Last month, we visited private historic gardens from the late 19th century. This post describes the work of garden designers and keen gardeners in the early 20th century: Joan Law-Smith at Bolobek; Edna Walling at Bickleigh Vale Village and Mawarra at the Grove and Dame Elisabeth Murdoch at Cruden Farm.
370 Mt Macedon Rd, Mt Macedon 3.6 ha (9 ac) Less than 1 hour drive from Melbourne
One of the finest and most visited, documented and photographed private gardens in Australia and another beautiful old garden in Mt Macedon, established over 100 years ago and made famous by a subsequent owner, Joan Law-Smith. It is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. Their site has an excellent map of the garden. See: http://www.dpcd.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/133719/Bolobek.pdf. The garden is 450 metres above sea level with frequent frosts and snow and 750 mm rain, temperatures ranging from 0 degrees in Winter to 40 degrees in Summer and a grey loam soil on a clay base, tending towards acidity. Unfortunately, the day we visited Bolobek for the Spring plant fair was very grey and rainy, so the photos are all a bit dark, but they still will give you an idea of the garden layout and beauty. For photos in Summer, see: http://aggregata.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/visit-to-bolobek-gardens-in-mt-macedon.html
The land, on which Bolobek was settled, was originally Bolobek Swamp, which provided food for the Wurundjeri aboriginal people, but the swamps were drained in the 19th Century. Bolobek means ‘undulating’ in the local aboriginal dialect. Between 1910-1914, Oswald Syme, the youngest son of David Syme, the founder of the Melbourne Age newspaper, bought more than 900 acres in adjoining parcels of land, which were parts of 2 former pastoral runs, Turitable and Wooling. Wooling, an aboriginal word meaning ‘nestling of many waters’, was originally settled in 1839 by William Robertson and included a 9 acre orchard, a 4 acre kitchen garden and Victoria’s first sawmill, as well as fish ponds, the first breeding grounds of brown trout and English salmon trout on the mainland, the ova being imported from Tasmania in 1862. Oswald and his wife, Mildred, built a three-storey Edwardian mansion in 1911 and lived there for over 60 years. Mildred was a keen gardener and laid out a 5 acre garden, including a 0.5 acre orchard. Many trees (rows of lindens, poplars and oaks) and shrubs have survived from the original garden plan. They built a dam (Syme’s Lake) over the original trout hatchery ponds, supplying reticulated water to a garden tank by gravity for the garden and stock troughs. Oswald was a member of the Royal Agricultural Society and ran a Romney Marsh sheep stud, a Friesian stud and a huge dairy complex on Bolobek, the latter destroyed in the 1952 fires, after which 270 ha on Hamilton Rd were excised. They also had a nine-hole golf course, a croquet lawn, a tennis court and a swimming pool.
In 1969, Bolobek was bought by Robert and Joan Law-Smith. Robert was a director of Qantas and BHP and a grazier and ran 400 Herefords and 1000 first cross ewes. They demolished the old house and many outbuildings, then built a smaller single storey house on the original site. It was designed by Phyllis and John Murphy and made of white bagged brick with a grey slate roof and large low windows looking straight out into the garden. Joan was a talented gardener, artist and writer. She removed many trees, including the prunus and the bedding plants, and simplified the design, creating geometrically-shaped compartments, with 3 main axes paths, radiating from a central square lawn adjacent to the house and allowing a grand vista, framed by Italian Poplars, towards Mt Robertson. She loved old roses for their scent, floral arrangements and painting and created a walled garden for them from old bricks, sourced from an old demolished house. She also loved soft pastel colours and the garden has a very romantic dreamy feel with its emphasis on green and white.In 1990, the Law-Smiths sold Bolobek and it passed through a number of hands, the garden gradually going into decline. A further 70 ha land was subdivided in the late 1990s. Greville and Jill Egerton bought the property in 2002 and started renovating the garden and property. They sold to the current owners, Hugh and Brigid Robertson, in 2006. They spent the next two years observing the garden through the seasons and then started a major rejuvenation program in the garden. Since 2008, restoration works have included :
Replacing the old watering system;
Replacing the cypress and pine avenues, which were dying from old age and the drought, with oaks;
Replacing the crab apple and Lombardy poplar walks;
Repaving and regravelling paths and replacing the pergola;
Planting a new middle storey in the garden, which was lost from the neglect in the late 1990s;
Replanting the orchard and planting native trees around the farm; and
Designing and planting a large vegetable garden and picking garden, next to the original Syme vegetable garden.
