The Burnley Gardens in Richmond date back to 1861 when the Horticulture Society of Victoria established experimental gardens. The aim was to introduce new plants to the colonies, and to promote botanical and horticultural science.
The land was granted to the Society on the basis that a portion of the gardens remain open to the public and this has continued to the present day.
The initial design of the gardens was the result of a landscape gardener, Alfred Lynch, winning a design competition.
The gardens were officially opened in 1863 when they were planted out with conifers and other ornamentals. One of the trees planted at that time exists today – an Agathis robusta (Queensland Kauri).
By the end of 1863, the gardens had more than 1400 varieties of fruit trees, only to be lost in a major flood which destroyed much of the gardens. However, the gardens were re-established and the trials continued, extending to vegetables in 1874.
The gardens were extended, a pavilion and other buildings added, and the Society held annual horticultural shows through until the 1930s.
In 1891, the Royal Horticultural School was established – the first school of horticulture in Australia – and in 1897, Charles Bogue Luffman became the first principal. Luffman was a noted English landscape designer who promoted the natural informal style, so he set about changing the original geometric layout of the gardens. He included ponds, cool shady areas, sunken paths winding through shrubberies and open areas planted with ‘wild flowers’. Many of the deciduous trees and shrubs in the gardens today are thought to date back to Luffman’s time. Luffman was responsible for the inclusion of women as students at Burnley. Graduates included Emily Gibson and Edna Walling.
Several important additions have been made to the Gardens through the period 1930 to the present. A comprehensive history of the gardens has been documented by Lee Andrews in a booklet entitled ‘Burnley Gardens’, published by the Australian Garden History Society, and available from Friends of Burnley Gardens. This booklet has been used as a reference in this article.
On 11th December 2003, the Burnley site was added to the Heritage Register of Victoria, with special mention of seven of its trees, and three of its buildings.