Cocooned in colour, it’s hard to miss the fiery, gilded foliage as you arrive into Hahndorf in Autumn. As the Summer sun begins to dwindle, the iconic red hue of South Australia’s historic German town begins to flourish.
There’s no doubt about it, the deciduous cycle of the coming months is a breathtaking event, but the story of how these magnificent trees were planted in the first place, is just as charming.
To find out more about gorgeous trees lining the Main Street of Hahndorf, we spoke to Lyndall Davage, a proud Hahndorf resident since 1979, a perennial volunteer with the National Trust and member of the Hahndorf Academy – naturally, she was a wealth of knowledge on the topic.
As Lyndall talks to us, she flicks through a copy of Reg Butler’s Cork Elms and Controversy in Hahndorf, a book published by the South Australian National Trust to celebrate the centenary of Hahndorf’s avenue of trees. She mentions the archival pictures of once youthful vegetation, with picket-fence enclosures around each tree. Now the mature elm, oak and chestnut trees form an elaborate russet archway to the township, among linden trees and London plane trees.
The first public planting project in Hahndorf saw 300 trees rooted along the Main Street in 1885, the stunning range of varieties were personally selected by the director of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens at the time, Dr Richard Schomburgk. His decision to create a selection comprised of varieties known to bloom infamously vibrant reds at the same time each year was an ode to Autumn.
The trees, a gift to the town of Hahndorf, were a generous donation from Robert Barr Smith who regarded the place fondly and wished to see it flourish. This came at a time when the face of Hahndorf was changing from a simple farming village into a major service centre. At the same time, the town was becoming increasingly focused along the Main Street––the cornerstone for activity.
Just weeks before the street was planted in 1885, the Mount Barker Courier published comments that Barr Smith was to the community, like a white-haired fairy godfather, spreading a sense of magic that would prove to last.
For the centenary celebration in 1985, the local council, National Trust and various community groups decided on another large-scale planting project, this time bringing Chinese pistachio trees to the landscape. Of the trees planted in 1885 and 1985, most still remain.
More recently, about six or seven years ago, the Autumn Blaze (acer x freemanni) was planted in Hahndorf, replacing older trees that had become diseased over time. Lyndall says that the new trees were already reasonably established to avoid any gaps in the plantation, with this particular variety chosen partly due to their root system, which isn’t as invasive as older varieties like the old cork elm. As you leave the township, on the left-hand side, you can find 54 of these Autumn Blaze trees, representing the 54 founding families of the historic German settlement.
Of the foliage surrounding the Hahndorf Academy, Lyndall says “when you walk under the trees to get to the building, there’s a vibrant liveliness, almost a spiritual sense ushering you in”. Quoting Emerson, she says “nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm”, describing these trees as a great source of energy and enthusiasm for the community––whether it be a passion for their preservation or a passion for lopping.
The two large cork elms out the front of the Hahndorf Academy are some of Lyndall’s favourites, she speculates that they may be of those dating back over 100 years.
“It can be like a full-time job sweeping up the leaves when they fall in Winter”, says Lyndall with a laugh that suggests she doesn’t really mind at all.
While the trees bloom in similar cycles and colours, their origins and fruits are diverse. To name a couple of the many gorgeous trees that stand: the shady cork elm native to the mid-western US, and the Australian native white cedar, producing delicate lilac blossoms.
So come for a visit to Hahndorf this season to discover the street covered in autumnal beauty. We’ve got plenty of perfect Autumn activities to keep you warm as the weather starts to cool.
Buzz Honey is the new honey harvester to Hahndorf, special in their method of cold press extraction and single floral sources. See if you can tell the difference between honey made from orange blossom nectar, and honey made from the nectar of a 175-year-old leatherwood tree!
Not really a sweet tooth? There’s always gin… While Trudy, Steve and Matt of Ambleside Distillery have been quietly honing their craft in the Hills since 2016, their tasting bar is now open. It offers three signature gins, all crafted to their personal tastes, with home-grown botanicals and locally sourced produce––also offering cocktails and platters.
So don’t let the cool change stop you from exploring the beauty that blossoms for just a few months each year. With a hot chocolate in hand, you’ll barely recognise the grey skies, especially when they’re covered in red, orange and gold.
Here is a list of trees you can find in Hahndorf: