Nestled between Dromana beach and Arthurs Seat State Park is a historic house set against two hectares of rolling gardens that play a crucial role in plant propagation and conservation. Once a grand residence for one of the University of Melbourne’s first professors, these days Heronswood House and Gardens is home to the Digger’s Club, Australia’s largest garden club.

Professor William Hearn built the Gothic Revival mansion back in 1871. There were several owners over the ensuing century, but when Penny and Clive Blazey bought the property in 1983, a new destiny was about to unfold.

Keen gardeners with a passion for preserving old varieties of vegetables, the Blazeys had started a mail order catalogue for seeds five years earlier, which was based out of a garage in South Melbourne. When the couple moved into their new family home, they set about developing the gardens that framed it and discovered important trees at the same time as they were introducing new plants. They had these placed on the National Trust’s Significant Tree Register.

Over the following decades, the Diggers Club flourished. Talei Kenyon, who manages media and partnerships for the club, says it has grown from its humble origins to become a nationwide business.

“We nurture three historic gardens, run four garden shops, two restaurants, provide garden education via our workshops and masterclasses, and also publish books,” she says. “We started as a small business with the focus of supplying unusual plants and seeds to passionate gardeners and we continue today through our Diggers Foundation to be driven by passion, not trend.”

 In 2011, the Blazeys gifted Heronswood, another of their properties – St Erth in Blackwood – and the club itself to The Diggers Foundation. Today, members of the public can visit the Heronswood’s gardens seven days a week and drop into the historic house for a meal at the venue’s garden-to-fork restaurant. There’s also a nursery on site, and a museum in the property’s original building, a three-bedroom cottage built in 1864.

Talei’s favourite parts of the garden really come into bloom from late spring through to mid-autumn.

“I really admire the perennial borders that flower from November to April. They sustain bees and insects and bring so much colour and form over the hot summer months. The wonderful colour combinations sit so well with the backdrop of the historic house,” she says.

“I have to also mention the mature canopy of trees too, as they are the bones of the garden and are majestic in size and stature. Our café serves fresh produce from the garden, plus the best scones on the Mornington Peninsula.”

Although winter might be a quieter season for Heronswood, Talei says it plays an important role in the gardening process.

“Winter is a great time in the garden as this is when you can see the structure of a garden,” she explains. “It’s when keen gardeners prune, divide plants and replant setting the garden up for summer success.”

For aspiring green thumbs, there are two winter workshops being held at Heronswood next month: Back to Basics on August 10, which will teach about composting and soil health, and Introduction to Budding and Grafting on August 11. Bookings are essential and can be made online.

As an icon of the Mornington Peninsula, the Diggers Foundation has close ties to its neighbouring community.

“It has been a highlight at Heronswood to support the local community,” Talei says. “Though support for local organisations, schools and charities we work hard to stay connected.

“On a practical level, our gardens are open to school groups lead by our gardeners in the hope of inspiring children and our museum shows the beauty of heirloom fruit and vegetables.”

Through their work to rescue heirloom seeds and encourage a passion for gardening, Talei says the foundation has also become an important advocate for sustainability and climate action in Australia more broadly.

“Our strong independent voice allows us to raise the concerns of many and ensure that we will preserve our best gardening traditions for generations to come.”

 

 

 

 

 

*Photography credit The Diggers Foundation

 


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