During the 1990s Heritage Victoria and gardens enthusiasts raised concerns about the poor state of Regional Botanic Gardens. In Bendigo, residents raised the issue of the degraded White Hills Botanic Gardens. Following this, a public meeting was held in October 1999 where it was resolved to establish 'The Friends of Bendigo’s Botanic Gardens' as a community group sponsored by the Council of the City of Greater Bendigo. The First Annual General Meeting was held in March 2000 when a committee was elected and shortly after a 'Deed of Delegation’ was drawn up with the City of Greater Bendigo.
Various activities commenced which included garden guides, a Growing Friends Group, an Illustrators Group and, by 2006, the un-occupied care-takers residence at the White Hills Botanic Gardens was repurposed as a home base for the Friends as well as a Parks Staff resource centre (now known as the Samuel Gadd Centre).
A Heritage Significance Assessment and Strategy of the gardens was also authorised by council in 2006 and became a key guide for future developments for White Hills Botanic Gardens. As part of the 150th-anniversary celebrations of the gardens in 2007, the Friends launched a coloured visitors’ brochure and a booklet White Hills Botanic Gardens, Bendigo 1857-2007 (outlining the first 150 years of the gardens).
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In 2008 the Friends participated in the council process of developing a Master Plan. This plan was adopted by council in 2010 and the gardens then became known as Bendigo Botanic Gardens, White Hills. The Master Plan had several objectives. Three important objectives included restoring the heritage gardens to their former glory, creating the contemporary Garden for the Future & developing a Central Hub & visitors centre. The expansion of the gardens into the adjacent green space forming 'A Garden for the Future' zone occurred in 2018 and the Central Hub area between the heritage gardens and the Garden for the Future is currently underway.
Incorporation occurred in 2013, allowing the Friends to independently apply for grants, which has been most beneficial. The Dovyalis Newsletter was launched in 2015 and is now published biannually.
Substantial financial contributions have been made to the gardens by the Friends totalling over $85,000. Most of the money is raised from plant sales, with guided walks, contributions from the illustrators, and books sales adding to the funds.
The Friends have participated in many other activities to involve the community and to increase their own knowledge. These have included guest speakers, educational activities, excursions, community displays and talks, and attending horticultural conferences.
We are proud of the wonderful improvements to the gardens in the last twenty-one years as a result of collaboration between Bendigo Council and the Friends Group.