This is a gorgeous spot hidden away in Hornsby that’s well worth a visit. Lisgar Gardens is a stunning hillside garden with a rich history and bordering this is Florence Cotton Reserve, a valuable piece of remnant urban bushland offering a lovely bushwalk for families.

Opened to the public in 1968, Lisgar Gardens is a terraced garden renowned for its array of camelias, which have been internationally recognised. It boasts many other flowers also, as well as other areas to explore like a shade house containing fish ponds, a gazebo, small waterfalls, informal lawn areas and more. There’s wildlife too – we saw several bush turkeys scratching around and also a water dragon sunbaking by one of the water features.

Once privately owned by Dr Max Cotton who created the gardens, they are now owned and maintained by Hornsby Council.

The adjacent bushland of approximately 17 hectares was once owned by Dr Cotton’s brother Leo. This area is named after Leo’s wife, Florence Cotton. The bush here is filled with blackbutts, blue gums, turpentine trees, allocasuarina and ferns. You’ll cross over Jimmy Bancks Creek, named after local resident and creator of the Ginger Meggs comic strip.

You can enter the bush at different points in the loop including off Hornsby streets Pretoria Parade, Frederick Street and Pinera Close. If you visit when the gardens are busy, this may help with parking. (i.e. parking AWAY from the gardens.) If you plan to access the bushwalk directly from the gardens you’d park on Lisgar Road and walk in and down through the gardens. This is the way we did the walk.

A word of warning before you start the bush loop – there are LOTS of stairs! There’s no way you can do this bushwalk with a pram and even the gardens would be hard to navigate with one (although there’s an inclinator – it’s not functioning currently however.). But if you’re prepared and have prepped the kids, the bush loop is manageable. We don’t mind these types of stairs as they’re sturdy, even and stable. We find this easier in a way than bushwalks on steep, uneven terrain.

From the gardens, you’ll head down basically straight away, towards Jimmy Bancks creek. The stairs are nice and wide so you can take in the scenery as you descend. There’s a tiny bit of rock hopping over the creek but nothing difficult at all. (This could be a different story after some rain? We’re not sure.) At this point in the walk, down in the valley, the surroundings are very like a rainforest.

Once you’ve crossed over Jimmy Bancks Creek, you’ll begin to ascend. This is where the track turns into more of a traditional bushwalking track – watch your footing on the uneven surfaces and fallen leaves which can be slippery sometimes. Our kids were fine and enjoyed spotting the cockatoos and bush turkeys long the way. If you’ve come from the gardens you’ll proceed right at this sign to continue the loop.

After this sign, you’ll traverse the high point of the walk for a little longer – this is the area where we overhead other walkers mention they’d seen a ‘porcupine’ (!) – we knew then to keep our eyes peeled and sure enough we saw a small spikey ball attempting to go unnoticed!

Eventually you’ll pop out onto Pretoria Parade – you then walk on this street for a few minutes and head down to Pinera Close on your right, where you’ll enter the bush once again, ready for the ascent! Once you’ve tackled the climb back up, you can take a rest in the gardens and enjoy a drink and snacks at one of the picnic tables.

Lisgar Gardens – Lisgar Road, Hornsby.

Parking is on residential streets nearby. Note, Lisgar Road can be busy and is quite narrow.

Open hours: Weekdays 8am-3.30pm, Weekends 10am to 4pm (5pm during daylight savings). Closed public holidays and during adverse weather conditions.

Florence Cotton Reserve bush loop

Access via various points along the loop – Lisgar Gardens, Pretoria Parade, Frederick Street and Pinera Close.