Now to my next category of Favourite Gardens: those that are regularly open to the public. I have divided these into :
- Historic Homes and Gardens
- Famous Nurseries
- Specialty Gardens
There are many beautiful old homes with historic gardens open to the public in Australia. Each represents the time periods in which they were developed, as well as the personalities of their owners, and they are much treasured by the Australian public. Many have special features (for example, children’s literary trails or state collections) and all are well-used for plays and musical performances, weddings and private functions, film and photography, workshops and theme days.
The gardens discussed below are a mere taster. Please excuse me if your favourite has not been included. Most are in Victoria, our last state of residence, and we regularly visited them. We were also very impressed with the last garden, seen on our Australian travels in 2008. For information on more historic homes and gardens, it is worth consulting the following websites :
1. Rippon Lea House and Garden 1864
192 Hotham St Elsterwick VIC
Originally 26 acres (11 ha) and 8km from the CBD of Melbourne, Rippon Lea is the largest and most intact nineteenth century suburban estate in Australia. It was developed over 35 years by Frederick Sargood, a prominent Victorian businessman and politician, who made his fortune selling soft goods on the goldfields. His mother’s maiden name was ‘Rippon’ and ‘Lea’ is the English word for ‘meadow’, hence the name ‘Rippon Lea’. This is a photo of a map of the property from the official brochure.The house, designed by Joseph Reed and built between 1864 and 1868, is an example of the polychromatic brick buildings derived from the medieval architecture of Northern Italy. It was two storey and had 15 rooms, including internal toilets, which was unusual in its day. In 1897, the house was extended to the north and a tower added. It was the first house in Australia to be lit by electricity, produced by its own generators.
By the late 1870s, the property had grown to 45 acres (18 ha) and included extensive pleasure gardens, glass houses, orchards, a 2 ac vegetable garden and a lake. Sargood was a keen gardener and with the help of Head Gardener, Adam Anderson, he designed the garden in the Gardenesque style, popular in the mid-nineteenth century, using dramatic plants with bold form, structure and foliage.William Sangster redesigned the garden in the Picturesque style of the 1880s. The current garden includes: an oak-lined driveway; extensive lawns (Western, Cedar, Central and Nursery); a labyrinthine grass maze; exotic and native trees including elms, oaks, Moreton Bay Fig and Monterey Cypress; herbaceous perennial shrubberies; flower gardens; terraces; and pergolas of climbing roses and ivy. Many of the plants were imported.
Sargood was very keen on his orchids and ferns. His prized exotic plants were kept in a conservatory, which still has its original ironwork. The fernery, built in 1884 and an essential component of the Victorian garden, is covered in wooden slats and is the largest covered fernery in the world still existing. It houses many rare and native ferns and palms and has meandering paths and little streams.Sargood was about 130 years ahead of his time. There was no mains water supply back then, so he devised a sophisticated rainwater and storm water collection, irrigation, storage and drainage/recycling system. A windmill pumped the water through underground storage tanks and pipes and ensured the entire estate was self-sustainable. It is still in operation today, supplying 80 percent of the garden’s watering requirements. Mains water became available in the 1880s and steadily replace the old system, but National Trust is currently restoring Sargood’s system so the garden can become self-sufficient in water usage again.
In the 1870s, a large lake was excavated to collect storm water run-off and store water to be fed back to the garden via irrigation pipes. In the 1880s, it was enlarged to a depth of 114 cm. It now includes: 2 islands; 5 water jets; a waterfall and a grotto; a boathouse and a summerhouse; bridges- new cast iron bridges were built in 1903; and a Lookout Tower, built in the 1870s and restored in 1980, a prime vantage point for overlooking the garden, as well as providing views of arriving ships in Port Philip Bay.Archery was a popular sport and Sargood built an archery hut (1st photo below) in the 1870s. Other buildings include a coach house and a stable complex 1868 and a gate house, which now has a gift shop and cafe (2nd photo).
