Brisbane and South East Queensland is in the heart of Australia's subtropics and a popular tourist destination for those looking for sun, sand and surf, dense subtropical rainforests, graceful 'Queenslander' traditional homes, palms and lagoons.
However Brisbane and South East Queensland are also wonderful destinations for garden tourists, with vibrant subtropical gardens to visit that often feature colourful foliage plants, as well as dry-tropics flowering trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs.
Garden Travel Guide to Brisbane and South-east Queensland
Brisbane is a city of 2 million people on the Brisbane River, located on the eastern coast of Australia in the state of Queensland. Brisbane has an International Airport with connecting flights to/from all major cities.
Brisbane is a 1:20 hour flight from Sydney and 2:10 hours from Melbourne.
Brisbane city’s parks and botanical garden are an easy walk or bus ride from the city centre.
When travelling within Brisbane and South-East Queensland you can buy a go card ‘touch-on, touch-off’ electronic ticket from TransLink which you can use on public transport throughout South-East Queensland on bus, train, tram and ferry. Driving is relatively easy and there are several cashless toll roads.
The Gold Coast is a sprawling metropolis of half a million people 70km (1:15 hour drive) south-east of Brisbane, stretching from Coolangatta on the NSW-Queensland border to Southport and South Stradbroke Island in the north and the picturesque Tamborine Mountain in the east. Many of its coastal towns and suburbs are built on extensive canals and lagoons, or feature long, golden-sand beaches along the Pacific Ocean. Coolangatta Airport has direct flights to several of Australia’s major cities.
The Sunshine Coast is 100km north of Brisbane (1:20 hour drive) and covers the area from Bribie Island in the south to Noosa Heads and inland to the elevated districts of the Glasshouse Mountains, Maleny and Montville. Its rapidly growing population (now over 300,000 people) enjoy coastal living, sandy beaches and there are many new housing estates on extensive canal and lagoon systems. As it’s a popular tourist destination, Sunshine Coast Airport at Marcoola has direct flights to Sydney and Melbourne.
Brisbane and South-east Queensland climate
Brisbane and South East Queensland have a subtropical climate with warm to very warm and humid weather for most of the year and 1000 to 1500mm of rainfall annually. There is a distinct dry season from August to November followed by a wet season with a summer rainfall peak (January-March), very humid days, thunderstorms and occasional flooding in low-lying areas.
Brisbane and South East Queensland have summer maximum temperatures averaging around 30°C although it’s usually a few degrees cooler on the coast and also in the inland elevated districts. Winter is generally drier and mild, with daily temperatures from 11-20°C.
Brisbane and South-east Queensland natural vegetation
Because of Brisbane’s natural environment it is often considered one of Australia’s best places to live and work. Brisbane City Council manages over 8,000 hectares of natural areas within a total park estate of more than 14,000 hectares of bushland, wetlands, waterways and habitat corridors.
Like many large international cities, Brisbane’s landscape has been extensively cleared of natural vegetation since white settlement in the 1820s but there are several National Parks including Moreton Bay, D’Aguilar, Daisy Hill, Mount Barney and Naree Budjong Djara.
The Gold Coast has many vegetation types, from the Gondwana rainforest of Lamington National Park with its huge antarctic beech, to tall wet eucalypt forest, open eucalypt-dominated forest and woodland, paperbark swamps, mangroves, heathland and dunes. There are several National Parks where you can enjoy unspoiled natural vegetation.
The Sunshine Coast has seven National Parks from coastal vegetation in the Great Sandy NP and Noosa NP to the tall forests, gorges and waterfalls of Conondale, Kondalilla, Mapleton, Mapleton Falls NP and the heath, open woodland and forest of the famous Glasshouse Mountains NP with its distinctive craggy volcanic peaks.
Brisbane and South-east Queensland garden styles
Brisbane’s and the coast’s subtropical climate encourage gardeners to design and plant gardens that withstand spring drought, heavy summer rains and high humidity. Many feature large shade trees and palms, a swimming pool, some of the more lush native plants and subtropical exotics often with colourful foliage such as bromeliads, crotons, cordylines, iresine, duranta and alternanthera. Gardens are mostly designed around enjoying the subtropical climate and an outdoor life style. Frangipani, bougainvillea, gingers, tabebuia, leopard tree, aroids, hibiscus are also common plants.
In the elevated inland districts of South East Queensland you can find more traditional European-style gardens which include cool-climate plants, deciduous trees and ferns.
Best time for seeing gardens in Brisbane and South-east Queensland
April to November are good months for garden lovers to visit Brisbane and South East Queensland with warm, sunny days of 15-25ºC, lower humidity, several garden shows and many private gardens open for visiting.
Best open gardens to see in Brisbane and South-east Queensland with FREE entry
Best open gardens to visit in Brisbane
• City Botanic Gardens – 10 minute walk from city center, with a bamboo grove, mature palms, riverside walk, lakes, fountains and ornamental ponds, and avenue of weeping figs. Self guided and free guided tours available (11am and 1pm from Monday-Saturday).
• Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mt Coot-tha – 15 minute drive from city center or 25 minutes by bus. Fern house, bonsai collection, arid zone, fragrant plants and herb garden, National Freedom Wall, Japanese garden, bamboo grove, rainforest, children’s trail, tropical display dome. Self guided and free guided tours (11am and 1pm Monday-Saturday). Open 8am-5.30pm September-March and 8am-5pm April to August. Café, mobility map available.
• Roma Street Parklands – a contemporary-designed public park on the northern side of the CBD. Includes the Spectacle Garden (always filled with eye-catching colour), a mist-filled rainforest and fern gully and the Lake Precinct. Café and full accessibility.
