July 13, 2021 | By Graeme Kemlo
It’s a famous Melbourne meeting place whether relaxing among its largely European flora, or circumnavigating “the Tan” running track with your mates from the office at lunchtime. Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens sits on 40 hectares with a front row view to the city across the Yarra. It’s been internationally known since the site was gazetted in March 1846 and in 1857 attracted German botanist Baron Ferdinand von Mueller as its first director.
Lesser known is a newer Royal Botanic Gardens, established 124 years later, but potentially as significant for its unique approach to botany. The RBG at Cranbourne, 45km south east of the city on 363 hectares, is dedicated to the Australian native landscape in stark contrast to the Melbourne RBG’s mainly European focus.
Both are ideal places to meet and already attract more than one million visitors a year. Both offer dedicated indoor spaces, as well as opportunities to socially distance to recalibrate, reinvent or learn within a quiet natural sanctuary. Both are centres of science with experts on tap should your team be interested, for example, in climate change
The decision by von Mueller (and that of his successor William Guilfoyle from 1873) to focus on creating a European landscape suits Melbourne’s European CBD streetscape and the grand boulevard that is St Kilda Road. But the Cranbourne area is a growth-corridor of new housing estates carved from Australian native bushland. On arrival at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Cranbourne you pass through the entrance (free) and descend some stairs to be greeted by the Ephemeral Lake, a huge red sand desert intersected by green plants and white ceramic elements signifying the water flows of Australia’s “droughts and flooding rain”.
It was completed in 2006 by artists Edwina Kearney and Mark Stoner.
Nearby is the award-winning Australian Garden, a series of backyard gardens, waterways and a watercourse popular with younger visitors running beside a constructed steel wall reminiscent of the Great Dividing Range. For an interpreted encounter you can take the Great Southern Land Walk, which is a COVID-safe activity. All around the gardens are places a small team can meet and gain inspiration – there’s even “forest therapy”, a preventative health practice based on Japan’s shinrin-yoku, that “immerses your senses in nature”.
While the Melbourne gardens offers events at The Terrace for up to 160 banquet or 300 cocktail, there’s also the unique Punt experience in which guests are poled around the ornamental lake in a flat-bottom punt. But these gardens have also staged plays, films and concerts.
Cranbourne’s Boon Wurrung building overlooks the red sand garden and is run by Atlantic Group, which famously had been operating on an old wharf in Melbourne’s Docklands precinct until it had to vacate due to safety concerns over the structural stability of the wharf. Boon Wurrung is to be re-developed but typically caters for over 100. On completion later in 2021, a new look function experience will be available in the Tarnuk room plus a new event marquee is to be erected lakeside.