Two parallel hedges separated the ornamental garden from the service areas, including paddocks, orchards, vegetable gardens and even a rifle range. The original orchard was much larger and on the corner of Gordon and Elizabeth streets, but the smaller current orchard still contains over 100 fruit trees, with many of the varieties being historically significant.When Frederick Sargood died in 1903, the property was bought by a syndicate headed by Sir Thomas Bent, who became Premier of Victoria in 1904. He used Rippon Lea for entertaining and charity events and began subdividing the estate to form the current suburb of Ripponlea. His death in 1909 prevented any further subdivision and the property was bought by Benjamin Nathan, owner of the Maples Furniture and Music stores, and became a family home again. He also loved the garden, especially orchids and employed 14-17 gardeners.
His daughter, Mrs Louisa Jones, inherited in 1935. A prominent member of the 1930s Melbourne social set, she held many balls, parties, weddings and musical performances. She redecorated the house extensively in 1938 in the classic 1930s style, epitomized by Hollywood movies. The original ball room was demolished and a new one built, as well as a swimming pool complex in 1939, complete with diving board, change rooms and tennis court. The 14 acre (5.7 ha) garden was maintained. She also built a modern kitchen, closing off and thus preserving in its original condition, the 1880 basement kitchen complex including a cool room, wine cellar, kitchen, scullery, fuel stove, pantries and servants’ hall.
Land was sold in the 1940s and in 1954, Louisa sold some land to the ABC for a television studio. In 1963, the Federal Government placed a compulsory acquisition order for a further 4 acres of land to extend the studios, a decision which Louisa totally opposed. Unfortunately, she lost the battle in the High Court and a demonstration against the acquisition attracted 10,000 people. When she died in 1972, Louisa left the property to the National Trust and the acquisition order was withdrawn. Rippon Lea was opened to the public on the 22nd February 1974 and in the first 3 months attracted 100,000 visitors.
Rippon Lea is now used for school programs, group bookings, weddings, photography and filming, themed birthday parties, teddy bear picnics and plays like Alice in Wonderland, which we attended in Jan 2012. The ball room and pool complex are leased by Peter Rowland Catering for social functions and the garden is maintained by a Head Gardener, 5 gardeners and volunteers.
It is open daily from 10am-5pm from Sept-Apr; 10am-4pm Thurs-Sun from May to Oct. Closed Good Friday and Christmas Day.
2. Werribee Park 1877
30 minutes west of Melbourne and situated on the Werribee River (Wirribi Yaluk), the area was inhabited by the Kurung Jang Balluk clan for over 40,000 years and contains many cultural heritage sites. This is a photo of a map of the property from the official brochure.
Thomas and Andrew Chirnside arrived from Scotland in 1838 and 1841 respectively and set out to create a vast pastoral empire. The first residence at Werribee was a bluestone homestead, built in 1860, down near the river, and was first lived in by their nephew Robert, who managed the property from 1859-1862. The original farmyard was the working heart of the estate and included a blacksmith’s hut, men’s hut, rations house, stables, implement shed and a cottage.
They grew an orchard of apples, quince, pears, grapes, walnuts, olives and stone fruit nearby on the river. Many of the trees have been replanted, as well as native vegetation.
On the walk back up to the main house, there is now a Sculpture Park, containing the works of leading Australian sculptors , as well as that of selected winners of the Helen Lempriere Prize like the 2002 winner, Nigel Helyer, with his ‘Meta-Diva’, constructed from aluminium, digital electronics and solar panel, shown in the 2nd photo below. I love the first photo- a real Harry Potter moment for my daughter Jen!
Between 1874 and 1877, Werribee Mansion was built in an Italianate architectural style with several wings and 60 rooms. Andrew and his wife lived and entertained there, while brother Thomas lived nearby at Point Cook Homestead, another Chirnside property. Andrew died in 1890, leaving the property to his sons, George and John Percy.
It is uncertain who originally designed the garden, though it has been attributed to William Guilfoyle, Curator of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens from 1879-1909. The European-style garden covers 10 hectares and contains many Australian native and exotic species. The Chirnsides were members of the Acclimatization Society, which introduced European flora and fauna to the new colony. The mansion overlooks a colourful parterre with 20,000 annuals are planted out every 6 months for a Summer/Autumn and a Winter/Spring floral display. There was a vegetable and picking garden nearby.Originally, there were 6 glass-houses for propagating seedlings for the parterre and kitchen garden, as well as exotic indoor plants for display in the mansion. There are now only two. The sunken glasshouse is a 1976 interpretation of the original design, which was first built with a hot house and a boiler. Air passed through openings in the base of the wall, across heating pipes and out through the raised roof.
