Designed for the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880, the Royal Exhibition Building and surrounding Carlton Gardens are World Heritage listed.
The Gardens slope gently down to the northeast and southwest from the Exhibition Building. Mature trees, many of which line the garden paths in formal avenues, dominate these areas. The tree plantings are widely mixed, including deciduous oaks, planes, elms, conifers, araucarias and broad-leafed evergreens such as Moreton Bay Figs. Much of the garden area is grassed lawns beneath trees with annual and shrub beds at key locations.
The southern section of the gardens has two ornamental lakes, avenues of trees and a most impressive alley of plane trees leading to the Hochgurtel Fountain in front of the Royal Exhibition Building. The northern section has a similar layout of treed avenues with a new children's playground, the Carlton Gardens Tennis Courts, a park maintenance depot and a caretaker's cottage.
The Carlton Gardens are in two parts: an axial garden layout in the southern part of the site, and a northern garden that was landscaped after the close of the two great 19th-century exhibitions. Bounded by Victoria, Rathdowne, Carlton and Nicholson Streets at the edge of Melbourne’s city centre, the entire block was originally designated by the Victorian Parliament in 1878.
During the 1880 and 1888 international exhibitions, the southern portion of the garden became a pleasure garden with many attractions. The South Carlton Gardens, as it is now known, continues to be used for exhibition purposes. It largely remains as designed by William Sangster and Joseph Reed. The southern entrance to the building, on the city side, is the apex of the design. A level promenade was created along the front of the building, and a semi-circular space has as its centrepiece an ornate fountain. A ceremonial approach is provided by a 24-metre wide avenue, and two other paths form a radiating axis from the fountain. In 1888 another fountain, the Westgarth Fountain, was added.
Temporary exhibition annexes covered the northern portion of this site during the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition. Hodgkinson designed this area to become a complementary landscape to the building, once the temporary pavilions were removed.
Parts of this North Garden, specifically the main east-west path and some trees, are remnants of the 1880 (and earlier 1855 La Trobe Bateman) layout. The North Garden was restored in line with Hodgkinson's 1882 plan, following the demolition in 1889 of the Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition temporary annexes.
The aesthetic significance of the Carlton Gardens lies in its embodiment of the 19th-century Gardenesque style. This includes parterre (formal or symmetrically-placed) garden beds, significant avenues such as the southern carriage drive and Grand Allée, the path system, specimen and clusters of trees, two small lakes and three fountains. The formal, ornamental palace garden, which was the context for the Great Hall of the 'Palace of Industry', is substantially intact.
Royal Exhibition Building
Carlton Gardens surround the majestic Royal Exhibition Building erected for the Great Exhibition of 1880 Victorian parliament met at the Exhibition Building for 27 years, when the Victorian Parliament building was being used by the National Legislature until the parliament building in Canberra was being built.
Many exhibitions are still held in the Royal Exhibition Building including the International Flower and Garden Show.
The Melbourne Museum and Imax Theatre are situated in the centre of the gardens to the north of the Royal Exhibition Building.
A popular picnic and barbecue area, the gardens are also home to an array of wildlife, including possums. Tree-lined avenues, Exhibition Fountain, formal flowerbeds and miniature lakes are a feature of Carlton Gardens.
Area of Solitude for Missing People
A bench is located approximately 100 metres west of the intersection of Gertrude St and Nicholson St, Carlton, under a large tree overlooking a small pond, serving as a reminder for Missing People: With Hope in Our Hearts.
Carlton Gardens adjoins the northeastern corner of Melbourne's central business district, near Victoria Street, Rathdowne Street, Carlton Street and Nicholson Street. 1-111 Carlton Street, Carlton
Transport: tram number 86 or 96 along Bourke Street to the Nicholson Street Entrance Open: daily