Because of the micro-climates in the garden, affording pockets of shade, moisture and protection from the prevailing NW winds, in 2008 during the peak of the drought, the Robertsons were able to open the garden to visitors for the first time in 20 years and they had 6000 visitors. The property is now 550 ha and runs 1000 Border Leicester X Merino ewes and a self-replacing herd of 500 Angus cattle. There is self-contained accommodation at ‘The Cottage’, the original station hand’s house beside the garden. Open Garden Plant Fairs were held in 2008 and 2011, with over 10 000 visitors over the 4 days. Today, the garden is used for weddings, concerts and many fund-raising events, as well as hosting the Mt Macedon Horticultural Society Annual Garden Lovers Fair, which we attended in September 2014. The next fair is on 17 and 18 September 2016. There are many stalls selling rare and unusual perennials, trees and shrubs, bulbs, succulents and Australian natives, as well as sculpture and specialist tools. Entrance to the garden is $10 pp.Design
Modern formal garden style in 2.5 ha inner garden, with larger informal areas in the outer garden and park. A main axes leads from the house to a distant view of Mt Robertson and there are 2 shorter axes parallel to the main axes, which are lined with weeping birch.
Cross axes contains a pergola and a sculpture of a girl at the end of the apple walk. The colour scheme is very restrained with an emphasis on a variety of green foliage and white, complementing the white house and courtyard and the grey roof and silvery-grey timber fence. White flowers include: white lilies, white nicotiana and white daisies with white watsonias along the poplar walk and a white wisteria, underplanted with double white violets, over the pergola. A hedge of white Iceberg roses complement the white bark of the silver birches behind, the leggy rose stems hidden behind box hedges.Formal design elements include :
Lime, Lombardy poplar and crab apple (Golden Hornet) walks, the latter underplanted with English primroses and aquilegas.
Wisteria pergola and dovecot;Walled rose garden; Herbaceous borders;Woodland plantings including shrubs, bulbs, hellebores, columbines and Soloman’s Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum);Sweeping lawns with mature shrubs, deciduous trees and naturalized bulbs;I also loved seeing the Flowering quince shrubs in full bloom- white, pink-and-white and red forms and the exquisite magnolias.Statuary including a sundial and a marble statue. Ornamental lake and a pool with a figure;
Rows of silver birch and Bhutan cypress and Laurustinus and Lilac hedges;Stone-lined channels and paths;White gravel courtyard and curved undulating gravel driveway and an avenue of Southern Mahogany (Eucalyptus botryoides).I loved the walled garden with its espaliered pear trees and climbing roses ( including Wedding Day, Constance Spry , Souvenir de la Malmaison, Souvenir de St Anne and Felicité et Perpetué) over the brick walls. There are 4 symmetrical beds, around the central sundial, separated by mellow brick paths. Other Old Roses include Madame Hardy, Charles de Mills, Maxima, Celeste, Boule de Neige, Mme Pierre Oger and Reine des Violettes. The roses are underplanted with blue cranesbill, Alchemilla mollis, dianthus, wild strawberries and lambs’ ears.Bickleigh Vale Village 1920s
Bickleigh Vale Rd and Edna Walling Lane, Mooroolbark 3 ha
The foothills of the Dandenongs, west of Melbourne, are the other famous area for beautiful old gardens and were the canvas for prominent garden designer Edna Walling.
Originally, Edna bought 3 acres and built her cottage, ‘Sonning’, in 1921 out of local stone, timber and recycled materials. Later, she bought 18 adjoining acres, which she subdivided into 1-2 acre lots, creating an English-style village with country laneways, deciduous trees and hedgerows. She named it ‘Bickleigh Vale’ after the village, where she grew up in England. Edna’s goal was to create an environment, in which the houses and gardens related harmoniously with each other, as well as the natural environment, a key tenet of the Arts and Crafts movement. She was also an early advocate of Australian natives. Prospective owners had to agree to have their future cottage and its garden designed by Edna and she supplied all the plants. The properties are all linked by side gates, allowing easy access into each other’s gardens and creating a communal atmosphere. The cottages were small and simple with rustic stone on the lower levels, dark shingles on the upper gable ends, simple low-set multi-paned casement windows, dormer windows in high-pitched roofs, stone and brick chimneys and French doors and patios. All the gardens bear Edna’s signature trademarks of : densely planted trees and shrubs; stone walls and steps; stone and timber pergolas; low front fences of timber, stone and wire; paths linking garden rooms; ponds and arbours; mossy lawns; and the use of exotic and native vegetation.
