- Royal Botanic Garden & Domain
- Australian Botanic Garden
- Blue Mountains Botanic Garden
- Our publications
- Feature stories
- The Botanic Gardens Bicentenary 2016
The story of the Royal Botanic Gardens began officially on 13 June 1816 behind the high walls of the Governor’s estate, then known as the ‘Botanic Garden’. Extensions of the Garden into parts of the Domain in the 1830s and 1880s explain why ‘Garden’ became ‘Gardens’. ‘Royal’ came later in 1959, following Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Australia in 1954.
The Domain has always been inextricably linked with the Royal Botanic Gardens as an important buffer area between it and the city. Since the 1830s, when the Domain was first opened for public use, it has been at the heart of Sydney’s history, hosting military and ceremonial events, sport (including the inaugural first-class game of cricket in New South Wales), soap-box oration, concerts and dance - as well as the gentler pursuits of picnicking and strolling.
Today the estates of the Botanic Gardens Trust include the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Domain, Mount Annan Botanic Garden and Mount Tomah Botanic Garden. Each estate offers unique experiences for both researchers and visitors. Between them they encompass Sydney from its wild Blue Mountains boundary, its Cumberland Plain woodlands through to its coastal edge.
Of course, the stories of the lands upon which our estates are located go back through millennia. The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain are part of the traditional lands of the Aboriginal inhabitants, the Cadigal, and also happen to be the sites of the first European settlement in Australia. The Trust interprets the differing environmental perspectives of Aboriginal and European cultures and the first encounters that took place on this very spot between these two cultures well over 200 years ago. Mount Tomah Botanic Garden is on traditional land of the Darug people and Mount Annan Botanic Garden is located on traditional land of the D’harawal people. The Trust values and acknowledges the Aboriginal custodians, past and present, on all its estates.
In 1816 Mount Annan was at the frontier of the colony of Sydney and marked the start of the dispossession of the D’harawal people. This was followed by 170 years of dairy farming. No-one would have thought that there would one day be a worldclass botanic garden at the site. Mount Annan Botanic Garden opened to the public 20 years ago in 1988 and is now renowned for its living collection of Australian plants and is at the cutting edge of research into endangered plants and the cultivation of species like the flannel flower and waratah, which have entranced the public. It is also home to the NSW Seedbank.
In 1816 Mount Tomah was virtually unknown to European settlers but significantly, the naturalist George Caley had been the first European to visit Fern Tree Hill, as Mount Tomah was called, in 1804. The site of Mount Tomah Botanic Garden was bequeathed to the Trust by the Brunet family who conducted a flower business there but had also developed a large private garden filled with mature cool-climate trees from the Americas and Europe. Today, 20 years after its opening in 1987, it is the site of a magnificent botanic garden specialising in cool-climate plants from around the world, but especially from the southern hemisphere.
And while we have a portion of the fabulous preserved plant collection of Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander dating from 1770 (returned to us from the Natural HIstory Museum, London in 1905) and a long history of the collection and study of plants, the real beginnings of the National Herbarium of New South Wales as an institution were in 1896. The Herbarium became the life’s work of J.H. Maiden, the then newly appointed Director and New South Wales Government Botanist. In his own words:I have transferred the Sydney Botanic Garden from a mere horticultural establishment, as I have found it, to a Botanical establishment in addition, and Scientific men throughout the world now recognise Sydney as one of the principal botanical centres of the world.
In early colonial days botanic gardens provided a tether to the Northern Hemisphere. Ideas such as acclimatisation were central to many 19th century plant lovers. Today we see our plant diversity through genuinely Australian eyes and much of our appreciation of the continent’s flora has been the result of the hard work of Trust scientists.