A little bit of liberté is in the air. As “stay home” advice becomes “stay safe”, we’re dusting off our tartan blankets and heading to the park (yes, even in winter). Whether you’re eager for some solo time outdoors, or ready to round up your nearest and dearest for a catch-up (with 20 people max, mind you), these are our top picks for parks and gardens with space to unwind.
Edinburgh Gardens, Fitzroy North
The communal backyard of the inner north is one of the city’s most popular green spaces. Even at a sprawling 60 acres, its proximity to grocers, bottle shops and Super Tasty Rooster makes it perfect for spontaneous picnicking. Loafer Bread, Wild Things, Moroccan Soup Bar Two Go, Just Falafs, and Blackhearts and Sparrows are all nearby; the hardest part is weaving through neighbours, skateboarders and frisbee players, and resisting the urge to pat strangers’ dogs.
Yarra Bend Park, Kew
At 642 acres, Yarra Bend Park abounds with space for picnics (and exhibiting your iso-perfected headstands without collapsing into a crowd). Between the woodlands, parklands and sports fields, there are plenty of grassy knolls and riverbanks, plus communal barbeques and tables (editor’s note: communal food-preparation areas may be closed due to Covid-19). Cross Kane’s Bridge to Studley Park Boathouse to hire a rowboat.
Darebin Parklands, Alphington
Darebin Creek is just five kilometres north-east of the city, but you wouldn’t know it. Its quiet parkland surrounds now straddles Alphington and Ivanhoe. Like many of Melbourne’s expansive green spaces, this was once a rubbish tip, but the local community worked hard for 50 years to restore and regenerate the grassy plains, waterways, bushland and wildlife habitats. There are undercover barbeques for hot lunches or rainy days, or you can settle in for a picnic next to The Nest, a striking sculpture by artists David Bell and Gary Tippett. Dogs are allowed in on- and off-lead areas.
Sculpture Park, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen
A 20-minute drive from the CBD or a scenic cycle along the Main Yarra Trail brings you to the Heide Museum of Modern Art. The gallery’s surrounds include gardens planted by artist and gallery co-founder Sunday Reed, and a 15-acre sculpture garden – with 30 works by internationally renowned artists such as Anish Kapoor. You can BYO picnic or eat at the on-site Cafe Heide. The cafe also offers picnic hampers for pre-order (complete with basket, cutlery and wine) to eat among the art. (Editor’s note: Heide MOMA is closed until June 30, 2020.)
Herring Island, between Richmond and South Yarra
If you’re seeking seclusion, this difficult-to-access island in the middle of the Yarra River has plenty of privacy. From January to April, you can take the Parks Victoria punt boat from Como Landing on weekends and public holidays. But you’ll need to hire a kayak or use your own boat at other times. Part nature reserve, part environmental sculpture park, the largely unknown island has walking trails, revegetated native bushland, and art. There’s a handful of shelters with free barbeques and running water. You’ll need to take all rubbish home with you.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne
This 94-acre living museum of native and international plants is punctuated by wide passages of lawn with plenty of space to lounge. Pick your preferred botanical backdrop – there are natives, cacti, ferns, water lilies – for lunch. Or there are shadowed and sunlit seats by the lakes.
St Kilda Botanical Gardens, St Kilda
A peaceful retreat from the bustle of St Kilda, this prim southside staple is now the first public garden in Melbourne to keep bees. Weekends can be a highly patronised affair, so visit midweek for more space between banquets. Travel here via Meatsmith’s Barkly Street outpost for all manner of cold-cuts and accoutrements. Sun-drenched, shaded or dappled picnic posts await.
Maranoa Gardens, Balwyn
This art-deco-era garden in the east resisted European flora at the time of landscaping and now has an impressive 5000 native trees and shrubs. There are picnic pockets spread across the five-acre gardens, with flowers blooming throughout the year. As a bonus, Maranoa Gardens shoulders Beckett Park, which has an impressive playground and stone observation tower.
Hedgeley Dene Gardens, Malvern East
A picturesque linear park, Hedgeley Dene Gardens remains largely unchanged since it was landscaped in the inter-war period. Nostalgic 1930s cast-iron lamp posts dot the paths, and there are Monet-esque bridges to cross the lake. The gardens are mostly populated by exotic deciduous and evergreen trees, and there’s manicured lawn for picnics. Dogs on leads are welcome.
Landcox Park, Brighton East
This handsome 10-acre park has plenty of spots to unfurl a blanket. Soak up some sunshine on the lawn on a warm day, or recline in the dappled shade of the mature canopies. There are barbeque facilities, plenty of waterbirds on the lake and the occasional turtle. It’s about a 10-minute stroll from either North Brighton train station or the 64 tram.
Williamstown Botanic Gardens, Williamstown
Across the bay, this south-west garden has been luring picnickers with its tidy lawns and palm walk since 1860. Its preserved Victorian and Edwardian plants even earned the gardens a spot on the Victorian Heritage Register. Nab one of the picnic tables or sprawl out by the lake. There are daffodils in winter and a view of Hobsons Bay beyond the trees. Dogs on leads are welcome here, too.
Fairfield Park Boathouse, Fairfield
If jostling for a few blades of grass doesn’t appeal, leave the land behind. Fairfield Boathouse rents out hand-built rowing skiffs, replicas of those common on the River Thames in the 19th century. Invite friends, hire a boat each, and find a eucalyptus branch to anchor to for a picnic in the middle of the Yarra. Dogs may come aboard. (Editor's note: Fairfield Park Boathouse is currently closed will reopen soon.)
Victoria has restricted public gatherings and recommends minimal social contact to minimise the spread of coronavirus. Communal facilities may be closed in parks and gardens. If you’re concerned about visiting businesses or public spaces, or have questions about self-isolation and coronavirus testing, check out the latest from the Department of Health and Human Services.