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The White Hat Guide to

Parks & Gardens in Melbourne

Parks and Gardens


Melbourne is famous for its parks and gardens. This is the White Hat Guide to some of our favourites together with garden events and guided tours.

Parks & Gardens


Flower & Garden Shows & Festivals

Melbourne has superb parks and gardens - many of them European in influence and planting. In fact Melbourne is reputed to have the largest population of European Elm Trees in the world - including Europe. Any visit to Melbourne that does not take in some of the parks is ignoring part of the essence and lifestyle of Melbourne. City workers take for granted that within a short walk (or tram ride) they can find a pleasant park where they can have their lunch. Residents of the inner suburbs have access to bushland within a few kilometres of the city where they can read a book and not encounter a living soul (apart from the birds) all day. Residents of middle and outer suburbs often take tree-lined streets and access to open parkland for granted. All this for a city of 3 million people.

Botanic Gardens

The city's botanic gardens, many of them established in the nineteenth century in the European landscaped style, often featuring monuments, sculptures and public art, represent the formal side of Melbourne's parks and gardens. The queen of them all, of course, is the Royal Botanic Gardens - a world-class garden within a short distance of the city centre. Other smaller formal gardens cluster around the city centre, The  Fitzroy and Treasury Gardens, the Carlton Gardens (sometimes referred to as the Exhibition Gardens) and the Flagstaff Gardens  are all within a short walk from the city centre or accessible from the free City Circle Tram.

Other botanic gardens in the tradition of the Victorian era can be found in the suburbs (for instance Williamstown Botanic Gardens and St Kilda Gardens) while fine examples can be found in country Victoria such as at Ballarat, Hamilton and Geelong. There are also gardens in this tradition to be found in the grounds of stately homes such as Como, Rippon Lea and the Mansion at Werribee Park.

To see how this European botanic tradition has helped shape part of the character of Melbourne White Hat would also recommend you soak up some of the atmosphere of the luxuriant tree-lined streets and private gardens of the 'leafy suburbs'.

Native & Indigenous Gardens

A different aspect of Melbourne & Victoria's parks and gardens can be found in those using solely native and indigenous plantings. A major example can be found in the Australian Garden and Botanic Gardens at Cranbourne, and a smaller one (accessible by public transport) is the Maranoa Gardens In country Victoria, an important example is the native garden at Gol Gol. Some newer parks such as Birrarung Marr feature indigenous plantings while some wonderful examples of contemporary landscaping using indigenous plantings can be found in surprising places such as new industrial estates.


Melbourne also boasts large amounts of parkland with open spaces, trees and room for a wide range of activities. An excellent example close to the city is Royal Park. Other examples include Albert Park with its artificial lake created from the original swampland. The nearby Fawkner Park is a wonderful example of a European style park that still welcomes sport and other non-passive activities as part of its design. The various water authorities often maintain such parks in catchment areas and around major waterways.


Some parks consist of relatively untouched bushland. A splendid example can be found in sections of Studley Park close to the city.

Specialist Parks

Some parks were created or are used for specialist purposes. The park surrounding the McClelland and Heide galleries are used particularly (but not solely) for sculpture. The 'Singing Gardens' in the Dandenongs are maintained because of the inspiration they provided to local poet C.J.Dennis.

Composite Parks

Many parks are large enough to contain several or all of the above functions in their boundaries. Thus it is not uncommon to find a park that contains a landscaped European style section, some open bushland, some open parkland and playing fields as well as fulfilling a number of other purposes. A White Hat favourite in the inner suburbs is the Edinburgh Gardens. In country areas this may include a camping ground, a stockyard, or the site used for agricultural shows.

Institutional and Private Gardens

Many fine parks and gardens were established in the grounds of stately homes and public or private institutions. Some are open to the general public including the heritage gardens of the Abbotsford Convent. Others form part of heritage properties and can be viewed as part of entry (a charge usually applies) to that property. These include, Como, Ripponlea and Werribee Park Mansion. Some gardens such as those at Parliament House and Government House are only accessible to the public on special tours or the occasional open day. If you would like to be kept informed of such open days we suggest that you subscribe to our free email newsletter.

State Parks, National Parks and Conservation Parks

Victoria has large areas set aside as protected bushland and natural environment. Perhaps the best loved park of this nature for Melbournians is Wilsons Promontory in South Gippsland.

A brief history of Melbourne's parks & gardens

A favourite recreation for the early European inhabitants of Melbourne was to make their way to the top of Burial Hill (now Flagstaff Gardens) and enjoy the view of the 'Blue Lake'. Little did most of them know they were viewing a parkland that had been created and managed by man. For many centuries the local Aboriginal inhabitant had used 'firestick farming' to change the environment and create a more 'harvestable' source of food in the form of wildlife and edible platforms. Early accounts of this 'managed parkland' paint a wonderful picture of wild beauty.

The small European settlement slowly grew in the period from 1835 to 1850 and, despite the grand city grid layed out by Robert Hoddle, had few of the 'civilized' aspects taken for granted in a European town when Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe arrived in 1839. By the time he handed over to Governor Hotham in 1854 there had been a gold rush, a major population explosion and La Trobe had left Melbourne with an impressive legacy of proclaimed 'public lands' around the newly growing city. The concept of what was appropriate usage for public land in the 1850s, particularly in a community heavily dependent on animals such as horses, was somewhat different from that assumed in the early 21st century. Over time public infrastructure such as hospitals, railways, schools, cemeteries and sporting facilities were to occupy part of this public land. Some sections (such as parts of Parkville) were sold off as private housing. However a large amount of La Trobe's public land ended up as parks and gardens. His plan did not particularly allow for the preservation of natural parks and bushland (the Blue Lake became the public utility of a railway yard) but parts of Studley Park still provide natural bushland within a short distance of the city and part of Royal Park has been redeveloped as native parkland.

Proposed Parks 1920s

Some community and vegetable gardens

Some private parks and gardens - occasionally open to the public on special occasions

Some issues related to Melbourne's parks & gardens

Unfortunately, all this green does not always mean environmentally sound. For more information see some comments from our newsletter No.45 of 10th April 2003.

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