Please note that online plant orders are currently unavailable. Learn more.

Please note that online plant orders are currently unavailable. Learn more.

The garden at Broughton Hall

A dramatic landscape garden that marries horticultural skill with an artist’s eye.

Creating a garden is as much about understanding place as it is about the technicalities of growing healthy plants or the clever application of design. 

Think of the pared-back simplicity of Derek Jarman’s ‘Prospect Cottage’ in the rocky shale of Kent in the UK, the cliff-top drama of Dan Hinkley’s ‘Windcliff ’ in Seattle or even the intimate wooded surrounds of our own Garden of St Erth. It is a sensitivity to place, combined with inspired plant selection and skilful cultivation that gives these great gardens that something special? 

David Musker’s garden creation at Broughton Hall is such a garden. Set in the green rolling hills east of Melbourne, the drive to the garden, with its gentle winding camber, soothes the soul in preparation for the drama at the end of the road. This area is fertile country with a rich cultural history from First Nations peoples and, more recently, Anglo European settlement.

A landscape with history

The windy road that leads up through the hills is called Jackson’s Track and was made famous in 1999 when the book Jackson’s Track: Memoir of a Dreamtime Place was published. The book documents the recollections of a local sawmill operator, Daryl Tonkin who, via his ‘marriage’ to Kurnai woman Euphemia Hood, had a close relationship with the community who lived along the track – until their homes were bulldozed and burnt by locals who believed that assimilation into white society was best for their welfare. There is history here and it’s part of that intangible idea of place. 

Visitors to the garden enter via a re-purposed 110-year-old dairy shed that speaks of another history, that of WWI soldier settlement in the area. The returned soldiers that found themselves here drew the long straw with fertile ground under their feet – all they had to do was clear it. No easy task given the forest was dominated by towering Mountain Grey Gums (Eucalyptus cypellocarpa) but the resulting cleared fields offered fertile farming country for those who persisted'.

An ideal place to garden

Casting ahead to the 1990s, David was searching the Melbourne hinterland for a potential garden site with three key factors in mind; high rainfall, moderate altitude and fertile soil. This site, at the end of a dead-end road overlooking the Tarago Reservoir, was a perfect match! The ridiculous growth rate of the birch forest (Betula pendula and Betula nigra) and the 15 metre tall cherry blossom trees (Prunus serrulata), both planted by David in the first wave of activity 25 years ago, are testament to the incredible growing conditions here. 

Holding true to the garden’s history, the rustic old dairy anchors the garden to this place. From there the visitor transitions through the birch forest to a whole new experience – the Georgian-inspired house that crests the hill looking north to the reservoir below. David is an artist, so the design of the garden has always had a strong guiding hand – importantly a single hand – to drive the vision. There’s no gardening by committee here. 

The bones were laid down as a set of terraces on the slope to the north of the house and a central axis takes a line from the house due north to the valley below. The view to the reservoir and beyond threatens to steal the attention of the visitor, so David has used the rapid growth rate that is the garden’s gift to conceal the backdrop until you emerge at either end of the terraces. 

The uppermost terrace is the oldest planting and, with the initial focus on opening the garden for Melbourne Cup Weekend in early November, it was natural that roses were the original stars here. As the garden developed, the focus moved away from spring roses and this is where summer flowering perennials and shrubs came into the picture – Melianthus, Berberis, Cotinus ‘Grace’, Tetrapanax, Vebascums, Rhus, Cussonia and carefully placed Buxus hedges to frame the scene. 

Wandering down each of the terraces, the garden visitor is taken on a gradual and surprising journey that is anything but accidental. Each terrace brings a new vista and planting selection with an eclectic mixture of plants that span a wide palette. 

Mixed plantings of roses, salvias, dahlias and a surfeit of self-sown annuals are featured – many of these horticultural curios are also available from the onsite plant nursery. Make your way down through the terraces and you end up at the Rock Outcrop, where the mood changes again as the planting is more arid in style, like a craggy outcrop. This is the spot to take in the splendour of the view below.

Making a place with plants

David’s philosophy is one of ‘design before planting’ where each garden section is carefully thought out with aspect and garden flow in mind, then the planting is added to match the situation. Even after 25 years, David has not removed a single plant; this is a testament to his vision, knowledge and planning in the planting phase. The architectural elements and the layout of this garden, including lawns, paths, steps, sculptures, and urns, are the bones of the garden but the plantings themselves are the moving show where plants get a chance to relax and mingle with each other. The artwork is far from complete and the joy of being in the garden and editing the plantings with an artist’s eye is the fun of interaction – this is a garden that is unique to this place and is a garden made to play in! 


Garden open Thu–Sun from 3 Sep–20 Dec 2021. 125 Palmer Road, Jindivick, VIC, Entry $20. Musker’s Rare & Unusual Plant Nursery is open the same hours. The charmed garden at Broughton Hall book is available Oct 2021. Order now via:

David Musker, the creator of Broughton Hall Garden.


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