Book review: Garden of a Lifetime

BOOK: Garden of a Lifetime: Dame Elisabeth Murdoch at Cruden Farm
AUTHOR: Anne Latreille
PUBLISHER: Pan Macmillan
RRP: $59.99

GARDEN of a Lifetime captures the beauty and simplicity of the gardens of Cruden Farm as much as it captures the late Dame Elisabeth Murdoch's passion for creating them.

Cruden Farm is made up of many garden spaces which have been shaped by Dame Elizabeth's love of trees, which when planted created much of the structure and form around which the gardens were built.

From its long, winding driveway lined with towering, lemon-scented eucalypts, the farm makes a statement about its place in the Australian countryside - quite counter to the prevailing trends of the late 1920s which leaned toward more formal English plantings.

Its park-like grounds are superbly captured in this book and it is a treat to find the plants identified in each photograph, as well as an index covering people, places and favourite plants.

However, this is more than just a book of plants and trees.

The history of Dame Elisabeth's involvement from the time she received Cruden Farm as a wedding present from her husband Keith, until the time of her death aged 103, is tucked unobtrusively into the second half of the book.

Filled with sepia-toned images, it transports the reader to another time and creates a visual foil for the rest of the book.

It is surprising to learn that as the garden began to be developed, Dame Elisabeth was all but left out of the early planning. Designers including the famous Edna Walling preferred to deal directly with her husband. This resulted in many of the early plantings and designs not being to her taste.

It is also interesting to note that a number of Edna Walling's ideas were found to be impractical as the seasons played out across the years and plantings failed to thrive.

So it was a hands-on approach from Dame Elisabeth that really helped the gardens evolve.

She did much of the work herself when she could and over the years, developed an intimate knowledge of the lay of the land and its responses to the seasons and weather.

But it was her introduction to local gardener Michael Morrison, who shared her ideals and passion, that helped her create the gardens that we see today.

The gardens at Cruden Farm are a living tribute to Dame Elisabeth's long life and dedication, and this book is a wonderful, visual representation of that tribute.

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