Melbourne is the second-largest city in Australia, and it can be easy to get caught up in the rush of day-to-day life. Fortunately, there is a reason why Victoria is known as the ‘Garden State’. Melbourne has the best gardens in the country, providing a calming refuge from the city and its suburbs. So pack a picnic, or a good book, and discover some of Melbourne’s cultivated gems.
Royal Botanic Gardens
Queen Victoria Gardens
The Queen Victoria Gardens are part of the Domain Parklands, which stretch along St Kilda Road from the Yarra River to the botanic gardens. The gardens were created as a memorial to the monarch who named the state, and two of its grandest statues depict Queen Victoria and her son, Edward VII. The best-known feature of the gardens is the large floral clock, which contains around 7,000 flowers and is redesigned twice a year. The many flower beds around the area provide a beautiful splash of colour and make the garden a nice place to escape to from the city buildings.
The Flagstaff Gardens have the distinction of being Melbourne’s first gardens, and the slightly morbid honour of being the city’s first burial site. The highest point of the city has been a social hub since 1840. Nowadays, the space is a green oasis for city workers. Its expansive lawns offer plenty of spots to enjoy the sun or eat in the shade, and strategically placed chairs offer limited views of the port. It’s not a place to hide from the city. Buildings loom over the trees, and trams trundle past regularly; however, the greenery provides a protective bubble from the hustle and bustle of the streets.
Head north of the city grid to find this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The gardens were originally built for Melbourne’s 1880 International Exhibition, the pinnacle of the Marvellous Melbourne age, and are now protected as a remnant of the international exhibition movement. Many elements designed for the event can still be found surrounding the Royal Exhibition Building. The fountains surrounding the grand building are from 1880, and the layout of the gardens has been recreated from the original plans. Take a seat under the avenue of trees leading from Victoria Street and pretend you’re in a different era.
One of the first gardens set aside for ‘respite and relaxation’ in Melbourne, the Fitzroy Gardens were established in the 1860s. The avenues of trees and ornamental lakes are relaxing escapes from the streets and are the scene of many weddings, plus the gardens are full of attractions. A historically important scarred tree predates European settlement and can be found near a path on the south side of the garden. The Fairies Tree in the centre of the gardens was carved by a local author and donated to local children, while the nearby model Tudor village was presented to the city after the Second World War.
Built high above the banks of the Yarra River, the Como House and Gardens are all that remain of a sprawling riverfront property. The house was built during Victoria’s gold rush, and the gardens were designed not long after. It’s worth booking a ticket online to see the antique furniture and period ballroom of the historic house on weekends, but if you come on a week day, you can have the pretty, well-maintained garden nearly all to yourself. Sparsely dotted chairs provide refuge from the sun and provide a place to sit and stare at the magnificent figs, colourful native plants and pretty cream-colored house.
The Rippon Lea House and Gardens is a lovely place to explore. The expansive paths around the property create a tree-lined labyrinth, slowly revealing the grand old house, a fern conservatory and other hidden delights. The lake at the back of the property is particularly gorgeous. Make sure to visit all the islands connected to the shore by pretty painted bridges. There’s also a lookout at the back of the property – take the narrow steps up to the top, and you may be able to catch a glimpse of the sea between the thick branches. The original owner used it to watch his ships sail into the harbour.
Cranbourne Botanic Gardens
The expansive Cranbourne Botanic Gardens specialises in showcasing and protecting native Australian plants. It’s easy to forget you’re still in the suburbs as you explore seemingly endless natural heathlands, wetlands and woodlands. The area is a haven for rare native animals, which may be glimpsed from the carefully set out walking tracks. The award-winning Australia Garden is the centrepiece of the Botanic Gardens. Split into sections, the garden provides an intriguing look into the flora of different climates and ecosystems around Australia. There are special exhibits for eucalypts, scented flowers, and the strangest trees in the country.
One of the state’s historical gems, Werribee Park is a beautiful snapshot of 19th-century Victoria. The Victorian-era formal gardens immediately around the historical mansion have been expertly maintained and provide a number of spaces to sit and enjoy a picnic or a good book. It also features an island grotto, which is a must-see. It was built by the original owners of the mansion to provide shade in the hot Australian summers and to impress visitors; it is elaborately decorated with shells, seeds and teeth. The park is also home to the Victoria State Rose Garden and a sculpture walk featuring the work of contemporary local artists.
Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens
The popular Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens are in the Dandenongs and are named for the successful aspirin businessman who created them in the 1920s. Donated to the public after his death, the gardens are best known for their extensive water features and mountain ash trees. The impressive lake, gentle waterfalls and mossy ponds are picturesque and provide a place of calm in the often-busy attraction. Take a stroll around the rockeries, but be warned – the gardens can get crowded on weekends when the weather is nice, and the car park fills up quickly. Best to get here early.