Castlemaine Botanical Gardens Playspace


Recipient: Urban Initiatives/Leaf Design Studio

Client: Mount Alexander Shire Council

Project team: 

  • Nicholas Dunand (Sculptor) 

Project address: Downes Road, Castlemaine VIC 3450

Winner 2012 Kidsafe National Design Awards, Public Playspaces $500K-$1m

“The community has voted the playspace an overwhelming success and this is evidenced by the number of families using the playspace on a daily basis. I am particularly pleased that local materials and the services of many local craftspeople were used in the design, including stone and stonemasons, steelworkers, foundry casting services and furniture suppliers.”

Phil Rowland CEO, Mount Alexander Shire Council

Gazetted in 1860, Castlemaine Botanical Gardens are one of the oldest in regional Victoria. They recently underwent a two year refurbishment during which a new playspace was incorporated, to be more sympathetic to their scientific, historic and social nature.

The existing playground was on off-the-shelf unit, and a large gravel carpark dominated the centre of the Gardens. By sealing and relocating the carpark to the roadside, the long term health of significant trees was ensured, and the visitor experience enhanced.

Extensive consultation with the community and a working group including Heritage Victoria, representatives of Buda Historic House, horticultural advisors, Field Naturalists, local playgroups, and Council officers informed the design. Designers visited local suppliers and artists, and were inspired by the wealth of local talent and beauty of the native stone.

Interpretation was key to the creation of a space which fits into this community. Interpretation, given the main user group, cannot be textual, but must be incorporated into physical references and experiences. Hence, a ‘pleasure garden’, which plays with perspective, secret and hidden places (such as a mirror door and planted cubby), traditional games, and formal features such as pine cones skilfully constructed from local slate.

A trip through a ‘tunnel’ on the log train (the regional line runs beside the park) takes you to an accessible Miner’s cottage, with gold candle and creek bed peppered with iron pyrite ‘gold’. Other custom play structures incorporate panels patterned with oak leaves, and round decks reminiscent of a treehouse. The huge oak which shades the site is revered through beautiful new bronze acorn sculptures and leaves on springs, cast at the local foundry.

As the major play area in a regional centre, the design caters to all ages, abilities and cultures. Supervision and access is easy for carers, and there is a multitude of seating and social opportunities throughout the playspace. These include everything from the large (historically accurate) BBQ shelter, to formal seats, log thrones, recycled timber seats curving around existing trees, and even a hammock! People who use mobility aides can access nearly all areas, and play equally with their peers.

Throughout the design, we relished the opportunity to use local stone and stonemasons, steelworkers, the foundry and quarry, indigenous and locally grown plants. No fill was removed from site, and logs sourced from arboricultural works within the gardens were reused. Unirrigated planting was carefully selected with assistance from Kevin Walsh to survive drought, frost, hard wear and minimal maintenance, while still having both play value and ongoing horticultural value to the Gardens.