Colac Botanic Gardens are a fine example of a nineteenth century provincial
botanic garden, typical of such gardens created in colonial Victoria.
After being set aside in 1865, the Gardens were developed in the late 1870s and enhanced in 1910 by William Guilfoyle (1840–1912), one of Australia's leading garden designers. By the time of his involvement with the Colac Gardens, Guilfoyle had already established his reputation as a garden designer with his reworking of von Mueller's layout of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. In addition to the Colac and Melbourne Gardens, Guilfoyle designed a number of public and private parks and gardens around Melbourne as well as the western district provincial Botanic Gardens at Camperdown, Hamilton, Horsham, Koroit and Warrnambool.
The Colac gardens feature formal entries leading to an informal park layout,
a carriage drive which is still open to vehicular traffic (10km maximum speed),
in a picturesque setting with distant vistas including views of Lake Colac
on which it is situated. There is a delicate balance, typical of Guilfoyle’s
work, between open lawns planted with specimen trees and areas of more
The plan is far from being Guilfoyle’s own design, the layout having been originally conceived by Dr Bunce of the Geelong Botanic Garden. Bunce’s plan was interpreted and reworked by curators Reeves and more importantly John McDonald. It is difficult to ascertain exactly how much influence Guilfoyle’s plans had on the Colac gardens as they appear today as certainly not all of his recommendations were implemented. It is therefore more accurate to describe the Colac Botanic Gardens as an accomplished public garden design of the late 1870s, with an overlay of planting by Guilfoyle during the Edwardian period.
The Gardens cover some 15 hectares and contain over 1,000 specimens including trees registered by the National Trust. There are barbecue facilities and a children's playground. The gates open for cars at 10am and close at 4pm, year-round.