The house also looks out of expansive lawns, dotted with heritage-listed trees (there are 8 trees listed on the National Trust Significant Tree Register) to an ornamental lake and grotto, a traditional component of the 18th century garden design. It was built in the 1870s from bluestone and granite boulders on a man-made island in the man-made lake, covered with succulents and lined with seashells, collected from the shores of their Point Cook property, as well as pebbles, bark, she oak cones, mirrored glass fragments, sheep knuckles and animal teeth.Werribee Park was sold in 1922 to Philip Lock, another self-made grazier from Warnambool, who then sold it within a year to the Roman Catholic Bishops of Australia to be used as a training college for priests for 50 years. They constructed a separate wing, which is now a luxurious 5-star accommodation venue, Mansion Hotel and Spa, with 91 guest rooms and suites, a conference centre, resort, spa and pool.Werribee Park is now managed by Parks Victoria and the gardens are used for polo, films, evening plays, concerts and musical events like Christmas carols and So Frenchy So Chic, which we attended in January 2013. See photos below!Werribee Park National Equestrian Centre, Shadowfax Winery, Werribee Open Range Zoo and the Victorian State Rose Garden are also part of the estate. I will be describing the latter later on in the year in a post on my favourite rose gardens.
Entrance to the gardens is free, but a fee is charged for entrance to the house and guided tours. It is open from 10am-4pm weekdays and 10am-5pm weekend and public holidays, as well as week days on daylight saving time. The garden is open 9am-5.30pm daily, with an extra hour in the evening during Summer.
3. Alfred Nicholas Memorial Garden 1929
1A Sherbrooke Rd Sherbrooke VIC
Set on a steep hillside of Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) in Sherbrooke, the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens are one of Australia’s premier cool climate gardens and were the original gardens of the Burnham Beeches estate. This is a photo of a map of the property from the official brochure.
Land in the area was opened up for selection in 1895 and in 1929, Alfred Nicholas bought 2 10-acre selections to build his home. He then bought the surrounding land to add to his estate, which he called ‘Burnham Beeches’ after the original ‘Burnham Beeches’ estate in Slough, England, near his Aspro factory. Alfred and his brother George made their fortune with the development of Aspro, the aspirin pain killer, originally discovered by the Bayer Company in Germany. During World War One, supply was halted and Bayer lost their rights to its 1899 worldwide patent after war reparations in 1919. George, a chemist, rediscovered the formula in 1915 and was awarded a patent by the Australian Government in 1919.The house was built at the top of the hill in an Art Deco Streamline Moderne style from reinforced concrete, painted cream, with Australian motifs like a koala and possums. It had a private theatrette, an electric pipe organ and orchid houses.
On a trip to England, Alfred Nicholas met Percy Trevaskis, who worked for Kew Gardens and offered him the position of Head gardener at Burnham Beeches. Percy designed the garden from 1929-1936 with terraces, rockeries, pools, waterfalls and an ornamental lake. The rock terraces were made of local basalt and Castlemaine slate. Over 80 workers were employed at different stages of the garden development, providing many jobs during the period following the Great Depression . A 240,000 litre concrete tank was built on the highest point of the property, providing reticulated water. Advanced trees were sourced from all over Melbourne, including a 35 foot Canadian Maple. In 1933, 150 trees were imported from the UK, including the Green and Copper Beeches lining the driveway.The main drive was asphalted in 1934 and was one of the first private sealed roads in Victoria. The cast-iron gates, hung on Sunbury sandstone pillars, are very impressive and feature bronze leaping deer. They were restored in 1989-1990.The plantings are a blend of natural forest and rare exotic plants. Seasonal interest is provided by azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, kalmias, viburnums and flowering cherry trees (Spring); hydrangeas, fuchsias, native ferns, rhododendrons, Giant Himalayan Lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum)- see first photo- and native terrestrial orchids (Summer); tibouchinas, maples, beech and golden gingkos (Autumn); and camellias and early rhododendrons (Winter).
