Australia is now in stage two of the coronavirus restrictions with distances of 1.5 metres required between people – even outdoors.
It is unclear when the gardens will reopen, with the board deciding to close them to the public until further notice.
But botanists will carry on with their bushfire recovery as they work to prevent the extinction of native species that were caught up in the summer’s devastating fires.
Mr Entwisle said wherever possible under the current restrictions, the plant rescue team would continue maintaining the collection of seeds and cuttings of threatened Victorian flora.
“I understand our closing will be a disappointment to many but while our gates are shut we will continue to care for the gardens’ beautiful living landscapes and plant collections, its irreplaceable state botanical collection, and the natural bushland at Cranbourne.”
Victoria’s zoos are also closed but keepers and vets will continue tending to the animals.
In Elsternwick the Ripponlea Estate has also closed to the public.
Professor Entwisle said the botanic gardens management decided to close the gates to the public based on general advice from the state government.
In recent weeks the gardens drew more visitors as other attractions such as galleries began to close.
Professor Entwisle said staff who were dealing with the public were also becoming increasingly concerned about their health, as the number of cases rose in Victoria.
“Visitors do tend to walk up to staff and talk to them and there was a feeling of discomfort,” he said.
“It was just getting harder to make sure we could separate people when they were here and separate them from staff.”
The botanic gardens employ about 280 people with up to 100 of them now working from home. A skeleton crew will continue watering and tending to the gardens, plant and seed collections even if Victoria goes into lockdown and Victorians are ordered to stay in their homes.
Professor Entwisle said staff were also working to offer online tours via social media channels while the gates were closed.
“We’re trying to bring the gardens to the people rather than the people to the gardens,” he said.
Benjamin is a state political reporter