This thriving, living landscape is beloved by locals and enjoyed by visitors, and is most definitely a must see in Cairns. Explore its shady pathways with little streams, and open grassy areas with towering trees, not forgetting the conservatory at its heart, which houses ancient ferns, delicate orchids, aquatic plants and beautiful butterflies. There are stands of gingers and heliconias, climbing palms and vines and an Aboriginal Plant Use Garden, with interpretive signage and pamphlet. There’s something for everyone and entry is free, so take your time, because this is a place to unwind with refreshment on hand at the café, which is open from 7am 7 days a week.
The Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory is in the Flecker Gardens part of the Cairns Botanic Gardens precinct and is home to a wide variety of tassel ferns, orchids, carnivorous plants and more.
The Cairns Botanic Gardens is a precinct which is comprised of a few distinct areas, including the Flecker Garden and Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory – which is what we cover in this story – as well as the Gondwanan Heritage Garden, Fitzalan Gardens, Rainforest Boardwalk, Centenary Lakes with its Nature Playground and Zhanjiang Friendship Garden. All are located in leafy Edge Hill a 5-minute drive from the airport or 10-minute drive from the city, also accessible on the public bus route and of course, taxi, uber or bicycle. The Flecker Garden and Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory are open 7 days a week, from 7.30am to 5.30pm and entry is free. The Botanic Gardens Restaurant and Café is located in the Flecker Garden and is open every day from 7am to 4.30pm. It offers a great breakfast, lunch and snacks and sweets menu.
“The Cairns Botanic Gardens is a real showcase of tropical plants, not just from our area, but from around the world. I love going there to get inspiration for my garden and have tried to replicate a few key areas at home, including a planting of the impressive dinosaur heliconias and jade vine. The Friends of the Botanic Gardens hold plant sales throughout the year, which is a great opportunity to pick up some of your favourite Flecker Garden plants. The flowers and foliage ensure the gardens are bright and colourful all year round, and you can easily spend a few hours exploring and relaxing. Suitable for people of all ages, including babies and toddlers.” – Julie Johnston
In truth, I love everything about the Cairns Botanic Gardens and have happily spent many hours here over the years. It’s a real showcase of tropical plants, from the tiniest moss and fungi to the delicate orchids, impressive range of heliconias and bromeliads, ancient cycads and tassel ferns, so many amazing varieties of vines, grassy areas and mighty teak tree, all connected by meandering pathways, seasonal streams and hidden staircases. It’s like an enchanted garden with its layers of plants and colours, all providing a habitat for the most delightful array of birds, butterflies and beetles.
If I had to single out a few key areas of the Cairns Botanic Gardens that interest me the most, it would be the Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory, Aboriginal Plant Use Garden, jade vine by the side gate and heliconias by the main gate. The current Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory is relatively new, having opened in 2015. This enclosed space provides a protected place for some of the gardens most valuable and delicate plants, including but not limited to aroids, tassel ferns, orchids, carnivorous plants and an impressive array of amorphophallus plants, including the mighty titan arum. There’s a pathway which leads you through themed plantings, past the pond and back out again. There is lots of interpretive signage in the conservatory, which is also home to several species of butterflies. Interestingly, the shape of the conservatory and particularly its roof, took its design inspiration from the iconic licuala palm, which is also the basis of the Cairns Regional Council logo.
The Cairns Botanic Garden is home to many amazing bromeliads, which are showcased inside the conservatory and also surrounding its exterior. I love the diversity in shape, size and colour of these bromeliads and again, this is something I have incorporated into my own garden at home.
These two items are not related, but I love them both. The Aboriginal Plant Use Garden showcases several of the plants used by the Traditional Owners of this country, it includes interpretive signage, and you can also pick-up a copy of the self-guided walk brochure from the Friends of the Botanic Gardens Centre, which is adjacent to the café. Some of the plants you will find here include cycads and gingers, palms and lilies, lawyer cane and several rainforest trees, of which my favourite is the two Blue Quandongs [the Aboriginal name is Murrgan]. The Blue Quandong is native to this area and is so named for its bright, blue fruits which are prolific at various stages of the year and are usually accompanied with the falling of bright red leaves. As well as being a favourite food source for the Southern Cassowary, these fruits are also edible for humans and have the most interesting seeds inside, which almost resemble a small brain.
Many of the rainforest plants are toxic to humans, but over thousands of years the Aboriginal people developed ways to detoxify them, making them valuable food sources. One example of this – and there are so many examples, which is why I find this part of the garden so fascinating – is the Zamia fern [the Aboriginal name is Jayur]. The roots and seeds are toxic, however, if you pick them, roast them, crush them, soak them for 24 hours, then roast them again in hot ashes, you can safely eat them. Similar techniques were used on the Zamia palm [the Aboriginal name is Wunu]. As well as being a food source, the rainforest plants also provided medicine and assisted with fishing – one example of this is the Fish Poison Tree, which is a large tree with beautiful flowers that bloom at night. If you collect the young nuts and green growth of this particular tree, and crush them up and place them in small pools of water, it removes the oxygen from the water and the fish float to the surface for easy pickings. While the bulbs of the River Lily were crushed and boiled in water, which was then used as an antiseptic, and the skins of the bulbs were used to dress wounds. There’s so much more, so make sure you check it out.
Need to get in a mention for one of my absolute favourite vines in the world, the simply stunning jade vine. Now this one is not native to Australia, but it does thrive here and is so named for its spectacular jade-coloured flowers, which appear on long tendrils (also called racemes), which can grow over 1m (40 inches) long. The jade vine flowers in the cooler months, with blooms usually starting to appear in late April early May and lasting until September. The Cairns Botanic Gardens has a jade vine located at its ‘back’ eastern exit gate, which is where you would leave to explore the nearby Gondwanan Heritage Garden.
