Spring in Melbourne is most apparent in the Yarra River Precinct, where the eastern end of the city’s watercourse is enclosed in the lushness of European gardens. Our 19th century pioneers harked for the greenery of the homeland, so decided to convert what was then Yarra River swamp land into the botanical delights we see today.
Queen Victoria’s marble statue was elevated on a large pedestal on a small hill on the southern bank of the river in 1907. From that point of Melbourne she could be seen by anyone travelling up and down St Kilda Road. Nowadays, she looks into the crowns of very tall trees in the beautifully boutique Queen Victoria Gardens. Another remarkable women is celebrated nearby. The classical style rotunda was installed by public subscription in 1913 in memory of philanthropist Janet Lady Clarke, who worked for the welfare of women. It’s an elegant place of contemplation.
There are many horticultural gems on the Yarra banks, which are just begging for a visit during the spring and early summer months. Most people know the big names – Royal Botanic Gardens, The Domain, Birrarung Marr etc – but we want to give you a few ideas for lesser known jewels, which are just perfect for quiet reflection or perhaps a picnic.
Few visitors to Arts Centre Melbourne realise that around the back of the spired Theatres building is a public garden full of sculptures and green lawns. Adjoining is the beautiful Persimmon Garden at the rear of the National Gallery, which is accessed through the Great Hall. Both these gardens are so close to the CBD, but they lend tranquility to the otherwise busy city life.
Just uphill from Alexandra Avenue, near its intersection with the Swan Street Bridge, sits ‘The Grotto’ on the hillside before you enter the Botanic Gardens. It’s a former early quarry of Melbourne, which was transformed in the early 1900s into some small but very beautiful walkways of ferns, pools and a waterfall. Nearby is the Pioneer Womens’ Memorial Garden, sunk into the hillside. It was created in 1934 to commemorate the courage and contribution of the State’s women pioneers. The tiled reflection pool and ornamental flower beds are designed to represent the ‘old world’ that the women sacrificed when they migrated to Australia.
Just inside gate ‘H’ of the Royal Botanic Gardens (Alexander Ave side) you will find a native garden which is the remnant of the original Yarra River. The original watercourse used to run through what is now the botanic gardens. When they straightened the river in the late 1800s to alleviate flooding, it was moved a hundred metres to the north, which turned the old bend in the river into a billabong, which has been lovingly preserved by the gardens staff to this day as the only reminder of what the Yarra River once looked like.
Most people visit the Shrine of Remembrance without experiencing the memorial gardens and memorials scattered around the southern flanks of the hillock, extending from the Shrine itself down to the McPherson Robertson fountain at the Domain Road/ St Kilda Road intersection.
And finally, for a piece of Melbourne history and folklore, visit the Speakers Corner, located in Birrarung Marr, just near the western end of the tennis centre. Under the wonderful canopy of oaks and elms you will see small elevated mounds of stone. This is where the social reformers and firebrands of early Melbourne preached their messages to sometimes hundreds of people at a time. It was perhaps our earliest social media.
All these secret gardens, and many more, are outlined in two free brochures available from the Melbourne Visitor Centre in Federation Square: ‘Melbourne City River Walks’ and ‘Melbourne Walks no. 2- secret gardens’. You can also find guides on our website.