Cloudehill comprises five acres of some of the loveliest volcanic soil in the Dandenongs at an altitude of 580 metres. Our soils and climate (lower temperatures with higher humidity and rainfall) are why the region is thought to be one of the finest areas in the world for cool climate gardening.
Cloudehill principal terraces evoke the gardens of the Arts and Crafts, gardens associated with Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens from the turn of the last century. These are gardens that combine formal structure and informal planting within garden ‘rooms’. Cloudehill has some 25 gardens altogether to explore, each with its character and season of interest. There’s always something to see. From the entrance steps, formality dominates, clipped hedges and topiary. This dissolves to the sweeping curves and seasonal colour changes of the bulb meadows in lower sections of the gardens.
The first of our Summer Borders deliver vibrant colours featuring yellow, orange and red, along with some purple, scarlet and even little dashes of pink. They begin flowering in mid-November and build through December to a mid-season climax in January.
Perennials include crocosmias, rudbeckias, monardas, sanguisorbas, persicarias, the simply amazing, Ligularia ‘The Rocket’ with spires of golden flowers clinging to black stems and wonderfully architectural foliage, and many more. At least 100 different perennials are planted within the border to ensure a beautiful display over three months.
This is the focus of the garden, where our two most prominent axes cross, that of our main Terrace and the steps leading from our Theatre between the maples. Four beds surround this intersection, the two Yokohama maples having pride of places in the upper beds while the lower ones are devoted to parterres made of box, Buxus sempervirens.
The maples are our two superb Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Atropurpureum' which were brought in from Yokohama in 1928. They were moved to their present site and the garden constructed around them in 1992 and after a year or two settling down they have increased in size by three to four fold.
Under the maples we have woodland plants such as snowdrops and pewter-leafed forms of Cyclamen coum flowering in winter, and later there’s erythoniums, tiarellas, the blue-flowering Corydalis flexuosa and white and red flowering forms of astrantia.
Perennials include of course the sages, and also nepetas, santolinas, sanguisorbas, veronicastrums and late-flowerers such as sedums, persicarias and dahlias. Ornamental grasses also feature beginning with the copper-gold Stipa gigantea and creamy-white Phalaris arundinacea Mervyn Feecey’s form, and later various Miscanthus sinensis selections in silver to mushroom-pink such as M. ‘Flamingo’, M. ‘Sarabande’ and M. ‘Silber Feder’.
The beeches at the end of the terrace are two of the Fred Streeter collection sent to Teddy Woolrich in 1928. The first is a tricolor beech, Fagus sylvatica roseomarginata, the second tree is the rather rare Fernleaf beech, F. heterophylla. These two have been growing side by side for nearly 100 years now and they are magnificent.
To the right and on the slope above, we have our Commedia del Arte Lawn, with cut-out figures of Commedia characters, Pulcinello, Harlequin, El Capitano and Scarpino. Above them we have a Pierrot, and in this instance a cut out version of Watteau’s ‘A Pierrot called Gilles’. Our cut out Commedia figures disport themselves in strips of rough grass which are full of species tulips in spring and South African bulbs later in the season.
The surrounding hedge is green beech and to the left one finds a little glasshouse full of succulents with beehives up above. Two glorious and rare Japanese shrubs, Enkianthus perulatus, flank the steps at the base of this meadow. These were imported from Japan in the ’20s.
Within the shrub walk, you'll find a golden catalpa, a golden variegated pampas grass, Cortaderia selloana ‘Aureo-lineata’ and the tawny-yellow form of the Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Peaches and Cream'. As you move through the walk, colours change from golds to greys, greens and silvers. For instance, Buddleia crispa with its wonderfully crumpled grey-silver leaves, and a number of the Scotch roses, forms of Rosa spinosissima with masses of small cream and pink flowers over bristly grey-green stems and many with good autumn colour.
Along this walk we have a collection of dwarf trees in pots. These give something of the appearance of bonsais but are really selections of various trees that happen to be very, very dwarf and do quite well in pots. Ours are placed on handsome bluestone pedestals and sit quite happily in amongst the shrubs.
The pavilion is a small but elaborate brick building with room for two to sit and admire the view and admire the collection of hostas mainly growing in pots to each side. This is a pleasantly shady spot and ideal for hostas and other woodlanders such as epimediums, ligularias, various ferns, and the very architectural and rare, Paris polyphylla.
Further down the slope, you'll find a pair of golden fastigiate beech, Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck Gold’, and around these a collection of American tree peonies in yellows and oranges and flame colours.
The Quadrangle holds a collection of topiary box, with many different species and selections of box treated in quite a few different ways. Between the topiary box at the western end are clumps of Gillenia trifoliata while behind the sphinx bench we have legendary Japanese Botan Tree Peonies. The steps lead to a vista running down to the Theatre and clear across the garden to the Upper Meadow.
To the east of the quadrangle, down a set of curving brick steps, there is a small formal space largely occupied by a marquee, used occasionally for weddings and other events. To the left is a border of shade-loving shrubs, hydrangeas and the like, while to the right is a border of sun lovers, roses and a couple of the new and very handsome Itoh peonies which flower spectacularly late spring to early summer.
The Theatre Lawn pays homage to classic theatres in Roman and Greek gardens, and especially to theatres in the Italian renaissance gardens. The lawn is perfect for picnickers attending Shakespearean Twilight Evenings in summer. The huge copper beech is from England and dates from 1928, and the colossal tapestry hedge comprises green and copper beech, planted for cut foliage production in the ’50s.
At the end of the beech, the path curves around a magnificent Acer cappadocicumwhere you'll find other historic plants including the colossal Magnolia denudata. This is another of our Yokohama plants and has now reached dimensions which make it the finest and largest specimen of this species in this country, every August it covers itself with thousands of creamy-white chalice-shaped flowers.
Cloudehill inherited these glorious bulb meadows from Woolrich times. Jim imported bulbs from Holland in the 1930s, with the bulbs being planted and used for the cut flower markets every spring. Those bulbs robust enough to settle down and naturalise have now had nearly 90 years to do so, and consequently they appear very natural in their surrounds.