You can sometimes hear little groups of Melburnians hurrying down the top end of Little Collins Street, late for a show, bemoaning the ugliness of the multi-storey carpark on the north side. Few notice the Senegal Date Palm hanging over the high brick wall on the south side. Which is a pity, because it is one of the few clues to the location of one of Melbourne's hidden gems - the private walled garden of The Melbourne Club.
Walled gardens have a long tradition, gaining particular popularity with cloistered orders, and as cities grew ever more bustling they also provided a secluded oasis for contemplation, study or quiet conversation. Organisations who placed value on providing the opportunity for quiet (and sometimes solitary) contemplation have set about building walled gardens and these have included religious organisations, university colleges, private clubs, and in more recent times, corporate offices (Harry Seidler's Shell Building, for instance, contains a small walled garden.) The walled garden is the opposite end of the spectrum from the jostling bar with amplified music, multiple large screens vying for our attention together with shouted conversations.
The Walled Garden of The Melbourne Club is mainly subdued green nestled back against and up the walls, but these plants repay closer inspection. What might initially be dismissed as 'all purpose shrubbery' reveals a remarkable variety of styles and textures for those prepared to examine in detail. The central area is made up of lawn suitable for formal occasions and creating a feeling of space within limited confines. But the real glories of this garden are three enormous London Plane (or Sycamore) Trees, each one worthy of a public park in their own right. The largest was planted over a century ago and has a canopy spread of over 30 metres It is the sort of tree that can subtly persuade those entering the garden focussed on the small issues of that day, that there is a larger picture and a longer time scale that is worthy of attention.
Small groups of Melburnians ambling up Little Collins Street late in the evening are often discussing the theatre or the restaurant they attended. Occasionally an individual distracted by the muffled sound of a clink of crystal from behind a high brick wall, will peel off and make a brief detour down an adjoining lane. You should se the size of the tress behind that wall." he says, but nobody else seems interested.
The Melbourne Club is a private club on private land, so the garden is only open to members and their guests. However, on rare occasions it is thrown open to the public. If you have the opportunity to be offered an invitation to The Melbourne Club or to attend an open day, White Hat urges you to accept the opportunity.