The Blue Mountains Nurserymen’s Association fostered the inaugural meeting of the Blue Mountains Rhododendron Society, held on the 2nd April 1969. Within five months the Society had decided to establish a Rhododendron Garden, with seven areas of Crown Land between Springwood and Mount Wilson being considered and thoroughly investigated. On the 13th March, 1970, due to the untiring efforts and support of the Member for the Blue Mountains at that time, Ald. H.G. Coates M.L.A. and the supportive interest of the Hon. T.L. Lewis M.L.A., Minister for Lands, land in Blackheath comprising of 18.5 ha was gazetted for the Society to use and develop as the Blue Mountains Rhododendron Garden.
As it was the Lands Department’s decision that we retain the area as much as possible in its natural state, it was resolved that it was to be developed as a garden of rhododendrons, azaleas and suitable trees and shrubs blended into a natural bushland setting. This was a challenge for the Society and it is so unique that visitors to the garden, particularly overseas visitors, are remarkably impressed by the concept. The planted areas are confined to the areas adjacent to “The Lodge” and the valley below, whilst much of the remainder is left in its natural state with nature trails provided for walkers.
In December 1971 and with a donation from the Blackheath Festival Committee the earthworks for the formation of the lake were carried out. With this work completed and the lake full of water, the first official function was held on the 23rd September 1972 when nine “White Pearl” rhododendrons were planted.
Possibly the most photographed feature in the valley area is the stone bridge built by (the late) Bob McCullough in 1974 and has been a great attraction for photographs by wedding groups.
In 1985 the “Centenary Walk” was established and opened on 23rd March 1985 to commemorate the centenary of the Proclamation of the Gazettal of the Village of Blackheath and centennial year of the Blackheath Public School. 134 rhododendrons have been planted along each side of the walk and recorded in the names of many of the older residents.
In 1984 an area for growing many different types of conifers was established due to the generosity of Dr. A.L. North and was named the “Dr. A.L. North Conifer Garden”.
The Gardens have now become an established tourist attraction where many walks can be enjoyed amidst natural settings, including a lawn area in the valley where fern glades reach up to the hillsides. Masses of rhododendrons throughout the Gardens make a beautiful display of colour during the months of October and November. Rhododendrons and ferns are naturally compatible, enjoying the same shade, soil and moisture requirements.
The driving forces behind the Gardens were the remarkable couple Norm Campbell and his wife, Olive Campbell AM. Norm was responsible for the original planning and design of the Gardens. In 1973 he was appointed the first Gardens Supervisor, and was still working several hours a week 30 years later. Olive became Secretary of the Society in 1970 and remained in that position until her death in 1994.