Melbourne is one of Australia's oldest cities and its second largest. Developed during the gold rush and wool-wealth era of the mid 19th century, it has many fine buildings, extensive parklands and beautiful gardens. Historically its gardening style reflects an English tradition although newer gardens like the Australian Garden at Cranbourne celebrate gardening with native plants.
Melbourne environs includes the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges, Macedon Ranges, and the Mornington Peninsula.
Gardens to see and visit in and around Melbourne include its fine botanic gardens, historic gardens like Rippon Lea and Buda, Burnley's teaching gardens, large private gardens such as Cloudehill, native gardens at Kuranga and Cranbourne and many residential gardens open during the spring and summer.
Garden Travel Guide to Melbourne and Environs
Getting to/from/around Melbourne
Melbourne is located on the southern coast of eastern Australia, and is the state capital of Victoria. It has an International Airport with connecting flights to/from all major cities and is only 1.25 hours flying time from Sydney.
Melbourne is an easy 7 hours drive south of Canberra and 9 hours south of Sydney.
Melbourne’s garden destinations are easily accessible by public transport, by car or, in the city centre, by using the handy hop-on-hop-off tourist tram.
Victoria’s climate is marked by a range of different climate zones, from the hot, dry regions of the northwest to the alpine snowfields in the northeast.
Melbourne has four distinct seasons: spring (Sept – Nov), summer (Dec – Feb), autumn (March – May) and winter (June – August).
Melbourne has a reputation for its changeable weather, often referred to as having ‘four seasons in one day’. Generally the city enjoys a temperate Mediterranean climate with warm to hot, dry summers; mild, temperate springs and autumns; and cool winters. Temperature ranges average 14°C to 25°C in summer, although Melbourne can have a run of very hot days over 35°C each day. Winter temperatures are 6°C to 14°C. A good tip is to be prepared for any weather – take an umbrella and wear layers that can be worn as needed!
Melbourne’s average annual rainfall is 650mm and spring is the wettest season, however the Dandenong Ranges, an elevated district in the east has 1400mm annually. Southern Victoria, including Melbourne can have very dry and hot summers creating a bushfire risk.
The floral emblem for Victoria is Common Heath – (Epacris impressa) and the Melbourne region is one of the most biologically diverse in Victoria. Victoria has cleared a greater percentage of its native vegetation than any other state in Australia (an estimated 66%) as the land is highly productive farmland and also due to growth and economic development of the state.
Streets throughout Melbourne city and its older suburbs feature large exotic trees and grassland plantings. These trees include many plantings of English elms, now close to extinct in Europe and the UK, growing in its city streets and parks. Newer suburbs have more local Australian native trees.
Melbourne garden styles
Melbourne is the traditional ‘gardening capital’ of Australia, especially for those who favour an English-style garden. Its relatively flat topography of alluvial soils surrounding the Yarra River, an even distribution of yearly rainfall and the Mediterranean climate with relatively mild winters means gardeners enjoy conditions which are the envy of many other Australians living in harsher climates.
Melbourne was a wealthy city from gold and wool exports and thriving finance and retail economies during the 19th century, and this encouraged the development of homes with gardens. In suburbs closest to the CBD, courtyard gardens are hidden behind walls or fences for privacy whilst in the outer suburbs gardeners enjoy larger block sizes where both native and exotic plantings thrive.
Formal gardens with clipped hedges, deciduous trees, standard roses, herbaceous perennials and ornamental grasses are popular throughout the older and wealthier suburbs. Newer suburbs often feature indigenous trees as street plantings.
Some of Melbourne and country Victoria’s finest historic gardens were designed by Edna Walling, arguably Australia’s best 20th century landscape designer. Although many of her gardens have been lost to time, some like Mawarra (which can be visited by guests staying at the house) still show the strong design ‘bones’, including general layout, terracing and ponds at which Walling excelled.
A changing climate is seeing many Melbourne gardeners plant more heat- and drought-tolerant perennials suited to a drier Mediterranean climate, as well as succulents and cactus, and also reduce their lawn areas. Landscape designer Andrew Laidlaw is well-known for his use of drought tolerant plants, while designer Phillip Johnson (who won Gold and Best in Show at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2013) is known for his iconic billabong water-reuse gardens featuring predominantly Australian plants.
