Thursday, June 16, 2011

An Expedition to 'Guilfoyle's ( non-erupting ) Volcano' at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne

Constructed in 1876 by the second director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, Sir William Guilfoyle, the bluestone-lined volcano named after him was intended to be a reservoir.

Hidden away and virtually forgotten since the 1950s, it had an exhilarating transformation last year by landscape designer Andrew Laidlaw.

Plantings of cacti, natives, succulents and rare species from arid regions suggest the flow of lava from the crater. These are set amongst crushed rock studded with boulders. 

In the image above, a Cabbage Tree ( Cussonia paniculata ) is on the left, and Euphorbia triangularis on the right.

I didn't get all the names, but below is Aloe marlothii.

Below is the Dragon Tree ( Dracaena draco ).

The image below includes Golden Rat Tail ( Cleistocactus winterii ), Our Lord's Candle ( Hesperoyucca whipplei ), Spider Aloe ( Aloe x spinosissima ) and a native Everlasting. 

A spiralling boardwalk takes you to views from the top and a pool of floating islands - not seen here due to current works being carried out.

In the background below are several of many Barrel Cacti. You can also see the rusted and crooked railings that define the rim.

In the last image below are some Airplane Plants ( Crassula perfoliata var. minor ) and some wonderful, crimson Bromeliads.

These gardens have always been extraordinary, and continue to develop in extraordinary ways.


  1. Hello Faisal:
    Although we should not wish to have a 'volcano' installation in a garden of our own, we were rather taken with this idea within the context of an Australian botanical garden.The massed plantings of succulents and cacti are very effective and rather good that one can walk almost amongst the plantings to get a closer look.

    Extraordinary, definitely, but also enterprising. Certainly a modern take on an older idea. We should surely be going to see it if we were closer.

  2. Faisal,
    It looks like most of the planting is low to the ground. Is that the case, or is that just my impression? Would love to see it in person some day.

  3. Hello again, I just saw this last New Year, and loved the succulents. The arrangement is pretty sculptural and does not really sit in the landscape, but I stil found it fun that they'd revived an idea from the 'olden days'. And given the expected climactic changes, succulents might be the way to go in Melbourne...

  4. Hello Hane and Lance,
    the RBG cover 38 hectares set within a vaster parkland called 'The King's Domain', only half a kilometre from the CBD...mostly, the Gardens look European, Melbourne having a temperate climate... very green, with many rolling slopes. This part of the Gardens is singularly arid looking. The volcano is now not as it was first intended, having become not only a new attraction, but a 'design solution'.
    If you ever did visit, you'd easily believe you were otherwise in the northern hemisphere.

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  6. Sonia, they are indeed beautiful, and theatrical.

  7. Meggs, they're quite a knock-out. I love their originality.

  8. James, yes, much of the planting's low to the ground, I think, as much as anything, to preserve the sense of the volcano. In time, some of the taller plants will get some height, but for now the design does allow for close inspection.

  9. Hello Liisa, yes, the installation has an alien air, but I like to be able to enter its otherness. The plant selection, and care taken with the whole concept, are extraordinary. Succulents and other tough plants have made a big impact here of late, but nowhere rarely are they installed so beautifully.

  10. Thanks, Billy. The RBG have always been a sanctuary to me.

  11. i have not seen this as yet but frankly I am somewhat underwhelmed...its by and large a collection of succulents..why oh why no softening plants from beyond that 'genre' a shame..same Geelong botanics dry garden area..institutional.

    1. A certain visitor recently described the volcano plantings as somewhat ''plastic'' ...yep that sums it up!

    2. Yeah, right. Let them do better. I'm sick of the bloody rude commentary. Whoever the 'visitor' is, let them make their own volcano.

  12. RBG is in the main over mature and needs some hards yards but that will never happen as it is now to conserved by and large as a historic museun...I am quite sure Guilfoyle would have removed many many tree's if he were around today..his mass and void balance excellence is almost gone..25 years ago it was just right but now becoming oppressively clogged up.