Favourite Early 19th Century Botanic Gardens in Australia

Botanic gardens are excellent places to visit to get an overall view of the state’s flora and history. I love their size and scale, their sense of history and promise for the future. Not only are they repositories of all plants, including national collections of species, but they also provide green space in the cities- clean air, respite from the clamour of the city, enjoyment and relaxation, often being the stage for music, plays,  weddings and photo shoots, as well as providing education and inspiration. I always love their bookshops- a fantastic source of books about gardening and environment, both on local and global issues, as well as identification guides.

I decided to look up the official definition of ‘Botanic Gardens’ and found a great website : http://www.bgci.org  for Botanic Gardens Conservation International, which quotes a definition from the International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation as follows:

Botanic gardens are institutions holding documented collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display and education.”

Apparently, there are currently 1775 Botanic Gardens and arboreta in 148 countries worldwide, maintaining over 4 million living plant collections of over 100, 000 plant species.

Their use has changed through history.  Originally starting as Physic Gardens to study and grow medicinal plants, they have evolved into pleasure gardens and scientific institutions, which are continually adapting to and serving the needs of their societies, as new challenges are met.

When Australia was first settled, they became instruments of colonial expansion and economic development. Curators planted imported plants to see how they would cope with the climate and soils of the new colony, as well as native species to educate the general public and determine their usefulness. They even had acclimatization programs for introduced species like sparrows ! Seed banks and herbaria were developed and seeds and plants exchanged between other botanic gardens all over the world. Many of our common garden plants were the result of discovery by plant collectors in remote areas during the Victorian era , who then transported plants, cuttings and seeds back home in protective Wardian cases (photo below) for propagation in Botanic Gardens.Blog Early19cent BG20%Reszd2013-06-21 13.21.11

Today, they play a key role in :

  • Plant conservation and diversity
  • Education of the public on environmental issues
  • Mitigation of the effects of climate change
  • Survival of the planet with seed exchange and helping ecosystems adapt to new climates in different regions.

H. Bruce Rinker has written a beautiful article titled ‘The Weight of a Petal: The Value of Botanical Gardens’ (see : http://www.actionbioscience.org/biodiversity) , in which he points out their vital role in the genetic protection of threatened species. Over 34,000 plant species are currently threatened – mainly due to the effects of increasing population : deforestation, habitat loss, the spread of invasive species and agricultural expansion – and 2/3 of the world plant species are in danger of extinction by the end of the 21st Century.

The first botanical gardens in Australia were founded in the capital cities and major regional towns in the early 19th century. As time went on, their roles and garden design evolved according to the fashions of the day. There was a lull over the first half of the 20th century due to the depressions of the 1890s and 1930s and two World Wars, but as economic times improved in the 1960s and 1970s, more money was allocated for the development of new botanic gardens, as well as improving the existing ones. Because there are over 140 botanic gardens in Australia, the following list (in order of their creation) is only a portion of them, most of which we have visited and I will include brief notes about their special attributes.

  1. Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, 30ha, 1816


: Prime location in the heart of Sydney at Farm Cove with sweeping lawns right down to the edge of Sydney Harbour.

: Oldest scientific institution in Australia

: Site of the first farm in the new colony (1788), its story recounted in the First Farm display . Cadi Jam Ora : First Encounters is a display which tells the story of the Cadigal people, the traditional Aboriginal owners of the Sydney city area, and features plants that originally grew on the site of the Royal Botanic Garden.

: Large number of early colonial buildings and structures, including the last remnant of the  Macquarie Wall (1810-1812).

: Many feature gardens of exotics and natives, including rare and threatened species from all over the world.

: National Herbarium of NSW and an excellent library and shop

: Many fountains, sculptures and memorials. See : http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/welcome/royal_botanic_garden/tours_education/self-guided_tours/art_and_memorials.