Many Melbourne suburbs have beautiful gardens but special streets to walk along include:
• Hawthorn – Shakespeare Grove
• Hawthorn – the area bounded by Barkers Rd, Glenferrie Rd and Power St and the railway line
• Camberwell – the area bounded by Waterloo St, Prospect Hill Rd, Fermanagh Rd and Riversdale Rd
Best open gardens in and around Melbourne with FREE entry
• Royal Botanic Gardens, Victoria – Birdwood Ave, Melbourne. Children (and adults!) will love the Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden; Guilfoyle’s Volcano; the lakes; arid garden; bamboo, camellia, cycad collections, fern gully, rain garden, grey garden, ornamental gates, tropical glasshouse, Plant Craft Cottage, and National Herbarium of Victoria. Open 7.30am to sunset every day.
• Fitzroy Gardens – 26 hectares extensive lawns and mature trees including rare English elms, home to Captain Cook’s Cottage, Spanish-mission style Conservatory, Temple of the Winds, the Fairies tree, a miniature Tudor village, many historic statues and fountains, 2 cafés. Wellington Parade East Melbourne. Free walking tour every Saturday 10am.
• Carlton Gardens – the exquisite Royal Exhibition Building, built for the exhibition of 1880, sits resplendent in these city gardens, surrounded by mature deciduous trees, huge figs, flowerbeds, fountains and two ornamental lakes. Home of the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show at the end of March.
• Burnley Gardens – established from 1861 by the Horticultural Society of Victoria to promote botanical and horticultural science, becoming the Royal Horticultural School. Significant historic trees, and landscape design elements created by successive directors including Luffman. Ponds, shrubberies, native plant garden, meadow plantings, rain garden. 500 Yarra Boulevard, Richmond.
• The System Garden, University of Melbourne School of Land and Environment – 1.5 acre scientific and teaching garden showing the evolution of mosses, cycads, conifers and flowering plants. Founded in 1856. University of Melbourne Grounds and Gardens. 625-631 Swanston Street, Carlton. Open weekdays 8.30am-5pm.
• Birrarung Marr Wildflower Meadow – meadow-style plantings of colourful flowers, a short walk from Federation Square, especially during summer. Batman Ave.
• La Trobe’s Cottage and garden – the cottage garden ‘escape’ of Charles La Trobe, Victoria’s first Governor 1839-1854. The home was relocated from its Jollimont site and the garden has been lovingly recreated around it by dedicated volunteers using period-appropriate species planting. Corner of Birdwood Avenue & Dallas Brooks Drive, Melbourne (near the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Shrine).
• Alexandra Gardens – 1.5 hectares of Federation-era gardens with specimen trees, herbaceous borders, ornamental pond and elegant rotunda. Cotham Road, Kew.
• Canterbury Gardens – Gardenesque-style gardens established in the early 1900s. Specimen trees, large lawns, colourful perennial borders. 190B Canterbury Road, Canterbury.
• Maranoa Gardens – One of Australia’s oldest native gardens established in 1901, the 7 acre gardens have a cottage garden, arid zone, rainforest, arboretum and aboriginal display. Open 7.30am-4pm Mon-Fri and 10am-5pm weekends and public holidays. Yarrabat Ave, Balwyn.
• Abbotsford Convent Gardens – heritage-listed formal garden dating from 1902, restored by volunteers convent over the past 10 years and surrounding a thriving art precinct. Courtyard garden, rare and specimen trees, herb garden, colourful flower beds, rotunda. Open 7.30am-10pm daily. 1 St Helliers St, Abbotsford.
• Heidi Gardens and Sculpture Park – discover the gardens surrounding ‘Heidi’ home of John and Sunday Reed, art lovers who nurtured the talents of many of Australia’s most famous artists, including Nolan, Tucker, Hester, Blackman and Mora. Visit Sunday’s walled garden, kitchen garden, artist gardens by Lauren Berkowitz and Fiona Hall, plus see 30 sculptures across the 15 acre site. 7 Templestowe Rd, Bulleen. Tues-Sun 10am-5pm. Free entry to gardens and sculpture park.
• Victoria State Rose Garden – 5 hectares featuring over 5000 roses. Open all year, October-April 9.30am-6pm, April-September 8.30am-5pm. K Road, Werribee South. Best viewing months November and March.
Best open gardens in and around Melbourne with PAID entry
• Rippon Lea House and Gardens
• Como Historic House and Garden
• The Melbourne Club’s Walled Garden
• Flemington Rose Garden
Melbourne garden festivals and events
• Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (MIFGS) – late March.
• Garden DesignFest – biennial festival of designer open gardens, one weekend every second November. Next November 2017
• Australian Landscape Conference – every second year, next late March 2018
• State Rose and Garden Show – mid November
How to find private gardens to see in Melbourne
Most private gardens open during spring and autumn and are advertised at nurseries, tourist information centres or on local radio.
