Set in the foothills of Arthurs Seat and commanding spectacular views across the bay, Heronswood House features a gigantic Cook Island Pine (Araucaria columnaris) and a Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla) that are both in excess of 150 years old. Dating back to about the same time that Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens were being planted out by Baron Ferdinand von Mueller (more than 100 years before the famous English gardens Sissinghurst and Hidcote).
Heronswood’s creator, Edward La Trobe Bateman, is regarded by many to be as important in early garden design in Australia as von Mueller’s successor, William Guilfoyle, who transformed the Melbourne Botanic Gardens into the brilliant garden we know today. The main house was designed by Bateman for Professor Hearn, a foundation professor at Melbourne University, and completed in 1877. The ‘drop slab’ cottage adjacent to the house, was built in 1864 and houses Gallery Heronswood, an artistic interpretation of the world of flowers, pollination and seed.
Gallery Heronswood was opened in September 2017 as part of the Diggers Foundation's mission of conservation, preservation and education of heirloom seeds, historic buildings and gardens.The Gallery is housed in the recently restored original building at Heronswood – the drop slab cottage dating back to 1864 and comprises 3 rooms.
The Sculpture Room is dominated by a magnificent 3 metre high resin sculpture by Kate Rohde and is the artists interpretation of the story of pollination, which is depicted using neon -coloured flowers, vegetables, birds, bees and insects. The flowering plants include the titan arum which is the centrepiece along with orchids, lilies, foxgloves, brugmansias, cacti, roses, , strawberries, cherries, zucchinis, pumpkins, melons and tomatoes.
The Heirloom Room houses a collection of 90 open-pollinated heirloom fruit and vegetables that were selected and grown by the Diggers Club, moulds made by Peter Revelman from Paradoxx and then beautifully painted using oils by artist Karen Lloyd-Jones. The replicas are so perfectly presented that they appear to be real. So far this collection includes pumpkins, melons, tomatoes, capsicums, chillies and cucumbers.
The Audio Visual Room is a quiet space for visitors to sit and watch 2 short videos about seed saving and pollination. An edited version of Seed – The Untold Story movie tells seed saving stories and traditions from around the globe and the urgency in protecting our 12,000 year-old food legacy. The pollination video is a light-hearted and entertaining video about the sex life of plants by performance artists The Huxleys.
Clive Blazey, Founder of the Diggers Club and Chair of the Diggers Foundation says “Kate’s brief was to tell the story behind the creation of seeds and to explain the evolutionary connection between plant-sex, pollination and seed formation. That enabled us to extend the seed story into art, hence the building is called a Gallery, compared with the science focus of a museum. We hope that with a Gallery, a garden an historic building to dine in and a new garden shop open to everyone, we will inspire visitors to come to Heronswood and sow, grow and share heirloom seeds and join in their preservation.”
Sliver and grey-leaved plants in the dry garden combine with blue flowers and foliage to create a cool visual effect whilst the perennial colour wheel surrounding the Ash Tree lawn erupt displaying the full spectrum of flower colour, look out for brilliant Dahlias, upright Cannas and other exquisite flowering beauties. Meanwhile, the vegetable and food gardens swell with fruit as the pollinators go about their work.