Cooler days are finally here, which makes it the perfect time to pull on the boots and get outdoors for some crisp autumn air. There's lots to see and do in the National Trust (NSW) gardens this time of year, including nature trails, wildlife spotting, and bursts of spectacular foliage.
April and May are stunning months for watching the leaves turn, exploring new places and discovering flowers and funghi thriving in the garden. Here are some ideas for making the most of autumn at National Trust gardens and events across NSW. Make sure to check opening hours before planning your day.
Spectacular garden walks
For full blazing autumn glory, visit the picturesque grounds of Retford Park in Bowral. There are Japanese maples on the eastern lawn, taxodium, ginkgo, and oaks in shades of fiery reds and golden yellows, plus the iconic David Wilkinson’s Millennium Canal. The canal was built to mark the year 2000 and intentionally planted with trees that turn bright red and reflect in the water, making it a perfect spot for photos.
Heading the other way, towards the Blue Mountains, is Everglades House & Gardens in Leura. This unique Art Deco house has lots of gracefully designed gardens to explore, and the colours are spectacular – deciduous maple, oak, witch hazel, cherry, birch and ash trees are all alight, while drifts of Japanese windflowers can be found in the leafy carpet. Stroll through the Lilac Terrace, the Wisteria and Conifer Walks, then down to the lookout for a dramatic bushland gully vista.
If you like your walks more twisty, Harper’s Mansion in Berrima is home to one of Australia’s largest hedge mazes. While the maze is perennially green, the Woodland Walk is glowing with colour, plus there are garden beds bursting with autumn fruits, vegetables and herbs to admire.
Heritage Festival highlights
From 10 April to 14 May, 150 heritage-inspired events are happening right across NSW as part of the Australian Heritage Festival. For outdoor events that combine history and autumn at its best, try the Autumn House and Garden Inspections in the Southern Highlands – a self-driven tour that explores three stunning private properties in the Wingecarribee Shire. There’s also a Sketching from Nature workshop at Everglades House & Gardens, where local artist Faye Wilson leads half- and full-day sketching workshops in a stunning heritage garden. And if walking, talking and getting whisked back in time are more your thing, try a festival walking tour in Balmain, or in the pretty village of Tilba. Heading west, this is also a magical time in Bathurst with the Autumn Colours Heritage Festival – soak up the colours and join a festival walking tour of Keppel Street to hear the fascinating stories behind the homes and gardens of past and present Bathurst.
Flower, fruit and funghi spotting
The change in season brings new plants to spot, and historic Riversdale in Goulburn is a haven for medlar trees, which grow in the gardens of this sprawling 19th century property. The medlar fruit is related to apples and quinces, but what makes it especially unique is that it can only be eaten once it’s been ‘bletted’ (or rotted). Throughout April and May, the medlar trees at Riversdale are covered in fat juicy fruit and once the first frost arrives, they’ll be picked, bletted and cooked up in the Riversdale kitchen. While visitors aren’t able to pick the medlars, you can buy a pot of the signature medlar jelly and chutney from the Riversdale shop.
Abundant autumn rain means it’ll also be a good season for funghi at Retford Park, where you can see all sorts of interesting specimens, including the beautiful (but highly toxic) fly agaric funghi, which grows under the enormous Algerian Oak trees. Also keep your eye out for the beautiful sedum áutumn joy’ and nerines blossoming around the property.
Dog-friendly days out
If you want to bring your dog along for an autumn walk, there are four pet-friendly National Trust properties in NSW: Dundullimal Homestead, Saumarez Homestead, Harper’s Mansion and Retford Park. Dogs need to be kept on a leash, but they’ll still have a grand time roaming these glorious gardens.
For dog-loving history buffs, Retford Park is extra fascinating, as it was originally owned by James Fairfax who loved his dogs so much, there are echoes of them across the property – from the stone guard dogs overlooking the Teardrop Garden, to the pet cemetery where many of James Fairfax’s beloved dogs are buried. Fairfax’s Rhodesian ridgeback, Selene, survived him and still remains a much-loved resident of Retford Park.
Our properties are rich with bird life all year long, and autumn is a particularly good time to spot birds feasting on autumn plants or moving to their winter homes. At Retford Park you’ll see the migratory birds passing through, as well as flocks of yellow-faced honeyeaters, black-faced cuckoo-shrikes, and welcome swallows heading north. Rumour has it that one lone rufous fantail even visits for a few days in autumn, frequenting the rhododendrons near the bunya pine.
Meanwhile, in Everglades House & Gardens there are crimson rosellas, gang-gang cockatoos, satin bowerbirds, lyrebirds, and Eastern spinebills making the most of these Blue Mountains gardens. And while there’ll always be a reliable crackle of white cockatoos, you might even spot the occasional wedge-tailed eagle as well.
Autumn is such a special time at National Trust (NSW) properties, and when you visit and support our places, you’re helping to ensure the future of these historic houses and gardens.
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