Redeveloped Tecoma Gate at Melbourne Gardens open to the public

This week, the redeveloped Tecoma Gate at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria was officially opened to the public.

Frank Van Straten AM has been living in a home adjacent to Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne since he was six years old. Now, as an 87-year-old, Mr Straten, together with his partner Adrian Turley, have donated to the redevelopment of Tecoma Gate (formerly Gate C) at Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne – a gate close to their home and across from the Gardens which Mr Straten has cherished since he was a child.

“We are passionate about the Gardens and they have never looked so beautiful,” they said. “We raised the possibility of upgrading the gate and would love to see the new gate while we are still alive.”

“The Gardens are our front garden,” said Mr Straten. “My parents built this home in 1942. There were lots of kids in the area. You could hear kookaburras and cicadas everywhere.”

In one of his earliest memories of the Gardens he says, “My parents told me that elves, goblins and fairies lived at the Gardens and came out after the gates closed, so I used to fantasise about all these little creatures that lived there,” he said. He recalls a gardener who made the children bows and arrows and headdresses from swans’ feathers to play with. “It was a wonderful time. I couldn’t imagine kids doing that now,” he said.

Mr Straten also recalls horses pulling the mowers and gardens staff ringing a bell ten minutes before closing time. He recalls wealthy people riding horses around the Tan on a Sunday and Music for the People concerts, which later moved to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

“Everything around us has changed, but as Sherlock Holmes said to Watson, ‘You are the one fixed point in a changing age’”, he said.

Thanks to Frank and Adrian’s support, the gate was re-designed by the Gardens’ long-serving Landscape Architect, Andrew Laidlaw.

“It was lovely to work with them. We involved them in the process and presented the early designs to them,” Mr Laidlaw said.

The highlight is an intricately detailed artisan gate surrounded by new plantings including Echinopsis Pachanoi (pole cactus) and other succulents, new paving including a large mosaic tile by artist David Wong featuring arid plants and succulents inspired by historical sketches. This will signify entry to the Arid and Drylands precinct, which includes Guilfoyle’s Volcano, and the Arid Garden, which was opened in 2020.

“I wanted the gates to tell the story of Guilfoyle's design,” said Mr Laidlaw. “Guilfoyle used Araucarias on the hilltops, waterlilies on the lake, undulating lawns, Palm Lawn, Fern Gully and its pavilion, Temple of the Winds and other features which I have represented on the gate. The grasses are a nod to the Indigenous landscape that would have been here before the Gardens,” he said.

Several years ago, Frank and Adrian supported a new gate for the Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden, dedicated to the memory of his childhood carer, which Mr Laidlaw also designed. “We loved contributing to the Children's Garden project,” Mr Straten said.

“We hope that by supporting the Gardens we inspire others to do the same,” he said.