You’d be forgiven for expecting fairies to emerge from this Mount Macedon property in the Central Highlands of Victoria. “It’s like an enchanted forest,” says Martina Gemmola, the photographer who captured the magic of the European-style garden. On this day, a fog has settled across the winding slate paths, moss-covered retaining walls and regal statues that stand in the same spots they were assigned when the landscaping began in the 1870s.
“It’s always misty,” confirms head gardener Julian Ronchi, who’s privileged with the monumental task of maintaining the historical grounds. “We’re at the top of the mountain, almost 1000 metres above sea level, so the fog starts below us. Some mornings, it takes hours for it to clear.”
It’s an ideal climate for the greenery, which surrounds the Venetian Gothic home. Set among 10.5 hectares of trees you could easily get lost in, it’s been fittingly nicknamed The Gingerbread House. The current owners have had it for about 10 years and Julian says they’re “happy to preserve such a significant property”.
In 1998, a survey was done, which identified almost 600 trees. “I think it’s one of the best private collections of botanical trees in Australia,” says Julian.
The residence was originally designed as a hill station, which was completely self-sufficient. “There was a functioning piggery in the earlier years, a milking shed, a mini vineyard and they grew a lot of their own vegetables.” The dairy and piggery are no longer functioning, but there’s still plenty of produce. We have a lot of cucumbers, tomatoes, chillies, kale, spring onions, leek – it’s seasonal,” says Julian.
The dairy and piggery are no longer functioning, but there’s still plenty of produce. “We have a lot of cucumbers, tomatoes, chillies, kale, spring onions, leek – it’s seasonal,” says Julian.
“They’ve chosen plants that will grow in the colder climate. There are images of the garden from way back when it’s covered in snow.”Julian, head gardener
The gardens look like wild woodlands, but require a lot of maintenance to keep them looking like they’re straight from a storybook. “It’s never-ending. With the autumn foliage, we have to pressure clean all the slate tiles a couple of times a year so they’re not too slippery,” says Julian.
The head gardener also puts thought into the amount of moss that’s preserved. “Some people would remove it all, but it’s natural as there’s not a lot of direct sunlight. I like it, I think it makes the place feel like a little forest,” says Julian.
The dense woodlands are broken up with stretches of soft lawn. Here, a Sitka spruce tree reaches up high on the left with a Japanese maple and rhododendron growing underneath.
Recreational activities were also included in the early garden design, with a sprawling croquet lawn and an impressive sunken tennis court. “It was a real status thing in those days to, you know, come over and play tennis or croquet. They had lots of social parties,” says Julian.
Fairies are yet to be seen in this forest, but there are plenty of other furry and feathered friends. “Wombats, wallabies … and the birdlife is incredible because of having so many trees,” says Julian.
Deer also wander through but they’re not quite like the ones in Disney movies. “They ruin a lot of the trees … they’re pretty destructive, so we put metal guards around new planting,” explains Julian. Along with young trees fallen to four-legged foes, older trees have been taken out by Mother Nature thanks to stormy weather.
Regardless, the garden continues to thrive thanks to Julian, his team, and whoever else is lucky enough to care for it in the years to come. “We’ll keep planting more and more for the future,” he says. “For their children and their children’s children, I suppose you could say.”