Legacy that continues to bloom
GARDENER Michael Morrison walked through the gates of Cruden Farm in 1971 and hasn’t left.
The 74-year-old has nurtured the world-renowned gardens for almost 50 years and forged a working bond with Dame Elisabeth Murdoch along the way.
The pair’s meticulous plans for the garden are still being carried out, six years after Dame Elisabeth’s death.
Mr Morrison said his life was forever changed when he went to the Murdoch’s Langwarrin property in Victoria for a job interview.
“The time has gone in a flash,” he said of the past few decades. “I started my 48th year in the second week of September, and it seems like yesterday.”
Under Dame Elisabeth’s direction, the Cruden Farm gardens have grown into one of the nation’s finest.
Mr Morrison had a unique insight into the world of Dame Elisabeth, but it was their shared love of gardening that was the foundation of their long-lasting partnership.
They respected each other’s gardening knowledge immensely.
“When you work with someone in the garden for that amount of time, you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t working think in a similar vein and work well with each other,” he said.
It’s a remarkable working relationship, that features in the new Foxtel documentary Inside Dame Elisabeth’s Garden.
Mr Morrison would update the “boss” every morning on what plants had flowered and how the gardeners were keeping the garden in tip-top shape.
“Even the last year she was alive, she was planning the garden,” he said. “These past six years we are still implementing plans she had in place.
“Quite often early in the morning, straight after breakfast, before she had left for the day, we would go around and have a look at the garden and plan things.
“She was a great believer in the structure of everyday life.” Dame Elisabeth and the Murdoch family have entertained politicians, VIPS, media figures and celebrities at the Cruden Farm property over the decades, but one thing always stuck with Mr Morrison about the nature of Dame Elisabeth. “It didn’t matter who it was, she treated everyone equally,” he said.
“It didn’t matter if it was someone who was admired for what they achieved, or the neighbour who might come in for a walk around the garden, she found everyone interesting. She had that wonderful ability, no matter what was going on in her life, or how busy she was, if she was speaking to you, she would ask you what you did, and you had her full attention.
“She wasn’t just being polite, she would ask you because she wanted to know.” For the past year, hosts Maggie Beer and renowned landscape gardener Paul Bangay have been filming Inside Dame Elisabeth’s Garden, featuring Mr Morrison.
During a tour of the garden, you can see the work Mr Morrison has put into it. He knows every plant and tree, and what it was planted for.
According to Mr Morrison, who now works part-time, he is a reluctant co-star but pleased the gardens, their heritage and history have been documented.
“I think it would be a lot better if it didn’t have the grumpy old gardener in it!,” he says of himself.
A SHARED PASSION: Michael Morrison in the gardens of Cruden Farm and, above, with Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, inset above.