St Kilda Botanical Gardens Tour

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By Dr Helen Topliss

Botanical Gardens like our St Kilda Botanical Gardens in Blessington Street  have a long history going back to the seventeenth century when their primary aim was to serve medical research. With the discovery of new continents new plants were brought back to Europe where they were cultivated in botanical gardens.


By the nineteenth century gardens were increasingly designed to reflect changes in garden design and aesthetics. The new gardens, like the one in St Kilda, were designed to produce beautiful and picturesque prospects.

The St Kilda Botanical Gardens  (SKBG) was initiated in 1859 and opened only seven years after the Royal Melbourne Botanical Gardens. Baron von Mueller, the first director of the Royal Melbourne Botanical Gardens advised on St Kilda’s layout and presented the smaller gardens with several hundred plants, six of the original trees have survived.

A guided tour of the gardens took place on February 8th when we were shown the Asian garden, the Rose garden and the Indigenous section. St Kilda’s gardens is one of the two surviving suburban Botanical Gardens in Victoria. Its original classical design is based on a North/ South axis, and along with its radiating flower beds have been maintained to the present. I visited the gardens on a hot day in February and was greeted by a surge of green scented spaces that transported me away from the busy streets of St Kilda.

RainManRevitalised (compressed)

The pond greets you when you enter from the Herbert St gates On a hot day the “Rain Man” sculpture with jets of water falling from his outstretched umbrella is a welcome sight. As you walk over the lawns you become aware of continuous bird calls. To the left of the pond a small creek ripples over a bed of stones and flows into the pond. Near the Herbert St. gates there’s a large and imposing Conservatory that houses and propagates rainforest plants.

The SKBG has seen many additions and improvements over the decades. In the 1990s the imposing sub-tropical rain forest conservatory was added. The Eco- Centre was established in 2003, this is where you can attend programs on conservation and sustainable living practice.

The memorial rose garden near the centre of the gardens was laid out in 1950 as a tribute to the renowned Rosarian, Alistair Clark. The gardens’ central bed features a surreal cactus like plant whose narrow finger-like stems bristle with needles. The smell on a summer morning is sweet like honey and probably derives from the yellow, cream and purple beds of Petunias. There are many seats placed under shady trees where you can pause and admire the view.

Part of the education programs consists of demonstrations on indigenous plants for both natural medicines and food. There are a number of publications on various aspects of the gardens, and tour programs which can be found on its website. The friends of the St Kilda Gardens group is active with more information at or call ASSIST 9209 6777.

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