The Royal Botanic Gardens’ volunteer program brings passionate gardeners together

Mid-way through our guided tour of the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney we make a stop to admire up close the tallest tree in the Gardens, a Queensland Kauri, Agathis robusta, grown from seed collected around Maryborough in 1849. Its smooth, mottled, almost rock-like trunk soars long and straight into a brilliant blue Sydney sky, taking our spirits with it.

The Volunteer Guide program at The Gardens has been running since 1982.

Every morning at 10.30am a volunteer guide leads a tour of the Gardens. All the tours are different, depending on the guide’s personal interests. Susan Armstrong is our guide this morning and her passion is for Australian plants. Armstrong’s introduction to guiding has been COVID- interrupted and this is only her second tour, but she’s clearly a natural – warm, knowledgeable and armed with great stories.

To get the Kauri seed, she tells us, plant collector John Bidwill had the mighty tree cut down. Recently the Mayor of Maryborough has joked that the citizens of Maryborough want their tree back. The Gardens has tried to comply but the sulphur-crested cockatoos have so far sabotaged the plan by snapping off the cones before they ripen and seed can be collected.

The Volunteer Guide program at The Gardens started in 1982. Flora Deverall was one of the first guides. At the time she was a 40-something mother of three and part-time teacher, with a background in botany, looking to indulge her passion for plants. “They’re fascinating,” she says, “they split the sun’s energy into water and food for God’s sake!”

Forty years on, she no longer guides morning tours, but is still involved, mentoring new guides, giving classes for volunteers in basic plant biology and identification and generally enthusing and educating at the Information Booth.

The Gardens’ volunteers donate time and skills across 30 programs, resulting in $1.3 million in-kind value. They work across horticulture, science, visitor engagement and information services, bush regeneration, wildlife monitoring, asset restoration and herbarium specimen-mounting, and also propagate and sell plants and run events and exhibitions for Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens.


It’s Volunteer Week next week, May 16-22, so the perfect time to decide to get more involved with gardens outside your own backyard or balcony.

Of course The Gardens is not the only way to contribute. Councils rely on volunteers for bush regeneration groups and for gardening groups that help older residents stay in their houses. Some regularly open gardens, such as Eryldene and Lindsay, also depend on volunteers to maintain them.

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