This section relies heavily on material provided by Friends of the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide (1992).

The Front Garden

While there is a good deal of documentation on the house, there is virtually no mention of the garden in official records. One of the earliest references is in 1838 when a tender for a well was accepted with the stipulation that it must be deep enough to have "ten feet" of water in it. The earliest direct reference to expenditure on the present grounds is in 1855 when £200 was set aside for plants. This involved the first Director of the Adelaide Botanic Garden, George Francis (1855-1856), who supervised the first plantings and was given general oversight of the garden. Despite this sum a photograph dated 1867, taken from the south east corner, shows the house in what appears to be untouched bush, mainly eucalyptus. It also shows a dovecote at the north east corner of the house. Other photographs show Virginia creeper on the east wing and the gas lamps which were installed during the eighteen sixties.

Another source says: "The grounds at the front of the house in 1871 were in much the same state as in 1845, but by 1878 the gum trees had been taken out and the grounds laid out on the present lines." A photo of the eighteen seventies shows the drives with a row of conifers, including Araucarias, about 4.5 metres high to the south east of the east wing. The rest of garden was of trees surrounded by rough grass.

The two Palms (Washingtonia filifera) on either side of the Porch, shown in many photographs, were planted in the eighteen nineties and had reached a height of about 5.5 metres by 1905. In 1927, the date of the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York (later George VI and Queen Elizabeth), they were big mature trees.

The old stone wall on the western boundary was demolished in 1926 and replaced by a timber fence, which in turn was replaced by a tubular steel fence in 1988.

The Northern Area

A photograph from 1938 shows the northern part of the grounds once featured many small gums, and another taken the year before, from the same side, shows rough bare ground with native vegetation to the east and a rather humpy-like galvanised iron tool shed and two wooden wheelbarrows.

There are no other known photographs of the gardens to the north of the house, but some of the changing uses are known. As late as 1975 when the Botanic Gardens assumed control of the grounds, the northern part was totally unkempt, and included the horse paddock, the horse sand bath, watering trough and piles of manure, presumably because of their proximity to the site of the previously demolished stables.

Lawn now covers most of this area. The well is covered over. The Governor's brewery, believed to have been the first in the Colony, has gone. Generally speaking, the lawns have steadily been extended with surrounds of shrubs and trees underplanted with hardy perennials familiar to all Adelaide dwellers.

Prominent Trees

Hoop PineAraucaria cunninghamiiOriginal planting, probably eighteen fifties or sixties
Row of pepper trees by "Peppertree Cottage"Schinus arieraPlanted eighteen seventies
Palms on either side of main entranceWashingtonia filiferaPlanted eighteen nineties
Palm - with ivy on multiple trunksPhoenix canariensisOriginal planting
Moreton Bay FigsFicus macrophyllaOriginal planting
Dragon's Blood TreeDracaena dracoDate unknown
Golden Elm tree on eastern lawn - southUlmus procera 'Van Houttei'Planted by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, 1954
Golden Elm tree on eastern lawn - northUlmus procera 'Van Houttei'Planted by Lady Bastyn 1968
Pine, south east cornerPinus halepensisA descendant of the "Lone Pine" at Gallipoli, planted by His Excellency Sir Eric Neal in 1998
MagnoliaMagnolia grandifloraPlanted by Lady Neal, 2001 - Located on front lawn
Claret AshFraxinus oxycarpa 'Raywoodii'

Planted by her Excellency Marjorie Jackson-Nelson August 2007 - Located on rear lawn

Crepe MyrtleLagerstroemia indica ‘Tuscarora’Planted by Mrs Liz Scarce on Thursday 28th August 2014. Located on the front lawn.

Many of the trees are ceremonial plantings and these have labels.

Government House Sundial

Located on the eastern lawns of Government House is a fine Armillary Sphere sundial which was installed in 1991.

A gift to the State by Her Excellency The Honourable Dame Roma Mitchell, AC, DBE, CVO, the sundial was made in South Australia by Sundials Australia, and stands on a pedestal sculpted by local artist, Silvio Apponyi. The pedestal is made from Murray Bridge Rubble Limestone, a material similar to that used for the rebuilding of the North Terrace boundary wall of Government House.

The Latin quotation on the commemorative plaque attached to the pedestal, "Tempus est quaedam pars aeternitatis" is attributed to the Roman lawyer, Marcus Tullius Cicero, who lived from 106-43BC. It means "Time is a certain part of eternity".

Management of the Garden

Government House grounds were at first in the care of the Colonial Architect. When George Francis became the first Director of the Botanic Garden in 1855 he was given general oversight of the garden and supervised the first plantings. Richard Schomburgk, second Director of the Botanic Garden (1865 to 1891) is reported in the Botanic Gardens Annual Report as having been responsible for providing pines, cypresses and shrubs for the garden. It is uncertain whether he had any further involvement in planning or planting the garden.

The gardens then became the undivided responsibility of the Colonial Architect and his successors until 1975, when they became the sole responsibility of the Botanic Gardens. This change resulted from the high regard of the then Governor Sir Mark Oliphant for the work of Mr. Noel Lothian, OBE, who was Director of the Botanic Gardens at that time.

In 1989 extensive remodelling of the garden was carried out and involved the removal of more than 70 old and diseased trees and shrubs, an increase in garden beds, the installation of an integrated irrigation system and an increased range of sympathetic plantings in the garden. These are now well established.

The total area of the grounds is 5.6 hectares. The emphasis is on the provision of a permanently attractive environment, always ready for inspection by visitors, with large areas for social and formal functions such as garden parties. The provision of cut flowers and potted plants suitable for indoor decoration is also a part of the garden's function. A small kitchen garden is maintained, which provides produce for the Government House kitchen.

Since 1997, maintenance of the gardens has been subcontracted by competitive tender. Funds for the maintenance of the grounds are specially provided by the Government and administered through the Government House "House and Grounds Committee".