• South Bank Parklands – southern bank of the Brisbane River, includes public art along the promenade, the bougainvillea-covered one kilometre-long Grand Arbour, sand and swimming at the huge Streets Beach lagoon, and the productive Epicurious Garden. Cafés and restaurants, full accessibility.
• Brisbane Koala Bushlands – 800 hectares, the ideal place for koala and birdlife spotting. Alperton Rd, Burbank
• Eden Gardens Carlesdine – large retail nursery with several designer display gardens
• Redcliffe Botanic Gardens – features many indigenous plants, Chorizema spring, Wallum heathland and Quota Garden maintained by the Society for Growing Australian Plants. Large Peninsula herb garden. 30 minute drive north from Brisbane CBD. Open 6am-6pm daily.
• Java Coast Cafe – George St Brisbane – a small green oasis in the CBD
University of Queensland Global Change Institute greenwall and carbon-neutral building. 30 minute weekly tour on Tuesdays at 11.30am bookings required.
Cloudland – bar and restaurant with large indoor garden and greenwall. Fortitude Valley
• Bunker Coffee – nature is busy reclaiming the façade of this hole-in-the-wall café. Milton.
• Rare Pear Café – Balinese-inspired gardens, Samford Valley
Best open gardens to visit on the Gold Coast
• Gold Coast Regional Botanic Gardens – 31 hectares, 10 minutes drive from Surfers Paradise, sensory garden, native butterfly garden, araucaria forest, dry rainforest, rose garden, mangroves to mountains trail, lake, café. Open dawn to dusk each day.
• Tamborine Mountain Botanic Gardens – perennial garden, Japanese garden, hydrangea garden, witeria pergolas, rose garden, camellia garden. Open dawn to dusk 7 days. Donations appreciated. Forsythia Drive, Tamborine Mountain
Best open gardens to visit on the Sunshine Coast
• Maroochydore Regional Bushland Botanical Gardens – 82 hectares includes eucalypt forest, rainforest, lagoons, cascades, palm gullies, sculpture garden. Tanawah. Open 7am-5pm April-October and 7am-6pm November-March.
• Noosa Botanic Gardens – 8 hectares including fern house, lily pond, Greek-style amphitheatre, bush chapel. Lake Macdonald Drive, Cooroy
Fairhill Native Plants and Botanic Gardens – native plant nursery and extensive 4 hectare (10 acre) garden for native subtropical plants, Ninderry. 8.30am-5pm daily.
• Yandina Community Gardens – permaculture-based community produce garden. 8am-12pm Saturday, Monday and Tuesday.
Best open gardens to see in Brisbane and South-east Queensland with PAID entry
You can find private gardens to visit at Open Gardens in South-east Queensland, Open Garden Events Queensland on Facebook, and also advertising in nurseries, tourist information centers or on local radio. Many are open during the cooler months of April to October.
• The Giving Garden – 1 acre garden in Birkdale, open one weekend in late November
• Sunshine Coast – Maleny Botanic Gardens and Bird World
• Bellingham Maze – star-shaped lilly pilly maze, Tanawah
• Stringybark Cottage Garden – Noosa, group tours only
• ‘Bellis’ – the private sustainable garden of Gardening Australia’s Jerry Coleby Williams is open 1-2 times each year, often Mother’s Day weekend
• ‘Lindmar’, Morayfield – open for groups by appointment
• Coucals Garden, Mount Crosby – occasional public open days and groups by appointment
• ‘Viola’s Patch’, Bahr’s Scrub – private garden and nursery, some public open days and open by appointment
• ‘Joncia’, Logan Reserve – wedding venue with occasional public open days
Brisbane and South-east Queensland garden festivals
• Ipswich Plant Expo – mid March
• Wondai Autumn Garden Expo, Wondai, mid April
• Brisbane Plant Collectors’ Fair – My Coot-tha Botanic Gardens, mid May
• Lindmar Plant Lovers Fair, mid June
• Esk Garden and Lifestyle Fair, Esk, mid June
• Queensland Garden Expo, Nambour, mid July
• Noosa Botanic Gardens Plant Fair – early September
• Brisbane International Garden Show – October
• Bromeliad and Foliage Frenzy – early October
• Buderim Garden Festival – mid October
• Tropical Foliage Festival – late November
Alternatives to garden activities in Brisbane and South-east Queensland
• Visit Queen Street Mall
• Visit the ‘Worlds’ (Sea World, Wet and Wild, Movie World)
• Surfing and whale watching
• Enjoy a cruise on the Brisbane River
• Brisbane hosts a number of international arts and sporting events
• Day trips to see South East Queensland’s many national parks
• Climb Brisbane’s Story Bridge… and abseil down
• South East Queensland is often affectionately called ‘Bris-Vegas’ due to its cosmopolitan lifestyle. Brisbane is known as ‘Brizzie’ to the locals. The indigenous name for Brisbane is Mian-Jin meaning ‘place shaped as a spike’.
• The QLD Parliament building was the first in the British Empire to have electric lights.
• The world’s first cultivated macadamia tree (a nut tree that’s native to Australia) was planted in Brisbane’s botanical gardens in 1858. It is still standing.
• The ‘sister’ of the Liberty Bell (which was rung with the declaration of independence in the USA) is in Brisbane.
• Brisbane’s South Bank was once a coal port, then the site of Expo ’88. Today it is a popular urban park and home to a beach lagoon the size of five Olympic pools.
A few years ago, whilst researching Polyscias (commonly called Aralia) cultivars for a magazine article, I came across mention of their discovery and introduction by William Guilfoyle during his voyage on the HMS Challenger in 1868. I was surprised to learn this was the same W R Guilfoyle (1840 – 1912) who later became the […]