RACV members can explore Australia and save 10% off Apollo Campervan's best rate of the day*
A gardening expert’s guide to the best gardens in Victoria
Love a beautiful garden? These are green thumb Judy Vanrenan's perennial favourites.
Maintaining a show garden is a lot of work but, for Judy Vanrenen, it’s her relaxation. During the week, she’s up in town, running her international travel business and volunteering as a mentor, but at weekends she retreats to her family’s Western District sheep property, where she has slowly been expanding the garden her parents started 80 years ago.
Oh, and she also found time to write three books.
Slides: Broughton Hall, Judy Vanrenan’s Wiltshire Garden, Frogmore, the Pear and Stone garden at Wltshire, Simon Rickard’s house during snow season.
Her “eclectic” two-hectare garden at property Wiltshire was the inspiration to start her garden tourism business, Botanica World Discoveries, in partnership with APT in 2000. “The idea began as my neighbours, knowing my tourism background, asked how to attract visitors to their beautiful country gardens,” Judy says. (RACV members save 5 per cent on APT and Botanica tours.)
From her first trip – taking a group to the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show – she gradually expanded to overseas travel. She says Botanica is now the only garden-themed tour business in the world to fully charter its own ships, taking small groups to gardens not otherwise open to the public, often meeting the owners. The tour guides are all garden experts.
Perennial favourite destinations include France, Italy, Britain and the Chelsea Flower Show, as well as Japan, for both the autumn colours and cherry blossom in spring. More recently, America has become better known by garden lovers, especially the Brandywine Valley across southern Philadelphia and Delaware.
But you don’t have to be an expert, or even an avid gardener, to enjoy the tours, says Judy. “You will get from it what you want. By getting away from big cities and relaxing in a private garden and meeting the owner, you can see something totally different, even in an area you may think you already know.”
Wiltshire is where she goes to relax: “I leave the city life behind and spend time in the country with my hands firmly in the soil.” Features remain from her parents’ time – an original quince tree and 80-year-old roses – but Judy says she is always getting new ideas from her travels, so she regularly pushes out her garden fence to find space for more plants and ideas.
“The first addition to the original garden was the Pear and Stone Garden,” Judy says. This combines a zen-like use of local red scoria gravel and sandstone rock walls to offset a collection of edible and ornamental pear trees. A Perennial Pond Garden followed.
“Six years ago my husband decided he wanted a garden of his own and created a Native Leaf Garden with Australian natives and declared this his own personal territory where I was banned except for invited visits!”
Their garden can be visited as part of a five-day tour that runs in spring.
Judy’s three books celebrate the gardens and people she has met on her travels. Beyond the Garden Gate, was followed by Along the Garden Path, and this month she launches Over the Garden Fence.
Three of Judy’s favourite Victorian gardens
Where: 125 Palmer Road, Jindivick, Gippsland
Designers: David Musker and Philip Hunter
Why go: “For the garden rooms they’ve created on a sloping block and how they’ve used the beautifully borrowed landscapes beyond. Also the coloured themes in yellows and blues – you get a surprise around every corner.”
Don’t miss: “They use art in the garden well, in subtle ways to create areas to sit.”
Where: 1560 Greendale-Trentham Road, Lerderderg
Designers: Jack Marshall and Zena Bethell
Why go: “I particularly like the grasses in swampy low-lying areas. Jack Marshall has done an amazing display.”
Don’t miss: “The hot borders, particularly in autumn.”
Simon Rickard’s garden
Designer: Simon Rickard
Why go: “Simon’s garden is small but has an amazing array of plants that he uses extraordinarily well. A view of his garden in winter with his house painted deep red behind looks amazing.”
Don’t miss: “He is a great collector but note how he has also kept the bones of his garden really strong.”
Five more blooming beautiful gardens to visit
Designer: Jim and Julie Halls
Why go: For Australia’s largest collection of cacti and succulents, set over nearly five hectares of desert-inspired landscapes.
Don’t miss: The opportunity to get some incredible pics. And be sure to try the famous cactus cake and cactus ice-cream.
Rippon Lea Estate
Designer: Joseph Reed (original designer of the 1860s mansion)
Why go: This ornate late-19th century mansion and estate has a pleasure garden of 5.7 hectares of sweeping lawns, magnificent trees, a tranquil lake and an orchard with more than 100 varieties of heritage apples and pears.
Don’t miss: Beneath its arched, cast-iron latticework you’ll find one of the largest and last-known 19th-century ferneries in Australia, which boasts 200 rare and native ferns.
Victoria State Rose Garden
Designer: Mervyn Hayman Danker and James Priestly
Why go: For the more than 5500 roses, including the David Austin Bud which showcases David Austin roses. You’ll love the first flush of new blooms in November when the spring roses start to blossom.
Don’t miss: The Australian Leaf, which features a collection of Australian-bred roses (there are no roses native to Australia). The leaf was planted to celebrate the Centenary of Federation of Australia and features roses from each every state.
Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm
Where: Shepherds Flat,
Designer: Carol White
Why go: Stunning, European-inspired gardens that frame and meander around the property’s original 1850s stone buildings.
Don’t miss: Meandering through hectares of muted purple lavender fields from late December or through the stunning olive and chestnut groves.
Where: South Morang
Designer: Mario and Maria Teresa Vigano
Why go: For a slice of Italian culture nestled into the Plenty Gorge Parklands. The now heritage-listed Farm Vigano, which was originally the home of Mario and Maria Teresa Vigano (who ran the famous Mario’s restaurant in Exhibition Street in the 1930s), is a link to the emergence of Italian culture in Melbourne.
Don’t miss: The six-hectare farm, which was bought by the state government, has been transformed into a community garden and replanted with an orchard and vegetable and herb gardens.