New homes for native critters at Royal Park

A person with their thumbs up standing in a field with the city skyline in the background.

Biodiversity gardens are springing up throughout Royal Park, increasing the variety of local plants and attracting even more native wildlife.

It’s a short walk to work for Royal Park supervisor Chris Nicholson. For the past seven years he has lived in one of three residences peppered about the grounds of the city’s largest public open space.

Every evening, he walks the dog to the grass circle. It’s a sweeping expanse of tall grass that bends and whispers in the breeze. From here, it’s easy to imagine the gentle curve of the earth.

‘There aren’t many places in Melbourne where you can see the sky without being blocked by buildings and trees. It’s one of my favourite places.’

At twilight, raptors circle and swoop mice and insects. Flying foxes crisscross the sky. Concealed in the long grass are little native quail and other ground nesting birds.

Right now, a woman sits on a nearby bench checking her phone while her baby sleeps in the pram. Cicadas buzz. A magpie warbles.

You won’t find many deciduous trees in Royal Park. While the area was set aside by Governor La Trobe in the mid-1800s, it was redesigned in the 1980s and 90s to ‘evoke the original landscape character’.

Two white poodles sniff around the base of a 150 year old sugar gum, a South Australian native tree planted in the early days of this 180 hectare park.

‘It can take 80 years for hollows to form in a tree,’ Chris said.

‘Hollows create homes for parrots, purple crowned lorikeets, wood ducks, possums. And microbats as small as your hand find their way into the tiniest cracks.’

Only a few areas of remnant bushland have endured in terrain that was too difficult to build on or turn into sports fields.

While the upper canopy has been cleared, these areas still paint a picture of the grassy woodland tended to for thousands of years by Traditional Owners, the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of Eastern Kulin.

River red gums are among the eucalypts now planted in the park to gradually restore the local population. Only a few specimens have withstood the widespread clearing of the area which began in the 1800s. You can find one in the nearby Melbourne Zoo.

To attract even more native critters, two dedicated gardeners have been hard at work establishing new biodiversity gardens in Royal Park.

Biodiversity garden with stormy sky

Biodiversity garden in Royal Park

‘It’s all about increasing the palate of plants in the park, and in turn the palate of birdlife, lizards and skinks.’

Over the past two years, the team has planted natives such as kangaroo grass, juncus reeds, wattle and banksias.

The Friends of Royal Park have been busy too, planting a variety of shrubs and replenishing the grassy understorey.

Tread carefully on your next walk around the park. Kneel for a closer look at the new groundcover and find ruby saltbush in flower, and tiny native bluebells that attract more than 200 species of native bees.

Tiny native bluebells

Native bluebells in Royal Park

The intention is to broaden the city’s wildlife corridor. You can play along at home by sourcing these hyperlocal species for your own garden.

Maybe resist the urge to plant a river red gum, though. In the right conditions, this local beauty can grow up to 20 metres tall and outlast us all, living for hundreds of years. It’s best to leave this particular variety to the experts in Royal Park, and instead visit often.

Whether you have a big backyard, a green rooftop or pot plants on your balcony, everyone can help promote urban biodiversity. Request a garden visit from City of Melbourne’s Gardens for Wildlife team.

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