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Guilfoyle’s Volcano Collection

Guilfoyle’s Volcano was built in 1876 and was used to store water for Melbourne Gardens. After lying idle for 60 years, it is now restored as part of a significant landscape development project called Working Wetlands. 

This spectacular and historic water reservoir has commanding views of the city, and its striking landscape design showcases low-water use plants. Boardwalks and viewing platforms give visitors the opportunity to explore this long-hidden, but remarkable, feature of Melbourne Gardens.

Guilfoyle’s Volcano is in the south-east corner of Melbourne Gardens, easily accessible via C Gate (enter via Anderson Street) and D Gate (enter via Birdwood Avenue).

Best Viewed

  • Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn

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Key Plants

Sedum spurium 'Dragons Blood'

Sedum stahlii

Kalanchoe 'Candy Cane'

Agave parryi

Echium wildpretii

Curator Notes

Adapting to climate change leads us to re-think the way we garden on the driest inhabited continent on earth. In particular, we need to reconsider the way we regard one of our most precious resources - water.

Re-thinking gardening also means smarter plant selections such as using drought tolerant plants. Combined with a greater understanding of the local climate and conditions, these are keys to sustainable gardening.

The water reservoir in the volcano is part of the Gardens’ integrated water management system. This system includes stormwater harvesting and state-of-the-art irrigation programming and is part of the larger ‘Working Wetlands System.’ The 'Working Wetlands System' collects water that is bio-filtered through wetlands in the lakes, then pumped up to Guilfoyle’s Volcano and used for irrigation.


William Guilfoyle had a grand plan for the developing Botanic Gardens from the time he took over as Director of the Gardens in 1873. In 1876, Guilfoyle developed a water reservoir at the highest part of the site with a deep, crater-like shape. Inspired by the landscape from sub-tropical regions, it was to serve a greater purpose than just a landscape feature. Guilfoyle had a plan to provide a water source to gravity-feed the gardens for irrigation. After being derelict for more than 70 years, Guilfoyle’s Volcano is once again an outstanding landscape feature as well as an important part of a state-of-the-art, integrated water management system.

Giving free rein to his imagination, Guilfoyle designed lawns sloping down from the volcano’s crater to the Nymphaea Lily Lake, suggesting the flow of lava to the sea. A number of flower-covered rockwork mounds appeared like islands in the green sea.
Guilfoyle’s Volcano has been classed as a folly, those eccentric or whimsical decorative structures that were popular in large 18th and 19th century gardens. But unlike most follies, its purpose was largely practical: to store and circulate water to sustain the botanic gardens.

As part of the Garden’s Water Conservation Strategy, urban stormwater is harvested from local streets adjoining the Gardens perimeter and redirected to our lakes via a series of constructed wetlands. This water is now being pumped directly to Guilfoyle’s Volcano at the rate of 30L/sec from Ornamental Lake.

The system uses gravity to channel the water through the lower lakes, wetlands and Fern Gully Creek to return to Ornamental Lake which takes approximately 72 hours for a full return cycle.

Keeping water flowing helps to improve water quality in a number of ways; firstly it keeps water temperature down and assists with aeration as it travels over rocks and riffles through the creek. Constructed wetlands located at two of the entry points for the stormwater help filter sediments as well as strip excess nutrients from the water.

By maintaining higher water quality in our lakes, especially through the warm summer months, we aim to reduce the incidence of blue-green algal blooms that can have a high impact on the water features and aquatic environments in the Gardens.