Between the 1920s and 1940s, 16 cottages were built, each one different in size and character, but still relating harmoniously with each other, as well as the natural environment. A subdivision in the 1950s created more than 30 properties. Edna moved to ‘The Barn’, built in 1951 and then Buderim, Queensland in 1967.
Today, the village is managed by the Friends of Bickleigh Vale, a group comprising of all the owners. The trees are now fully mature and their shade has changed the nature of the gardens. The cottages have been adapted to suit modern needs. They were described by the National Trust as a Classified Landscape in 1978 and were included in the Victorian Heritage Register in 2005. See: http://www.onmydoorstep.com.au/heritage-listing/1856/bickleigh-vale.
In 1988, Devon Lane was renamed Edna Walling Lane. We were lucky enough to visit Bickleigh Vale in May 2012, as the owner of Badger’s Wood, Anna Beesley, was a fellow student in my garden design course and she organized a class visit. See: http://www.bickleighvalevillage.com.au/badgers-wood.html .
In Spring later that year, 7 Edna Walling gardens were open to the public : Badger’s Wood 1937; Devon Cottage 1956; Downderry; Mistover 1930; The Sheilan; The Barn 1928; and Wimbourne 1940.Design
Edna Walling’s design principles included:
Garden rooms, in which the bare rooms are visible in Winter;
Green is the most important colour, with texture and foliage playing an important role;Trees are planted in copses and ground covers are allowed to take over; andGardens should be mulched and not over-watered. They should be allowed to grow naturally and should be left alone with minimal pruning;Plantings include : old remnant gums (Eucalypts and Corymbias) and indigenous blackwoods; exotic conifers including cypress, pines and cedars; exotic deciduous trees including oaks, elms, poplars and aspens, birches, beeches, hornbeams, ash, Japanese Maples, Liquidambars, Crepe Myrtles, Hawthornes and crab apples. The woodland gardens were underplanted with hellebores and naturalized bulbs (freesias, bluebells) in the grass, as well as lots of her signature plants including azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, roses and jasmine.
Local stone was used to create dry-stone walls, footpaths, patios and steps.Mawarra at The Grove 1932
6 Sherbrooke Rd. Sherbrooke Dandenong Ranges, close to the Alfred Nicholas Gardens and next to Sherbrooke Forest 1.2 ha (3 ac)
A beautiful temperate mountain garden designed by Edna Walling and considered to be one of the finest examples of her work. She described it as ‘ a symphony in steps and beautiful trees’.History
Originally, the property was called ‘The Grove’ and the house was built in 1932 by Phyllis Mc Millan for her mother Flora May Marshall and her unmarried sisters. It was named after their uncle’s home at 31 The Grove, Boltons, Kensington, where the sisters often stayed when visiting their wealthy bachelor uncles in London. Edna Walling was employed to design and develop the garden from 1932-1935, but abandoned the project after an argument with Phyllis over a minor sum of money (20 shillings), compared to the overall cost of the stonework (7500 pounds, equivalent to $750 000 today!). The garden path named ’20 Shillings’ was created to show where Edna stopped working and others began. Edna had employed Eric Hammond to do much of the stonework, so after Edna left, it fell to Eric to complete the task.In 1936, he also built ‘Wendy’s Cottage, based on the Marshall sisters’ uncles home ‘Nalderswood’ in Surrey, England, with the help of his friend H Roy Langley. The life-sized doll’s house was enjoyed by all the sisters’ nephews and nieces.In 1960, Mr and Mrs Frank Walker and Mrs Carol Sallah became the second owners and renamed the property ‘Mawarra’, an aboriginal word meaning ‘a peaceful place’, the original name taken by the sisters to their new abode in Mornington. Later, the name was returned to the property by Norman Marshall, the grandson of Flora May, so the house was called ‘Mawarra Manor’. Mr Jess Exiner and Mr Peter Harris bought the property in 2002 and restored the house over 2 years and the garden over 5 years. It is now owned by John Champion , who has continued to restore the garden over the last 8-10 years. Erigeron is a major problem, its roots damaging the rock walls and stonework. It is possible to stay in both ‘Mawarra Manor’ and ‘Wendy’s Cottage’. There is even a heated indoor pool, sauna and gym in the main house.Design
Italianate Terrace style due to the steep slope of the site;
Large scale with many long walkways and avenues, secret paths and many surprises; Driveway is long, dark and narrow and opens out into bright light around the house;Grand stone staircase with broad shallow steps down to an octagonal reflecting pond;Mossy low stone walls, flagged fern-lined paths and terraces;Croquet lawn surrounded by birch;Lots of mature exotic trees: weeping cherries, oaks, elms, birch, maples and European beech trees, underplanted with bluebells;Exotic shrubs : azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons;Wendy House with its own garden; andMiniature Tudor village.Cruden Farm 1928
60 Cranbourne Rd Langwarrin, VIC, 3210 8ha (20 ac) garden, 54 ha farm ; 50 km from CBD Melbourne (1 hour drive)
Very famous old garden, developed over 80 years by Dame Elisabeth Murdoch. It is featured on Monty Don’s Round the World in 80 Gardens. See: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xwzd7r_around-the-world-in-80-gardens-2-australia-and-new-zealand_lifestyle. (26 minutes into the video).
