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Alfred Nicholas Gardens
Photograph: Visit Victoria

The best secret gardens in Melbourne

Wander off the beaten path at Melbourne's lesser-known botanical gardens

By Rebecca Russo
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If you've seen everything there is to see at the Royal Botanic Gardens, it might be time to stop and smell the flowers at these unsung gardens around Melbourne. Here you'll find gardens devoted to Australian natives, fancy ferns and some not-so-ubiquitous plants like cacti, rhododendrons, tulips and lotuses – perfect for when you need some green in your life.

Want more green? These national parks are within driving distance of Melbourne and here are the best parks in Melbourne's CBD.

According to advice from the Department of Health, Victorians are allowed to travel for day trips only. Additionally, recreation is permitted so long as you can maintain 1.5 metres from people and not gather in groups larger than ten people. 

Please check the venue is open before you head out. Many national and regional parks are still closed due to current restrictions. 

Botanical gardens in Melbourne

Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne
Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne
Photograph: David Mitchener

1. Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne

Things to do Cranbourne

Little-known fact: the Royal Botanic Gardens has an equally cool sister in Melbourne's southeast. The Cranbourne division of the Royal Botanic Gardens specialises in native Australian flora and spans over 350 hectares. The gardens are home to over 170,000 plants, including those residing in the rugged Australian Garden, as well as a number of endangered Australian animals. If you'd like to rest your legs, there's a hop-on-hop-off open-air bus that can take you around on a sweep of the gardens. 

Yarran Dheran Nature Reserve
Yarran Dheran Nature Reserve
Photograph: Cass Knowlton

2. Yarran Dheran Nature Reserve

Attractions Mitcham

Yarran Dheran connects to Mullum Mullum Creek Reserve and the EastLink Trail, which is adjacent to its eponymous freeway. Yet Yarran Dheran and its adjoining parklands feel more like a stroll in the peaceful Dandenongs than Melbourne's busy eastern suburbs. Clever noise-dampening walls insulate the parks from the sound of nearby traffic, and all you can see in any direction are trees, gently rolling hills and the Mullum Mullum Creek. There are more than 85 species of birds that make the 7.5 hectares of Yarran Dheran their home, and you'll hear plenty of evidence of their presence.

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3. Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens

Things to do Sherbrooke

As close as you'll come to a true secret garden, the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Garden is located deep within the Dandenong Ranges. Take a walk through the park and see the awesome canopy of mountain ash trees or take a picnic by the picturesque lake and quaint boathouse. The park is home to a heap of Australian native flora, which changes all year round. In spring, the park is full of colour with flowering azaleas and cherry trees, while in autumn the park turns golden with the changing colours of the maples and beeches.

4. Williamstown Botanic Gardens

Things to do Williamstown

One of Victoria's first public gardens, Williamstown Botanic Gardens is a lush green spot to read or have a picnic. It was originally established by early colonies as a way of assessing how well plants would fare in the Australian climate. As a result, the garden's main features include a plethora of exotic plants, an Edwardian ornamental pond and a formal palm avenue. It's also a stone's throw away from Williamstown Beach if you need some sandy respite.

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Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden
Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden
Photograph: Parks Victoria

5. Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden

Things to do Olinda

Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden is currently closed. Check back here for updates. 

Sitting on a hilltop in the Dandenong Ranges are the rock gardens, fern gullies and bountiful lawns that make up the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden. This botanic garden was only dubbed a botanic garden in 2017, as it was previously known as the National Rhododendron Garden. These days you’ll find more than just rhododendrons, with azaleas, camellias, cherries and daffodils providing some delightful rainbow colour to the grounds. The gardens boast an impressive collection of rare and exotic plants too, the majority of which are endangered. Luckily these plants have adapted to the Dandenong Ranges’ relatively cool climate.

Feild of flowers at Cactus Country
Feild of flowers at Cactus Country
Photograph: Supplied

6. Cactus Country

Travel

Cactus Country is temporarily closed. Follow the Facebook page for updates.

Almost three hours outside Melbourne you’ll find a slice of the old Wild West at Cactus Country. Home to the biggest collection of cacti in Australia, Cactus Country has over four hectares of gardens ready to be explored. The gardens showcase more than 4,000 species of sprouting cacti and succulents, and you’ll be able to wander through eight different trails across the gardens to find your favourite prickly friend. As you can imagine, the place is crazy photogenic, and you can even hire out the location for film or photo shoots.

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Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm
Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm
Photograph: Supplied

7. Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm

Attractions Farms

Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm is currently closed until further notice. Check the website for updates.

These European-style gardens are situated in the not-so-European hills of Shepherds Flat in northwest Victoria. Lavandula sits on a 40-hectare property originally operated by a Swiss-Italian family who came to Victoria in search of gold. Today it boasts an incredible lavender farm, vegetable and herb gardens and an on-site café. Skim your hands over the building’s original 1850s stone brickwork and scour the gift shop for essential oils, scrubs, creams and hand washes.

Blue Lotus Water Garden
Blue Lotus Water Garden
Photograph: Supplied

8. Blue Lotus Water Garden

Attractions Parks and gardens Yarra Valley

Blue Lotus Water Garden is a seasonal display garden, meaning it’s only open for a very short time throughout the year, often between late December and early April.

At Blue Lotus Water Garden, a multitude of water lilies and lotus flowers bloom over dozens of ponds and two lakes, and the gardens extend over 50,000m2. Take a stroll around the gardens and peek inside the four greenhouses that grow rare plants, including the giant Amazon lily, the world’s largest lily species.

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