Monday, 23 December 2013

Cruden Farm’s Avenue of Gums

Cruden Farm opened its gates 2 or 3 weeks ago and beckoned for one reason: I wanted to experience again (and carry away a good photo of) that sinuous avenue of whitish gum trees. Designed by Edna Walling in 1930, and one of her best legacies (along with the garden at Mawarra which has amazing bones), it is superb, yet I remember it was derided – by other students - when I was studying horticulture in the late 1980’s.
Hopefully they have changed their minds.
But are they lemon scented gums as claimed (and suggested on her plans)? They are beige, not white, and some very dappled, and not too tall; they look like the terrific spotted gum (Eucalyptus maculata). Surely lemon scented gums would be too tall and out of proportion (while these sit perfectly)?

Cruden Farm has some other good ingredients: the walled garden (nice within, but with some shade-loving perennials (like Lady’s Mantle) mistakenly placed in full sun), some huge trees, some cool green spaces, the placement in the landscape. But it’s a strange mish mash with its plonked-down walled garden (hard to relate to the rest) and most of all, that rose garden.
But is Cruden Farm a sacred cow? Am I allowed to criticize it?
(Critiquing gardens has barely begun elsewhere and is regarded as suspect if not terribly impolite in Australia; but how else to regard gardens as art?)
Actually it’s only the rose garden that really jarrs, sitting uncomfortably amongst the green, with some odd bits of hedge, indigestible with its surfeit of blooms. But…it’s the rose garden where people wandered most, intoxicated by colour, pointing out blooms to their friends. (`I used to grow that.’ `Do you remember that one?’)
And the relevance to my own little patch? Well, once I dreamed of a similar avenue to my house, but I have a cottage, really, a 2-bedroom cedar house (see below). It’s just not a good fit. A grand design may not be required, precisely, but a certain size and presence is; Cruden Farm has this.
(To fire another volley, in another direction, to another family who have very kindly opened their garden gates: Musk Cottage does not; anything called calling itself cottage looks silly in 10 acres of gardened grounds. Our wild bushland, by contrast, is anything but groomed.
And there is a self-conscious wooden cottage - with dormer windows - not far from here which is rather pretty but, as if the owners have had a windfall, a heavy rotunda, Victorian mansion-worthy, sits in the back garden where – sadly – all can see it. It’s a great reminder to keep it all pitched to the same level.)
So what if I was stubborn, and planted that avenue, what then?
I think the visitor would be let down, at its end, by the country entrance to the home and garden: carport, wood shed, small home. No stately home, no superb circle of grass (great for turning cars as well as beauty and saying here the purpose changes); and that small (if artistic) gate to enter the home garden. In time, I hope this person will not be let down by my vision of the garden: beauty, interest all year, and strong ideas underlying the garden.

What to do?
Our sweetly curving drive is just right as it is, of course. It appears to wind through rough forest – a little thinned – and then our 2-storey cedar cottage is a welcome sight, sitting tightly on the slope, and our purple gate is a beckoning portal into the garden.
To add a grand avenue would be downright silly.
On our slope we have a small turning circle and it’s filled with mature gums and indigenous plants; good habitat on our Land-for-Wildlife property; this links home to property nicely.
Our scotch egg of home garden – pretty flowers and seats near the house; hens, edible patch and orchard below; surrounded by bushland with creek lower still – works perfectly. Birds dart in, echidnas wander through, skinks make a home about ours. Yes, wallabies eat my plants but the tranquility of our spot is wonderful.
I wouldn’t swap it for the world – or even that avenue.

Jill Weatherhead is garden designer, horticulturist and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design working in Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges and Victoria.

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