The hillside is steep, so make sure you are not down the bottom of the garden when a violent storm is brewing, as we were on our first visit! I had to hitch my skirt up in the side of my undies and run very fast uphill before the pelting rain drove down, then we drove away quickly before any eucalypt boughs fell on the car with the strong wind and arrived at our lovely upmarket Bed-and-Breakfast ‘Glen Harrow’ in the Dandenongs to introduce ourselves, not realizing that said skirt was still tucked up!!! Embarrassing to say the least!!! Yes, it’s that green skirt in the driveway photo!!!
We love the waterfall and the serene pool, with its boathouse and little bridge, at the bottom of the garden. The lake was rejuvenated in 1997 and the Blackfish pond rebuilt and rock walls and paths repaired.Alfred Nicholas died in 1937 before the garden was complete. His wife stayed there until the Second World War, when it was used as a children’s hospital. She returned for 4 years from 1950-1954, then gave the house and property to their company for use as a research laboratory. In 1965, the Nicholas Institute donated the gardens to the Shire of Sherbrooke and they are now managed by Parks Victoria. The house is privately owned. It was last used as a resort by Adrian Zencha in 1991. In 2010, it was purchased by Adam Garrison (Oriental Pacific Group) and chef/ restaurateur Shannon Bennett with plans to create a sustainable resort, but their proposal was rejected by council in August 2015 due to concerns about traffic management, bush fire response and its impact on the local residents.
The gardens are open daily from 10am-5pm except Christmas Day or when there are major works, high fire risk or dangerous weather conditions (like high winds!). There is no charge.
4. Heide Museum of Modern Art 1934
7 Templestowe Rd Bulleen VIC
Heide was originally an old neglected dairy farm with a weatherboard farmhouse, built in 1870, on the floodplain of the Yarra River at Fannings Bend. John and Sunday Reed bought the 15 acre property in 1934 and named it after nearby town of Heidelberg. Sunday was a member of the wealthy Baillieu family and both she and John were champions of modern art and literature.
In 1935, they renovated the old farmhouse, now known as Heide I in a French Provincial style and it was their home for 35 years. Here they entertained the Heide circle and encouraged and promoted artists, writers and intellectuals like Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Joy Hester, John Perceval, Sam Atyeo, Moya Dyring and Danila Vassilieff. In the mid 1950s, they established the Gallery of Modern Art and in 1958, with Georges Mora, they relaunched it as the Museum of Modern Art of Australia. They amassed an outstanding collection of contemporary art.
In 1964, the Reeds commissioned David McGlashan to build a white limestone modernist gallery, ‘a gallery to be lived in’, Heide II, and they moved into Heide II to live from 1967-1980. They returned to live in Heide I after selling Heide II, most of the adjoining property and a significant portion of their art collection (113 works) to the Victorian State Government in August 1980. It was opened as a public art museum in November 1981. Both Reeds died in Dec 1981.
Since then, the gallery has had 300 exhibitions of contemporary art including Sidney Nolan, Sam Atyeo, Arthur Boyd, Charles Blackman, Joy Hester, Albert Tucker and Mirka Mora. Contemporary exhibitions have included : Susan Norrie, Rick Amor, Kathy Temin, Fiona Hall, Stephen Benwell and Emily Floyd. Here is some art work from a recent exhibition:
: Sun and Star Sculpture Emily Floyd 2009 Synthetic polymer paint, ink and beeswax on wood (Huon pine and Cherrywood)
Mirka Mora Chatter in the Garden…When This Experiment Is Over We’ll Build Anew Together (left) and The Most Important Thing We Have On Rainbow is Our Labour, Emily Floyd 2013-14, both works: Synthetic polymer paint on wood, paper and aluminium;…Life Has Taken The Place Of Dialectics…Emily Floyd 2003 Oregon and Victorian Ash wood, synthetic polymer paint, synthetic flocking
Heide III was designed by Andrew Andersens of Peddle Thorp Architects and built in 1993. Its black titanium zinc facade contrasts well with the whitelimestone of Heide II. Heide III was extended in 2005, along with the construction of the Sidney Myer Education Centre and restoration work on Heide II and the gardens. The centre offers innovative and diverse education and public programs based on the art, architecture and gardens of Heide. Cafe Vue was built in 2009 and Heide I restored in 2010. It now is dedicated to displays from the collection, as well as archives.
