Jenolan Caves

A Home Among the Gum Trees, for National Tree Day

July 30, 2021

eucalyptus with National Tree Day logo

This year, the very first day of August is National Tree Day, co-founded in 1996 by Planet Ark and Olivia Newton-John. National Tree Day has grown into Australia's largest community tree-planting and nature care event. The main aim of the day is to encourage everyone to plant trees.

Why should we plant more trees? Trees are important for cleaning the air, preventing soil erosion, improving water quality, creating habitats and improving our mental and physical health.  That’s why people love to live in leafy neighbourhoods and why it feels great to spend time in parks and reserves.

In Australia, trees are mainly eucalyptus. There are approximately 900 species of eucalypt in Australia. To many, eucalypt species tend to all look the same. But this is the story of 2 men, with links to Jenolan, for whom Australia’s most predominant tree was so extraordinary that they devoted their careers to studying its many different species.

Jenolan Caves House with gardensJoseph Henry Maiden

Jenolan beginnings

Back in 1898, grand hotels were expected to have gracious exotic gardens, so Joseph Henry Maiden, the Director of the Sydney Botanic Gardens was given the task of designing and planting beautiful terraced gardens around the brand new hotel at Jenolan Caves – Jenolan Caves House.

1898 Department of Mines records said, “In order to add to the beauty of the surroundings of the caves, Mr. Maiden, Curator of the Botanic Gardens, has been authorised to lay out new plantations.”[i]

In August, the Botanic Gardens sent 500 more trees and 452 more shrubs to Jenolan Caves, and a further 20 trees and 96 miscellaneous plants were sent in September.[ii]

The Lithgow Mercury reported “The director of the Botanical Gardens, Mr. J. H. Maiden, accompanied by two assistants, arrived here on Saturday. With the exception of about a dozen trees, they made a clean sweep of the gardens, cutting everything else out.”[iii]

William BlakeleyTo help build the garden, Jenolan Caves hired a 24-year-old gardener, William Faris Blakely. Born in Tenterfield, Blakely had spent much of his youth “in rural surroundings, giving him an appreciation of the problems of agriculture and pastoral work.”[iv] Blakely immediately got to work on Jenolan’s gardens.

In June, Journalists reported that, “Mr. J. H. Maiden, Director Botanical Gardens, paid a visit of inspection...  The gardener, Mr. W. Blakely, of Sydney, is indefatigable in his attention to his work, which reflects great credit on him.  He is now laying a fernery out in the entrance to the Grand Archway.”[v]

In the same month, the Lithgow Mercury wrote, “From a scene of rugged grandeur, the place, after passing through the Grand Arch, has been converted into quite a sylvan beauty spot. … Around and in front of the house, gardens have been laid out and planted with shrubs and flowers in a manner which reflects the greatest credit on the taste of Mr. J. H. Maiden and Mr. W. Blakeley.”[vi]

Blakely made many valuable collections, and soon brought himself to the notice of Mr Maiden.  Maiden was impressed with Blakely’s capacity as a collector and by his unusual ability to observe specific differences in plants, so he arranged Blakely’s transfer to the staff of the Botanic Gardens in 1900.[vii]

eucalyptus blakelyi

Blakely & Maiden working together

Blakely worked as a gardener in the Sydney Botanic Gardens for 12 years. In 1913, he was transferred to the National Herbarium as a botanical assistant.

Joseph Maiden became the recognised authority on Eucalypts, and Blakely co-worked on Maiden’s monumental book [viii], A Critical Revision of the Genus Eucalyptus, in which 366 species were recognised. Maiden honoured Blakely by naming a eucalypt after him - Eucalyptus blakelyi [ix].

A Key to EucalyptsMaiden died in 1925, but in 1934, Blakely published his own book, A Key to the Eucalypts.  It was the culmination of 28 years of study 

and research. The Key lists descriptions of all eucalypts species that had been discovered up to that time – 500 species - in one volume.

New Way of Classifying Eucalypts

With this work, Blakely devised an entirely new classification system for eucalypts, and to a large part, it forms the basis of modern infrageneric classification of the genus.[x] He wanted the Key to be a useful tool, not just for scientists, but for apiarists, seed collectors, foresters, entomologists, horticulturists, dendrologists, oil distillers and others.[xi]

Blakeley retirement notice

Blakely retired from the Botanic Gardens in 1940. The Sydney Morning Herald announced his retirement, referring to him as a “Botanist and Eucalyptologist”. The article praised his considerable work on eucalypts.

In retirement, he was made Honorary custodian of the Eucalyptus collection at the Sydney Herbarium, and he continued to work on an update to his Key to Eucalypts, from his home in Hornsby.

Death Notice of William BlakeleyUnfortunately, Blakely died little over a year later, in September 1941. After his death, his Key to Eucalypts was republished in 1955, and again in 1965. For over 50 years, Blakely’s book was regarded as indispensable to anyone interested in eucalypts.

It's something to ponder - Henry Maiden and William Blakeley who loved nothing more than strolling amongst gum trees, studying, drawing, describing, categorising them – all for science and for posterity. 

The Best Time to Plant a Tree

It's time to get your hands dirty! Winter is the best time to plant a tree in your garden. You don’t have to be a gardener, and the tree doesn’t have to be a eucalypt.  You have a choice of thousands of varieties. If you are interested in lending a hand to plant trees in your community, see the National Tree Day website for ‘plantings’ in your vicinity.


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4655 Jenolan Caves Road, Jenolan Caves, Blue Mountains NSW. Ph: 1300 76 33 11 or +61 2 6359 3911

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