How to grow Garden Visit The Children's Garden, Melbourne

The Children's Garden, Melbourne

"Surely a garden is not a success if it doesn't bring joy to children." Edna Walling


For nearly 200 years botanic gardens in Australia have largely been the domain of adults. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, has set a joyful new trend with an innovative Children’s Garden. Graham Ross was inspired. 

I was very lucky to have had an inspiring grandmother who spent many hours walking me around the garden once a week for my first fifteen years. This relationship sowed a seed in my life that has lasted sixty years. As a child I thought everyone loved their gardens, so I was surprised to find, at high school, that most teenagers couldn’t care less about plants and gardens. I believe this sad state of affairs has not only impacted adversely on the individual but on Australia as a whole.


The Magic Pudding characters. Photo - Graham Ross


When I recently opened the huge ornamental gate and walked into the Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden in the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne (RBGM) my dreams came true - finally a garden home for youngsters. The design cleverly incorporates exploration, discovery, education, interaction, play and best of all, fun. It could be said the Children’s Garden is a place where little minds will grow.

I found the whole place quite captivating and it was inspirational watching children of all ages, and their mums, having an absolute ball. The children pull at the lavender and suddenly ‘discover’ a wonderful scent; jump on the tufted grasses and run about.

This garden is not a collection of slippery dips and roundabouts, quite the contrary, it is a half hectare of carefully designed structures, water features, climbing statues, plants and gardens to intrigue, teach and excite children from a very young age in a safe environment. There is also an important underlying reference to conservation and the environment.


Photo - Graham Ross

The Beginning

Initially extensive research was undertaken with families and adults visiting the Gardens (RBGM) to determine their views of what a children’s garden should provide. A panel was then established to provide professional advice. The Ian Potter Foundation, established in 1964 by Sir Ian Potter and one of Australia’s major philanthropic organisations, was approached to help fund the project. This they did to the tune of $1.4 million. Additional funds were obtained when the RBGM launched a public appeal.



Photo - Graham Ross

The Highlights


Meeting Place

On entering through the giant, wrought iron gates you arrive at the Meeting Place. Bench seating all around and five giant Queensland Bottle Trees (Brachychiton rupestris), indicate that ‘you have arrived’ somewhere special.


Photo - Graham Ross


The Gorge

In the gap between the Meeting Place and a metaphorical forest where children are surrounded by 2.5m tall narrow vertical basalt rocks and weeping and twisted snow gums (Eucalyptus pauciflora), there is a ‘gorge’. Mist periodically fills the gorge gaps, providing mystery and intrigue.


Photo - Graham Ross


The Ruin Garden

This garden evokes a lost world with a rocky grotto, stone arches, and ramparts covered in lush rainforest vines and trees. The giant leaves of the gunnera fascinate and the trunk of an ancient river red gum, (Euc. camaldulensis), challenges adventurous climbers. A sand pit provides opportunity to dig and explore and build cubbies from ‘jungle’ vegetation.



Photo - Graham Ross


The Bamboo Forest

In this bamboo jungle light, sound, texture and crowded spaces becomes an escape hatch from the real world. Hide-and-Seek was never better.


Photo - Graham Ross


The Wetlands

Here a giant pond teems with life where children can experience insects, plants and frogs in a natural, bushland setting. Adjacent is the Discovery Centre for wet weather play and learning and further library and microscope research.


Photo - Graham Ross


Children’s Kitchen Garden

This is the most exciting and interactive place with compost bins, garden beds filled with vegetables, fruit trees, herbs and flowers. Children can propagate plants in the potting shed and learn from the horticultural staff at hand. Everyone here is happy for the kids to get dirty.



Photo - Graham Ross 


The Ian Potter Children’s Garden is open Wednesday – Sunday 10am – 4pm during term time, and is open seven days a week during Victorian state school holidays. The garden is closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and Good Friday. The garden needs an annual extended period for rest and maintenance and is closed for their first two months of third term. 


Text: Graham Ross 

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Author: Graham Ross