System Garden at the University of Melbourne

Building plans threaten garden

Further encroachment on the remaining 1.5 hectares of garden would mean a regrettable loss of the possibility of remembering the gardens original state and purpose

University of Melbourne System Garden
Location: Carlton

Professor Glyn Davis,
The University of Melbourne,
Parkville 3010.
Dear Glyn,

The University of Melbourne System Garden

I write as Chair of the RHSV’s Heritage Committee. The RHSV is the peak body for 340 local history societies and represents their abiding interest in preserving our heritage. The RHSV wishes to convey profound concern over the planned incursion into the University’s System Garden for extensions to the veterinary science building.

The Garden remains of significant historical value. The original central tower of the conservatory remains as a reminder of the original structure. It is recognised by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (although, regrettably, the University has not chose to join BGCI) and by the Royal Horticultural Society of Victoria (see Appendix for details)

Further encroachment on the remaining 1.5 hectares of garden would mean a regrettable loss of possibility of remembering the garden’s original state and purpose. And it would mean a further loss of amenity in crowded campus.

In October this year, planting an evergreen tree donated by the Royal Botanic Gardens,, you yourself stated most aptly, “This is a teaching place as valuable as any building we could put up. It needs to be preserved and protected” (Bridie Smith, “Digging in to save a botanical gem,” The Age, 30 November 2016, p. 7; see Appendix).

The RHSV asks you to do all in your power to ensure that the University modifies its building plans in order to honour this commitment.

With all best wishes,

(Professor) Charles Sowerwine,
Chair, Heritage Committee,
Royal Historical Society of Victoria.


Botanic Gardens Conservation International

About the University of Melbourne Grounds and Gardens

Institution Code:

International Agenda Registration: No

BGCI Member: No

The University of Melbourne’s System Garden dates back to 1856, three years after the founding of the University.
The system Garden was designed as a unique formal scientific, cultural and landscape feature rather than a recreational garden. Still remaining as a scientific and teaching garden the 1.5 acre site is now a secure public garden to be enjoyed by all. The System Garden contains cultivated garden beds that represent the evolution of plants from the non flowering Gymnosperms, mosses, cycads and conifers through to the vast flowering Angiosperms. Centrally located is the original and unique potting shed tower from when the garden was established.


Royal Horticultural Society of Victoria

An historic Botanical Garden with strong educational flavour near the centre of Melbourne. This teaching garden features over 100 plant families with as many diverse plant types on display as possible. See the Winter 2015 RHSV Gardeners’ Gazette for more information.


“Digging in to save a botanical gem”

Bridie Smith, Science Editor, The Age, 30 November 2016, p. 7.

One of Melbourne’s oldest gardens, laid out when the colony of Victoria was just two years young, is under threat from building works which could swallow up about 10 per cent of the remaining grounds.

The only botanic garden within an Australian university, Melbourne University’s system garden dates to 1856 – three years after the university was established.

Fast forward 160 years and the garden is still used as an educational tool for students studying plant systematics and taxonomy, invasive species biology and control, sustainability and urban environments. It is also open to the public.

However, university plans to expand the footprint of the neighbouring veterinary and agricultural science building next year, will eat into the north-west corner of the garden and about 10 per cent of the one-acre site.

“This garden should be seen as a sacred botanical site,” said Australian Garden History Society member Trevor Pitkin. “It is already a quarter of what it was, which makes the remaining area even more precious.”

Mr Pitkin has written to Melbourne University vice chancellor Glyn Davis arguing the 19th century system garden should be protected given its cultural, scientific and educational value.

There are less than half a dozen system gardens left in the world. At its time the Melbourne University system garden was one of the best. The garden’s centrepiece is a brick conservatory tower with a slate roof and decorative iron finial. A number of trees in the garden, including a 120-year-old Osage orange tree, are on the National Trust register.

The system garden was established by the university’s first professor of natural sciences Frederick McCoy who spent his life classifying and ordering species.

Its circular format was laid out by Edward La Trobe Bateman who designed the university’s campus and played a part in the design of the Treasury, Fitzroy and Royal Botanic gardens.

While the original layout of the garden has largely vanished and the 19th century conservatory demolished, Mr Pitkin argues that the remaining garden beds and lawn evoke the garden’s original purpose. He said reducing the dimensions would diminish visitors’ ability to imagine what it once was and also fail to honour the contribution of some of the city’s founding fathers.

In October, vic chancellor Glyn Davis marked the system garden’s 160th anniversary by planting an evergreen tree donated by the Royal Botanic Gardens. “This is a teaching place as valuable as any building we could put up,” he said at the ceremony. “It needs to be preserved and protected.”

A university spokesman said the university was committed to developing world-class teaching and research facilities for biosciences but “every effort [was] being made to protect the garden … while minimising the impact of the new building’s footprint.”


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