Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cruden Farm - a lifelong source of gardening joy

Cruden Farm, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch's country garden at Langwarring in Australia.
Driving through the sprawling suburbs on the highway towards the Mornington Peninsula south of Melbourne, one would never guess that a pair of modest wooden gates, opening directly from the freeway, leads to one of the most iconic gardens of Australia. Behind the gates, followed by a magnificent driveway of lemon-scented gums, lies Cruden Farm, home and country garden of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, the widow of Australian media publisher Keith Murdoch and a great philanthropist, whose generous and passionate involvement in arts, medicine, research and many social causes has made a positive difference in the lives of countless Australians.
* 'Ibis' by Phil Price, a 100th birthday present to Dame Elisabeth from her family.
Long before this first visit to Cruden Farm, I'd seen pictures from it garden books and publications, but had always been unable to travel when it was open to the public. This time, due to some very fortunate interference, my family got a tour of the gardens. And not just an ordinary one, but a ride on Dame Elisabeth's electric garden buggy together with Michael Morrison, who has gardened at Cruden Farm together with Dame Elisabeth for four decades. Michael told us about the trees and plants and the developments of the garden, pointed out Dame Elisabeth's favorite views and picked even roses named after Dame Elisabeth to both of our girls. His knowledge and love for the garden made the tour a memorable highlight of our Australian trip.
Above: Copper beech, Fagus sylvatica Purpurea group forms a background for one flower border. Below: The stables were the centre of action in the 1930s and 40s.
Cruden Farm had very romantic beginnings: it was given by Keith Murdoch as a wedding present to his young bride in 1928. Elisabeth loved her small farm and tended the garden from its earliest days. For decades, the farm provided a paradise for the growing family that gathered here for horse riding, fishing and entertaining during the weekends.
The walled garden designed by Edna Walling in 1931 with sumptuous perennial borders.
In 1931, Australia's then leading garden designer Edna Walling was commissioned to work on the areas nearest to the house. Inspired by the Arts and Crafts style, Ms. Walling's design included two walled gardens and a magnificent entrance driveway lined with lemon-scented gumtrees, leading to a circular lawn planted with three now large huge elm trees in front of the house. Sadly, the roses in one of the walled gardens never thrived in the sharp Australian sun that was additionally reflected by the thick brick walls, so eventually they had to be removed to another area. But the perennial borders of the second part of the walled garden, a project of continuous co-operation by Dame Elisabeth and Michael Morrison, were thriving luxuriously, their colour scheme offering a cool visual relief from the heat.
Above: Shade provided by the now mature trees. Below: The glossy leaves of a huge Macedon oak, Querqus 'Firthii', listed on the register of significant trees in Victoria, Australia.
In 1944, a devastating bushfire raged through the property and lead to new developments in the garden and farm on totally 54 hectares. Many of them have been related to water, always in scarce supply during the hot summers and especially during times of drought, of which the latest that just broke lasted for 12 years. Mains water was connected in 1975, which allowed the garden to be watered for the first time - until then, Dame Elisabeth had pumped the water and shifted the hoses herself at dawn or on dusk. In late 1980s, two dams behind the house were extended to form the beautiful large lake in the second picture, offering both water storage and making a perfect refuge for wildlife. In the late 1990s, another lagoon was created to secure water supply for the gardens.

Cruden Farm's now iconic driveway lined with lemon-scented gum trees (Eucalyptus sp.), a beautiful adaptation to the native flora of Australia.
In 2009, Dame Elisabeth celebrated her 100th birthday. Determinately, she continues to work with Michael, always thinking of new ways to revise and improve what to most of gardeners already looks like a picture of perfection. 'One must always replenish for the future in a garden', as Dame Elisabeth says, now well into her ninth decade of gardening at Cruden Farm.
Cruden Farm is private and visits can be done by prior appointment or on one of its open days.


Ruben said...

Lucky you!! Bra timing den här gången! Låter som en härlig trädgård.
Ha det gott!

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Visst hade vi tur, och lite hjälp i vägen med den... Ha en trevlig helg, Ruben, du också!

Karin said...

Redan snödroppar! Här lär det dröja ...

Alice Joyce said...

Good morning!

Thanks for the lovely tour of Cruden Farm.
I want so much to visit Melbourne and travel around Victoria. Very sad to hear about the recent flooding.

In case you didn't see my reply to your question on Bay Area Tendrils, the beautiful stonework is from Hestercombe, and represents Sir Edwin Lutyens' architectural hardscape. The post is on my web site, & here's a link:
P.S. the oak pictured looks similar to a species I saw in Portland's Chinese Garden. A young tree indeed, compared to the beauty pictured here.