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175 years of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria

This year marks the 175 th anniversary of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria (RBGV). Since 1846, this iconic organisation, comprising two magnificent gardens, has contributed to the health of the community and natural environment through scientific and horticultural leadership, conservation and world-class programming and education.

Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne is regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful botanic gardens. Picturesque vistas across lakes and sweeping lawns are punctuated with magnificent specimen trees and intricately detailed garden beds, providing a cool oasis and iconic setting in the heart of Melbourne.

In the preceding 40,000 years, the site was a significant meeting place for Aboriginal people, with its abundant source of food and materials. This history still informs the gardens’ storytelling through indigenous plant collections, Aboriginal Bush Food and Aboriginal Heritage Walks.

In recent years, RBGV has grown as part of Melbourne cultural life. Fire Gardens attracted around 30,000 people in 2018, and the gardens continue to develop new creative ways to engage people with its landscapes. The new Arid Garden, Sensory Garden and White Oak installation have all stretched the concept of what a botanic garden usually does. Today, the gardens are more than a beautiful park and more than a scientific organisation – after 175 years, the organisation is combining nature, culture and science in ways never done before.

Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne, a 363-hectare site established in 1973, is home to some of Victoria’s most valuable remnant bushland and the jaw-dropping Red Sand Garden. It is dedicated to native Australian plants and wildlife including the nationally endangered Southern Brown Bandicoot.

Yet, these gardens are not just a place of respite for locals and international visitors. Melbourne Gardens is home to the National Herbarium of Victoria which houses the irreplaceable State Botanical Collection of 1.5 million botanic specimens. It includes collections by Charles Darwin and early explorers, the oldest dating back to the 1600s, as well as a living collection of over 8,500 plant species.

Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria is also known as a leader in botanic conservation and climate change mitigation and employs scientists who are world leaders in these fields. In 2018, the organisation established the world’s first Climate Change Alliance of Botanic Gardens, which today has over 322 members from 92 countries. Its horticultural and scientific teams, through research and initiatives such as the Orchid Conservation Program, Care for the Rare and Raising Rarity have saved rare and threatened plants. The organisation continues to care for and build the Victorian Conservation Seedbank, which safeguards against plant extinction, and has been used to replenish bushfire affected areas.

Timeline

Pre-1846: The site of Melbourne Gardens and area around Birrarung (the Yarra River) and Tromgin (the Aboriginal name for the gardens’ lagoon) was part of the traditional lands of the Aboriginal peoples for over 40,000 years. It was an abundant source of food and other important material for Aboriginal people.

1835: Melbourne was founded.

1846: Superintendent Charles La Trobe selected the current Melbourne site as appropriate for a botanic garden.

1846−1857: Developments were made to the site including planting, fencing, constructing paths and residences. The gardens became a focal point for socialising, recreation, public celebrations and charity functions.

1857: Government Botanist Baron Ferdinand von Mueller was promoted to the role of Director of the Botanic Gardens. Scientific pursuits were of more interest to Mueller than the aesthetics of landscapes, and due to public demand, he was asked to resign.

1863: Melbourne Observatory began carrying out important scientific research.

• 1869: It acquired the Great Melbourne Telescope, the largest fully steerable telescope in the world.

• 1932: Closed due to the Great Depression. The Great Melbourne Telescope was moved to Mount Stromlo in 1945 and suffered damage in the 2003 bushfires. Currently being restored, the aim is to return the telescope back to the gardens in 2023–2025.

1873−1909: William Guilfoyle became the new Director. He made many aesthetically pleasing changes to the landscapes, without taking focus from scientific pursuits. Guilfoyle’s design framework has endured under successive directors and defines the character of the gardens to this day.

1909−1957: A time of relative stability for the gardens, with directors faithfully maintaining the

• 1934: The current building to house the National Herbarium of Victoria was built to continue important scientific work and house plant specimens.

• 1958: The Royal prefix was added after a visit by Queen Elizabeth II.

1957−1992: Guilfoyle’s landscape framework remained largely intact, although maturing trees, modernisation, ad hoc development and shifting expectations of the landscape resulted in some changes to its overall character.

• 1973: Cranbourne Gardens established, 363-hectare site of native Australian plants and remnant bushland.

• 1987–1989: First production of Shakespeare in the Gardens and Wind in the Willows.

• 1994: Moonlight Cinema’s first screening at the gardens.

1992−2020: Many new developments at Melbourne Gardens have occurred in the last 28 years. For example:

• 1999: Observatory Gate built with Visitor Centre, café and shop.

• 2004: The Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden opened.

• 2015: Fern Gully restored and bats relocated to Yarra Bend.

• 2018: RBGV establishes the first world’s Climate Change Alliance of Botanic Gardens.

• 2020: Master Plan 2020–2040 to guide the gardens’ future development. New Sensory and Arid Gardens opened as first projects within the plan.

The Botanical Gardens

I go often to the gardens, a favourite place for me, I enjoy the varied flora, be it hedges, shrub or tree. I love the names of various palms, like Foxtail, Sago, Cook, And the plants from all around the world, which could surely fill a book. Bamboos, Crotons, Bottlebrush, and the regal Bunya Pine – And who amongst us hasn’t walked ‘neath the quaint Sandpaper Vine? And Polyalthia longifolia is quite amazing to my eye – (The Mast Tree is its common name) and it’s easy to see why. The Gauras in their garden beds look much like butterflies, And Bromeliads throughout the park will amaze you with their size. Some trees we know, we have at home, the well-known Lilly Pilly, And too, the keener gardeners will grow the Spider Lily. And for a show of colour, there are few plants that are “ritzier”, Than the lovely Bird of Paradise, which we also call Strelitzia. The range of plants is staggering, the amount would make you dizzy – From the Straw Tree Fern to Kapok Tree, to the humble “Busy Lizzie”. I have only listed seventeen plants, and for that I beg your pardon –

But I have a little question to the ‘Boss’ who runs the garden.

I love the gardens, always will, and I would like to say,

“Just how much would I have to pay, to work here every day?!”