There are some beautiful old historic gardens in Victoria, some of which we have been lucky enough to visit through the old Open Gardens scheme (Dalvui, Ard Rudah, Glenrannoch and Mawarra at the Grove), individual open days in Spring and Autumn (Cruden Farm), plant fairs (Bolobek) and finally, my garden design course at Burnley (Bickleigh Vale Village) . These are only a small sample of the diverse array of private gardens in Australia.
All the gardens in this post are wonderful examples of past times from Australia’s early squattocracy (Dalvui) to Summer hill retreats (Ard Rudah, Glenrannoch and Mawarra) and gardens developed by influential garden designers (Bickleigh Vale, Mawarra, Bolobek and Cruden Farm). With the exception perhaps of Bickleigh Vale, which was more a communal affair, all garden owners were incredibly wealthy, which enabled them to develop their gardens on a grand scale with lots of stonework and paths, ponds, sweeping lawns and dense plantings of exotic trees and shrubs and herbaceous borders of rare and unusual plants and bulbs. They could afford to employ gardeners to maintain their vast gardens and travelled extensively, garnering lots of new ideas and exotic plants in their travels. Their gardens were showpieces, in which they could indulge their passion for collecting, as well as entertain, and often included tennis courts and pools. All gardens have reached full maturity, while some have required extensive renovation from a declining state with new replantings, judicious tree surgery and/or removal of dying trees and reconfiguration of boundaries and /or design. All these gardens are still incredibly expensive to maintain and are owned by wealthy private individuals, who have a passion for old gardens. Because this post is so long, I have divided it into two sections according to the age of the gardens :
Part 1 : Ard Rudah 1870, Glenrannoch 1873 and Dalvui 1898
Part 2 : Bolobek 1911, Bickleigh Vale Village 1920s, Mawarra 1932 and Cruden Farm 1928
Part 1 : Favourite Private Gardens: Historic Gardens: 1870-1900
Ard Rudah 1870
49-51 Devonshire Lane, Mt Macedon 2.4 ha (6ac) 45 minutes west of Melbourne
Classic 19th century hill station and 1 of 11 Mt Macedon gardens recognized by the National Trust for its historical significance. The National Trust considers the Macedon Ranges to be one of the most important collections of 19th Century gardens in Australia.History
Originally part of an apple orchard, Ard Rudah was owned by prominent industrialist, William MacGregor, in the early 1870s. He named the property ‘Ard Rudah’, using the Gaelic words for ‘High Promontory’. The garden was developed by Professor Herbert Strong and Ferdinand Von Mueller, who lived nearby and was the 1st Director of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens (1857). George Patterson was the first permanent gardener. They also built an early irrigation system from Ferny Creek, which runs through the property.
In 1900, a lawn tennis court was built and was played on by prime ministers and distinguished guests- such a lovely location to play tennis! I loved all the established plantings surrounding the court. There were 3 permanent gardeners and the historic glasshouse produced 2000 seedlings, which were planted out each year. The front lawn was dug out by hand by 7-8 gardeners.The two-storey house was designed and built in 1934 by renowned Melbourne architect of the day Christopher Cowper (1868-1954) for his own use and to accommodate his three daughters in luxury style. It had 7 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, a separate studio and a six-car garage. He also designed a sunken walled Italianate garden with a reflection pond after a trip to Italy. The house was then bought by Walter Meyer, once a personal valet to Winston Churchill, who ran it as a guesthouse until the late 1990s.Ard Rudah is on the Historic Buildings Register. It featured in Fred Schepisi’s film ‘The Devil’s Playground’ and was recently refurbished by draughtsman, Stephen Akehurst. When we visited in October 2009, it was owned by Tony Dortimer, who had hired help with the garden once a week. It was sold in September 2015.
Entrance from Devonshire Lane is via a grand driveway lined with cherries, rhododendrons and azaleas, underplanted with masses of bluebells. A camellia walk leads to the house. At the end of the driveway, a path leads to the sunken garden and a formal pool, punctuated by cypress and surrounded by a wall edged in box. From there, vistas stretch up to the house.
In front of the house are large beds, edged in box, holding massed peonies, tulips and other bulbs and forget-me-nots, and a huge circular lawn. The lawn is studded with a huge mature trees including a copper beech, 100 feet high, lindens and European ash and a rare laburnocytisus. In Spring, masses of naturalized daffodils fill the lawn. A series of terraces down the hill hold banks of scented azaleas and dense plantings of many unusual shrubs and perennials, as well as stone steps, providing vistas of the different levels.Behind the house are huge rhododendrons, massive oaks and a fernery walk with hostas, whose new leaves emerge in early November.A maple walk leads to the bottom of the garden, where there is a fern-lined creek, crossed by two moss-covered stone bridges and a tree-fern gully.There is also a woodland of giant oaks and sycamore trees, underplanted with bluebells, which flower in Spring, and a sheltered lily pond. It is a lovely garden to visit in any season. Hellebores peep through the snow in Winter; bluebells, daffodils and flowers bloom in Spring and the deciduous trees put on a beautiful display in Autumn.Glenrannoch 1873
84 Devonshire Lane Mt Macedon 2.8 ha (7 ac)
Another very old beautiful hill station garden in Mt Macedon and one of my favourite gardens.History
The 3rd oldest property in Mt Macedon, Glenrannoch was settled in the 1880s by Mr George Gordon, an engineer from Aberdeen, Scotland. He named the property using two Scots Gaelic words: ‘Glen’ meaning ‘between ridges’ referring to its position and ‘rannoch’ meaning ‘bracken’ or ‘fern’. The house was built in 1873. Glenrannoch was George’s country property and he developed the steeply sloping block in the style of the Indian hill gardens around Poona.
