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10 Sep 2018

The forgotten grotto

There is a legend in the Blue Mountains about a beautiful, naturally occurring cave with water features in a conservation park that, many, many decades ago, children would explore, immersing themselves in the magic of Mount Tomah’s dense rainforest setting.

In the 1920s some businessmen, with support of the late Sir James Fairfax, purchased 283 hectares of this pristine rainforest and opened it to the public. Known as The Jungle, the park included tea rooms and several walking tracks. It was officially opened in March 1929 by then Governor of New South Wales, Admiral Sir Dudley De Chair, and a plaque that was set in a stone cairn to commemorate the occasion can still be seen on the Lady (Nancy) Fairfax Walk.

blue mountains botanic garden mount tomah 1920s the jungle
The Jungle in the 1920s

Grotto rediscovered

However, the dream of the businessmen for The Jungle to become an enduring National Park was never fully realised due to the Great Depression and pressure for fund to be allocated to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. In 2008, the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust purchased 33 hectares of The Jungle, with the financial support of John and Elizabeth Fairfax and the NSW Environmental Trust.
 
We have made parts of The Jungle accessible for visitors to the Garden to enjoy glimpses into the pockets of tranquil forest, but we have long hoped to unlock more.
 
Amazingly, during an exploratory visit to The Jungle recently, we came across the grotto that is spoken of so fondly. We also saw several small waterfalls, glow worms, interesting fungi, vines and five different plant communities.

The future of the grotto

Some of the transitional forest we found is truly unique, with Basalt endemics growing alongside sandstone and shale-loving species, which is something that I have not seen anywhere else.
 
We also chanced upon a gigantic tree stump, probably logged prior to the purchase of the land in the 1920s, and original pathways with steps carved during the same era.
 
I am pleased to say that we are now undertaking long-term plans to open this area to visitors in the future, following further exploration, so we can uncover more of the original pathways, to provide visitors the best possible route and experience.

To learn more about the Garden, its history, carnivorous plants, what's blooming like our proteas or daffodils follow me on Twitter or join me on #AskACurator day on 12 September 2018 taking place on the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah Twitter page here. Feel free to leave a question or two and I'll answer it on Wednesday. 

See you around the Garden, 
Greg

As seen in the Summer 2018, Issue 115, Foundation & Friends of the Botanic Gardens magazine.

Category: Horticulture
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