History of the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne Inc.

In the Beginning 1982

The Friends first met in February 1982. They set out the following objectives: 

•    To develop the bond between the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne and the National Herbarium of Victoria and the people of Victoria 
•    To conserve, protect and sponsor the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne and the National Herbarium of Victoria
•    To support the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne and the National Herbarium of Victoria financially
•    To foster the interest of members in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne and the National Herbarium of Victoria, and in plants and flora generally 

The first of the Friends' activities was to help an appeal to 'Save the Ornamental Lake in the Gardens', which was badly silted and entirely covered by a tenacious water lily. The public appeal, through the Melbourne Herald and Sun newspapers, raised $204,000, and the lake was cleared. Image above shows diggers clearing tons of silt from the lake bed.
  
The Friends' Trust Fund was established in 1986 to receive donations towards general and specific projects within the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne and the National Herbarium. The Friends became Incorporated in 1987 and is governed by a Statement of Rules. The first grant from the Trust Fund was in 1992 - $10,000 for Flora of Victoria Volume 1.  

Grants to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne passed the $500,000 level in 1998.  

In 2000 a bequest was received by the Friends allowing them to undertake some major projects including the de-silting of the Central Lake, the construction of a glasshouse and propagation house in the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne Nursery, as well as the renovation of Gate Lodge and its garden, to become the Friends' office. 

Grants to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne passed the $1 million level in 2001. Archived Newsletters from this period containing information about the Friends and their activities can be found on the Archived Newsletters page.



The Friends Celebrate 20 Years of Support for the Gardens

In 2002 the Friends celebrated their 20th birthday with a tree planting and the launch of the Water Works, Water Wise campaign, a long-term project to finance the upgrading and completion of the Gardens' irrigation infrastructure and watering systems. Part of this project included the irrigation of the Ian Potter Foundation Children's Garden.

In 2003 the first new full colour quarterly magazine, Botanic News, was produced. So far over 40 issues have been produced by volunteers in-house. Archived Newsletters and Botanic News 2010 onwards are available online.

In 2007 (their 25th Birthday) the Friends received a large bequest greatly boosting the funds held by the Trust Fund. This bequest is currently invested enabling the establishment of a Friends’ 25th Anniversary Scholarship to the value of $10,000 to be awarded annually to a member(s) of the staff of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne Board, which was first awarded in 2009.   

The Helen McLellan Research Grant to the annual value of $20,000 (named in honour of its benefactor) was also created and first awarded in 2011.  

Grants to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne passed $1.5 million in 2009.

In 2010 the Friends committed to the largest grant from the Trust Fund of $210,000 over 3 years to the Working Wetlands project.


The Friends Celebrate 30 Years of Support for the Gardens

In 2012 the Friends celebrated their 30th Birthday with an afternoon function at Gardens House with their patron, The Honourable Alex Chernov AC, QC, Governor of Victoria, present. 

Grants to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne passed $2 million in 2013.

In 2013 the Friends' membership numbers reached 2,500.


Eucalyptus macrocarpa by Marta Salamon (cropped)

Botanic Art and the Friends

The Art of Botanical Illustration biennial exhibition evolved from the Botanical Illustration classes after the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne recognised the exceptional talents of the botanical illustrators of Victoria and, in 1990, offered these artists a home at the Royal Botanic Gardens,  Melbourne. 

Anita Barley began the classes for these artists. She was an artist/illustrator at the National Herbarium for many years whilst teaching students in the 1980s at the Burnley Horticultural College. Jenny Phillips later taught at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne and went on to set up her own botanical school of art.  Celia Rosser, a highly accomplished artist, who ran a few workshops for this group, was on the selection committee for the first exhibitions. Margaret Stones, a Victorian who lived in London and was an illustrator at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, gave some inspirational talks at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.  At the time, these four women were recognised as Australia’s most accomplished scientific illustrators. Since 1990 many highly acclaimed artists have given their guidance and shared their expertise with accomplished professional and amateur artists through programs offered by the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.

In 1992 the members of this group presented the first selected The Art of Botanical Illustration exhibition held at the National Herbarium of Victoria, with 140 illustrations by 30 artists on display. This was an opportunity to promote the talents of these artists and the role of botanical illustration as a key part of the scientific and horticultural identification processes. Since then the exhibition has been held biennially and now attracts Australian and international artists and collectors.

Many pieces have been purchased from these biennial exhibitions for inclusion in the State Botanical Collection, one of the world’s finest, which is held in the National Herbarium of Victoria. This exhibition has become one of the major fundraisers for the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.