The Ash Wednesday fires in 1983 destroyed many of the old yew trees, which have since regenerated. Stephen Ryan was the Head Gardener for 2 years after the fires. In 2005, extensive wind damage demolished 7 large blackwoods. John and Penelope McBain have owned Glenrannoch since 1996 and have been slowly restoring the garden under the direction of Trish Zdrzalka of Raintree Cottage. Dead and dying trees have been removed and replaced or pruned by tree surgeons and blackberry removed to reveal the bones of the garden, the stonework and steps and ancient banks of miniature and fragrant rhododendrons, Japanese maples, dogwoods and Spring and Autumn bulbs.Design
Glenrannoch is a very steep garden in 4 levels joined by 4 paths and over 500 steps. It has formal and informal elements- formal, closer to the house with mass plantings of perennials and shrubs and well-clipped box hedges, and informal, further away from the house down to the creek, fern gully and bushland. Entrance is via the lower gate along a ferny walk or up 177 stone stairs to the residence or via the main gates and driveway higher up Devonshire Lane. The turning circle in the lane has 5 Chinese birches and 2 large weeping Nootka cypress tower above the gates on either side. The driveway is lined with a variety of conifers- old Atlantic cedars, Douglas fir and cypress and new plantings of larch enhance the Scottish theme. The upper side of the driveway is covered in daffodils in Spring and native daisies in Summer and hydrangea blooms in late Summer and Autumn. The lower side of the drive is lined with yellow, cream and lemon rhododendrons and stewartia.A turning circle in front of the house has 4 round-leafed berry hollies (Ilex menzeii ‘Crenate’). Around the house is a large holly ‘Golden King’. As well as a number of very large old trees, of which the first two are included on the National Trust Register of Significant Trees : Monkey puzzle tree, Araucaria araucana, from South America; Western hemlock Tsuga heterophylla; deodar cedars; a silver poplar and huge rhododendron trees. A large hoheria behind the house is also included on the National Trust Register of Significant Trees. A pair of Acer palmatum, one green, one bronze grace either side of the front steps leading down from the house. The front wall of the house is covered with a red Chilean bellflower.
Two paths, a high road and a low road, which lead from the driveway to the left and up to the stables, are lined with primroses on the right and dark hellebores on the right and are shaded by a large beech tree. Several paths off the stable path lead to a developing collection of different types of beech trees. A stand of blackwood, Acacia melanoxylon, and manna gums lies behind the stables.The Woodman’s Path leads from the stables up to the tennis court at the top of the garden.Below the path is a huge hemlock and 2 liriodendrons with an under-planting of lily-of-the-valley bulbs, while the upper slope is covered in rhododendrons.
Halfway up, steep stairs lead to a large water tank for carp. It also serves as a backup supply for fire-fighting. To the right of the tank are new plantings of birch, larch and Scots pine. Steps lead to a lookout, from which you can see the You Yangs on a clear day. It is backed by towering conifers- pines, cedars and Douglas firs.
The Woodsman’s Path leads to a large weeping beech and steps up to the tennis court area, surrounded by a large blackwood, a huge ponderosa pine, flowering cherries and rhododendron trees, as well as a new herbaceous border. A concrete winding staircase leads to a maple walk.Below the cottage on the eastern side of the house are two herbaceous borders separated by a path, which leads to a large sweet chestnut, one of five in the garden and under-planted with masses of hellebores. The upper border contains a Crane’s Foot maple and a Japanese snowball tree, young hazelnuts and a variety of cotoneasters, while the lower border contains a large green cherry and golden elm, under-planted with hellebores and bluebells.Below the lawn at the rear of the house, the Spring Walk leads to the fast- flowing Turritable Creek in a deep gully with several waterfalls.
