The Finest Gardens in Sydney
Sydney, a city of many colors, has a rich history that has been carefully preserved, and a fascinating geography that centers on its picturesque harbour.
This vibrant metropolis has something to offer visitors of all ages, from museums housing opalized dinosaur fossils to stark reminders of the colony’s convict past to zoos teeming with marsupial fauna found nowhere else on Earth.
And there’s more: this leafy metropolis is home to beautiful gardens, some of which are proudly on display in the city’s most popular tourist areas, while others are tucked away in discreet corners and are considered among the best-kept secrets among residents.
If you are an anthophile planning a trip to Sydney, read on to learn about the top gardens in the area.
ROYAL BOTANIC GARDEN OF SYDNEY GARDENS
You can’t miss the Royal Botanic Garden, which thrives in the middle of Sydney. Its main entrance is only a few yards away from Sydney’s iconic Opera House, so a visit here will give you not only a solid education in botany, but also some truly unforgettable Instagrams featuring both the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
Established in 1816, it is now included in the state heritage register as the oldest botanical garden and scientific institution in the country.
But its roots go deeper than that: in 1788, a group of British colonists arrived with the intention of starting a large colony by cultivating land there.
However, Governor Lachlan Macquarie saw the land’s potential in supporting botanical research and formally established the garden in the early 19th century, after farming efforts had moved elsewhere (including Parramatta; we will come there later). Thus, the Garden was not only the site of Australia’s first zoo, but also the birthplace of the Australian wine industry, with vine cuttings brought from all over Europe and planted there (the precursor to Taronga).
Over the course of a year, the Garden welcomes more than 5 million guests and showcases more than 30,000 plants and trees from 75 countries. It is mandatory to take a stroll along the harbor and take in the Opera House from all of its vantage points, as well as make the pilgrimage to Lady Macquarie’s chair.
The wife of Governor Macquarie apparently stood here longingly, where the convicts had carved a seat, waiting for ships and news from home.
Keep an eye out for the rarest plant in the world, the Wollemi Pine. This is because it is the last surviving member of its ancient genus, which lived during the time of the dinosaurs.
This pine tree is a living fossil that once flourished in a wetter and greener Australia; today, there are fewer than a hundred trees left in the wild, and the location of its discovery, 150 kilometers northwest of Sydney, is still a closely guarded secret.
The Royal Botanic Garden has done significant work to ensure the survival of this species of tree by initiating cloning efforts, collecting and storing seeds, and creating global insurance reserves. And what else?
Nearby attractions include the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as historic landmarks like the Fortune of War, Sydney’s oldest pub, and the Sydney Opera House.
Then, fill up on a delicious meal while gazing out at the picturesque Sydney Harbour.
BLUE MOUNTAINS BOTANIC GARDEN
The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden (also known as Mt. Tomah Botanic Garden), established to protect species adapted to cooler climates that would perish in Sydney’s warmer climate, and the Mt. Annan Botanic Garden, the largest botanic garden in Australia, both belong to the same trust that oversees the Royal Botanic Garden.
Established in 1972 and located 100 kilometers west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains region, which is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage list, is the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden. Traveling through the picturesque Bells Line of Road, one of only two crossings across the Blue Mountains, is half the fun.
Travelers can stop in historic Windsor and Richmond, pick their own fruit in Bilpin’s orchards, and take in panoramic vistas along the winding, mountainous Scenic Highway.
This road, which connects Mt. Wilson and Mt. Irvine (and Mt. Tomah), is a popular destination for tourists in the fall who want to see the best of the fall foliage.
When spring arrives, the Botanic Garden hosts a flower festival, where visitors can enjoy special displays of the state flower, the brilliant waratah.
In addition, you can take a stroll through the garden and enjoy the beautiful scenery and thousands of flowers, bringing you closer to nature and perhaps leading you to your life’s purpose, or ikigai.
LEX AND RUBY GRAHAM GARDEN
Short, scenic walks abound around Sydney Harbour, encouraging visitors to enjoy the outdoors. Cremorne Point and the surrounding area is particularly picturesque (one can catch a scenic ferry from Circular Quay to Cremorne Point).
Even though the walk around the wharf isn’t particularly well-known, it’s made more appealing by the proximity of the Lex and Ruby Graham Garden.
This enchanted garden was inspired by a local legend: in 1959, while taking an early morning swim, local resident Lex Graham stumbled upon the bulb of an elephant ear floating in the water.
There were weeds and trash covering the slopes where the future garden would be when he planted the bulbs. The bulb, however, opened, indicating to Lex that he should keep greening the hillsides.
Lex and his partner Ruby, along with some of their friends from the neighborhood, planted a forest of saplings and other random objects, then stood back to watch nature take its course.
And over time it worked its magic, as the Garden’s one hectare is now home to a profusion of flowering plants, ferns, and shrubs, and the Garden’s narrow winding path leading downwards to the harbour waters and a rock pool will make you feel like you’ve fallen down your own magical rabbit hole in Sydney.
