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The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

Home > Sydney > Parks | Gardens | Free | Family | Disabled Access
by Sue Hinchey (subscribe)
A freelance writer living and loving in the northern beaches of Sydney...travelling, writing, outdoor activities, gardens, and Pilates are a few of my favourite things. Visit me or
Published March 2nd 2017
This Royal Green Space is a Monumental Achievement
royal botanic garden sydney
main entrance on Art Gallery Road

In the heart of Sydney, the pulse of the Royal Botanic Gardens never stops beating. Opened in 1816, this still-thriving botanical powerhouse is the oldest scientific institution in Australia. It's open every day and entry is free. No matter what the season is, or how often I stroll through here, I'm always amazed by something new. It can be the sheer majesty of the trees, an amazing plant specimen, or simply just the peace and ambience of the place, just a few blocks from the city. Autumn is particularly lovely, as the camellia and windflower come into flower. It's perfectly positioned overlooking sparkling Sydney harbour, and the original Farm Cove settlement, established in 1788 by Governor Phillip, began Australia's long history of plant collection.

royal botanic garden sydney
unique plant specimens fill every space

This Wednesday is drizzling with long-needed rain, and as I enter the main entrance on Art Gallery Road, the sounds of the city fade away behind me. I grab a park map from the friendly ladies at the information booth, then follow the top path past Rathborne Lodge. This beautifully restored sandstone building was built in 1856 to provide accommodation for the Governor's garden staff. A little further along the path, I stroll past the red salvias and I walk into The Fernery. I can't help but stop and gaze upwards at the enormous size and array of ferns. The display of exotic and precious plants is truly amazing.

royal botanic garden sydney
entrance to The Fernery
rathborne lodge botanic gardens sydney
Restored regal Rathborne Lodge

Continuing north towards Government House, my pace slows to absorb the cool air along The Rainforest walk. Scent soon fills the air and I follow my nose through the Palace Rose Garden and take inspiration from the layout of the Herb Garden - a couple of raised beds filled with a range of edibles - gets me thinking about changes I could be making to my little patch at home.

Rainforest Walk Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
section of the Rainforest Walk

The sun comes out so I track down towards the harbour and pause in the shade in a stand of bamboo. I spot the lion statues that lead me to the Garden's Restaurant and Café, the perfect spot for a cuppa next to a pond covered in water lilies. The oriental garden is nearby and I'm lucky the lotus is blooming.

Lotus garden Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
Lotus in flower
Royal Botanic Gardens Restaurant
indoor and outdoor seating at the Gardens Restaurant and Cafe
royal botanic garden sydney
water-lilies in flower

Meandering pathways lead off in different directions, leading me through different habitats, such as the Begonia Garden, the Succulent Garden and the Tropical Garden area. Information boards are strategically placed on plants and buildings which give insight and information to what I'm looking at, such as plants used in modern medicine, and the unique ornamental pink banana plant.

royal botanic garden sydney
ornamental pink banana

royal botanic garden sydney
information boards dotted throughout the gardens

The southern side of the old stone Macquarie wall is The Spring Walk, first planted in 1856, with a variety of rhododendrons, wisterias, and azaleas. The display is regenerated at intervals to exhibit diversity and colour. Historic statues dotted throughout the greenery add another dimension of history, such as the original culvert/drain directing water under Mrs Macquarie's Road. Nearby is the Information Centre and Gift Shop, and I pop in for a browse through their wonderful range of botanical books and gifts.

royal botanic garden sydney
Information Centre & Gift Shop

royal botanic garden sydney
Convict-built Macquarie Culvert

I browse through the nursery corner, where it's possible to buy plant specimens, and notice signs advertising regular workshops to cater for children's interests. There are monthly activities offering something to appeal to all ages, such as bird photography or drawing. For thousands of years, the traditional owners of this land were the Cadigal people, one of the seven Aboriginal clans that inhabited coastal Sydney. The establishment of a penal colony on this land changed their lives forever.

royal botanic garden sydney
time-line of the Cadigal people

Established in 1816 by Governor Macquarie to be part of the Governor's Domain, the Royal Botanic Gardens covers 30 hectares. Bordering the harbour at Farm Cove, it has been in a state of constant change and cultivation. The oldest surviving public glasshouse, in use for over 100 years to house delicate tropical plants, was restored in the 1990's and is still used for exhibitions. The National Herbarium here contains one of Australia's biggest reference collections of plant specimens dating back to those collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander in 1770. It is used to study ecology, evolution, disease and sustainability.

National Herbarium botanic gardens sydney
The Herbarium

royal botanic garden sydney
Australia's oldest public glasshouse

The RBG Trust do a marvellous of job of not only keeping the garden in a healthy state to ensure its survival and future, but also of embracing and honouring its historic past. Free Guided Walks are offered every day at 10.30am, plus Aboriginal Heritage Tours every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 10am. Their current special and newest attraction, The Calyx, is still showing until 17 April, 2017. Meter parking is available in Mrs Macquaries Road or The Domain Car Park. Plus, check out what's happening at The Australian Botanic Garden, Mt Annan, and The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mt. Tomah.
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Why? visit Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens
Phone: 02-92318111
Where: Art Gallery Road, Sydney
Cost: Free
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