Inspiring artist Hans Heysen for more than 50 years, “The Cedars” in the Adelaide Hills is a wondrous garden of towering eucalypts, old-fashioned roses, poppies and lilacs.

Story By Trisha Dixon

The best gardeners are artists and there are few gardens that exemplify this more than “The Cedars” at Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, SA. This is a most enigmatic garden and was the creation of artist Hans Heysen and his wife Sallie. Heysen lived (and gained his inspiration) for 56 years from this setting of towering eucalypts with superbly fragrant bourbon roses, lilacs, iris and old-fashioned perennials. The land was purchased with the proceeds from a successful exhibition in 1912 and Heysen gradually bought adjoining land to ensure the gum trees he loved – some as old as 600 years – would be protected.
There is a jolt of recognition and a sense of joy when first approaching The Cedars – the winding dirt road that leads towards the home and studio has the most venerable gums, instantly recognisable from Heysen’s paintings. He was so passionate about these trees that he paid landowners and the local council their timber value (in cash and often many times over) to stop roadside and paddock plantings being removed.
An art critic wrote in The Bulletin of his painting Woodside Pastoral how second-rate daubers can make such scenes “harrowingly sentimental” but by “a master of watercolour and an artist with a profoundly sensitive and personal response to nature, the picture becomes superb. The light floods magnificently through the trees; the whole painting glows with heat and rejoices with the richness of the earth; it becomes the very embodiment of the poetry of afternoon in the country: peace and warmth and fertility”.
The garden at The Cedars was the wellspring of much of Heysen’s work, as it was for his artist daughter Nora. It was from this garden that many of their still life works were painted. Bowls of campanulas, delphiniums, lilies, poppies, snapdragons and always roses – not tightly formed modern roses but free-flowering, richly fragrant and soft old-fashioned blooms.
Allan Campbell, curator of The Cedars, says Heysen loved his garden and laid out most of the structural beds and installed most of the stonework in the form of paths, walls, steps and borders of quartz and sandstone. “His therapy was his garden and although he was disciplined to patronise his nearby studio with long and industrious hours, he loved to take time to dig and tend the garden whenever he could,” Allan says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #59

Outback Magazine: June/July 2008