I have always loved the celestial sphere sundial in the herb garden.Blog Early19cent BG40%Reszdnov 2011 102Blog Early19cent BG40%Reszdnov 2011 105

2. Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, 14ha, 1818


: My first Botanic garden in my birth state, so will always hold a special place in my heart! Another superb location on Queen’s Domain overlooking the blue waters of the Derwent River. The photo on the right below is the view from the Burrow underneath the Visitors’ Centre over the Derwent River. The feature photo for 19th Century Botanical Gardens is of the entrance to these botanic gardens.Blog Early19cent BG20%Reszd2013-06-21 13.10.42Blog Early19cent BG20%Reszd2013-06-21 13.13.01: 2nd oldest botanic garden in Australia with a number of heritage listed buildings,  2 convict-built heated walls (1829) to afford protection for frost-tender plants and extend the growing period of fruit trees and a Lily Pond built in 1840. I have fond memories of a performance from the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party set on that lily pond! Les Winspear (see photo) played the Mock Turtle singing ‘Will you, won’t you. Will you won’t you. Will you join the dance? ‘.  There is also an iconic stone arch from the old AMP building ( Anniversary Arch, 1913) at the bottom of  the steps leading down from the Lily Pond terrace.Blog Early19cent BG20%ReszdIMG_0623Blog Early19cent BG20%Reszd2013-06-21 12.58.02: Historic plant collections, especially of plants from the Southern Hemisphere (including an early collection of New Zealand plants) and a large number of Significant Trees from the 19th century.

: Specialises in Cool Temperate Flora and has an important conservation collection of Tasmanian plants.Blog Early19cent BG20%Reszd2013-06-21 12.30.47Blog Early19cent BG20%Reszd2013-06-21 12.38.08 : There are beautiful green lawns  and display gardens. As a kid, I always loved the Floral Clock. There is also a Japanese garden, a Chinese collection,a French Memorial Fountain to commemorate the French explorers visiting Tasmania, an Epacrid Garden (Gondwana), a herb garden, a conservatory, a fernery, a Fuschia House and the world’s only Subantarctic Plant House! There is also a Community Food Garden, which is often featured on Gardening Australia on ABC with Tino Carnevale.Blog Early19cent BG20%Reszd2013-06-21 12.28.35Blog Early19cent BG20%Reszd2013-06-21 12.28.183. Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, 38ha, 1845

http://www.rbg.vic.gov.au/      and


: Also in the heart of the city on the banks of the Yarra River.

: Sweeping lawns and ornamental lakes and displays of more than 50,000 plants, representing 10,000 different species (31 plant collections) from all corners of the globe. See : http://www.rbg.vic.gov.au/visit-melbourne/attractions/plant-collections. The lakes are beautiful and form the backdrop to theatre productions like ‘Wind in the Willows’. Some have floating islands on them.Blog Early19cent BG40%ReszdIMG_0417Blog Early19cent BG40%Reszdjens visit jan 2010 135

: Site of the Melbourne Observatory built from 1861-1863;  the Plant Craft Cottage, 1850, which is the oldest building in a public garden in Victoria; 1854 Director’s Residence (now Gardens House) and 1901 Temple of the Winds , as well as numerous heritage gates, pavilions, lodges, nurseries and fences.Blog Early19cent BG40%ReszdIMG_0414Blog Early19cent BG40%ReszdIMG_0425

: National Herbarium of Victoria with 1.5 Million dried plant, algae and fungi specimens. See : http://www.rbg.vic.gov.au/science/herbarium-and-resources/national-herbarium-of-victoria. Half the specimens were collected before 1900 and one third were collected overseas. It also contains a library of botanical literature and artwork.

: Also the site of the Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology. See : http://arcue.botany.unimelb.edu.au/.Blog Early19cent BG40%ReszdIMG_0386Blog Early19cent BG20%ReszdIMG_0697 : The Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Gardens is a magical place for kids to learn about gardening and their environment.

