Tuesday, October 5, 2010


I'm a member of the Diggers Club, have wanted to see their two gardens for years, and finally I had the chance to see Heronswood. It is a pleasant drive down the Mornington Peninsula. My sons were not overly keen to see a garden, but I knew they'd enjoy it once they were there. The afternoon was to be given over to a place they were definitely interested in, but I'll cover that in a separate post.

Heronswood is a lovely Gothic Revival house, built of the attractive bluestone-and-limestone combination that distinguishes fine old houses in this part of Victoria.

This would have been an imposing entrance in its day, but now, you enter higher up the slope and at the back of the house, where the nursery and shop are. You can barely see the house from the road, due to a luxuriant mixed border and shrubbery.

Further along the new driveway are the children's sandpit and the cafe. My boys loved the sandpit! The structure at right is the framework for a creeper: eventually, there will be a wonderful green tunnel to crawl through. It's fun already, of course.

When I was able to drag the boys away, our first view of the house proper was this appropriately gothic one:

Again, this is the back of the house. The north-easterly aspect would have given the owners an expansive view down the slope of the main garden.

Was there a fashion for Chinoiserie when the house was built, I wonder?

But on to the garden. From the Diggers Club's point of view, the centrepiece of the garden is the formal vegetable garden. It consists of six sectors, here planted with brassicas, lettuces and yellow calendulas (or pot marigolds, as they were once called -- the leaves and flowers are edible). The beds are edged with steel, I think, to help provide that razor-sharp line. I'm surprised they didn't terrace the area first; the slope makes the geometry look wonky, as well as complicating watering.

I liked these sturdy trellises, which partially enclose it.

A nice spot from which to contemplate the fruits of your labour on the upper side of the vegetable patch.

Of course the Diggers Club is not just about vegetables, and the rest of the garden is filled with examples of the stock. The garden drops away into a steep valley, and it cannot have been easy to design, nor indeed to redesign after more than 100 years of gardening on the site. There are a number of ancient trees,including this huge deodar:

Perhaps because of the long history and the commercial requirements of the nursery show garden, I felt that the garden was somewhat diffuse in conception. Some areas were satisfying, but somehow I felt the absence of a unifying idea, or possibly a unifying hand. The symmetrical sections seemed unrelated to the rest of the garden, which rambles informally. Nonetheless, my favourite areas are shown below.

The garden has a couple of overgrown arbours -- well, I think arbours look better overgrown, anyway. So do my boys.

Here's a study in lines and curves; I was rather proud to have noticed them!

And the purple and greyed tones against that Prussian blue:

I thought the iris and wormwood produced a nice example of varied texture with the Berberis(?) adding contrast.

The placement of the arch on the curve of the path seems a certain technique to achieve wanderability.

A final note: the Fork to Fork Cafe at Heronswood bases its menu on what is available in the kitchen garden on the premises,with the meat tending to the regional and organic. I had one of the best meals there that I have ever eaten: with great respect shown for the produce, the result had a lightness and freshness not commonly encountered. My set two courses were well worth the $49 they cost (three courses is $59). The children's menu is made up of simple but carefully cooked dishes: the Twig enjoyed grilled chicken breast with baby carrots and the Sprig gobbled down his pasta with tomato sauce. Highly recommended. I was, however, very lucky to get a meal at all. It isn't mentioned on the website, but bookings are required for the meals. If I had come with a party, the staff would not have been able to fit us in. I am planning to notify Diggers of this omission. The staff were quite aware of it!

In all, a very enjoyable day, lifted by the sublime food at Fork to Fork.


life in a pink fibro said...

Wow - that looks amazing. We recently visited Foxglove Spires on the NSW south coast. Was also amazing - my boys didn't want to go and then loved it when they got there.

Lanie said...

Great post. I have wanted to visit the Diggers gardens for a long time too...and I feel as if I sort of have by reading this post.

Chookie said...

I haven't been to Foxglove Spires for many years, but I look longingly at it every time we are near Tilba! Beautiful part of the world.

Glad the post made it real, Lanie! Next time I have to make it to St Erth as well.

Anonymous said...

Wow what very orderly vege patches. I like the rambly wild self sewn look to my vegetable patches. But I guess as long as the vegetables get eaten who really cares right?