Reflections on the bus trip to Strathmerton. December 2005.
On December 12 2005 our Society went on a bus trip to visit Jim and Julie Hallâ€™s cactus and succulent gardens in Strathmerton Victoria. Strathmerton is near the Victorian NSW border and is about three hours drive from Melbourne. The bus departed from meeting hall in Camberwell shortly after 7.00am, with every seat filled with enthusiastic members and friends. With a few stops along the way and a detour or two, we arrived at our destination around 11.30am, and was it hot!!
The day temperature forecast was 29â€™C for Melbourne but further north where we had driven; it seemed much hotter and probably was. Within minutes of disembarking from the bus some members were already suffering heat stress. A few just managed to reach some chairs in the shade where they sat out most of the visit. Then there were the unexpected flies. It wasnâ€™t a few flies but swarms, everywhere and on everybody (we were told that good spring rains meant exceptional good fly breeding season). The combination of heat and flies did unfortunately spoil it for a few people.
Nonetheless everybody had to deal with the flies and the heat in their own way and with the negatives to one side; there were a lot of members who were very keen to make the most of the outing.
After a brief introduction, Jim let all of us wander around his extensive cactus and succulent gardens as we liked before lunch which we all enjoyed in a large shady area.
After lunch Jim offered to take anyone who was interested for a tour, while others were free to wander and take pictures.
The greatest commotion took place in two locations. The first was the large under cover sales area, where lots of members were jostling for the best plants and bargains. Jimâ€™s son, John, handling the register could barely keep up. The second area of commotion was Jim guiding a group through the gardens with an enthusiastic and well received commentary.
â€˜Cactus Countryâ€™ as it is known, is a large property with acres of cacti and succulents from around the world.
Jim explained how the cacti have outlasted many of the succulents as being the most drought hardy and mealy bug tolerant.
Parts of the gardens were still looking quite spectacular for this time of the year, with flowers and fruit a common sight.
The gardens have enormous old specimens of Ferocactus, a few of which were flowering, forests of Espostoas and Oreocereus form the Andes, Astrophytums in group plants of the same, Echinocereus clumps over one metre across amongst scattered Yuccas ,Agaves and opuntias making for a very desert like back drop.
Parts of the garden make you feel like you have travelled to the place where these plants live naturally.
Nowhere else in Australia and few places in the world can provide such a sense of place. Jim and Julie have done a great job at creating natural scenes and a perfect environment for these plants to be growing and flowering so well (pity about the grassy weeds amongst them all!
It would be a terribly hard job doing the weeding in this garden).
The time at Strathmerton seemed to fly by for some people, and drag on for others!
In the last half hour there, it was mid afternoon and terribly hot, but not too hot for those following Jim around getting cuttings of their favourite plants.
Jim was very accommodating walking around with a small machete chopping and cutting pieces for members followed with shopping baskets.
Elsewhere stragglers who hadnâ€™t melted were still strolling with umbrellas, hats and cameras making the most of this rare opportunity.
Then we all piled back on the bus with Collin our very accommodating driver, for an air conditioned drive back to Melbourne and a much quieter bus.
Ps. The next morning the weather for Melbourne was forecast to be very hot with a northerly wind - so by comparison our day was pretty good then! This also reminded me of our previous bus trip to Tarrington Exotics in autumn â€“ it rained at the morning stop, blew a terrible gale at the lunch stop and yet the day was still enjoyable and memorable to most. You just canâ€™t pick that weather.