The Australian Women's Weekly
a prize-winning redesign for Bolinda Vale, a manor with an amazing past
Ned Kelly’s armour, explorers Burke and Wills, and cricket’s Ashes. All have a connection to the beautiful property of Bolinda Vale in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges. Indeed, Bolinda Vale is itself an Australian icon. Originally part of the vast 40,500-hectare Rupertswood estate, it has been the Clarke family home for generations.
The working sheep and cattle farm has also hosted royal families. In its garden stand magnolias planted by Prince Albert of Monaco, Crown Prince Hirohito, former Emperor of Japan, and Prince Reza Pahlavi, son of the Shah of Iran.
Once home to a set of Kelly’s armour, given to the Clarkes by policeman Francis Hare soon after the siege at Glenrowan, Bolinda Vale was also where the Ashes trophy came into being. In 1882 Sir William Clarke, president of Melbourne Cricket Club, invited the English side to spend Christmas with him. After they defeated a local team, Sir William’s wife, Janet, presented some ashes in an urn to the English captain. It’s also where, in 1860, Burke and Wills stayed on their doomed expedition.
Today, it consists of 2025 hectares of farmland and, since owners Sir Rupert and Lady Susannah Clarke took over the property in 2005, what was an exclusively English-style garden has been totally reimagined.
The English-style garden flows easily into the new area.
Bolinda Vale now also boasts an Australian-style landscape, complete with creek beds, waterfalls, sustainable wetlands and even its own billabongs.
The driving force behind Bolinda Vale has been Lady Susannah, who does most of the maintenance herself. To help bring her vision to life, she enlisted award-winning landscape designer Phillip Johnson. (During the makeover, Johnson won Best in Show at the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show.)
“Phillip’s concept of using rocks combined with native plantings interested me,” says Lady Susannah. “We had this bare, flat paddock and tonnes of rocks on the property; he seemed a logical choice.”
It was essential that many original elements of the garden be retained, including hedges, the rose garden and the stone walls. Incorporating those much-loved features, Johnson has introduced sustainable elements that complement and work with the traditional. “The rocks from the property blended well with existing rock walls,” says Lady Susannah, “and so the traditional English garden flows easily into the new area.” Oaks, along with eucalypts, and exotics and indigenous plants thrive together.
At the heart of Bolinda Vale is water. Lady Susannah’s vision for a water feature in an empty paddock was brought to life by Johnson, who was awarded Best Residential Landscape over $200,000 by Landscaping Victoria for this work.
“The paddock has gone and in its place are billabongs, and a wetlands area with two waterfalls,” says Lady Susannah. The paddock also incorporates the original bluestone pillars, as well as basalt rocks, returned by Johnson to their original location. The wetlands provide water for irrigation, fire safety and wildlife.
Bolinda Vale is an inspiring example of how a drought-ravaged environment can become a sustainable, lush ecosystem – yet it also retains elements of the English-style garden the Clarkes love so much.