Carlton Gardens masterplan reveals effects of climate change on precinct

Carlton Gardens masterplan reveals effects of climate change on precinct
Brendan Rees

At least 43 trees in the heritage-listed Carlton Gardens have been earmarked for replacement – with nearly half from two older avenues – as the City of Melbourne responds to climate change impacts under a new masterplan.

A new tree management and replacement plan was one of two new recommendations added to the Carlton Gardens masterplan, which was endorsed unanimously by councillors at their Future Melbourne Committee meeting June 7.

Deputy Lord Mayor and planning portfolio chair Nicholas Reece told the meeting there was concern that some tree species like English Elms and white poplars among others “would just no longer be suitable in the gardens.”

“With climate change affecting the ability of certain species to grow and thrive, that did raise a number of challenging questions for our arborists, in terms of what new tree species we would be planting in those gardens,” Cr Reece said.

The Deputy Lord Mayor said the council would look meticulously at the original plantings at the site so that the heritage character – “that character that I think so many Melburnians currently love about the Carlton Gardens will be preserved going forward, so I think it’s a very good outcome.”

“It’s good to see that this difficult and involved question will now be the subject of a tree management and replacement plan where we will be able to look at the suitability of some of those species and identify other like-species.”

Under the masterplan, 43 trees or 10 per cent of the Gardens’ existing trees – which have been part of the landscape since its beginnings in the 19th century – are expected to be replaced in the next 10 years.

Of this group, 19 trees are from two older avenues as well as a recently planted row of white poplar trees – which will be “assessed as being climate vulnerable in both moderate and extreme future climate change scenarios.”

In their place, a short-list of options for climate-resilient species would be considered to allow “advanced growing”.  

For “major” tree avenue replanting, the council will investigate the feasibility of reinstating shrub beds if they were part of the earlier 19th century historic presentation.

Before any plans are finalised, the council would invite feedback from Heritage Victoria; the historic heritage branch of the federal Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment; the World Heritage Management Plan steering committee, and the public.

The council will continue to “monitor and nurture the existing historic trees and maintain the garden character.”

A second recommendation in the 57-page masterplan will see the council work cooperatively with Museums Victoria and the steering committee as part of a temporary events management plan for the entire site. 

The new recommendations, which were not included in the draft Carlton Gardens masterplan that was approved in October last year, followed extensive consultation with the community and stakeholders.

A council report said the community was supportive of a range of proposals including a reintroduction of shrubs, new lighting, more trees for shade in the playground and picnic areas, new public toilet facilities, and improvements to pedestrian access across Victoria St.

The masterplan will form part of the revised World Heritage Management Plan currently under preparation by the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens World Heritage steering committee, which must occur every seven years.

Environment and heritage portfolio lead Cr Rohan Leppert thanked the community and everyone who made submissions which was part of a “very important process”.


As a World Heritage Site, he said “it’s only proper that we are incredibly thorough in the way that we master plan for this area.”


Cr Elizabeth Doidge said the gardens held a special place in her childhood and was “very humbled” to see the recommendations from the draft masterplan “positively received”, including a toilet upgrade which is “going to be widely felt by everybody who uses the park.”

The Friends of Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens and the Protectors of Public Land said the masterplan for the gardens had “many good qualities but there are issues that it does not address”.

“Firstly, a definition is needed and agreed on, for how our world heritage significant gardens should look, and to what level of care and presentation they are to be conserved and protected,” they said in a statement. “We say the lack of definitions for the Carlton Gardens might be the reason the Carlton Gardens are not resourced as well nor presented at the same high standards as the Fitzroy Gardens.”

In terms of the plan proposing to replant heritage trees and selecting climate hardy varieties, they questioned “what exactly does council intend? Are there better solutions especially, where the trees in questions are increasingly scare heritage trees that are prescribed in the world heritage significance listing?” •

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