A Secret Garden….topiary, hedges, gravel and stone walls…who can resist such beauty?
Do you go wobbly-legged at the sight of formal, Italianate gardens?
The kind with clipped hedges, topiary, dry stone walls and crunchy gravel paths?
Where garden rooms hide different plantings,
each more fabulous than the last?
I think there are few gardens that I don't adore,
from wild bushland style to formal ones,
but this one, at Hepburn Springs, completely took my breath away.
Especially because I wasn't expecting it.
Because it's the school holidays,
we spent last weekend in the
picturesque natural mineral spa water town of Hepburn Springs,
in the Macedon Ranges
about 90 minutes drive from Melbourne;
as an indulgence, really, because it was the last weekend before
our son came back from his uni exchange in Paris.
And as we needed to be at the airport at midnight on Monday
to pick him up from his flight from Istanbul,
we figured we may as well hang about on that side of town.
Just a good excuse….
I have been wanting to stay at the Mineral Springs Hotel for years,
because it is a 1934 Art Deco building of gracious detail,
and we have driven past it on our many trips to visit the Bath House at Hepburn Springs.
Every time we drove past the hotel,
I would exclaim "we must stay here one day".
And so we did. While the service wasn't quite up to what I was expecting,
it was the garden that surrounded the retreat
which was the pleasant surprise,
and what I want to show you,
because a garden this beautiful should not be kept secret!
The original garden was laid out in 1864,
to surround this charming Swiss-Italian style villa which was built by Fabrizzio Crippa,
an Italian immigrant who came to the Spa Country with the intention of becoming a viticulturist.
He planted 15,000 grape vines around the cement-rendered villa,
which would later produce his award-winning wine.
(He won a bronze medal in London in 1873 for it,
at a time when the wine industry in Australia was just a fledgling.)
And around the vineyards,
he planted an extraordinary garden….
Inspired by the formal structured gardens of 17th, 18th and 19th century
Northern Italy, he created an ambitious garden around and about the grape vines,
carefully designed so as not to impede their access to sunlight.
There were trellised fruit vines, a backdrop of mulberry, pear and chestnut trees,
hedges of box and bay, parterres of herbs and roses,
a romantic "vine walk" and even tobacco plants;
all laid out as a series of garden rooms with central axis points.
Parma House and its verdant gardens were sold in 1879,
when Crippa moved to Melbourne.
Meanwhile, the Mineral Springs Hotel was built next door,
and operated as an elegant base from which wealthy Melbournians could
"take the waters" of the many natural mineral water springs.
So valuable was the mineral water to the local immigrants
(who had mostly come from the spa regions of Italy, Switzerland, Germany and England)
that they successfully petitioned the government to ban gold mining in the region in 1865,
as the mineral water was considered worth more than gold.
By the turn of the century, Parma House was being operated as a guest house,
in conjunction with the Mineral Springs Hotel next door.
Business was booming for the Mineral Springs Hotel,
and in 1936 a new building was erected in the then-fashionable Art Deco style.
By the late 1930s though, both Parma House and its famous gardens
were abandoned, the trees overgrown and it had acquired the nickname
"the ghost house".
It was rescued in the 1970s and became a restaurant.
A series of owners throughout the next decade culminated in massive restoration
of the gardens in 1985,
by Richard Rigby and Franchek Kasek,
and it is to them that we owe the impressive rejuvenation of this once-proud garden.
They renovated the house, renaming it Villa Parma,
planted the grape-leaf shaped parterre,
cut back the overgrown trees,
re-established the hedges and gravel pathways,
and restored the famous vine walk.
Once more, the house and gardens were open for business.
One of the exciting things about this garden
is not being able to see what's around the corner...
one is simply "invited" to follow along the gravel paths,
through each garden room,
and only when one turns the corner is the next treasure revealed….
The Villa Parma and Mineral Springs Hotel are now jointly run
by Peppers Resorts,
while various villas have been built throughout the garden,
each with views onto the verdancy.
There are thoughtful spaces,
like this fire pit gathering spot,
cosy in winter but I can imagine
it would be magical on a midsummer evening too.
So there you are - rather a lot of images - but it was hard not to get snap-happy
in such an incredible garden as this.
The power of a garden to lift one's spirit to a place of happiness
is something which is often extolled here on Glamour Drops,
and I can think of few gardens which have left me as speechless as this one.
And the fact that it is a rescued garden makes it all the much sweeter a tale.