Founded in 1816, Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens provide extensive green space, scenic ponds, rare and diverse plant species and a peaceful escape from the busyness of the city for those who visit it today. The gardens occupy the site of Australia’s first farm, which was established by Governor Phillip in 1788. The convicts and soldiers who worked on the farm were ill-equipped for the job. They rarely had previous knowledge of farming, and Sydney’s soil, climate and vegetation were unlike anything they had experienced before. Poor quality soil, bad timing and a lack of tools resulted in the farm’s ultimate failure.
Governor Macquarie took the unsuccessful farm and created the gardens with the assistance of Charles Fraser, who was named the first Colonial Botanist. Over time, The Royal Botanic Gardens, which are now considered the country’s oldest scientific institution, grew and flourished.
Today, it features an extensive collection of plants and numerous animals. In fact, the city’s first zoo was located in the gardens until 1883, when it moved to Moore Park. A large colony of grey-headed flying foxes along with parrots, cockatoos and wood ducks continue to call the Royal Botanic Gardens home. The gardens also feature an extensive variety of rare, threatened and indigenous plants as well as roses, begonias, succulents, herbs, palms, ferns, camellias, pines and more. It also features several themed gardens.
The First Farm Garden of the Royal Botanic Garden is one of the more popular themed gardens. It traces the history of the gardens. Citrus fruits, which were some of the most successful crops on the original farm, grow alongside tropical flower spikes, banana trees and coffee plants. Grapevines arch gracefully over the Palm House wall and tell the story of Australia’s wine making history.
The First Encounters Garden traces the steps of the first Europeans and explores what they may have encountered when they first arrived in Sydney. This garden contains edible grass trees covered in dainty white flowers, rock lilies, native spinach plants and more. Because the first farm failed so disastrously, many of these plants became essential parts of the settlers’ diet and provided them with protection against scurvy and other nutritional deficiencies.
Although many enjoy exploring on their own the magic of the gardens, others appreciate the benefits that are associated with guided walks, which can provide them with valuable insight on the plants, animals and history of the area. Royal Botanic Garden guided walks are featured daily at no cost at 10:30 a.m. Special themed walks are also available from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. daily and cost between $13 and $15.
The domain is open 24 hours a day, and the Royal Botanic garden opens at 7 a.m. daily. Closing hours vary according to season. The Fernery and Succulent garden is open between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily, and the Tropical Centre is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Royal Botanic Garden is free. Visitors can reach the Royal Botanic Garden by Sydney ferry, train, bus or car.