads, dwarf palms, orchids, ferns, Begonias, aroids etc. Top off your visit with a Caramel malted milkshake in the Café Botanica.


Begonias at Flecker Gardens

Begonias at Flecker Gardens

Into Equatorial Exotics? …. Visit the Redlynch nursery owned by Arden and Chris, world renowned plant hunters. The extensive bush houses tempt you so take notes or you will forget what species you loved the most. An Erythrina collection challenges you to re-evaluate these stunning trees.

The Redlynch garden of Gary and Jen Tenni boasts beautiful scented, flowering trees. The gardens, designed by Anton Van der Schans, have many rare species on the terraced property and a number of ponds and arbours.

Melsonrock Nursery, run by Sekti, provide a plant candy shop experience to satiate your lust after visiting all the beautiful gardens.

Finally, if parks are of interest Munro Martin Park is part of the new cultural hub of Cairns. Its towering sweeping arbours of climbers, local heroes’ walk, amphitheatre and open stage area provides a cool community zone in central Cairns.

All in our own backyard.

Eight days in FNQ enjoying just a spattering of what the tropics has to offer reinforced it as a world leading landscape of astonishing beauty and biodiversity. Basking in glorious sunshine and light tropical breezes, FNQ guarantees horticultural experiences as good as any other regions’ gardens and

All in our own Australian backyard.


Annette Irish FAIH RH is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Horticulture and former President.


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Joy Shand-Culley

I loved your article. I know some of these gardens, but can always learn more. I deeply miss the Open Garden scheme, which I attended for years.
I now have a smallish garden, after achreage,and I love tropicals. Joy

Annette Irish

Thank you Joy, I think the idea that Qld has some beautiful gardens especially in Cairns is often overlooked and Covid has brought us back home to realise what we have in our own backyard. Cheers Annette

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