The township of Warrnambool was constituted a municipality in December 1855 and in 1858 successfully applied for a grant of £500 towards the formation of a botanical garden. A site of 10 acres near the Hopkins River was selected to the west of the cemetery reserve with an adjoining 10 acres reserved for future extension of the gardens. Charles Scoborio was appointed curator on 16 February 1859 and by this date the site had been fenced and a cottage for the curator erected.
This coastal site however proved difficult with the plants failing to thrive and it was eventually decided to select a new site in 1866. The present site of 20 acres was chosen for "its proximity to town, the undulating and romantic nature of its conformation, and the quality of its soil, or rather soils, suitable for growing almost any kind of vegetation." The site was "heavily timbered, with dense undergrowth of scrub, ferns and tussocky grass." Today remnants of the original flora still remain; Eucalyptus viminalis subsp. cygnetensis, Bursaria spinosa and Acacia melanoxylon.
In 1868 Ferdinand von Mueller, Director of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens and Government Botanist, sent a case containing 200 young pines, 50 Tamariscus and 10 Ailianthus and a parcel of seeds. The following year Charles Hortle was appointed the first gardener at the new site. In 1870 a four room cottage was erected and a well sunk. Scoborio was reappointed curator of the Gardens in July 1872 (retired in 1906) and his 1875 report included the planting of 130 Pinus insignis (now P. radiata), grubbing of blackwood trees and the planting of a Myoporum hedge around the nursery. The following year he commenced the building of a rockery near the entrance.
In 1877 William Guilfoyle who had been Director of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens for just four years and was busy redesigning the Gardens laid out by Mueller supplied the Warrnambool Council with a report and plan for a new garden layout. Guilfoyle's plan was approved on the 30 April and the plan is ".. a natural and picturesque design, having broad winding walks, pleasant lawns, with clumps of trees dotted here and there, . rockeries and a lake, . the design embraces the whole of the ground and will cause a rearrangement of beds and trees, it is not intended to interfere with the beds and rockery near the house, as they form a pleasant feature. The walks were to be 15 feet wide and islands in the lake were to be planted, one with willows and the other with tropical foliage."
A well and windmill were installed in the gardens in 1882. Construction of the lake commenced in 1884, and the rockery - enclosed fountain were all complete by 1886. Reticulated water was connected in 1890. In the 1890s a timber lattice fernery and ornamental fountain were erected and a small zoological collection was housed in the gardens reserve. The site was reserved for the purpose of a Botanic Garden in early 1897.
A cannon was relocated to the gardens in 1910 and in May 1913 a contract was let for the construction of a band rotunda and kiosk. Also during the early twentieth century three urns and a sundial were placed in the gardens, a "Lone Pine" planted in January 1934, and in 1936-39 the George V Memorial Gates were erected at the main entrance. At least three bridges have been built across the lake, the lattice fernery was rebuilt in 1985 and the Pinetum timber gates were re-erected in 1987. The Gardens contain an important collection of trees and shrubs, a pinetum, flowers beds and environments for the cultivation of large variety of plants
How is it significant?
The Warrnambool Botanic Gardens are of historical, scientific, aesthetic and social significance to the State of Victoria.
Why is it significant?
The Warrnambool Botanic Gardens are of historical significance as one of the earliest provincial botanic gardens; commencing in 1858 and in its current location since 1866. Botanic Gardens had already been established at Melbourne 1846, Geelong and Portland 1851, White Hills 1854, Williamstown 1856, Ballarat, Malmsbury and Hamilton 1857. The Gardens are important for the involvement of Charles Scoborio for a period of 34 years, provision of plants by Mueller from the Melbourne Botanic Gardens and the 1877 design by William Guilfoyle. The Gardens are the earliest known commission by Guilfoyle in regional Victoria and one of his most complete designs. Guilfoyle was appointed Director of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens in 1873 and redesigned the Melbourne Gardens over 36 years into one of the finest botanic gardens in the world and is regarded as one of Australia's greatest garden designers. He also prepared designs for other provincial botanic gardens, at Koroit and Horsham in 1880, Hamilton 1881, Camperdown 1889, and Colac 1910, and at Government House, Parliament House and a number of private gardens in western Victoria.
The Warrnambool Botanic Gardens are of aesthetic significance for the layout and planting developed to a design prepared by William Guilfoyle in 1877. Warrnambool, along with Hamilton Botanic Gardens, are the most intact of his provincial botanic gardens designs. The "Guilfoyle" landscape combines both picturesque and gardenesque styles, sweeping lawns and paths, water features, structures, botanical collections specimen trees and shrubberies, and extensive use of subtropical species and bold and strap foliage plants. The layout is an outstanding response to the sloping site, featuring broad lawns dotted with trees and dense shrubberies, internal and external vistas, views to the lake, and carefully located buildings and structures to form a design of outstanding quality. The curator's residence, gates, fountain and rockery, urns, bridge, lake and islands, rotunda and curving asphalt paths are key elements in the garden design. The Gardens are of outstanding beauty with seasonal change and contrasting plant forms and foliage, all combining to form an attractive landscape enclosed within a perimeter planting of pines and cypress.
The Warrnambool Botanic Gardens are of scientific significance for their extensive collection of trees and shrubs, succulents, bulbs, perennials and annuals. The planting retains remnants of the original flora; three old Eucalyptus viminalis subsp. cygnetensis, a Bursaria spinosa and a few Acacia melanoxylon. The planting includes an important Pinetum occurs at the western end, a conifer windbreak around the perimeter; a fernery planted with flora of the Otway Ranges; water plants in the lake; a bamboo collection, and a nursery and orchard. In the Pinetum is Victoria's largest and a rarely cultivated Soledad Pine (Pinus torreyana). The "Lone Pine" (Pinus brutia) planted in 1934 is one of four original Lone Pines in Victoria; the other trees occurring at the Shrine of Remembrance, Wattle Park and The Sisters memorial hall. This tree also has historical and social significance.
The Warrnambool Botanic Gardens are of social significance for their long association with the community, tourists and students. The Gardens are highly valued for their role in landscape, botanical and horticultural education. They continue to be an important venue for major public events, musical performances and official celebrations.