The Cloudehill Story

Cloudehill is made out of a historic ‘working garden’ on a property pioneered originally by George Woolrich back in the 1890s. George commenced clearing the gigantic old-growth Eucalyptus regnans in 1895 and for a while grew cherries and raspberries. At the end of WW1 his elder son Ted took over and established the Rangeview Nursery on the lower half of the ten acres, and in the early 1920s the younger son Jim began work on a ‘cut flower and foliage’ business (growing wholesale flowers and foliage for the florist trade) on the upper half.

Cloudehill 1908 and Now - Before and After
LEFT: The Woolrich farm before the First World War. Then planted out to cherries and raspberries. Notice the size of the mountain ash stump, and the few remaining trees along the ridge. Before he began clearing with an axe in 1895 this slope was old-growth Eucalyptus regnans, no wonder George Woolrich is relaxing with a mate. Photo taken from Woolrich Road towards the South-west.
RIGHT: Shot taken myself from a 38.5m high travel tower. "Come up and have a look" said Paul the arborist. "The view's great. Grab your camera." Once up 38.5m the hydraulic arms and truck vanish under the tower's platform. And this sways some metres, corrects, sways another way, corrects. It was 5 minutes before I could unwrap my fingers from the safety rail. Photo taken looking South-east. Jeremy Francis.

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 and many have interesting origins. 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.

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. 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. Meanwhile in these years, the ’70s 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 I was offered his old flower farm the following year. We commenced work making Cloudehill on Easter Monday, 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 : July 2015