Difficulties with the site and problems with funding plagued the early years. Finally, in 1877 a dissatisfied Council commissioned William R. Guilfoyle to design an appropriate layout. Guilfoyle had succeeded von Mueller as the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne in 1873. Eventually, in 1879, Council accepted a plan which incorporated all the elements of Guilfoyle's classic style - wide curving paths, large sweeping lawns dotted with specimen trees, glimpses of water, dense shrubberies displaying a rich variety of plants and focal points, composed of plants of dramatic form and colour such as doryanthes, palms, bamboos and other variegated plants.
By the end of the century, a transformation had taken place. A visitor in 1891 noted that the formerly rugged piece of ground had been converted into a tranquil and beautiful park. Moreover, additional attractions had been included: "A fountain with gold and silverfish, a fernery, rockeries, several aviaries of canaries and other birds and a number of indigenous animals". The aviaries and birds and the collection of monkeys, kangaroos, wallabies and guinea pigs have long since disappeared but the restored fountain continues to delight.
Through the years the Warrnambool Gardens have remained an important part of the life of the city. While many other provincial botanic gardens have suffered from the encroachment of barbeque areas and caravan parks, the Warrnambool City Council has steadfastly resisted this trend. For example, in the late nineteenth century, the large Chinese community in Warrnambool was refused permission to build a Joss House within the gardens. One can only be grateful to successive City Councils for their determination to preserve William Guilfoyle's original ideal - twenty acres of tranquil garden providing the people of Warrnambool with a source of municipal pride and a place of pleasure and interest.