A visit to Cloudehill Gardens

A touch of whimsy to welcome at the entrance – yes or no? 

We first visited Cloudehill Gardens about 20 years ago when it was still very much one man’s garden. Jeremy Francis took over the property in 1992 so it would still have been very new when we saw it. While there were plants and established trees from its earlier time as a nursery, there was no garden when he started. In the time since, it has matured to one of the flagship gardens of the Dandenong area, about an hour out of Melbourne. It is a large garden, created in the Arts and Crafts style with, the publicity tells me, twenty different garden rooms.

Very arts and craftsy in style 

The design may be very Hidcote/Sissinghurst, but the perennial plantings reflect the fashions of the new millenium 

While it appears that the originator, Jeremy Francis, is still on the scene, day to day management has transferred to The Diggers’ Club, which is a membership organisation unique to Australia. The upshot of this is that there is a now a retail outlet and a good café/restaurant (though the wasp infestation drove us indoors to eat), a focus on events and attractions and ‘adding interest’ to the garden. This means it has facilities and infrastructure but the trade-off is that the deeply personal touch of a single owner is no longer as evident. I found some of the novelty sculptures and touches were a little jarring in a garden where the underpinning hard landscaping is of exceptional quality. But a garden being run as a commercial entity has to strive to be all things to all people. It is now branded with the ubiquitous but rarely accurate strap-line of “a garden for all seasons’.

Not, I think, Cloudehill’s finest moment but it is hard for a garden to be all things to all people

Colour-toned belladonnas and Japanese anemones for an early autumn welcome

I have never seen a garden that can peak for twelve months of the year and at the end of a long, hot, dry Australian summer, it was not at its peak but there was still plenty of interest along the way. When I review my photographs, I see that I kept focusing on the high quality of most of the garden structures. Attention to detail, again and again. I really appreciate that. There is a timelessness to good structure that carries a garden well through the years, even though the plantings may change with the times.

I liked the cobbles set in the path, as an example of understated detail, though I am guessing the fill has washed away, leaving them as something of a trip hazard. It was the only maintenance flaw that I recall in a garden where the overall management was of a very high calibre.

Attention to detail – look at the staging of this feature pot 

The hand-crafted wrought iron fence that separated gardens took my fancy as a personalised, modern take on an old craft.

Detail again – look at the beautiful end to this balustrade. And unless I am mistaken, that is a Marlborough rock daisy from New Zealand, Pachystegia insignis, nestled into an Australian garden that is modelled on English design.

I blog. I do not instagram. This may be the reason why I forgot to photograph my lunch but as far as I recall, it was very pleasant. What I did photograph was an installation of figures created by sculptor, Graeme Foote. These I really did like, especially in their setting here. I could find a home for some of these figures. While the individual price seems very reasonable at a mere $400 each, the trouble is that we would need at least 10 to make a statement.  Plus packing and freight across the Tasman. Sometimes we have to be content with memories and photographs.

4 thoughts on “A visit to Cloudehill Gardens

  1. Dale Lethbridge

    Good morning Abby,
    I am intrigued by the figures. Do you think he moulded them from real bodies and then cast them in clay. They are so cheaply priced for a hand carved piece.?

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Dale, I did not look at them closely enough, regrettably. Too small to be body casts, I think, but I would guess he used a range of different life models as each one is unique. I assumed soft sandstone along the lines of Oamaru stone but I see the signage says ‘stoneware ceramic’ so I am none the wiser as to the process. Do you think stoneware ceramic is using clay with ground sandstone to get the texture? But would that hold together? $400 a piece seemed cheap to me, it is just the need to have a fair number in a group that had me thinking $4000 plus freight. But I really liked them.

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