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: Guilfoyle’s Volcano, originally built in 1876 to store water for the Botanic Garden, has spectacular dramatic displays of low water use plants.Blog Early19cent BG40%ReszdIMG_0421Blog Early19cent BG40%ReszdIMG_0423

4. Geelong Botanic Gardens, 81ha, 1851


: 4th oldest botanic garden in Australia and set on a hill overlooking Corio Bay.Blog Early19cent BG40%ReszdIMG_1430Blog Early19cent BG40%ReszdIMG_1599

: 38 trees listed by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) on the Register of Significant Trees including the largest and oldest Maidenhair Tree (Ginkgo biloba)  1859 (photo above ) in Victoria, a Chilean Wine Palm (Jubaea chilensis)  1869 , seen in background of the  photo below and a Giant Redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) planted in 1873. The Ginkgo tree is 156 years old and it is over 16m high and 4.17m in circumference.Blog Early19cent BG40%ReszdIMG_1492Blog Early19cent BG40%Reszdnov 2010 017

: Heritage Rose Collection and State collections of salvias and pelargoniums. There are also beautiful shrubberies, display beds and contemporary kitchen gardens.Blog Early19cent BG40%Reszdnov 2010 040Blog Early19cent BG40%ReszdIMG_1452Blog Early19cent BG40%Reszdnov 2010 024Blog Early19cent BG40%Reszdlate sep 2011 051

: A number of heritage buildings, fountains, statues, including one of the bollards, for which Geelong is famous. This one depicts the first curator of the Geelong Botanic Garden, Daniel Bunce, about whom I might write a post in a future Random Thought, as he was an amazing character! Having collected it on explorer Ludwig Leichhardt’s second expedition, he introduced Sturt’s Desert Pea to the Botanic Gardens and was often chastising young Victorian ladies, who would try to sneak a sample for their pressed flower albums, which this bollard is hiding behind her back! See : http://www.friendsgbg.org.au/news/news-archive/george-jones-the-bunch-bollard-and-the-naughty-girl for the story.Blog Early19cent BG40%Reszdnov 2010 031Blog Early19cent BG40%Reszdnov 2010 011

: A very impressive 21st century addition at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens, featuring Geelong’s indigenous flora, Australian native plants, ancient Gondwanan plants and low water use plants.

Blog Early19cent BG40%ReszdIMG_1399Blog Early19cent BG40%ReszdIMG_1403

5. Adelaide Botanic Gardens, 51ha, 1854


: Prime location on North Terrace next to the hospital, university , art gallery and museum. I’ve always thought how wonderful it is to have a beautiful restful garden right next to a hospital, as well as close to all the educational institutions for learning and inspiration!

: Noteworthy buildings include The Palm House 1875, Santos Museum of Economic Botany 1881, the Bicentennial Conservatory, 1988 (seen in the photo  below) and Amazon Waterlily Pavilion, 2007.

: The International Rose Garden and National Trial Garden is well worth a visit for rose enthusiasts – I love their giant arches of Old Climbing roses.

: The Garden of Health (http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/botanicgardens/Visit/Adelaide_Botanic_Garden/Garden_of_Health) has over 2500 plants from 295 species. It includes the Garden of Contemplation and the Garden of Healing, showcasing plants from both eastern and western medical traditions.Blog Early19cent BG20%ReszdIMG_7114Blog Early19cent BG20%ReszdIMG_7112Blog Early19cent BG20%ReszdIMG_93356. Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, 20ha, 1855


: Right on the Brisbane River- a perfect spot for establishing a colonial garden growing crops for a new colony, but flooded 8 times between 1870 and 1974, a fact which eventually led to the development of a new Botanic Garden at Mt. Lofty in 1976. The early gardeners imported exotic crops like tropical fruits (mango, pawpaw and  tamarind ), tobacco, sugar cane, grape vines, wheat, coffee, spices, textile plants and timber trees, as well as planting natives.

: There is a Bamboo Grove, Weeping Fig avenue, ornamental ponds and a River Stage. It has a great old-fashioned vibe and is well-used and loved by city workers.


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