A Dutch medlar, magnolia and cherry trees and a Prunus padus, under-planted with snowdrops, lie below the path, while the upper side has a viburnum, a shad bush, an aspen and a Hookerii maple. There are also magnolias, lilacs, witch hazel and lily-of-the-valley. The path leads past eucryphias and a Nothofagus collection , including Myrtle Beech (N. cunninghamii) and New Zealand Black Beech (N. solanderi) to the creek and a temperate rainforest of forest redwoods. Oak, beech and scented rhododendrons ‘Princess Alice’ and ‘Balantray’. There are 3 smaller paths off the Spring Path, which lead to the lower garden.Below the house is a croquet lawn on the southern side. Below the croquet lawn is a newly developed terrace of mollis azaleas and an oak hill, under-planted with daffodils. Two paths lead below and to the west from the azalea terrace to rhododendrons and the bottom gate.From the lower gate, there are 2 routes:
The mossy Creek Path, screened by tall tree ferns and large blackwoods, which lead to the start of Turritable Creek, a small waterfall and the lower part of the Spring Path. New Nothofagus and Wollemi pines have been planted on the slope above the path.
and 177 Steps up to the house, lined with maples, magnolias, a dove tree, dogwood, Norwegian fir and enkianthus on the left on the way up and rhodendrons, mature larches, an Irish strawberry Tree, a chestnut, an oak and a parrotia.
While the Australian Open Garden Scheme has closed, the baton has been taken up by the newly formed Open Gardens Victoria and it is still possible to visit these gardens. They are running a Mt Macedon coach tour of 3 hill station gardens on 1st September 2016 and I recognized photos from both Ard Rudah and Glenrannoch. For details, see : http://www.opengardensvictoria.org.au/companies/34/62/.
431 McKinnons Bridge Rd, Noorat Close to Terang, SW Victoria 2.45 ha (6 ac)
One of Australia’s most significant gardens and an excellent example of Guilfoyle’s private garden designs. William Guilfoyle was the second Director of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens in 1873.History
1839 Niel Black, the 35 year old son of a Scottish Argylle farmer, arrived in Victoria, looking for land and he bought 50,000 acres of land at Glenormiston in partnership with 2 other men. In 1847, he built his first home, which is now Glenormiston Agricultural College. The partnership dissolved in 1868 and the land was divided into 3 lots- he lost Glenormiston and drew the southern portion on the southern foothills of Mt Noorat, an extinct volcano with rich red volcanic soil, where he built a new mansion just to the north of Dalvui. At 53 years old, he returned to Scotland, where he married, had 3 sons and died in 1880. The property eventually passed to his youngest son, Niel Walter Black, who obtained Dalvui, formerly part of the 6000 acre Mt Noorat estate.
Niel Walter Black commissioned William Guilfoyle to design a garden around his future homestead and the garden was laid out in 1898. By the time the house was built, the garden was well-established and much of the original design is still intact today. A two-storey brick Tudoresque Queen Anne style homestead was designed by Melbourne architects, Ussher and Kemp, and built between 1904-1908. The Federation house has a polygonal candle-snuffer roof, a Tudor bay window of banked gothic lights, which looks out to the garden, a grand sweeping staircase, Jacobean plaster ceilings and many Art Nouveau features. In 1909, Niel Walter Black set off for Scotland in the Waratah to find a bride, but unfortunately, the ship disappeared between Cape Town and Durban, the wreck only discovered off Durban in 1999!
In 1911, Dalvui was sold with 560 acres of land to Claude B Palmer and he lived there until his death in 1941. His wife and then son, Neville B Palmer, inherited the property, then Neville sold Dalvui in 1974. It was sold again in 1985 to Ray Williams, who began refurbishment of the house and garden. Since 1998, it has been owned by Peter and Pam Habersberger. Originally a Romney sheep stud and dairy , the property now runs 150 Murray Grey and Angus cows, though there are still some stud sheep from the original bloodlines.
Originally 5 acres with another 2.5 acres added during Ray William’s tenure, the garden still conforms to Guilfoyle’s 1898 design with sweeping lawns, rockeries, ponds, mature trees (now over 100 years old) and curved herbaceous borders of shrubs, perennials and bulbs. Essentially an inward-looking garden, it provides glimpses of the surrounding countryside, from which it is separated by a rock ha-ha wall. We were lucky enough to visit Dalvui on an open day held in October 2013 and knowing this was such a famous garden, we were first cab off the rank and able to enjoy the gardens on our own at the start.The driveway , bordered by poplars initially, then silver birches in the garden, curves across the paddocks to the garden, passing the original cypress-lined driveway on the east side. The birches are underplanted with shrubs and perennials with an emphasis on shades of green and grey foliage, blue flowers and soft colours, providing a very restful atmosphere.To the north-west of the house, the old tennis court has been converted to a series of garden rooms, created by box hedging with persimmon trees in the middle. Beautiful sweeping lawns surround the house. Paths lead to a massive rockery garden (created by Guilfoyle to disguise a natural volcanic rock outcrop), a chain of ponds and a spectacular lake .There are some beautiful old trees, one even supported by props (see 3rd photo below!) and interesting features like espaliered trees and topiary.I loved the herbaceous borders and garden beds. However, my heart was captured by the hedged kitchen garden just beside the house. This delightful small section of the garden was reason alone to visit Dalvui!