I lived in Melbourne for 30 years and could probably count the number of times I’ve been to the Botanic gardens on one hand. One probable reason is that I couldn’t have cared less as a kid and second is, since I have really got into horticulture I’ve lived in Queensland. Fortunately my brother Jason lives only a 20 minute walk away from the Botanic gardens and I have had some time off work recently to revisit some of these places where I used to live. The day we visited was warm, a little humid and overcast so not great for photography but I did my best.
The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne was established in 1846 by Lieutenant Governor Charles La Trobe. It is on 38 hectares (94 acres) of land and located just south of the Yarra River not far from the Melbourne CBD. The area was once marshland and part of the Yarra river floodplain until the river itself was straightened and widened in the 1880s to elevate flooding and improve water flow out to sea. Interestingly enough the Aboriginal people (who lived here for over 30,000 years) called the river Birrarung – ‘place of mist and shadows’ until the Europeans came along and turned it into an open sewer and outlet for industrial waste. That of coarse only lasted as long as it took for everybody to become extremely ill with typhoid and diphtheria before a treatment plant was built at Werribee. I digress. Most of the native species were removed and replaced with exotics from around the world and the wetland areas were eventually landscaped and replaced with the ornamental lakes that you can see today.
A Short History By Dates:
– (1846-49) John Arthur, first curator.
– (1849-57) John Dallachy, curator.
– (1857-1896) Ferdinand von Mueller was appointed Director of the Gardens. His achievements included a plantation of conifers to demonstrate their usefulness to Victoria, a fountain in the middle of the lagoon, and a formal garden to show the relationships between families of plants. He was also appointed Victoria’s first Government Botanist in 1853, establishing the National Herbarium of Victoria the same year. He built the foundations of what is today one of Australia’s most important dried plant, algae and fungi collections – the State Botanical Collection: historically and botanically significant, it comprises a majority of Australian material but includes a significant component of foreign-collected material.
– (1867) The Giant Waterlily, one of the great horticultural wonders of the time, flowered for the first time in Melbourne.
– (1873-1909) came William Guilfoyle, who is often described as ‘the master of landscaping’. It is his vision that shaped the gardens. By carefully planting trees and placing garden beds he developed the scenic panoramas and sweeping lawns. He was also inspired by sub-tropical plants and used many of them in his landscapes, including palms, and other foliage plants and cooler climate flaxes and cordylines from New Zealand. Among his creations are the recently restored Fern Gully, the Temple of the Winds (a memorial to La Trobe) and the Ornamental Lake. His volcano has been restored as an important part of Melbourne Gardens’ water management program.
– (1958) Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the ‘Royal’ prefix on the Gardens.
– (1970) With the assistance of the Maud Gibson Trust, land was purchased some 45km south-east of Melbourne. Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne, (now Cranbourne Gardens) covers 363 hectares and is what is known as the second division to The Royal Botanic Gardens.
– (1980s) A Government inquiry recommended the establishment of a Board to manage the Gardens for the people of Victoria: the Royal Botanic Gardens Board Victoria was subsequently established as a statutory authority under the Royal Botanic Gardens Act 1991.
– (1982) Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens was established who have assisted in many of the projects post.
– (1992-2012) Philip Moors was Director and chief executive.
– (1998) The creation of (ARCUE) Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology.
– (2004) The Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden (2004)
– (2006) Stage 1 of the Australian Garden.
– (2010) Restoration of Guilfoyle’s Volcano.
– (2012) Stage 2 of the Australian Garden.
– (2012) Working wetlands.
– (2013) Professor Timothy Entwisle became Director and Chief Executive and 13th head of the Royal Botanic Gardens.
– (2015) The Gardens embarked on another chapter of this rich history and sought to bring together the elements of this much expanded organisation under one name: it is now known as Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, incorporating Melbourne Gardens, Cranbourne Gardens, National Herbarium of Victoria and the Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology (ARCUE).
Some of the places we visited:
-Fern Gully which is at the heart of the gardens. You would be excused for believing you were in the tropics when visiting this area. The warm humid day added to the illusion.
-The Tropical Glasshouse was extremely interesting as much for the building as the plants. I think they used the same bricks for the Melbourne Zoo.
-Guilfoyle’s Volcano which is a restored reservoir. The water coming into the reservoir is pumped from the ornamental lake which is susceptible to high nutrient load. The roots of these specially picked plants removes the nutrients and reduces evaporation on the reservoir providing the garden with clean fresh water (I copied that from the sign). I have also seen this done close to where I live on a lake at Robina (Gold Coast). This type of filtering is an extremely clever way of working with nature.
-the Lower Yarra River Habit on Long Island consists totally of indigenous plant species. It actually feels like you have stepped out of an ornamental garden back into the bush and gives you a glimpse of what this area would once have looked like.
Pressed footprints into the concrete. Notice contrast from ornamental to bushland.
-The Wetlands is just off the Northern Lawns area and shows us how we have come full circle with our views on the importance of natural systems.
The things I have shown you here are but a proportion of what the Royal Botanic Gardens have to offer. Not only that they are located just minutes from the city and thousands of good restaurants and pubs, MCG, St.Kilda beach, Richmond, etc, etc so as Molly would say, do yourself a favour and go take a look. For me it was a very enjoyable day and next time I’m in town I will ensure I take the time to visit here again and perhaps see some of the things I missed first time round. Below I have attached some random shots from the gardens. Hope you have enjoyed this addition and next time we will take a look at Cranbourne Gardens. See you then.
Sources of information:
-brochure at botanic gardens