Tim EntwisleMueller’s volcano erupts in autumn

Festooned with cacti and succulents, its crater brimming with water, William Guilfoyle’s mock volcano sits inactive in the south-east corner of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. A beautiful addition to a beautiful botanic garden. A hundred kilometres away, in Daylesford, there is a botanic garden wrapped around the real thing.


What might be called Mueller’s volcano is covered in pines and other northern hemisphere trees. This long extinct volcano, is home to the Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens.

Wombat Hill Gardens 2The tree collection is impressive. Lots of old and majestic specimens, particularly conifers, and even more particularly Douglas Firs, of which there are 250 or more. There are plenty of significant trees, with a capital (i.e. National Trust listed) or small ‘s’. The bough of this one cross the path to Wombat Hill House.

This botanic garden is part of the ‘Victorian’ Victorian legacy. As I mentioned in my recent Castlemainia post, according to Gwen Pascoe’s Long Views and Short Vistas (2012), 45 botanic gardens were established in Victoria between 1846 and 1888.

The Daylesford garden was established in 1860 but formally opened three years later with a procession from the middle of town and (as in Taradale and Castlemaine) the planting of trees to celebrate the wedding of Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra. Oaks in this case.

Over the next decade or so the Director of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens, Ferdinand Mueller, provided the garden with plants from the Melbourne Botanic Gardens, many of which are still alive today. Mueller may have provided the trees but William Sangster, once an employee at Melbourne Botanic Gardens, provided the landscape plan.

Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens 3

The only part of Sangster’s plan remaining today is the fern gully, appropriately the focus of the event I attended on 11th of May. Along with a brass band and country afternoon tea, the Governor of Victoria, His Excellency Alex Chernov and wife Elizabeth Chernov open a new Cascade and refreshed landscape in the Fern Gully. It was a celebration of 150 years and the start of a rejuvenation of the botanic garden.

Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens 4It’s a great setting for a botanic garden. The tin-covered reservoir on top I could do without (aesthetically) but the rest of the volcano gives a unique character to the garden. The cafe at Wombat Hill House has great food and the staff and Friends charming. As for Mueller’s trees… Well, on a sunny autumn day they and the later additions dazzled.

Like Melbourne and Sydney botanic gardens the Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens have their animal friends. The statue you’ll recognise, even from its back, and the mock birds were charming powerful owls for the day.

Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens 5

And through the trees you can see the Midlands of Victoria. There is a lot to like about this botanic garden.

Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens 6


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Tim Entwisle

About Tim Entwisle

Dr Tim Entwisle is a scientist and scientific communicator with a broad interest in plants, science and gardens, and Director & Chief Executive of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Previously he was Director of Conservation, Living Collections & Estates at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and prior to that, Director of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens for eight years. Read Tim's full blog at Talking Plants

7 thoughts on “Mueller’s volcano erupts in autumn

  1. Beautiful Tim. Reminds me what a lasting legacy a garden can be and living testimony to someone’s love, skill and dedication. Also love the charming an whimsical name, Wombat Hill; I think of Winnie the Pooh and magical children’s games like Pooh sticks, piglet and secret bridges.

  2. Thanks for the Winnie the Pooh reflections. Agree entirely. It was fun to experience some of the streams and forests that would have inspired such writing when I was in the UK.

  3. Tim, I enjoyed your thoughtful piece so much! Wombat is the garden of so many magical childhood adventures for me . Those memories of special times with friends and also walks with my mother urged me to resurrect the old caretakers cottage & create Wombat Hill House . I am so gratified that just some 3 years later the cafe has become quite the community hub. It’s also wonderful to see the spirited generosity and energy of the ‘Friends’ who are accomplishing so much with the gardens on an ongoing basis .
    Thank you again for the wonderful read .
    Alla Wolf Tasker
    Lake House

  4. Thanks so much Tim for this lovely piece . Wombat is the garden with so many memories of childhood adventures and rambles with my mother. It’s those memories that urged me to resurrect the old caretakers cottage and create Wombat Hill House 4 years ago . Since then it’s become quite the community hub . It’s also gratifying to see the spirited energy & generosity of the ‘friends’ accomplishing so much with their ongoing work.
    Thank you again for the lovely read
    Alla Wolf Tasker – Lake House

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