We have been to a number of exhibitions at Heide, but its the gardens that really draw me in! Like me, Sunday loved her Old Roses and was a keen gardener. At Heide I, she created a walled garden, a Provençal inspired kitchen garden, which now provides fresh produce for Cafe Vue, and a Wild Garden.The heart garden of violets, dedicated to Sidney Nolan, with whom she had a long-term relationship, has been restored.
I love her 2nd blowsy overgrown kitchen garden at Heide II the best! The rose pavilion is delightful! See the first photo below.The bones of the garden are very clear in Winter.
In Summer, it comes into its own!Thirty contemporary sculptures are dotted around the 15 acre site, including works by Anish Kapoor, Anthony Caro and Neil Taylor. See : https://www.heide.com.au/sites/default/files/Sculpture-Park-Discovery_online_online.pdf
Unfurling Andrew Rogers 2006 BronzeSouthern Landscape Peter D Cole 1988 bronze, steel, aluminium, stainless steel, synthetic polymer paintUnder-Felt Donkey Yvonne Kendall 2000 Bronze and Mt Gambier limestonePebbles Wona Bae 2012 Victorian cork
The gallery also holds private art master classes in drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture and photography and school holiday workshops and has fun activities for the kids like Visual Treasure Hunts and Art/ Architecture and Sculpture Park Detective activities. There are many programs and events from Heide Art Bubs programs to Sunday Art Club and Grandparents Day. Heide also holds kids’ art parties and guided tours of the art, architecture, sculpture park and gardens.
The gardens are free and open all year round. The galleries are open Tues-Sun and Public Holidays from 10am-5pm.
5. Carrick Hill 1935
46 Carrick Hill Dr, Springfield SA
One of the few period homes with its original contents and grounds still intact, Carrick Hill is situated on a hillside at the foot of the Mount Lofty Ranges overlooking Adelaide, a 15 minute drive away. Below is a photo of a map of the property from the official brochure.
The 40 ha (of which 26 ha is native bushland) property was given as a wedding present from the bride’s father, Thomas Elder Barr Smith, to Edward (Bill) Hayward and Ursula Barr Smith for their marriage in 1935. Bill was the son of a wealthy merchant family, who owned John Martin’s Department Store in Adelaide for more than 100 years and Ursula was the daughter of an even wealthier family of Scottish descent, who had vast mining and pastoral interests in South Australia and were heavily involved with Elders. It was named ‘Carrick Hill’ after ‘Brown Carrick Hill’ in Ayrshire, Scotland.
During a year-long honeymoon in England, the couple bought 17th and 18th century panelling, fireplaces, doors and windows and even a grand staircase from the demolition sale of ‘Beaudesert’, a Tudor mansion in Staffordshire, owned by the Marquess of Anglesey.
Adelaide architect and family friend, James Irwin, designed the house with the appearance of a 17th century manor around these fittings , but with all the latest 1930s technology : heated towel rails, ensuite bathrooms and electric bell buttons to summon the servants. It was built between 1937 and 1939, while Ursula designed the Arts and Crafts Edwardian style garden. They had just moved in, when World War II intervened and Bill was away, fighting in the Middle East (where he was one of the Rats of Toobruk) and the Pacific. Ursula moved back with her parents. The couple started living in their home after 1944.After the war, they filled the house with paintings, drawings and sculptures, as well as antiques and Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture. They had the largest art collection of the day including works by Hans and Nora Heysen, Arthur Streeton, Augustus John, Stephen Spender, Fantin Latour, William Dobell, Joseph Turner, Donald Friend and Russell Drysdale. They entertained lavishly and supported many artists, musicians, actors and writers. Guests included : Sir Kenneth Clark, Sir Robert Helpmann, Catherine Hepburn, Anthony Quail, Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Judith Anderson, Googie Withers and Barry Humphries. They had 3 other properties as well : a country property Delamere, where they raised Poll Herefords and polo ponies; a beach house at Port Willunga and a town house in Mayfair, London. After Bill died, Ursula having predeceased him, Carrick Hill was donated to the state and opened to the public in 1986.
