Fitzroy Gardens are full of surprises. The Heritage Listed park fits into a swathe of internationally acclaimed parks and gardens within a short walk of Melbourne’s CBD.
Although parks can be found all around the city, some of the most accessible cluster on both sides of the Yarra River, east and south of the city.
Unlike Perth’s Kings Park on the other side of the continent, where two-thirds of the 400 hectares (almost 1000 acres) are reserved as bushland, Melbourne’s city gardens are more likely to be manicured and botanically diverse.
The smelly, swampy area which was reserved as the future Fitzroy Gardens in 1848 has evolved into elegant parkland . As well as beautiful treelined avenues, garden beds with seasonal plantings and large grassy areas, it boasts a rotunda, bandstand, Victorian-era monuments, follies and a waterfall.
According to the Victorian Heritage Database, the Gardens of Melbourne are
… a reminder of the city’s relatively large investment in public gardens, a reflection of 19th century beliefs about the moral and health benefits of green spaces in often dirty, smelly and overcrowded cities.
Some of the attractions in Fitzroy Gardens
We spent several happy hours recently exploring the Fitzroy Gardens and discovering unexpected attractions. They entertained and amused us and helped us to understand more about Melbourne and its history.
Cook Family House
First we came across the house of the parents of Captain James Cook. Note: James Cook himself never lived in the cottage. Originally built in Great Ayton, Yorkshire, UK, this charming cottage caught the eye of philanthropist Sir Russell Grimwade. He purchased and transported it to Melbourne where it was re-erected the centre of the Gardens in 1934.
Volunteers restored the cottage. They continue to maintain it and act as enthusiastic and proud guides. They provide racks of 18th century men’s, women’s and children’s clothing of many kinds. We watched tourists deliberating on which costume they would like to wear as they toured the house. People dressed in clothes from another era seemed to find it easy to talk with others as they walked around
A delightful, fenced kitchen garden, begun in the 1970s, complements the cottage. Culinary plants and medicinal herbs grow abundantly. Volunteers encourage tourists to imagine life in the house and garden.
A display of Tudor houses grouped together allow a glimpse into yet another era. Edgar Wilson, a pensioner in London, built the cement village. He presented it to the City of Melbourne in 1948 to thank the city’s generosity in sending food to Britain during World War II.
The collection includes houses, barns, school, church, pump and even a stock, as well as a scale model of Shakespeare’s home and Anne Hathaway’s cottage.
Ola Cohn’s Fairies Tree
The Fairies tree, the work of artist Ola Cohn, captured my imagination and I wish that my photography had done it justice. The artist carved the fairies, gnomes, dwarfs and many Australian animals and birds on the stump of one of the original Red Gum trees in Fitzroy Gardens.
The plaque on the tree is inscribed with the artist’s own words:
“I have carved in a tree in the Fitzroy Gardens for you, and the fairies, but mostly for the fairies and those who believe in them, for they will understand how necessary it is to have a fairy sanctuary – a place that is sacred and safe as a home should be to all living creatures.”
Fitzroy Gardens has been awarded Green Flag status, for excellence in standards of management and service. The Green Flag Award program is new to Australia and aims to raise park standards across the country.
Address of Fitzroy Gardens
230-298 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne (Close to the Melbourne Cricket Grounds)