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Fern Gully

The Fern Gully is a natural gully within the gardens providing a perfect micro climate for ferns. Visitors can follow a stream via the winding paths in the cool surrounds under the canopy of lush tree ferns.

In designing the Fern Gully, William Guilfoyle sought to recreate the fern gullies of the Australian bush. Fossil evidence shows that the soft tree fern dates back to when Australia was part of the super continent Gondwana. Ferns are one of the first plants to re-generate after hot wild fires that kill many other plants.

Over the last ten years Fern Gully has suffered from pressures of drought, 30,000 roosting flying foxes, and failing infrastructure. As a result a Fern Gully restoration project is now in place that aims to reverse this trend through a total management approach that considers issues of public amenity, accessibility, tree health, and water quality, over a Three Stage process.

The renovation will include a range of landscape improvements to the whole Fern Gully precinct.

Stage One is now complete and includes a new steel board walk and five new timber bridges that dramatically improves access for visitors to Fern Gully and gives them improved views of the picturesque collection.

Stage Two, the creation of three wellbeing gardens, is now complete. The Fern Gully, with its leafy appeal and cool microclimate is the perfect environment for a series of meditative spaces where the visitor is able to sit quietly and take in the ambiance of the Gardens. Each space includes a reflective water feature and can be accessed via a series of secondary paths that loop back to the main boardwalk. Although each Wellbeing Garden is unique, all three were designed for small groups and individuals to visit and find a restful, restoring environment. As visitors move through Fern Gully along the boardwalk, these spaces give guests the opportunity to stop, pause and reflect. The Wellbeing Gardens can be accessed via a series of secondary paths that loop back to the main boardwalk. 

Brought to life by the generous assistance of three donors, these spaces were tailor-made to reflect the personal stories of each supporter. Andrew Laidlaw, Landscape Architect, partnered with the donors in his design, helping to translate their stories – all of loss and memory – into the landscape. The Bird’s Nest is a playful hideaway where guests can observe the world around them from a suspended swing seat. Inspired by a love of birds, the area is fashioned around a large Ficus tree nestled within a sculptured bird’s nest and arc of tree ferns, both richly planted with Bird’s Nest Ferns and native orchids.

Building on an existing heritage listed rock feature within Fern Gully, the Grotto is a peaceful place to sit quietly, isolated from the rest of the gardens. Designed in memory of the donor’s late husband and using stones from their property in Dunkeld, the space is cool, calm and serene. The garden is sheltered by an intricate wrought iron artwork by artist Justin Purser, and contains a simple water feature adding sound and ambience to the space. Embedded in the rock formation are lichens and historic pieces of crockery and china discovered by the staff from and around the gardens, left behind from the ghosts of picnics past. The Moss Garden offers an intimate clearing to gather and share in nature. It is reminiscent of a Japanese garden, with three sculpted stone seats, carefully placed around the central ‘mother stone’.

Stage Three will focus on the restoration of the Fern Gully Rest House and the creation of a Dementia friendly garden. Fundraising continues for this stage of the Fern Gully Restoration Project.

All this is made possible by the generous donations of our supporters.

Best Viewed

  • Spring


Asplenium australasicum

Bird's Nest Fern

Doodia aspera

Prickly Rasp Fern

Asplenium oblongifolium

Shining Spleenwort

Plant Census

Find out what plants grow at Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.

Key Plants

Tree Ferns

Cyathea australis   Rough Tree Fern

Cyathea dealbata   Silver Tree Fern

Cyathea x marescens   Skirted Tree Fern (New)

Cyathea medullaris   Black Tree Fern

Dicksonia antarctica  Soft Tree Fern


Ground Ferns

Asplenium australasicum   Bird's Nest Fern

Blechnum patersonii   Strap Water Fern

Blechnum nudum   Fishbone Water Fern

Microsorum scandens   Fragrant Fern

Curator Notes

  1. Established ferns respond well to liquid fertilizing in growing season (spring).
  2. Remove dead tree fern fronds when necessary.
  3. The soft tree fern is one of the oldest plant species in the world.


  • 1850s - First plantings by Ferdinand von Mueller.
  • 1857 - Mueller built aviary in Fern Gully.
    • Gully landscaped with exotic species transplanted from other parts of RBG Melbourne and fern and exotic species transported from Victoria and Queensland, including Brisbane Botanical Gardens, Mt Macedon, New Zealand and Cape Otway.
    • Minor path system installed.
    • Pump installed to circulate water from bottom to top of gully.
    • Large Lombardy Poplar fell during storm.
  • 1981 - Grey Headed Flying Foxes present in Fern Gully in small numbers.
  • 1983 - Grey Headed Flying Foxes regularly roosting in the trees, but still migrating north in winter.
  • 1985 - Grey Headed Flying Foxes roosting in Fern Gully all year round with only half migrating north for winter.
  • 1994 - Misting and irrigation system installed.
  • 1995 - Study undertaken to determine long term effects of the colony on the Fern Gully.
  • 2002 - Grey Headed Flying Fox numbers peak in March at 30,000.
  • 2003 - Grey Headed Flying Fox relocation program undertaken.
  • 2004 - Grey Headed Flying Fox numbers in the Gardens at 0.
  • 2004 - Sponsorship provided from Esso Australia for several projects.
  • 2015 - Donations allow for the Fern Gully Restoration project to begin. Stage One completed.
  • 2019 - Wellbeing Gardens Completed.