… nothing was planted in the grounds, save such dead animals and cast off wearing apparel as the people in the neighbourhood had no further use for.
Argus, 12 July 1858
Located in East Melbourne, the Fitzroy Gardens are one of the city’s oldest public gardens. Named after Sir Charles FitzRoy, Governor of New South Wales, the land was considered undesirable for building purposes. It was set aside by the government around 1848, upon the advice of Superintendent La Trobe, to be developed as parkland. Until 1862 the gardens were known as ‘Fitzroy Square’.
In 1856 the Melbourne Council commissioned Edward La Trobe Bateman (Charles La Trobe’s cousin) to design a layout for the gardens. His elaborate plan, however, proved too expensive and was never realised.
In 1858 Clement Hodgkinson redesigned the gardens, doing away with Bateman’s elaborate symmetry of winding curves, replacing them with vertical, horizontal and diagonal paths. Hodgkinson’s design has often been thought to resemble the Union Jack, but this similarity was not intentional.
Hodgkinson wrote of his planting scheme:
the chief desiderata were shade along the numerous paths therein forming important lines of traffic, and such dense and continuous masses of foliage as would tend to check the inroad of dust from the adjacent streets. Consequently … strict adherence to the rules of landscape gardening, with regard to the grouping of trees … had to be abandoned in favour of the formal lining in the background of dense masses of conifers, evergreen shrubs, fern trees … small flowering shrubs and bedding flowers being merely introduced to mask the unsightly aspect of the grass in such reserves during summer …
Clement Hodgkinson, Victorian Parliament, Parks and Gardens, Papers Presented to Parliament, Vol. 3, No. 50, 1873
By the 1870s the gardens were much admired and considered the showpiece of Melbourne’s public gardens, rivalled only by the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Later, under the direction of John Guilfoyle (curator of the Fitzroy Gardens from 1890 to 1909), many of the earlier plantings were removed, the gardens were opened up, the fences removed, and the lawns scattered with bright islands of shrubs and flowers. Nursery and greenhouse facilities were constructed in the gardens, not only to cultivate plants for the Fitzroy Gardens, but to also cater to the cultivation of most of Melbourne’s public gardens.
Under JT Smith, curator of the Fitzroy Gardens from 1921, further changes were made. Many of the stone pines and Moreton Bay figs were replaced with lawns planted with ginko, limes, palms and silver birch. When the Spanish mission style conservatory opened during the Great Depression, hundreds of people queued up to see the free floral displays.