Feature

Red desert

G Magazine

Just 50 km from Melbourne's CBD are dramatic scupltured red desert gardens.

Australian Gardens at Cranbourne

Australian Gardens at Cranbourne

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Dramatic rust-red plains are perhaps the last sight you'd expect to see just 50 km from the Melbourne CBD. But that's the first thing that catches my eye as I enter the Australian Garden at Cranbourne.

The sculptured landscape of the red sand garden, with circular beds of contrasting grey foliage, was created with sand from a quarry in the nearby suburb of Skye - far different from the typical sculptured gardens you usually find.

Funny though, to realise that I wouldn't think twice about seeing a European cottage garden, although it's far more 'exotic' than outback landscape.

After 10 years of planning and three years of construction, the Australian Garden opened to the public last in 2007. It's home to 100,000 plants - representing 1,000 species - all native to Australia.

But any preconceptions of prickly, overgrown 1970s bush gardens were banished by the freshness and contemporary feel of the place.

In fact, strolling around the landscaped grounds with their integrated artworks reminded me of visiting a contemporary art gallery - an experience that's stimulating to the mind and the senses and soothing for the soul.

That's not to say you won't find plenty of practical ideas that translate to your own garden.

On the contrary, you can take a leaf from the water-saving exhibition garden, discover clever ways to integrate natives into your garden, such as replacing box hedges with lilly pilly or standard lawn with indigenous grasses, and get personalised gardening advice from the 45 volunteer master gardeners, who can be found in the garden between 11 am and 3 pm, seven days a week.

It's a pity my own gardening prowess extends only as far as wiping out entire dynasties of bonsai plants and neglecting herb gardens beyond the point of no return.

Cost

Admission is $9.25 and under-16s enter for free.

Public transport

Catch a train to Cranbourne, but there are no buses to take you the extra three kilometres from the train station to the gardens so you will need to make your own arrangements from there.

Kid-friendly? Yes. The Australian Garden has two areas specifically designed for younger visitors and it's surrounded by more than 200 hectares of natural bushland that make up the Royal Botanic Garden Cranbourne, with 10 km of walking tracks and a BBQ area that's ideal for families.

There's also a lookout tower at Trig Point with a 360-degree view across south-eastern Victoria including Western Port and Port Philip Bay, Mount Macedon and the Melbourne CBD.