Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens must have the best aspect in the world. The site, measuring 30 hectares (or more than 75 acres) overlooks the sparkling waters of Sydney Harbour and the city skyline, on what would be considered anywhere else prime building land. But no towering blocks of apartments and offices will ever be built here.
Instead, you can look over a magnificent expanse of brightly colored flowers, venerable fig trees, ancient pines and graceful palm trees, and see the white sails of the Sydney Opera House and the arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge beyond. You can stroll along the seawall, with the curving arc of Farm Cove on one side, and the sweeping lawns of the gardens on the other.
You can watch the sun rise and set over Sydney from Mrs Macquarie's chair -- a sandstone seat carved by convicts for Elizabeth, the wife of Governor Maquarie -- and imagine how the view must have been for her, before a bustling dockland arose. It was said that Elizabeth watched for ships coming into Sydney Harbour to bring news of England.
Steeped in colonial history, rich with a vast selection of trees, flowers and herbs from all over the world, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney is something the city is justly proud of. From the oldest tree in the world, to the latest horticultural research, the world of plants is more than just a way to spend time here, it is a way of life.
A whole day at the gardens is a day well spent. At sunrise, when the flowers are just opening for the day, and the rising sun stains the waters of Sydney Habour, you can join the joggers or stroll with the daydreamers and dog walkers. By lunchtime, city workers have gathered on the lawns for a picnic meal, and as evening falls you can dine at the Royal Botanic Gardens Restaurant in the rainforest, or attend a spectacular theatrical event.
As you stroll around the winding paths and through the different environments, you will see many fine art works. Like many others you will be drawn to gaze in wonder at the exquisite sculpture of the Mare and Foal by French artist Arthur Le Duc, which has attracted worshippers since it was placed in the Gardens in 1953. The Venus Fountain, set in the middle of a sparkling pond, is another favourite attraction for visitors and the the surrounding lawns are perfect for picnics.
Roses have always been a beautiful feature of the Gardens and in 2006, the Palace Rose Garden was opened, with 1800 different rose varieties. It is so called because it was created on the site of the Garden Palace, built for the Great International Exhibition in the 1800s. It was burnt down in 1882 but now it is one of the most beautiful and romantic spots to visit.
If you are lucky on your explorations you may see a wedding in progress. The Palace Rose Garden is obviously a popular spot for weddings, but you may also see a wedding party descending to a magnificent view of Sydney Harbour on the Fleet Steps, or gathering near the Sydney Opera House on the Bennelong Lawn.
The Royal Botanic Gardens are such an integral feature of Sydney life, that people marry, celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, gather for family reunions, watch the New Year's Eve Fireworks, or enjoy the best of culture there. The Gardens have provided the setting for open air productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Handa Opera production of Puccini's Turandot and many other unique events.
But the gardens are not just about recreating the formal European gardens and entertainments of yesteryear. They are also a way to experience the indigenous Aboriginal culture at first hand through walking tours, traditional music and dance, and `bush foods'. The Aboriginal Education Office guides these tours and will introduce you to another side of native Australian plants, their ability to sustain life, something of which the original white settlers were unaware. Now, thanks to these remarkable tours, more modern Australians are learning the wisdom of indigenous culture. You can trace the history of Sydney's original inhabitants, the Cadigal People, through a visual display called Cadi Jam Ora, where stories of the first encounters between the new settlers and the Cadigal are interpreted through this amazing artwork. But the knowledge held by the gardens goes even further back, to prehistoric times.
The Sydney Botanic Gardens are home to the oldest plant in the world, the Wollemi Pine, a prehistoric `living fossil' that was discovered in the Blue Mountains in 1994. This extraordinary link with the time of the dinosaurs, before man walked on the planet, is thriving and healthy in the Botanic Gardens, and can now be found in many suburban gardens as well.
But the main attractions of a garden are the plants, and Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens naturally has an abundance of them, from stately banks of irises to South African blooms that look like cheeky parrots, from English cottage gardens to Asian herbs and spices, you can find a wonderland of plants from all over the world and Australia to give joy and inspiration.
In fact, a day may not be long enough to see all the gardens have to offer.