Australia's botanic gardens are a showcase of Australian flora with unique trees and plants and areas for leisurely walks, picnics, and relaxation. Interestingly, most Australian capital cities have botanic gardens within walking distance of their city centres or a short drive away.
1. Australian Capital Teritory
The nation's capital, Canberra, has 90 hectares devoted to the Australian National Botanic Gardens located on the lower slopes of Black Mountain. Of this area, some 40 hectares are currently developed.
Interestingly, Canberra was known as a "city of flowers" in the 1930s but did not have botanic gardens until 1949 when Australian Prime Minister Ben Chifley planted an oak and a eucalypt to mark the start of Canberra's botanic gardens. The botanic gardens opened to the public in 1967 and were officially opened by Prime Minister John Gorton in 1970. In 1978 the Canberra Botanic Gardens were renamed the National Botanic Gardens.
The Australian National Botanic Gardens maintain a scientific collection of native plants from all parts of Australia which visitors are able to view on bus tours and guided (and unguided) walks. Research into plant classification and biology is conducted at the gardens which include a herbarium of preserved plant specimens closely associated with the living collection.
Cultivating plants threatened in the wild helps protect them against extinction and may help reintroduce them to their natural habitat.
A Red Centre Garden with a selection of plants from central Australia is scheduled to open in 2013 as part of Canberra's centenary festivities.
2. New South Wales
One of the most accessible botanic gardens in a major Australian city are Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney within walking distance of the Sydney city centre.
For visitors to the city, the World Heritage-listed Sydney Opera House is a primary attraction, and the Royal Botanic Gardens begin just to the east of it on the harbour side. A southern entrance, one of several along Macquarie St and Cahill Expressway, is across the Expressway from the State Library of New South Wales. Those coming from the Art Gallery of NSW section of The Domain access the gardens through the Woolloomooloo Gate.
Mount Annan Botanic Garden in southwest Sydney and Mount Tomah Botanic Garden in the Blue Mountains are parts of the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney.
Mount Annan comprises 416 hectares devoted to native plants with special collections of grevillea, bottlebrush, banksia, wattle, eucalypt and a clonal collection of the wild Wollemi pine colony. Mt Tomah Botanic Garden is a 252-hectare site devoted to cool-climate plants.
Aside from the harbourside, Mount Annan and Mount Tomah botanic gardens, a large number of other gardens, arboreta and native plant reserves are to be found within the state. These include botanic gardens in Albury, Auburn, Batemans Bay, Hunter region on the Pacific Highway, Wagga Wagga and Wollongong.
3. Northern Territory
Darwin's botanic gardens, begun in 1886 at its present site within the Fannie Bay cultural and recreational precinct, are named after George Brown, mayor of Darwin from 1992 until his death in 2002, in recognition of his contribution and 32 years' service to the development of Darwin.
The gardens were initially established to introduce and evaluate food plants but have now grown to display a wider variety including ornamental flora.
In an area of 42 hectares the botanic gardens are about two kilometres north of the Darwin business district and include floral displays, playgrounds, barbecue and picnic areas, and other amenities.
Elsewhere in the Northern Territory, the Olive Pink Botanic Garden comprises 16 hectares in Alice Springs devoted to plants of the Australian arid regions. Also in the area is the Alice Springs Desert Park which is not devoted exclusively to Australian plants but also to Australian wildlife.
With climate ranging from tropical in the north to subtropical and temperate in the south, and with areas of mountains and valleys and coastal plains, Queensland is home to a wide variety of plants identified and displayed in its many botanic gardens, among them Flecker Botanic Gardens in Cairns, Emerald Botanic Gardens in the central highlands, Bunderberg Botanic Gardens in Bundaberg, Goondiwindi Botanic Gardens in the Darling Downs, Great Sandy Region Botanic Gardens on the Sunshine Coast, and Gold Coast Regional Botanic Gardens 10 minutes' drive from central Surfers Paradise.
Brisbane itself has the City Botanic Gardens along the Brisbane River at Gardens Point adjacent to the city centre and the Brisbane Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-tha seven kilometres away.
City Botanic Gardens feature stands of bamboo and fig trees, ornamental ponds, a boardwalk, unusual botanic species and Brisbane's most mature gardens. Mt Coot-tha is Queensland's subtropical botanic gardens among whose features are Japanese Gardens, a Freedom Wall monument, waterfalls and the largest collection of rainforest trees in the world. Mt Coot-tha is also home to the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium.
5. South Australia
The city of Adelaide is encircled by swards of green including Adelaide Botanic Garden, at the northeastern end of the city centre, comprising some 50 hectares of feature gardens, public installations by South Australian artists, a restaurant, cafe and kiosk, and areas for walks and picnics. The Adelaide Botanic Garden is one of three public gardens that comprise the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide. The other two are Mount Lofty Botanic Garden, 98 hectares east of Adelaide in the Adelaide Hills; and Wittunga Botanic Garden, 14 hectares in Blackwood, a southeastern suburb in the Adelaide foothills.
Various other gardens and arboreta — including the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden in Port Augusta West some 320 kilometres north-northwest of Adelaide at the head of Spencer Gulf, and Terowie Arid Lands Botanical Garden in Terowie 220 kilometres north of Adelaide adjacent to the town's Main St — are to be found throughout the state.
Australia's second oldest botanic gardens (after the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney), The Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens, located in the Queens Domain some two kilometres from the Hobart city centre, were established in 1818. They comprise 14 hectares of landscaped grounds with an historic plant collection and trees dating back to the 19th century. The Gardens are said to have the only subantarctic plant house in the world.
The Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens visitor centre, itself a valuable source of information on the gardens and Tasmania's flora, includes a restaurant, souvenir shop and a gallery of regularly changing works by local artists.
Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne are some two kilometres south of Melbourne city centre across the Yarra River and can certainly be walked from the Flinders St Station area heading down on St Kilda Rd towards the Shrine of Remembrance, then east to the Observatory Buildings and the Gardens' visitor centre. As well, there are trams from Flinders St which bring visitors close to the Shrine of Remembrance. The free City Tourist Shuttle runs every 30 minutes between 9.30 and 4.30pm with a Royal Botanic Gardens/Shrine of Remembrance stop.
Comprising nearly 39 hectares of landscaped gardens and a mix of native and non-native plants, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne is adjacent to the Domain Parklands between St Kilda Rd and the Yarra River.
A larger area comprising 363 hectares and focusing solely on native plants is Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne, which is a division of Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. A feature of the Cranbourne site is the Australian Garden.
Other Victoria botanic gardens include those in Ballarat, Benalla, Bendigo (White Hills Botanic Gardens), Camperdown, Castlemaine, Colac, Daylesford (Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens), Frankston (George Pentland Botaic Gardens), Geelong, Gisborne, Horsham, Keilor, Kyneton, Malmsbury, Penshurst, Portland, Port Fairy, Sale, Warrnambool and Williamstown.
8. Western Australia
Kings Park and Botanic Garden lies just west of Perth city centre at Mount Eliza. It is one of Perth's most visited places because of its scenic views of the city and the waters of Perth. The botanic garden section is more formally named the Western Australian Botanic Garden but is more popularly known by its twin name of Kings Park and Botanic Garden.
About 3000 of Western Australia's 12,000 species of plants are displayed at the botanic garden, concentrating on regional flora. In the spring, the Kings Park Festival celebrates the wildflowers of Western Australia.
Other botanic gardens in Western Australia include those in Albany, Derby and Roleystone (Araluen Botanical Park) as well as a number of arboreta in various parts of the state.