Open Gardens Victoria has an excellent program of open gardens throughout Melbourne and country Victoria, mostly open during the spring and autumn/fall months.
Every second November, Garden DesignFest opens up to 40 designer gardens throughout Melbourne and environs. (Next Garden DesignFest openings are in 2016 and 2018)
Best time to visit Melbourne gardens and garden festivals
Spring (Sept – Nov)
Autumn (March – May)
Gardens open in Victoria that are a one to two hour drive from Melbourne city
Gardens open on the Mornington Peninsula (south of Melbourne)
• Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Cranbourne Gardens 15 hectares of unique Australian landscapes showcasing native plants and exhibition gardens such as the Backyard Garden, Lifestyle Garden, Diversity Garden and Home Garden. Meet the Garden Ambassadors in the Garden Shed 11am-3pm. Rockpool Waterway, Melaleuca Spits, Lilypad Bridge, Gondwana Garden and River Walk. Bike track and extensive wildlife walks. Cnr Ballarto Road and Botanic Drive (off South Gippsland Fwy), Cranbourne. Open 9am-5pm daily.
• Cruden Farm
• The McClelland Gallery
• Ashcombe Maze
• Enchanted Adventure Garden
• Austplant Nursery
• Panorama Garden Estate
Open Gardens in the Macedon Ranges
• Garden of St Erth
• Wombat Hill House
• Blackwood Ridge Nursery
• Frogmore Gardens
• Tieve Tara
• Forest Glade
• Buda Historic Home and Garden
• Castlemaine Botanic Gardens
• Dicksonia Rare Plants Nursery
Best open gardens in the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges
• Heritage Hill Museum and Historic Gardens
• Kuranga Native Nursery
• Blue Water Lotus Garden
• Hedgeland Maze
• Pirianda Gardens
• William Ricketts Sanctuary – sculptures of aboriginal figures displayed in a beautiful natural setting
• Coombe garden – historic estate of the famous opera diva, Dame Nellie Melba. Garden tours available.
Alternatives to Gardens – places and activities around Melbourne
• Queen Victoria Markets
• Melbourne Museum (adjacent to Carlton Gardens)
• Federation Square
• Eat in one of the trendy cafes Degrave Street
• Heide Museum of Modern Art
• Melbourne hosts a number of international arts and sporting events such as the Melbourne Writers Festival, Formula 1 Grand Prix, and the tennis Australian Open.
Fun Facts about Melbourne
• Melbourne was the capital city of Australia for 26 years between 1901 and 1927 before the capital moved to Canberra.
• Melbourne has the largest tram system outside of Europe, and the fourth largest in the world overall.
• In 1856, Melbourne workers successfully campaigned for the world’s first 8-hour work day. All the rest of us are still thankful today!
• The world-famous ‘Aussie’ beer Fosters Lager was originally produced in Melbourne – by two Americans, but is now rarely drunk in Australia.
• Melbourne has the highest number of restaurants and cafes per capita than any other city in the world!
As the coach left the Melbourne Arts Centre the clouds darkened and raindrops spattered on the windscreen, increasing to a deluge as we progressed towards north east Victoria. But we are intrepid gardeners and obsessive garden visitors so we refused to be daunted!
One part of Australia that has some stunning walking and floral displays and that’s relatively safe in summer is known locally as the High Country, in the Alpine and Kosciuszko National Parks. Garden lovers are nature lovers and one of my favourite pastimes is packing my rucksack and saying goodbye to reality before taking off into the Australian bush on my own for a few days of walking.
The 2015 Australian Landscape Conference was memorable, with over 600 attendees following the input of landscape designers from overseas and Australia – all expert, energetic, upstanding deep thinkers.
“Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go.” A quote by Captain James Cook in reference to him digging for potatoes in his garden? Perhaps unlikely, but the great explorer may have had a greener upbringing than […]
A few months ago I took one of my regular trips down to Melbourne to visit a close girlfriend who lives there. Over the three days I was there, I was struck by how green Melbourne was. Not that it has more parkland that I remembered or that it was mindblowingly sustainable – but that […]
I am smugly replete. What an amazing two full-on days of gardens. About 327 gardens all up I think, although maybe that was me feeling a little drunk on the heady elixir of high-quality design. Checking the DesignFest book, I see we made it to 17 of the 26 possible gardens, taking in tiny courtyards, […]