The Cairns Botanic Gardens are located in Edge Hill. The main entrance gate to the Flecker Garden is on Collins Avenue, but there are also gates on McCormack Street and on the eastern side, adjacent to the Gondwanan Heritage Garden.
The Cairns Botanic Gardens are open every day. The gates to the Flecker Gardens are open from 7.30am to 5.30pm and the Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory and Aboriginal Plant Use Garden are both located in the Flecker Gardens.
The Gondwanan Heritage Garden, Fitzalan Gardens, Rainforest Boardwalk, Centenary Lakes with its Nature Playground and Zhanjiang Friendship Garden, which are all a part of the Cairns Botanic Gardens precinct, are open at all times.
No, entry to the Cairns Botanic Gardens is free.
Yes, there are free guided tours of the Cairns Botanic Gardens available most days. The Friends of the Botanic Gardens run a guided tour of Flecker Garden, Monday to Friday, at 10am. To join this tour, which generally lasts between 1 hour and 90 minutes, just go to the Friends of the Botanic Gardens Centre, which is adjacent to the café, for the 10am start. For twitchers, there is a guided bird tour which departs from the Friends of the Botanic Gardens Centre at 7.30am on Tuesday. Bookings are not needed for either of these tours.
Yes, the Cairns Botanic Gardens is so worth visiting! If you love tropical gardens, you will love this one and there is so much to see and do and it’s all free. Amazing.
As above there are free tours that operate Monday to Friday. Alternatively, you can self-guide, just pick up a map and information pamphlet from the Friends of the Botanic Gardens Centre, which is adjacent to the café, in Flecker Gardens. For the most part, the pathways in Flecker Gardens are wheelchair and pram accessible, although there are some staircases and parts that are not. Also, please note that some of the heritage listed paths were constructed in the 1960s from recycled materials and can be uneven under foot.
The Cairns Botanic Gardens is a precinct which is comprised of a few distinct areas, including the Flecker Garden and Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory – which is what we cover in this story – as well as the Gondwanan Heritage Garden, Fitzalan Gardens, Rainforest Boardwalk, Centenary Lakes with its Nature Playground and Zhanjiang Friendship Garden. All of these areas have different things. Other than the plants, there is also a café and toilet facilities.
There are so many ways you can get to the Cairns Botanic Gardens. If you have a car, then it is a 5-minute drive from the airport or 10-minute drive from the city. It’s located on Collins Avenue, Edge Hill and there is on-street parking on Collins Avenue and McCormack Street. It is also accessible on the public bus route, with a bus stop directly outside the garden. Of course, you may also choose to taxi, uber or bicycle.
No, dogs – and other ‘pets’ – are not allowed to enter Cairns Botanic Gardens. Registered assistance animals are accepted.
This can be a contentious issue. There are no crocodiles in the Flecker Gardens, but there are sometimes crocodiles in the Centenary Lakes component of the Cairns Botanic Gardens precinct. These are monitored and moved on, but it’s always best to be croc-wise in croc country.
Yes, it sure is. The management and maintenance of the Cairns Botanic Gardens is handled by the Cairns Regional Council. They are supported by an active Friends of the Botanic Gardens group, who assist with propagation, guided tours and more.
Any time is a good time to visit the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Being a tropical garden, the trees are not deciduous and retain their leaves throughout the year. Thanks to the variety of species growing here, there will always be something flowering and fruiting and the foliage also adds to the colour palette of the garden.
Other than the plants, there is lots of wildlife to see at the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Like this Australian brush turkey which wandered by as we were having lunch. We also saw birds, butterflies and dragonflies as we explored the gardens.
Something else I love about the Cairns Botanic Gardens is its onsite restaurant and café. Located within the Flecker Garden, the Botanic Gardens Restaurant and Café has undercover table and chair seating and service. Other than the ‘roof’, it’s open plan and open air, which maximises its location in the gardens and provides a leafy backdrop for diners. It also means you may be joined by some of the gardens ‘residents’ including inquisitive brush turkeys, sunbirds, butterflies and more. The café is open 7 days a week from 7am until 4.30pm and its menu has got you covered for sweets and snacks, including muffins, croissants, cakes and slices and more. Breakfast is served from 7am to 11.30am and has all your favourites including eggs, bacon, benedict and bruschetta. Lunch is served from 11.30am to 3.30pm and features soups, burgers, quiche, pasta, pies, salads and focaccias.
Waffles are the Botanic Gardens Restaurant and Café signature dish and are served with fresh whipped cream and ice cream. You can add fruit salad, banana with homemade caramel sauce or death by chocolate. Speaking of chocolate, back to the coffee and cake! They have daily specials, including cheesecake and gluten free treats, chocolate mud cake, sticky date and walnut cake, pavlova and Devonshire tea. Great range of hot and cold beverages and they’re licensed too with a range of beers, ciders, spirits, wines and cocktails. I love the relaxed vibe and the location and if you want coffee to go, get it takeaway and enjoy the caffeine hit as you explore the Cairns Botanic Gardens.
The Cairns Botanic Gardens are open every day, all year. While the flowering and fruiting for various plants occurs at different times, there is always lots of colour, thanks to the foliage and variety of species found here. The Flecker Garden is listed as a State Heritage Place on the Queensland Heritage Register and is named after Dr Hugo Flecker (1884 – 1957). Entry is free and people of all ages will enjoy this vibrant, living garden. As above, there is a café on site and there are also toilet and baby changing facilities. The Flecker Garden and Botanic Gardens Restaurant and Café are not open at night, so make sure you schedule your visit to take place during daylight hours.
© I Love Cairns 2023