Crunch, shuffle, sweep and pile Melbourne's deepest leaves
Here are my five favourite parks in Melbourne for playing in Autumn leaves. Melbourne is well known for its European parks and gardens, but only a few accumulate enough leaf litter to kick your feet around in. At these parks you and your kids can crunch, shuffle, scoop, pile and bury yourselves in a gleeful celebration of the change in seasons. To be on my list, these parks have (i) clusters of well established deciduous trees, (ii) no undergrowth and (iii) no overzealous gardeners trying to take the leaves away. The best time to visit is usually May and June (i.e. late Autumn and early Winter) during or after light winds. To make the most of an outing with your kids, bring along a plastic rake and bucket.
1. Emerald Lake Park, Emerald In my experience, Emerald Lake Park is the best place in Melbourne to play in Autumn leaves. The leaf litter at the northern end of the lake is deep enough to bury a small child in, so make sure your child is wearing bright coloured clothing if you don't want to lose them. The variety of trees means that the season available for Autumn leaf playing is relatively long, with poplars, elms, oaks and maple trees all contributing.
2. Victoria Gardens, Prahran Victoria Gardens is a small, picturesque garden on High Street in Prahran. A ring of plane trees enclose a little oval that becomes covered in Autumn leaves at around the start of May. I love the proportions of this garden at any time of year, but when the oval is coated in amber, the sight warms your heart on sunny Autumn days. The oval is a dogs-off-leash area, so bring your dog to play in the leaves and keep a close eye on your kids around other dogs.
A little dog prancing in Autumn leaves on the oval at Victoria Gardens, Prahran
The road through Carlton Gardens leading up to the Exhibition Buildings is a popular spot for photographers seeking to capture the colours of Autumn. However, the leaves here are often swept or blown away as soon as they hit the ground. The best place for Autumn leaf playing is at the other end of the gardens, next to the wall at the back of the Melbourne Museum. Here the leaves are trapped, accumulating from the alley of elms that runs alongside. The gardens also have stands of plane trees, oaks, and poplars, so you can find fallen leaves throughout the gardens, albeit not as deep as behind the museum.
The bank of elm tree leaves at the rear of the museum in Carlton Gardens
The paths at the western end of Caulfield Park are lined with plane trees that drop enough leaves to fully cover the area between the duck pond and the kids playground. Race through the leaves as you are chased by geese trying to hustle you out of whatever crumbs of food might be in your pockets.
The thick coating of plane tree leaves strewn on the ground in Caulfield Park
5. Ardrie Park, East Malvern According to the City of Stonnington, the elm trees that wind around the oval in Ardrie Park were replanted here in 1918 after spending their adolescence in a nearby street, making them well over 100 years old. The south-eastern corner of the park has a small lawn away from the dogs-off-leash. This area gets covered in elm leaves from the avenue of elms that border it.
Raking, collecting and tipping Autumn leaves at Ardrie Park
Other spots around town that you can also try include Kings Domain, Yarra Park, Treasury Gardens, Fitzroy Gardens and the Royal Botanical Gardens, however the gardeners tend to be more active in clearing away the leaves in these city parks. From what I observed, plane trees tended to drop their leaves a few weeks earlier than elms and oaks, so if you go to one of the plane tree parks above and they are bare, try one of the parks with elm trees. If you know of any other spots around town for playing in deep Autumn leaves, feel free to leave a comment below.