Sarah and Stephen Crooke’s Victorian farm is best known for the delicious ice cream it produces, but the property also boasts a beautiful, understated garden in the shadow of Mt Feathertop.

Story By Trisha Dixon

The late Edna Walling, esteemed landscape designer, once said that the nicest person she knew was a woman who said she simply wanted to “plant landscape”. Standing in front of Sarah and Stephen Crooke’s stately homestead in the magnificent Kiewa Valley in north-eastern Victoria, you wonder how anyone could want for anything more. Looking across a ‘ha ha’ (an ‘invisible’ garden barrier-retaining wall) from the front of the house, the garden seems to extend into the distance – across the property’s Bight Creek and rich farming land resplendent with huge round bales, magnificent river red gums to blue ranges in the distance, with Mt Feathertop providing a stunning focal point. Colourful and hardy perennial plantings of lamb’s ear, yarrow, catmint and lavender border each side of the lawn that runs down to the ha ha. Nothing detracts from or competes with the magnificent view. The name of the property “Gundowring” means ‘deep waterhole’ which relates to the long stretch of Bight Creek in front of the house. Explorer Hamilton Hume noted the water and excellent grazing country on his expedition with William Hovell in 1824 and told his nephew Charles Barbour, who took up a stretch of country from the Murray River south to Mount Beauty in 1838. Barbour built on a high bank beside the creek, where he planted willow slips brought from Napoleon’s grave at St Helena in the south Atlantic Ocean. These were the admiration of the district and were possibly the oldest willows in Victoria at the time. He built the two-storey homestead after he married his cousin, Mary Hume, in 1845 and many trees still standing date from this period – towering elms, poplars and some of the largest and oldest mulberry trees in Australia.

This story excerpt is from Issue #63

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2009