c l o u d e h i l l

130 years

The History of

Cloudehill has been made by Jeremy Francis from an historic ‘working garden’ on a property
pioneered originally by George Woolrich and the famous Woolrich family, back in the 1890s.


George Woolrich was granted a ‘Village Settlement’ ten-acre block and commenced clearing the gigantic old-growth Eucalyptus regnans in 1895. For a while he grew cherries and raspberries.

George Woolrich and friend.

^ George Woolrich and friend.


In 1917, George, with his youngest son Jim, started a passenger car service from Ferntree Gully to Olinda with his father. It didn't last long!

George Woolrich

^ George Woolrich is the driver and his wife Kate Woolrich (nee Hand) is seated in the back.


At the end of WW1 George's elder son Ted took over Woolrich Nursery and established the Rangeview Nursery on the lower half of the ten acres. Rangeview was to be the first of many ornamental plant nurseries in the Dandenongs in those years.

View of 'RangeView' Nursery, Olinda on the hill

View of 'RangeView' Nursery, Olinda on the hill in the background.


Around 1919 Jim had started a nursery on the upper half of his father's. He produced and sold wholesale flowers and foliage to shops.

Jim Woolrich dressed in a suit, tie and hat

Jim Woolrich dressed in a suit, tie and hat.


The brothers business’s were similar. Both Woolrichs had a passion for rare and interesting plants and to a degree they shared their land. Consequently, Cloudehill incorporates both flower farm plantings and nursery propagation specimens. Some of our venerable plants go all the way back to the 1920s.

Trees and shrubs were imported from all over the world in those years. From England we have a collection of Beech trees, all named varieties, approaching 100 years old; from the USA, Kurume Azaleas from such luminaries as Ernest ‘Chinese’ Wilson; and Japanese Maples imported in 1928 from the legendary Yokohama Trading Nursery of Japan.

View of Range View

^ View of Range View Nursery and Woolrich Nursery under snow.
The section owned by Jim Woolrich is up by the pine trees. The rest belongs to Ted Woolrich.


"The Chalet" guest house at Olinda, built c1906, was situated at the southern corner of Chalet and McCarthy Roads. The building was destroyed by fire in 1935 and Ted acquired the land.

“The Chalet” Olinda before the fire

^ “The Chalet” Olinda before the fire.

1930s - 1950s

Both the nursery and flower farm were in their heyday around the years each side of WW2. The brothers were buying neighbouring blocks and by the ’50s had some 70 acres under intensive cultivation. They were the leading lights among a number of horticulturalists along this ridge. The mountain was an amazing sight around then.

Iris Woolrich collecting cut flowers at Range View Nursery in Olinda with Henk Koelwyn in the 1950s.

^ Iris Woolrich collecting cut flowers at Range View Nursery in Olinda with Henk Koelwyn in the 1950s.


Both Ted’s nursery and Jim’s flower farm closed down in the late 1960s largely as a consequence of the 1962 bushfire that came through this part of the Dandenongs. Ted’s nursery was sold on as a building block and his nursery plantings turned into a garden, first by Keith Purves and later by Mary and Ches Mason. It’s now a Bed and Breakfast, Woolrich Retreat, and the Rangeview Gardens.

“The Chalet” Olinda before the fire

^ Left to right: Ted Woolrich, Auntie Alice, Iris Woolrich, Stan's daughter, Alice Hamilton, Stan's wife, Stan O'Connor.

1970s - 1990s

Meanwhile in the 1970s and 1980s, Jim Woorich's old flower farm gently went to sleep to become a kind of a children's fairytale garden when I first saw it in the spring of 1990. Jim died in 1991 at the grand old age of 92 and Jeremy Francis and Valerie Campbell-Wemyss were offered his old flower farm the following year.

Jim Woolrich in his 60’s

^ Jim Woolrich in his 60’s.

Some of our historical images are sourced from The Mt Dandenong & District Historical Society Inc. and Victorian Collections.


Work commenced on Easter Monday 1992 with the marking out of where the Main Terrace should go and the digging of the two big weeping maples. Of course, it was known these were important and each one was hand dug over some two weeks, burlapped and roped, and moved to their present site by the same excavator hired in for the purpose of levelling the Terrace.

The terraces for the Quadrangle and Shrub Borders were excavated the following year, and the Theatre the year after that. Generally every couple of years and there has been another project and 30 years later they continue.

April 1992 start on Cloudehill Gardens

^ April 1992: Jeremy Francis and his team get to work.

Cloudehill August 1992

May 1992

Cloudehill October 1992

August 1992

Cloudehill August 1992

August 1992

Cloudehill October 1992

October 1992


When one thinks, the chance to make a garden out of an old flower farm was an extraordinarily stroke of luck. I’m not aware of another example of this anywhere.

We found rows of big beech trees (picked for foliage in the old days) hedges of rhododendrons and other shrubs, plantations of deciduous azaleas, bulb meadows (the bulbs imported from Holland by Jim in the ’30s and long naturalized) and scattered everywhere Ted’s nursery specimens he grew for propagation purposes. Because it was strictly a commercial property, everything was higgledy piggledy to suit the wants of the plants, that meant many could be re-arranged.

There was never pressure to restore. We could start again, designing a new garden around awe-inspiring long-established plants. There were 25 years worth of weeds mind you, so big bonfires those first months, but the property has been an amazing place for generations: ideal for the garden I’d been thinking about for a very long time.

Jeremy Francis

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