Bolobek, a magnificent heritage property nestled in the foothills of Mt Macedon in Victoria, has inspired Australian gardeners for more than a century.

Bolobek is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register for its importance aesthetically, historically, architecturally and for its garden design.


Bolobek has one of Australia's finest gardens established by the Syme family with later enhancements by Joan Law-Smith and the current owners. It features lime, poplar and crabapple walks, lilac hedges, rose garden, wisteria pergola and herbaceous borders woven together in a parkland of beautiful trees, shrubs and sweeping lawns.

I'm in the middle of a stunning four hectares of established gardens at Bolobek in Mount Macedon - an hour or so northwest of Melbourne.

In 1911, Bolobek was bought by Oswald Syme - a member of the family that founded and owned The Age newspaper and many of the gardens' features are a legacy of the Syme family's time here. They include rows of lindens - really well suited to the cool, moist conditions in the garden - now-mature poplars and oaks that form the backdrop to the garden."

"There's a lot to see at Bolobek and not surprisingly, it's one of the most visited private gardens in the country, thanks to Open Gardens Australia. I'm on the board of Open Gardens Australia," says John, "and so is my friend, Brigid Robertson. She and husband Hugh, have owned Bolobek since 2006. The first time Brigid and Hugh opened this garden, they had an extraordinary number of visitors - about 6000."

"I think they had a lovely time," Brigid tells John. "People spent hours and hours here."

There have been a number of owners of Bolobek since the Symes. "The most influential of whom were the Law-Smiths who were here from the very early '70s, late '60s until the mid '90s," says Brigid. Joan Law-Smith is one of the biggest names in Australian gardening history. She was prolific as a botanical artist, illustrator, as well as a devoted gardener and writer, publishing half a dozen gardening books in her lifetime.

"The bones were here," says Brigid, "but Lady Law-Smith really imprinted her philosophy and her style on the centre part of the garden. A lot of the Victorian plantings - the Prunus, areas of bedding plants and so on, were removed - she simplified things and I think she gave the garden an elegance that it perhaps didn't have before. But, of course, they started by knocking down the house."

"There was a very large Federation house on the site. The new house, which was built in 1970, is on the exact site of the original house, but it was built with a view to being a garden house," says Brigid.

John says the garden seems to flow out of the house, whether it be the informal woodland area or the more formal structure there in the middle - they both flow in different ways.

After the Law-Smiths left Bolobek in the mid 1990s, the gardens went into decline, so Brigid and her husband faced quite a challenge when they began restoration eight years ago. "We've replaced the irrigation system, we've replaced the pergola, and we've replaced most of the poplars. We ran out of courage when it came to the last of them, but we're going to do them this year. And we've started to replace, what I describe as the middle layer of planting which after seven years of drought and a certain amount of neglect had, to a large degree, been lost."

Brigid hasn't just restored the garden, she's extended it by putting in a substantial vegie patch and picking garden. "Yes, I'm very proud of (my asparagus), but not quite as proud as I am of my prize-winning Dahlia (Dahlia 'Meadow Lea') over there on the end which won a 'Champion Dahlia in Show' at the local Horticultural Society Show recently."

"Microclimate is a really important part of the existence of this garden. There are pockets of shade and protection and moisture," says John.

"Yeah, it's glorious. It's a green oasis and I think that's what struck most people when they came here during the drought the first time we opened for Open Gardens Australia in 2007," says Brigid. "We had no idea just how enjoyable it would be and what a pleasure it would be to share the garden with other people. It was almost an epiphany in a way and we've kept doing it ever since. We're learning as we go, but we're very cognisant of what's been before and of the need to nurture that."

She finishes, "We'd definitely like to continue to share the garden and it's a garden that, I think, glories in being shared."

As a private garden, it is only open to the public on special occasions.

Address: 370 Mount Macedon Rd, Macedon (Melways 509 G10)

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