Cloudehill has been made by Jeremy Francis from one of the ‘home’ properties of the famous Woolrich family Rangeview nursery & flower farm. In 1895, George Woolrich was granted a ‘Village Settlement’ ten-acre block which he cleared and planted to cherries and raspberries. In 1919 his sons, Jim and Ted, took over the property and commenced work on their Rangeview project. Rangeview was to be the first of many ornamental plant nurseries in the Dandenongs in those years and operated through to the late 1960s.
Ted Woolrich, in 1922, began a correspondence with Ernest Chinese Wilson. Wilson was one of the legendary ‘plant hunters’ and famous for bringing treasures from the Land of the Four Rivers (in China’s South-West) to the gardens of the world, such things as the Blue poppy, Meconopsis betonicafolia, and the ‘Dove Tree’, Davidia involucrata. In 1919 Wilson was collecting azaleas from the Kurume Prefecture of Kyushu and sent fifty of the best to be exhibited at the 1922 World Trade Exposition in San Francisco. The Woolrichs heard about these new and sensational ‘Kurume Azaleas’ and sent off for the collection. Some of Wilson’s original azaleas are still to be found in Cloudehill, and also in Rangeview, what is now our neighbour’s garden.
Chinese Wilson in those years divided his time between the Arnold Arboretum in the US and the Yokohama Nursery in Japan, sending plants to the Arnold from Yokohama. The Arnold Arboretum now highlights these due to their connection with Wilson and with the Yokohama Nursery. The Yokohama, I must add, was no ordinary nursery. It was a Meiji Period institution established by the leading Japanese horticulturalists to showcase their plants to the world. Any plant today to have originated from that nursery has serious international significance.
Under Wilson’s guidance, in 1928 a collection of plants was sent from Yokohama to the Woolrichs. A number of these are still growing in Cloudehill including the two glorious weeping maples, Acer palmatum Atropurpureum, on Cloudehill’s main terrace. There also the Oskasuki maple, Acer palmatum ‘Osakasuki’ (by the nursery car park) and specimens of Acer palmatum japonicumAconitifolium, Acer palmatum japonicum Aureum, Acer maximowiczianum (at the end of the Upper Meadow) and the colossal Magnolia denudata(at the bottom of the garden).
Several shrubs near the Summer House also came from Yokohama including the pair of Enkianthus perulatus and an E. campanulatus all with tiny bell flowers in spring and brilliant autumn colour. Finally, there’s the deciduous and very rare Rhododendron schlippinbachii below Cloudehill’s Peony Pavilion steps, aglow with soft-pink bell flowers every spring.
Wilson also pointed the Woolrich brothers towards other people he thought might be helpful such as Fred Streeter in England. Fred was someone who could reliably supply named varieties of European Beech. (Beech have always been very tricky to propagate!) In 1928 a collection of beech was sent from London to the Dandenongs including the three tricolour beech, Fagus sylvatica Roseo-marginatas, (scattered around Cloudehill) and the two big copper beech, Fagus sylvatica Purpurea Group (in the top corner of the gardens) and the stunning Fernleaf beech, Fagus sylvatica heterophylla(on the main terrace).
Following Jim Woorich’s death in 1991, the property was purchased by Jeremy Francis and Valerie Campbell-Wemyss the following year. Work commenced after Easter 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. There was also the small matter of 25 years’ worth of weeds to attend to. 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.