Royal Botanical Gardens photo trip

In late July, my daughter and I finally got our schedules straight and used the RBG tickets she had given me for Christmas two years ago. This is a report of that trip from a photographer’s point of view.

Maybe it’s just me, but I found the website information rather bewildering. I wanted to make the best use of the opportunity and it wasn’t particularly clear to me where I should go (let alone when I should go) to get the best photographs.The place is so big, with different locations which didn’t appear to be that close together. In the end, we decided to just go and work it out as we went. So far as I could tell, with pre-paid tickets, we had to go to the main buildings at 680 Plains road in any case, so we started there. In the map below (my annotations on a screen capture from Google Maps) you can see the car park at the red 1.

The trails we took.

Inside the main building, we exchanged our tickets for stamps on our hands and a parking ticket, and a lot of helpful advice. The hand stamps would get us in to any of the other RBG locations, and the parking ticket was good on that day for any of the trail heads. We got into the gardens at this location (Hendrie Park) from inside the building, through a tunnel under Plains Road (Red 2).

We got a nice big fold-out brochure with lots of maps, but we found these to be misleading at times. For instance, finding the scented garden was rather frustrating as the number on their map is not exactly placed. Also, the map showing the trails just north of the Park cut off the upper trail above Grindstone Creek, so we had to find our own way. It’s not that we were afraid of getting lost, but I did worry that we would get so far and then find we had to retrace our steps. In fact we had to do this inside the park; we wanted to get to Cherry Hill Gate (Blue 1) but the map doesn’t make it clear that there is a locked gate that stops one from getting there (and others getting in without paying – which is fair enough!)

Enough about the small problems, how was the photography? We spent our time fairly equally between wondering around Hendrie Park and walking some of the trails just behind. I’ve split the rest of the post into these two areas.

Hendrie Park

From a photographic point of view, I found that the cultured gardens offered plenty of “landscape” shots, like the reflecting pools, (red 3) and a fountain (red 4) with a backdrop of trees. There are also lots of flowers, of course, mostly planted to show masses of colour – or, at least, that was what I noticed during our July visit. I found it harder to find individual blooms worthy of a close-up, which is my personal favourite flower format. What I did find in the gardens was plenty of pollinating insects which posed quite nicely for their close-ups. In the gardens I mostly used my Sigma 18-250mm “walk-about” lens and later, my Nikkor 60mm f2.8 macro. In this part of the day, I kept returning to the insects that the flowers attracted, and the occasional chipmunk, rather than individual flowers.

I’m not sure I would necessarily come back to Hendrie Park to take more photographs. Possibly at different times of the year, perhaps a bit earlier to catch more roses, which were a bit sparse in late July. However, it is a beautiful park and a tranquil place to just meander.

The trail from Cherry Hill gate

We chose to move our car over to the parking area (Blue 1) as we had a parking sticker, it’s a quick walk over, but there’s an advantage in not having to walk back if the trail takes a bit too much out of you! As I mentioned before, we couldn’t get there from Hendrie Park, we had to go back through the tunnel, and out onto Plains Road.

As soon as we left the car park, on the trail, we saw two things: chipmunks and kids feeding them! I was a bit alarmed seeing a young girl running up to try to touch a chipmunk, but it soon became apparent that they were (a) well fed and (b) used to putting up with obnoxious kids. It was a double-edged sword: while there was lots of opportunity to get cute “kid feeds rodent” shots, there were also lots of carefully framed “chipmunk eats peanut”  close-ups spoiled when aforementioned kid ran up to pet it.  However, two things became apparent: there was no shortage of chipmunks willing to pose and we could walk faster than the kid. There is a very photogenic tree root (blue 2) with chipmunks and a black squirrel running in and out of the many nooks and crannies. To this point, the trail led through mostly evergreen trees, and photo ops were mostly whatever happened on the path.

After a while, we reached the Creek and crossed a bridge (blue 3) which had a fine view, but was too high to get good shots of any water-based wildlife. This is where the RBG map failed us, and we started to play it by ear. We turned East on the far side of the creek on what I now know to be the North Bridle trail. The path became quite steep, going up the side of the valley, and eventually down again to the creek. A good hike, but I don’t recall taking any photographs, but maybe I was concentrating on not tripping over any tree roots.

Down at the creek again there was a boardwalk pretty much at water level, and at a sitting area (blue 4) we came across a pair of swans, and more importantly, a lady who knew the trails and was able to assure us that if we carried on, we could find our way back. There was a great blue heron which prompted me to mount the Nikkor 80-400mm, but as it was on the far side of a sizeable marshy area, the photos weren’t keepers. I’ve been spoiled by our local herons which provide opportunities for head-and-shoulder shots on a regular basis!

The path (south bridle trail) climbed back up the south bank and back into the forested area and we began to see chipmunks again, and some birds. A friendly couple gave us a few peanuts in shells, and so we got to attract some wildlife without kids around. This is where I found a woodpecker and a nuthatch who might have been enticed even closer with a bit more patience. We rejoined the earlier trail soon after, and found that the incidence of kids was inversely proportional to the distance from the carpark. However, back at the tree root the then current resident kid was not too frenetic, and afforded a nice shot of a black squirrel watching the nut bonanza from a safe distance.

I did use the longer zoom for some bird shots on the trails, but I probably could have saved myself some weight in the backpack by leaving it behind.

Near the car park there are signs asking us not to feed wildlife, but just about every group we came across had a bag of peanuts or sunflower seeds. While it was fun to see a chippie nibbling our at one of our two donated peanut shells, there are enough opportunities without adding to whatever problem the management is trying to avoid.

Personally, I liked this portion better than the gardens, and now that I understand how the admission system works, I might just visit the trails on a future visit, paying only for parking. On the other hand, I don’t know what I’m missing in the other gardens, yet, or in other seasons. Certainly worth repeated visits.

Link to the Hendrie park page at RBG

I’ve since found some pdf downloads of trail maps here.

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