Help shape your gardens

During August, the team at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria (RBGV) is calling on the local community to come and share its ideas on how to improve one of the city’s greatest natural assets.

For the first time since 1997, the RBGV is preparing a new 20-year master plan, which includes a number of exciting projects that are set to significantly change the way locals and visitors engage with the gardens.

As Southbank's largest and closest source of public open space, RBGV is interested to hear from the local community.

In an exclusive interview with Southbank Local News last month, director and chief executive Professor Tim Entwisle and chairman Ken Harrison provided an exciting insight of what’s to come at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria (RBGV).

While the City of Melbourne is currently conducting its own master plan for the Domain Parklands, the RBGV master plan will focus on ways of improving life inside the fence.

Prof Entwisle said that the public consultation would help inform the final master plan for its Melbourne gardens.  

“We know people come in because they’re attracted to the beautiful landscape and this is one of the most stunning botanical garden landscapes in the world. It sits up there in the top half dozen,” he said.

“We’re hoping people will come up with ideas that we’ve never thought of. We want more people to get to the gardens. We want people to get more out of their visit and we want to be more influential.”

The RBGV already has some big projects in mind. As part of a multi-million dollar campaign, RBGV is looking to create its own science precinct for Melbourne at the site of the Old Melbourne Observatory, which will include the construction of a new herbarium.

Elsewhere, there are plans for a new glasshouse and more welcoming entrances by the river.  

Having conducted a revised corporate vision in 2014 titled Life is Sustained and Enriched by Plants, Prof Entwisle said RBGV was focused on not only being a place for tourism but also science and education.

“In the new science precinct we’d like to have more interpretation of the site stretching it out from astronomy right through to botany - what I like to call observational science, where you’re looking at nature,” he said.

“As a botanic garden, we can’t just rest on our laurels. We need to be engaging both as a tourist attraction and on important messages such as climate change, health and conservation.”

One of the biggest projects, the construction of an iconic glasshouse, will provide the gardens with the ability to showcase some of the most spectacular plants of the world.

Prof Entwisle explained that its current glasshouse was unable to cope with an increased demand for larger public displays such as the flowering of its renowned titan arum, which attracts thousands of visitors every few years.

“We had 16,000 people lined up to see the titan arum last time so it was in our back-of-house glasshouse here, which is not that attractive and we want something that shows it off,” he said.

“This will be a glasshouse that becomes a destination for Melburnians and tourists so it will be of a size, design and content that will attract people to it.”

“It’s adding to this fantastic garden that we have, but also allowing us to show off a whole range of new plants that we can’t grow here now, creating spaces where you can see them more easily and putting on temporary displays.”

Another exciting project is the planned return of the Great Melbourne Telescope to the Old Melbourne Observatory in the gardens, to become part of the new science precinct.

Once the biggest in the southern hemisphere, the historical telescope will return to the gardens in 2019 having been relocated to the national observatory in Canberra in 1945.

To round off its new science precinct, the RBGV is also planning for the construction of a new herbarium, with the current historic building on Birdwood Ave to be reused for other purposes.

Prof Entwisle said a new herbarium would allow the public to access thousands of rare plant collections, which had never previously been possible.

“There are 1.5 million preserved pressed plants going back to Joseph Banks and Captain Cook coming out to Australia, as well as 400,000 from South America, India and all around the world so it’s an incredible collection of material,” he said.

“Most people don’t know what’s in that building. We’d like the new herbarium to have the storage vault underground and above ground a place where everyone can see some of those historic collections and understand why the herbarium, and plants, are important.”

Prof Entwisle said the master plan would look beyond these major building projects to improving gate entrances and transport links as well as engagement with the Yarra River and indigenous culture.

While past and present government ministers have been responsive to all of its proposals, chairman Ken Harrison said that RBGV would still be calling on funding support from philanthropy, corporate sponsors and the local community.

Being located on the other side of St Kilda Rd, Mr Harrison said that the gardens could in many ways be considered Southbank’s space and that much of its support came from local residents.

“Some of our really good supporters are in the Southbank-South Yarra area and I think they see this as their garden and their space,” he said.

“You can come across here and you’ve got one of the biggest open spaces in Melbourne to enjoy. What an amazing thing to have on your doorstep.”

The RBGV is calling on the local community to share their ideas by completing a short online survey or by attending a special drop-in session with the project team on Saturday, August 20 at the visitor’s centre from 11am to 3pm.

The public consultation process will run until August 31.

For more information and to take the online questionnaire visit

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