Innocent pursuits Posted on March 5, 2012

The Murdoch family has had such a bad press recently that I keep remembering a visit to Dame Elisabeth, Rupert Murdoch’s mother, at her garden south of Melbourne, it must be ten years ago. Ten years ago she was only 93; at 103 she remains a central figure in the cultural and charitable life of Melbourne – and a passionate gardener.

We were introduced to her at a garden festival at Hatfield House by Marchioness Mollie. We went to tea with her a year or two later at Cruden Farm, the house her husband Keith gave her when they married in 1928. There was nothing formal about it; she put the kettle on and fetched a cake tin, then told us that she had just driven to Melbourne and back (she drove herself in a small car) to chair a meeting of one of her
charities. The garden, she said, was too big to walk round, so she drove us in her buggy, stopping every few yards to point out a plant with evident knowledge and relish. There was a lot of new planting going on around a recently-made lake.

You reach Cruden Farm down a long curving alley of Corymbia citriodora, the gum tree equivalent of Betula jacquemontii, but whiter of trunk and more sinuous. A Rugby goalpost, as it were, with hips. Tall trees shade the white clapboard house, one of them an oak I have never seen before or since, an evergreen with leaves rather like Quercus turneri but immensely tall and as deeply drooping as a weeping beech. Its name is Q. Firthii. I want one. Hydrangeas are stacked in tall banks round the house, their feet in a lush bed of agapanthus; blue and white the predominant colours.

But any memory of the planting is hazy beside my memory of the woman who was brought home here as a bride at 19 and has reigned in the garden (and in Melbourne) ever since. The innocent pursuits of philanthropy and gardening have occupied her for eighty years.

Hugh’s Gardening Books

Sitting in the Shade

This is the third anthology of Trad’s Diary, cherry-picking the past ten years. The previous two covered the years 1975…

Hugh’s Wine Books

The Story of Wine – From Noah to Now

A completely new edition published by the Academie du Vin Library: When first published in 1989 The Story of Wine won every…

Friends of Trad

The Garden Museum