Originally a 90 ac orchard and farm, Cruden Farm was bought by Sir Keith Murdoch in 1928 as a wedding present for his bride, Elisabeth Greene (1909-2012). The small cottage was significantly extended by architect, Harold Desbrowe-Annear. The original garden was also small and simple and the only survivor from those early days was a camphor laurel on the northern corner of the house. Over the years, a further 45 ac adjoining property was added to the farm. Percy Meldrum designed the stables and dairy complex, which were built out of stone from Moorooduc Quarry. The ironwork was rescued from the demolished Caulfield stables and had originally been imported from England.In 1930, Edna Walling was employed to make 2 walled gardens for fruit trees and roses, but they are now used for herbaceous borders and a swimming pool respectively. Elisabeth was responsible for the design of the majority of the garden and did much of the planting, along with her Head Gardener, Michael Morrison, who has worked there since 1971.
In 1944, a huge fire through the NE corner of the property burnt a large number of trees and shrubs, including some of the iconic avenue of Lemon-Scented Gums (Eucalyptus citriodora), planted by Elisabeth down the driveway. The missing trees were replaced and linked to existing Melaleuca stypheloides with other native plants. The plantings and layout were simplified. In 1987, a lake was added in the undulating paddock east of the house. A deep dam was created to supplement the water supply in 1997 and both bodies of water attract lots of birds and are surrounded by daffodils in Spring. A variety of oaks surround the lake and were planted from acorns collected by Elisabeth’s grand-daughters.
Dame Elisabeth Murdoch died in 2012 at 103 years old. The 54 ha estate was transferred within Cruden Custodian Limited in 2014. It is used for a large number of community and charity events, including jazz concerts, family fun days and open garden days twice a month from 10am-2pm. The next open days are on 23 – 24 June and 28 – 29 July 2016. See: Groups and individuals can also visit the garden for $20 pp.Design
Temperatures vary between 20 and 45 degrees Celsius, 762 mm rain and sandy loam soil;
Lemon-Scented Gum avenue, planted in 1930s by Elisabeth;
Lawn dotted with mature trees including oaks. National Trust has classified a giant weeping oak; andHerbaceous borders and shrub walks including magnolias and azaleas, wisteria and blossom trees.I loved all the mature old climbers, wreathing the buildings;The vegetable garden;The picking garden: for roses and perennials for the house: reds, pinks, mauves, yellows and creams, including the yellow and crimson Dame Elisabeth Murdoch rose (photo 2);
The walled gardens
: the walled garden, originally designed for fruit trees, was too hot for them and now contains twin English-style herbaceous borders of pink, mauve and yellow perennials and climbers lasting 4-5 months, as well as a statue ‘Dancing Brolga’ by Lesley Bowles. One espaliered apple remains from the original garden.
: the lower walled garden, which was originally designed for roses, is now a swimming pool;
and the sculptures
: Daedalus : Edwin Fabian : just inside the entrance
: Pisces : Douglas Stephen : 2 dolphins embracing: corner to east of walled garden
: Shiva 4 : Lenton Parr : on edge of native garden near the tennis court
Ibis : Phil Price, NZ : on peninsula jutting into the lake : gift from her children to Elisabeth on her 100th birthday.
Next month, I will be featuring some beautiful private country gardens in Victoria.