Here’s  a second offering in my new series of posts featuring some parks, gardens and open spaces I visited recently in Australia. Shortly after arriving in Melbourne we took a trip along the coast to an old settlement called Williamstown. The Botanical Gardens are on the edge of Town and seem to be a relic of it’s Victorian past….the Croquet, Bowls  and Lacrosse clubs sit nearby.

The Gardens aren’t large but they do contain quite a range of planting and have a strong structure with an impressive avenue of palms, pond and statuary. Williamstown Botanic Gardens are one of Victoria’s first public gardens. In a newly developing colony, botanic gardens were established as a way of assessing how well familiar plants would grow, as a place for reliving the English landscape and as a place for social outings and walks. The gardens are listed on the Victorian Heritage Register as significant for their historical, aesthetic,scientific (horticultural) and social significance to the state of Victoria and are also listed on the National Register and classified by The National Trust of Australia (Vic.)

In March 1856, following a petition by the residents of Williamstown to the Government of the Colony, a 10 acre site was formally set aside for ‘a Public Park and Pleasure Ground’. The gardens were designed by Edward La Trobe Bateman, designer and artist, and laid out by William Bull (appointed as Municipal Surveyor to the newly established Williamstown Borough Council) in 1856. By 1859 works carried out were described with pleasure in a report submitted by Council:

“Great progress has been made in laying out and planting of the Garden. Paths are all formed and the shell metalling nearly completed…shrubs and flowers are already showing their heads and tout ensemble is assuming a cheerful and enlivening aspect. Liberal contributions of plants, cuttings, seeds have been received from Dr Mueller(sic) of the Botanic Gardens (and) Mr Bunce of the Geelong Public Gardens…”

Plan of Williamstown Botanic Gardens laid out (c 1856) by Bateman. Earliest known plan of the Gardens. Courtesy University of Melbourne Library.

The gardens are divided into two sections:

  • Northern section – Formal garden beds, lawns and an ornamental pond;

  • Southern section – Parker Reserve Pinetum, a collection of Pines trees. A popular shady place for picnics.

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Historically Samuel Thake’s period of curatorship from 1899 to 1912 is considered the high point in the development of the site. His initiatives included installation of the cast iron gates in 1907 and construction of the ornamental lake, all which contribute to the strong Edwardian flavour of the gardens today. Since its inception the gardens have been blessed with the careful stewardship of dedicated curators and gardeners who have passed along Victorian and Edwardian gardening methods to the present day. The authenticity of the gardens you see today are the result of an unbroken line of horticultural knowledge and tradition.

The Williamstown Botanic Gardens have always played an important role in the social and cultural lives of the people of Hobsons Bay and visitors from much further afield. In the past grand fetes, garden parties, charity functions and children’s picnics hosted by the Mayor and other dignitaries were some of the municipality’s most popular social occasions. Day trippers took trains from all over Melbourne to spend the day at nearby Williamstown beach before retreating to the shade of the Pinetum and Gardens to enjoy the lawns and floral displays.


Williamstown Botanic Gardens 1922 Mayoral garden party

13 December 1922 Mayoral Garden Party – Williamstown Botanic Gardens – Mayor JJ Liston. Photo courtesy SLV

In recent years the gardens have become the scene for much loved events and activities such as Shakespeare in the Gardens, garden parties, Storytime under the Elm, Reading Corner, school activities, the Paint the Gardens art event, tree and heritage walks, as well as providing a peaceful setting in which to enjoy a picnic, take a stroll along the intricate pathways or just relax and daydream on the cool, green lawns. The gardens are also a very popular location for wedding ceremonies and photographs.

The gardens are home to bats, possums, a wide range of birds and more than 150 species of insects. Visitors can enjoy the restored ornamental lake as well seasonal flowering delights provided by the botanical collection all in a charming seaside location.

As well as its Botanic Garden, Williamstown has plenty of other interest; a busy old suburb of the City, with a very attractive waterfront and many wonderful old style houses, for instance…

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Old School Gardener

Sources and further information:

Hobsons Bay Council website

Friends of Williamstown Botanic Garden