The gardens have a weird and wonderful history. Here are some odd spots to ponder on your next stroll around the ponds.

Ornamental Lake is home to power couple Francis and Louise

Black swans Francis and Louise and their fluffy babies call Ornamental Lake home. If you’re lucky enough to spot the happy family, better to admire them from afar. Both parents are fiercely protective. June to November is peak cygnet season, with couples crafting nests on the edge of the lake. Teamwork is the key, and both Mum and Dad sharing egg-sitting duties.

Swans and cygnets on Ornamental Lake with people watching from a gondola
Mama Louise and her cygnets in 2019

The elusive giant water lily first flowered there

When explorers discovered the three metre-wide water lily in 1801 Bolivia, it was big news. The gardens’ first director, Ferdinand von Mueller, had to have the horticultural wonder. When he brought the lily to Melbourne, most doubted the tropical plant would survive at all. And when it bloomed in 1867, crowds flocked to see the miracle.

It isn’t hard to see why. The butterscotch and pineapple scented blooms are magical. But your viewing window is short – they only live for 48 hours. Debuting white (and female), they become pink (and male) that night, before a purple costume change for their final curtain.

The lakes are older than European settlement

The picturesque lakes might look like a royal groundskeeper’s dream. But the natural water system they're formed on goes way back before European settlement. The original four swamps opened onto the Yarra and the native short-finned eels provided an important food source for local Aboriginal people. Today the gardens are home to 370 native plants and 20 native mammal species. Find out more on a guided Aboriginal Heritage Walk when it's back in business after lockdown.

Ornamental Lake at Royal Botanic Gardens
Ornamental Lake

The volcano is also a big watering can

The Guilfoyle’s Volcano crater is filled with water. Built in 1876, it looks like a decorative garden straight out of the 18th century. Unlike those follies, it’s super practical. The volcano recycles and stores nearby storm water, bio-filtering it through the wetlands. Built on the highest peak in the landscape, it uses gravity to circulate water to the gardens. Handy.

Aerial shot of Royal Botanic Gardens
Guilfoyle’s Volcano

Horses used to mow the lawns

Yep, that’s a 1940s lawnmower. It’s one horsepower.

Old photo of a horse and three people moving the grass in the Royal Botanic Gardens
Mowing the lawns in the 1940s

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Last updated on Tue 24 May 2022

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