After you’ve been charmed by this oasis, you can continue your stroll around Cremorne Point, past the vintage Maccallum pool from the 1920s, and continue taking in the breathtaking vistas of the Opera House across the harbor.
And what else? If you’re a fan of Enid Blyton and Pamela Travers, you can visit Nutcote, the former home of celebrated Australian children’s author and illustrator May Gibbs, best known for her depictions of the adorable Gumnut babies that inhabit the Australian outback in her books.
WENDY’S SECRET GARDEN OF SYDNEY GARDENS
Across the Harbour Bridge from the popular Luna Park and not far from the neighborhood of Cremorne is where you’ll find Wendy’s Secret Garden, another example of conservation and creation.
Grieving for a loved one in the 1990s, Wendy Whitely decided to clean up the overgrown area near her home.
Over the course of decades, she was able to create a haven of tranquility and enlightenment in the heart of Sydney, winning the hearts of countless locals in the process.
Wendy’s Secret Garden, dotted with works by other local artists, will entice you to take a stroll along the harbour waters in Lavender Bay and take in the area’s rare blend of peace—you can almost hear the earth breathe—and bustle, courtesy of Luna Park, Sydney’s most famous amusement park.
Relax with a cup of coffee while strolling along the water’s edge, letting the harbor breeze ruffle your hair, pausing to catch your breath beneath a towering Moreton Bay Fig tree, and once again poking these enchanted regions with your question:
AUBURN BOTANICAL GARDEN
The Auburn Botanic Garden was founded in the late 1970s and is located in Sydney’s inner west, making it a wonderful destination for ecotourists.
It features a flourishing Scented Garden and a beautiful Rose Garden, but its Zen-filled Japanese Garden, complete with turquoise blue lakes teeming with shimmering orange Koi, a typical red, arched, Japanese hashi bridge, and the star attraction — Sakura orcherry blossoms, is what draws the most visitors.
Every year in the spring, when the cherry trees bloom, the entire city of Sydney flocks to these gardens to celebrate the Cherry Blossom festival and the Japanese custom of hanami (or viewing of the blossoms).
The garden becomes a sight to behold as it is blanketed in the delicate pink and white hues of flowers. In addition, magnolias and azaleas provide pleasant company.
In addition to its flora, the garden is also known for its year-round popularity due to its small faunal reserve, which was established in collaboration with Taronga Zoo and is home to kangaroos, albino wallabies, emus, bettongs, and wombats.
And what else? The Auburn Botanic Garden is located in the Sydney suburb of Olympic Park, which played host to the Millennium Olympics in 2000.
Subtly blending with the nearby large green reserves and amazing walks along the Parramatta River are the gleaming high-rises and artistic cafes of today’s suburb.
PARRAMATTA PARK OF SYDNEY GARDENS
Parramatta, the site of the second European settlement in Australia, has a long and interesting history and is now a fully integrated suburb of Sydney.
After early attempts at farming near Sydney Harbour were unsuccessful, the colony’s first governor, Arthur Phillip, shifted his attention here. Later on, as the harbor area became more rundown and crime-ridden, the governors decided to move their headquarters elsewhere.
In addition to being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Governor’s House in the Park also features numerous beautiful walks and gardens, which is why it serves as a green oasis in the middle of the bustling streets of modern Parramatta.
Getting back on the subject of gardens, the Park is home to the lovely Rumsey Rose Garden, which features one of the largest collections of heritage roses in all of Australia.
In early spring, the garden fills with the sweet scent of rose-nectar, and in late spring, the nearby trees burst into a riot of purple jacarandas.
Boulevards of jacaranda create unforgettable purple archways, making a stroll through the Park along the Parramatta River a delightful experience (keep an eye out for trees teeming with flying foxes!).
The wisteria gardens at the other end of the Park provide a magical conclusion to your journey through the Park. Another fairytale setting where you can spend an evening clicking terabytes of multicolored memory is created by spray-painted pillars of wisteria and the gentle tones of apple and cherry blossoms.
And what else? Aside from its historical landmarks, gardens, riverwalks, and stadiums, Parramatta is a culinary haven thanks to its abundance of fine dining establishments, cozy cafes, and lively pubs. You still haven’t seen all the hues Parramatta has to offer, so keep adventuring!
The Garden of Many Nations in Dural, the Roxborough Park Rose Garden in Baulkham Hills, the Paddington Reservoir Garden, and the gardens in Western Sydney Parklands are just some of the many other gardens to add to this list, each a first among equals.
Sydney is like opening a treasure chest filled with glittering gems. Though smaller than other world-class cities, it has wonders around every corner and a host of friendly people who are always willing to stop by for a chat and some local insight that can’t be found in even the best guidebooks.
Even in the heart of the city, nature lovers and “flower children” can find a peaceful haven, perfect for some “Shinrin-Yoku,” or therapeutic forest bathing, while taking in the sights, sounds, and scents of nature.