Sunday 8th March 2020
Thirty-four years ago Bill and I were on a road trip for our honeymoon (a 5000klm / 3100mi road trip is bad idea for a honeymoon, by the way) and that is when we discovered Ballarat for the first time. The tourist office suggested we go see the Begonia display. We weren’t gardeners, and all I knew was that it was a small red flower you grew in a plant pot, but we went along with the recommendation.
What a display! So many varieties, some the size of a dessert plate, and a wide range of colours. That visit has stuck with us all these years, and finally we have returned. We didn’t realise that the Begonia Festival dates back to 1953. It has taken many forms over the years. Now it is a three-day carnival event attracting around 60,000 people, held in the grounds of the extensive Botanic Gardens.
The blooms are displayed in the conservatory, which has been erected since our previous visit.
It’s been a hard job to choose a few photographs from the many that Bill and I took, but here is a selection from both of us. For some reason, the red varieties seemed particularly difficult to photograph distinctly, which is a pity, as they were so vibrant.
For the festival there were dozens of market stalls set up for handicrafts, children’s activities, community organisations, and food and coffee stalls, strung out along the length of the gardens in between the trees and garden beds. There was a special section for begonia gardeners and plant sales.
There are also many beautiful regular displays and elegant statues dotted throughout the gardens. In one section, dahlias were in glorious riot. Again, a tough choice for the photos.
One of the varieties was very tasty to the bees.
Presentations were taking place in a centrally-located marquee. We sat in on a cooking demonstration by Anushka Zargaryan who’d been a 2019 contestant in Masterchef Australia. Armenian by birth, she describes her cooking as a fusion of Middle-East and European, drawing on cuisines from Iran, Russia and Armenia. She cooked caramelised eggplant stuffed with a mixture of ricotta, sour cream, walnuts, various herbs and spices, lemon juice, and probably something I’ve forgotten*. I’m a fan of eggplant, (aubergine), so that may get a try-out if I ever get cooking again. * I forgot the key ingredient – POMEGRANATE!
There was so much to see, including some fun garden sculptures, that we were in the gardens for over four hours. Here are a few more random photos from our wanderings.
And one other feature of the gardens is the Prime Ministers’ walk – a bust of every PM in Australia’s history, up to Tony Abbott (2013-2015). While it is not a very flattering likeness, I’m including our only female PM, Julia Gillard (2010-2013).
The day had started out nippy and I was glad that I’d bought a parka, but by the time we left the festival the sun was sparkling. The gardens are situated beside Lake Wendouree, which has a circumference of 6km (about 3.5 miles), with lots to look at. So, although John had taken us for a drive around the previous evening, we went around again. It was a pleasant end to a delightful day.