The inaugural presentation of the Celia Rosser Medal was in 2002. Celia Rosser’s exquisite work on the Banksia genus took her 25 years to complete, while she was the Botanical Artist at Monash University. The medal celebrates her contribution as a technically accomplished artist whose work has both the highest degree of scientific accuracy and artistic excellence. The medal has been named after her with the intention that the award should reflect these achievements.  

The Friends’ Illustrated Garden Collection project was established in 2001, to create a florilegium of significant plants growing in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne. Works are chosen from those exhibited in The Art of Botanical Illustration exhibitions. The originals are not kept, but held digitally and photographically in a 21st century florilegium with reproduction rights assigned to the Friends for the purpose of raising funds for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.

 


Volunteering

Volunteering is a significant part of the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne. Over 150 volunteers currently work with the Friends in a wide range of activities.  Volunteer opportunities are available in the following areas –

    Event Planning and Management
    Catering
    Editorial Advisory Committee and Publications
    Growing Friends and Plant Sales
    Special Events and Exhibitions
    Promotion of the Friends (incl. the website)
    Helping Hands volunteer gardening
    Office Administrative Support
    Plant Craft Cottage


The Growing Friends

The Growing Friends were established in 1988 and had a small nursery in the Observatory Gate Carpark area. The twice yearly plant sales were held on lawn in front of the Observatory Gate area and have since moved to a more suitable area inside Gate E near the Tropical Glasshouse. 

The current Growing Friends are a group of volunteer members who work regularly in their own nursery now located next to the Gardens' nursery and maintenance depot area. They propagate plants, many from stock in the Gardens which are generally not available from commercial nurseries. 

The Growing Friends' nursery is periodically (once a month on Friday) open for Members Only Sales, giving Friends the unique opportunity to buy rare and interesting plants. 

The two major Plant Sales, held each year in autumn and spring, are open to the general public.


The Helping Hands

The first hands-on help provided to the Gardens was in the Perennial Border. More recently the The Helping Hands group was formally set up and works one day a month as hands-on gardeners. The current areas they maintain are E Gate Lodge garden, Eastern Lodge garden, Gate Lodge garden and the Plant Craft Cottage garden.

Plant Craft Cottage

The Plant Craft Cottage was founded before the Friends, in the early 1980s, and from within it, a group of members began to consider the founding of a separate incorporated association. Shortly afterwards, the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne was 'spun off' the Plant Craft Cottage. 

In July 2013 the Friends and the Plant Craft Cottage merged. The joining of these two groups marks a 'return to the beginning'. For the Friends, the prospect of joint activities with the Plant Craft Cottage and greater access to facilities in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne will make the Friends a more successful and interesting organisation for present and future members. For the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, the joining of the Plant Craft Cottage and the Friends will ensure that ancillary services currently on offer will continue. It can also be expected that the merger will help stimulate the introduction of innovative activities of wider interest to the people of Melbourne. 


Current Major Projects and The Future 

The Friends run events, classes, workshops and activities, which take place 7 days a week with renewed interest in hands-on activities. 

The Friends' Trust Fund continues to grow and provide a large annual income to go towards projects in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne. In 2013 the Friends announced their support of the next major project to be undertaken in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, the renovation of the Fern Gully. Initially the Friends provided a grant of $100,000 towards the building of a boardwalk in the Fern Gully to replace the old asphalt paths. Further annual grants have been made to complete the boardwalk (grants now total $300,000 towards this project). The Stage 1 of the Fern Gully project has been completed and the new boardwalk with bridges and new planting was opened on 30 April 2015.

In 2016 apart from the annual Scholarships and Research Grant the Friends will be providing funds ($50,000) towards the refurbishment of the Visitor Centre at Observatory Gate.

 


The Friends celebrate their 35th Birthday in 2017

 

A new Friends' activity group has been launched - The Photo Group. Their inaugural meeting was held on 12 April 2017. Since then a full program of photo group activities has been put together for the remainder of 2017 and 2018.

The Friends' renovation of the Visitor Centre is completed and officially opened (see photo above) and the next project to be funded is the restoration and refurbishment of the Fern Gully Resthouse (below).


Friends' Oral History Project

 

In 2017 an oral history project was commissioned by the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne. Way Back When Consulting Historians were engaged to manage the project and carry out the oral history interviews.  

The aim of the oral history project was to begin the process of researching and recording the history of The Friends since its formation. Motivated by the passing of the first Convenor of The Friends, Beth Higgs, as well as other key foundation members, the project focused on capturing and documenting the experiences of surviving members of the organisation. Interviews were carried out with individuals who played a significant role in the creation and evolution of The Friends in its first decade.