Fire and flood hit Rhododendron Gardens in Blackheath

At last, the native area of the Campbell Rhododendron Gardens, in Blackheath, has received a major hazard-reduction burn ... but its dramatic, unplanned occurrence certainly was more drastic than anyone could have anticipated.

The Rhododendron Gardens in happier spring times.

The Rhododendron Gardens in happier spring times.

The Gardens after the December fires.

The Gardens after the December fires.

On December 21, a massive inferno blazing down through the Grose Valley reached Blackheath's doorstep.

By mid-morning, the Fires Near Me app posted this new outbreak, positioning its location marker right in the middle of the Gardens. But from a distance, the fire appeared to be further away, maybe on Ridgewell Road.

The lake at the Rhododendron Gardens before the rain.

The lake at the Rhododendron Gardens before the rain.

What a difference a weekend makes: Lake is full after 400+ millimetres of rain.

What a difference a weekend makes: Lake is full after 400+ millimetres of rain.

Then came a report that the conifer garden area was ablaze. Fortunately, when volunteers eventually were able to gain entry to the Gardens, they found the conifer garden area was intact; however, almost all the large tract of native bush on the north side of the valley and the service road was severely burned. The fire had extended all the way from the swamp at the eastern end, and out to Ridgewell Road on the north-western perimeter.

There was still much live fire activity in the burnt area, with tree trunks smouldering or flaming and ember beds alive on the ground.

Then, sadly, it was discovered that most of the rhododendrons in the species and the Quota areas had been destroyed, as had some plantings between the developed and the native areas on the north side of the creek. Even part of the swamp was damaged due to ignition of methane gas which the area emits.

All this accounts for one third of the extent of the 18.3 hectare Gardens. On the positive side, the high canopy of the gum trees remained minimally damaged, and the firefighters had prevented the blaze from crossing the valley to the main developed Gardens area, saving the Lodge and other buildings.

A month later, the great news is that there are some flowers - azaleas - valiantly blooming. Although the native area will recover reasonably quickly, reconstruction of the affected plantings north of the creek will be a long-term process, requiring money and much labour from the Gardens volunteers.

And more good news after last weekend: The lake, which had been reduced to a puddle due to a leak and the prolonged drought, is now full.

And the frogs have returned in their hundreds. Pop along to hear their mating calls and visit the gardens' website to check progress on post-fire rehabilitation. See www.rhodogarden.org.au.