One of my favourite places at my alma mater, the University of Melbourne, is the System Garden. The System Garden was designed by the University’s first Professor of Natural History, Frederick McCoy in concert with architect Edward Latrobe Bateman in 1856. The garden is unusual because unlike a botanical or ornamental garden, the plants were selected and planted according to an evolutionary system of classification – hence its name, System Garden.
In the original design, visitors could walk from the middle of the garden to the outer edges and trace the natural history of the evolution of the plant kingdom. You rarely see such gardens today, because it’s a scientific garden, and though it is ornamentally attractive, that’s not its key function. The garden originally covered a quarter of the University’s grounds and featured an octagonal glasshouse at its centre that housed several plant habitats. The gazebo, which still stands in the garden today, was the glasshouse’s central structure and marks the exact centre of the original garden. It was originally bounded by an acacia hedge, and though this was removed to make way for the Botany and Zoology Buildings which now occupy much of the original garden, some of Professor McCoy’s original plantings are still flourishing, including three towering palm trees, the Osage orange tree (Maclura pomifera), and some of the larger conifers.
Twenty years ago the garden was updated to reflect a more current system of classification – the Cronquist classification system – with the beds laid out according to plant subclasses. Although the garden is designed to highlight the science of Botany and the evolution of plants, it is also a beautiful space often used by students and staff as a quiet place to reflect, read or eat lunch. Property and Campus Services has recently commissioned a new conservation and management plan for the System Garden, which will enhance its ongoing value as a scientific, teaching, and recreational resource.
This post is part of James' Weekend Reflections meme.