Home & Garden Gardening

The Volcano at the Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens

The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne (RBG) has a secret and it has been hidden in the southeast corner for over 100 years, behind a screen of nondescript vegetation.
Most visitors did not know that behind the trees was a volcano! Of course it is not real, but one William Guilfoyle the second Director of the RBG designed in 1876 as a reservoir to store water for the gardens.
It is possible that his influences came from his travels around the South Pacific Islands.
The volcano was decommissioned as a working reservoir in the 1950s and the gardens became reliant on mains water.
Andrew Laidlaw, the RBG's Landscape Architect, is at pains to point out that the redesign of this landscape is not a replica of Guilfoyle's design but it is the reinterpretation of the volcano concept to try and help address today's water availability issue.
According to Richard Barley, previous Director of the Melbourne Gardens, the volcano holds 1.
3ML which is roughly the amount need to complete watering the entire garden.
To water the whole garden, it takes several nights to complete.
Solving this huge problem has been divided into three stages.
The first stage is to repair the volcano, the second step is to obtain an extra 70 ML of storm-water from surrounding streets and the third step is to investigate the possibility of alternative sources of water to allow the gardens to become independent of mains water.
A feasibility study of this third stage is under way.
The first step has started! The site has been cleared and visitors can now see the volcano.
It sits at the highest point of the site near Anderson Street and the lawns around it represent lava flows and the garden beds the land masses.
The rockery garden beds are meant to look like rocks thrown out by the volcano.
The site has a mannerist feel to the design.
Mannerism is a 15th century use of devises to scare, cause surprise or alarm.
Andrew has created an exciting new plan which encourages the public to interact with the space.
He has designed the boardwalk to curve around the cone and envisages people walking up the viewing platform to the top of the volcano where they will be able to see the flowing garden beds and the beautiful Water lilies (Nymphaea spp.
) floating on the top.
The large leaves are being used to reduce evaporation.
The second step in saving water is called the Working Wetlands project and is an innovative scheme where an extra 70ML of water will be obtained from the surrounding area of South Yarra.
Andrew goes on to explain that the water will be used to fill the Ornamental Lake and to flush out the wetlands including the Fern Gully in the dry times over summer.
The water will flow into the Nymphaea Lake and be moved through a bio-filtration process.
Wetland plants such as Juncus procerus and Restio tetraphylla will be used to help the filaration process.
Gravity will take it down through the Fern Gully via silt traps and the water will end up in the Ornamental Lake.
It will then circulate around the lake and be pumped back up to the volcano.
The whole volume of the lake will circulate every 30-40 days.
This is an exciting and innovative project that the RBG has become involved in.
It is leading the way in thinking outside the square to solve one the 21st century problems - the availability of water.
I wrote this in 2010 and now the 2nd stage is under way and a problem has emerged with the leaking through the bluestone walls of the volcano.
At present it has been drained and the staff are fixing the leaking walls.
I highly recommend that you go and visit the volcano as the surrounding garden is settling in well and looks fabulous!

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