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23 May 2018

From sludge to serenity

The hard-working staff at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney undertook the huge feat to renovate the Lotus Pond last winter. Nearly a year later, we’re seeing the stunning benefits of their hard work, as well as a glimpse into what the Garden used to look like years ago.

The wonderful renovations by the Garden’s Asset & Facilities Management team started in July 2017, when they began to de-sludge the pond. Over the years it had become overrun with weeds and debris, and had not been cleaned for over 20 years. The well-needed declutter proved highly productive, as 265 tonnes of waste was removed from the small 636m2 pond!

Battling against king-tides, they were tasked with removing all the water from the pond before vacuuming out the accumulated, decaying organic matter. All this was done by hand, and resulted in a thriving and beautiful pond that will prove to be highly beneficial for the pond ecosystem in the near future.

A window to the past

Amazingly, during the works the team uncovered a digital camera buried within the layers of sludge and they were able to retrieve images that displayed the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney landscape in 2017.

Images from the camera show visitors enjoying the Choo Choo express


This discovery inspired us, like our Assets team, to do some digging into the history of the Lotus Pond. The pond itself holds heritage significance, as it was built by Charles Moore, who remains the longest standing Botanic Gardens Director from 1848-1896.

The fountain in the centre, known as the Bird Bath Fountain, was likely erected some time before 1879 as part of the ‘dressing up’ of the Garden for the International Exhibition. It was replaced in 1987, due to damage, using a marble bowl sourced all the way from Carrera in Italy!

Images from the late 1800s show lost features, such as this rustic bridge that straddles the largest pond and the lotus pond. A gentleman in a bowler hat can be seen enjoying the Gardens.


After digging into our library, we found loads of hidden gems, depicting the ponds and surrounding Garden as it used to be c. 1870 – 1890s. These stunning historical images show the Royal Botanic Gardens from over a century ago, as well as providing glimpses into the history of Sydney’s skyline and how it has changed.

This image was taken sometime between 1879 and 1882, as it depicts the Garden Palace in the background, which tragically burnt down in 1882 only three years after it was built

Future of the pond

If you visit the Garden soon, you will see signs of horticulturalists battling with algae blooms which are taking advantage of the newly cleared pond. Bales of barley are a floating on the surface, implemented as a traditional and environmental method of control to soak up excess nitrogen and reduce algae growth.

One exciting recent addition is the Victoria cruziana water lily, which is enclosed in a cage to protect it from birds. This stunning flower has the iconic large, bowl-like leaves that are synonymous with water lilies.

This particular species comes from South America, and can grow leaves up to two metres in diameter in their natural habitat. When it flowers it will bloom for only two days, releasing a strong, flowery smell to attract pollinators, before receding back beneath the water. Unfortunately, visitors will have to wait until next year to see it again!

The true effect of the team’s hard work on the pond will be best displayed in spring, when the waterlilies and Nelumbo nucifera begin to bloom and the pond is filled with colour.

To truly appreciate its beauty, view it from the Botanic Gardens Restaurant as you choose from their fresh, seasonal menu and bask in the anticipated Spring sun.

We also have our Free Guided Walks every weekday, where our knowledgeable volunteers will teach you all about the heritage of our Gardens.

The revitalised Lotus Pond looks like an oasis, with the modern Sydney skyline in the backdrop

Historical Images of the Lotus Pond

As seen in the Winter 2018, Issue 117, Foundation & Friends of the Botanic Gardens magazine.

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