WHEN Marie Matthews planted some of the first trees in the Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens ten years ago, she couldn't imagine how beautiful it would actually turn out to be. Now, thanks to the dream of a few dedicated volunteers, land that was once a part of the Lismore waste facility has been transformed into a rainforest paradise, full of native trees, medicinal plants and pathways that meander in and out of dappled sunlight near shady picnic tables and creek beds.
"Ten years ago, you could see the dump, but now tall trees screen the buildings and the dump is disappearing from view," Marie said. "It's a different environment now; I'm just amazed each time I come here - something big and new is happening. We had bird watchers out here the other day and they saw 97 varieties of birds."
On Sunday, August 26, the Friends of the Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the first tree planting at the gardens and members are inviting the whole community to come along. The day is also National Tree Day and people are encouraged to bring along their hats, gloves and water bottles and plant a tree in the ground between 9am and 11am. Everyone who gives a hand will be fed lunch and cake courtesy of Lismore City Council.
Over the last ten years, hundreds of people have volunteered their time to plant 6000 trees in the gardens, as well as hundreds of understorey and creek-side plants. Every last Sunday of the month and every Wednesday, there are work days in the gardens and slowly but surely, more paths are being built and more garden beds prepared and planted. Marie's favourite area is the useful plants garden next to a pond.
"It's a nice place to be," Marie said. "We have university students visit the gardens to research the medicinal healing plants we have growing here. We are in stage three of development at the moment and working on specialty gardens like the rare and threatened plants garden."
A wheelchair-accessible path has just been built in preparation for the planting of the sensory garden, which will see plants with scents and textures create a unique and wonderful experience for visitors.
Marie is excited that a small-leaved Bolwarra plant in the garden is starting to flower right now.
"There are only two species of these in the world and Australia has both," Marie said. "This rare plant is pollinated by a beetle and if the beetle doesn't find it on the one day of the year the plant is in flower, it will never seed. We're thinking about pollinating it with a feather."
With only the distant hum of machinery in the background and a chorus of bird song filling the air all around, the gardens are a place of beauty and peace, as well as a haven for wildlife.
"Last week, Kevin Trustrum at the waste facility sent us a photo of a koala in a tree next door to where he sits," Marie said.
With so much care and love being showered upon these gardens by the garden's friends and members of the public, the trees have grown fast, but according to Marie, when the trees were first planted, they could barely keep them alive.
"Ten years ago, there was little rain and water restrictions and we had to truck in water in a tank," she said. "Now it's such a nice place to be and see young rainforest trees that are still growing. Kids can run around and there are lots of places to sit. In the future we hope to build an education centre at the waste facility as well as public toilets."
With lots of new colourful signs being put up as well as individual labels on the trees, the gardens with their accessible discovery trail pathways provide an educational experience that visitors will not forget in a hurry. For more information about the Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens, visit the Lismore City Council website or email mariematthews1