We visited Carrick Hill in 2008 and fell in love with the garden- its high hedges, lawn terraces and stone paving. It has the appearance of an English country parkland with clumps of trees, orchards and cutting beds.The Inner Formal Garden has lawns, dotted with elms, overlooking Adelaide and a pleached Pear arbour, which separates 2 flower gardens. The cutting gardens contain rose, liliums, orchids and tuberoses. The rose gardens contain a collection of 30 Alister Clark-bred roses (1990). There are also vegetable gardens, a herb garden, a shade house, a stone bridge and a babbling rill, a popular Edwardian garden feature.
The Outer Grounds include groves of hawthorns, quinces, medlars, nut trees and olive trees; allees of oak and cedar; a heritage pear and apple orchard with over 100 varieties (established to preserve the National Collection , using root stock from Rippon Lea! ); a petanque court; sculptures by Arthur Boyd, Jacob Epstein, Lyn Moore, Greg Johns, Neil Cranney and Kempo Okamoto and a Grey Box woodland (Eucalyptus macrocarpa) of high conservation status.Even though the Haywards were childless, Carrick Hill is a wonderful place for children! With both Children’s Literature and gardens being major interests, we loved their combination in the Children’s Literary Trail, which portrays landscaped scenes from classic children’s stories, including :
• A.A. Milne’s Waterlily poem and Tiddalik the Frog, a legend from Australian Aboriginal mythology : Winnie-the-Pooh boardwalk
• Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham 1908: Ratty’s boat on pond
• The Hobbit by J.J.R. Tolkien 1937: Bilbo’s Hobbit House with dragon nearby
• Norwegian folk tale Three Billy Goats Gruff, translated into English in 1859: Troll Bridge
• Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling 1997 : The Quidditch Tree and Harry’s broomstick
• The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett 1911 : a gate, robin on a lamppost and key (Sorry, I had no decent photos!)
• Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling 1894-5: Mowgli’s Camp, Howling Wolf on the Council rock
• Animalia by Graeme Base 1986 : elephants, tigers and zebras
• The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis 1950 : the Lamp post and Aslan the Lion
• The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton 1939-1941 : Tree with fairies and door and
• Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White 1952 : large rope spider web for climbing with Charlotte the spider and Wilbur the PigThere is also a hopscotch game in the grounds.
While we were returning to the house, we saw some 4-year old fairies running around the garden with their wands. It was Fairy Adventure Day, organized by Adelaide Garden Fairies, an off-shoot of Enviro-Mental P/L, a group of actors involved with environmental education and supported by That’s Not Garbage. See : http://thatsnotgarbage.com.au/programs/. There are also school holiday programs including Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows and Carrick Hill Pirate School and the Carrick Hill Acorn Club, which holds activities for children aged 5-10 years old on the first Sunday of every month including art and craft activities, nature walks, music, games, dressing up days and Teddy Bear picnics.Carrick Hill is regularly holds art exhibitions and is involved in events like the 2016 Adelaide Biennial and the Year of the Pearl, celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the opening of Carrick Hill to the public in 1986. It is also used for weddings, functions and catering. There are picnic areas, a cafe and marquee, an art gallery, a gift shop and the Australian Museum of Gardening, which includes Richard Bird’s Old Mole collection of tools and opened in November 2015.
It is open Wed–Sun and Public Holidays 10am-4pm for most of the year except on Christmas Day and Good Friday and the month of July, when maintenance is carried out. Admittance to the garden is free, but the house has a small entrance fee. Guided tours are conducted at 11.30am and 2.30pm. The cafe is open Wed-Sun and Public Holidays from 11.00am-4.00pm.