A peaceful spot for pushing prams, walking dogs and accidentally interrupting wedding photography.
A visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne might not be your average ‘Gen-Y excursion’, which was confirmed by the sceptical raised eyebrow from our guide when I joined the touring party. But it’s the perfect city getaway when you score a sunny Autumn’s day in Melbourne.
While I’m definitely no plant expert (perhaps justifying the aforementioned eyebrow), a free tour always tickles my pickle; especially when the institution dates back over 150 years. You’ll likely unearth a historical insight of the region that can’t be found elsewhere. The Royal Botanic Gardens host a free 1.5-hour walking tour through their Melbourne base twice daily (except public holidays). I jumped at the opportunity to absorb some of their chronicled knowledge.
You never quite know how a ‘gardens tour’ is going to go. There is the danger that the guide will spend the entire time listing the 20 syllable genus for each and every plant we pass. Fortunately, our host was excellent. She spent even amounts of time on plant species, historical facts and entertaining anecdotes; keeping all members of the wandering 10-strong party interested and amused.
Topics covered over the course of the tour; including the resident ‘Birdlime Tree’ that catches and kills passing birds to absorb their nutrients, how the government straightened the enormous Yarra River in the late 1800’s, the indigenous connection with the area and the various 400-plus-year-old trees that predate Melbourne as a colony.
My favourite anecdote, however, involves a heavily weathered Box Brush tree. All of the plants, throughout the Gardens, were in a relatively healthy condition, except this particular tree. The story goes that the Queen planted this Box Brush during her visit to Australia in the 1950’s. It is rumoured to have been chipped away by pro-Republicans every since.
Similarly to the volunteer-run National Gallery of Victoria tours, each guide takes you on a different journey and spins their own unique tale during their time in charge. We covered approximately a third of the Botanic Gardens, so make sure you keep exploring once the tour finishes.
My highlights include the ‘Temple of Winds’ that look out over the Yarra River and into Melbourne’s Sports Precinct, the scenic ‘Guilfoyle’s Volcano’ and the picnic and picture perfect views of the Ornamental Lake area.
Get the lowdown.
Open 7:30 – Sunset daily (including public holidays)
If at all possible, I suggest walking to the Gardens from the city. It’s a pleasant enough 20-minute walk south from Federation Square, through the beautiful King’s Domain and past the NGV: International and Shrine of Remembrance.