“It was a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1971 when Michael (Morrison) pulled up his ute at the white-columned porch of Elisabeth Murdoch’s home to talk about a gardening job. She was then sixty-two, a well-travelled and tireless philanthropist, matriarch of a wealthy and successful family and the widow of newspaper proprietor Sir Keith Murdoch,” writes author Lisa Clausen.
This meeting led to a 41 year friendship between Dame Elisabeth Murdoch and her gardener Michael Morrison that was based on a deep seated love of Cruden Farm. This story has been captured in a photo-filled book that is both heartwarming and informative. Told through Michael’s personal account and his garden diaries, the recent history of Cruden Farm is beautifully expressed by Lisa Clausen who collaborated with Michael to bring this tale to life, with a collection of photographs by Simon Griffiths.
Cruden Farm Garden Diaries was launched at Merricks General Wine Store on Friday June 2nd to a sell out crowd of 125 garden, food and wine enthusiasts. Penny Fowler, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch’s granddaughter, is good friends with Samantha Baillieu – the owner of Merricks General Wine Store – and thus the idea for holding the book launch at the much loved Mornington Peninsula institution was born. Paul Bangay also has a close association with the venue having launched a number of his books there as well, and his involvement with the family and his garden expertise created a natural synergy.
Guests were seated in the two larger dining areas in the venue, with guest speakers Michael Morrison, Penny Fowler and Paul Bangay taking centre stage between the two rooms so that every person had an up close and personal view of the collaborators of the book. Author Lisa Clausen was unfortunately unwell and unable to attend the event, however Michael was a warm and generous speaker, and although not a showman his articulate expression and gentlemanly ways delighted the crowd. He talked about the joys of working alongside Dame Elisabeth Murdoch for over 41 years, as well as the challenges he had faced – including his battles with rabbits and cockatoos that made even the best laid plans come awry at times.
Penny was also very generous, sharing her tales of her personal association with the property, and she spoke about the importance of Cruden Farm being a place where the public can come and enjoy the beauty of the garden for many years to come. “On behalf of our family,” says Penny in the Foreward of the book, “we look forward to Cruden Farm’s future and we hope to ensure it remains a place of beauty that can be shared by all – a garden that is both viable and sustainable for future generations to enjoy.”
The menu for the book launch was fine winter fare, with three courses served alongside matching local wines. Guests arrived at midday to a glass of sparkling wine and were then seated to enjoy a seasonal entrée of local beetroot with walnuts and Main Ridge goat’s curd – matched to Baillieu Pinot Gris. This was followed by O’Connor natural, free range, pasteur-fed beef cheeks matched with Elgee Park Chardonnay and Baillieu Shiraz (vegetarians were offered mushrooms with a cheese soufflé), and the three course meal finished with fennel Financier cake with vanilla poached pears and crème fraiche served with Late Harvest Elgee Park Voignier and coffee. At only $85 a head all inclusive, the Merricks General Wine Store is well respected for combining literary and food events that are both delicious and offer superb value, set in the most warm, welcoming and stylish environment.
The launch of Cruden Farm Garden Diaries proved a hit with all who attended the event, and the book itself has been widely praised in literary circles. Cruden Farm is one of Australia’s finest private gardens. The property was given to the Dame Elisabeth Murdoch in 1928 as a wedding present from her husband Sir Keith Murdoch, and the book tells of how the garden grew, blossomed and thrived through her meeting with Michael Morrison. The book is a rich tale that charts the evolution of the grounds of Cruden Farm.
Thirteen years after they began working together in 1971, Dame Elisabeth (‘The Boss’) suggested to Michael that he begin writing a diary, which he did with great dedication. There are 28 annual diaries in total, and excerpts pepper the Cruden Farm story adding Michael’s spirit and authenticity to the tale. Says Lisa, “He would give her the diary at the end of every year and she would read it. It was like a conversation between them.”
Excerpts by Lisa Clausen:
The Winter Garden: “A bitter breeze gusts across the rose beds where Michael has been pruning for several hours since early morning. Despite the cold and the thorns, his weathered hands are bare – he never wears gloves, preferring the familiar feel of stem and soil.”
The Spring Garden: “Though sorry to farewell winter, Michael can’t resist spring’s sense of renewal. ‘There’s a relief in seeing everything looking so healthy,’ he says. ‘You can see the soft green popping out on everything.’ Winter’s sharp outlines have been replaced by plump balls of new foliage, and though the trees have lost some of the individuality so accentuated in winter by their bare wood, they’ve gained a fresh charm as light shimmers through young canopies.”
The Summer Garden: “The hypnotic whirring of many sprinklers is the unmissable sound of summer at Cruden, their fine spray so refreshing to walk or trundle through on a sweltering morning, as the Dame and Michael used to love to do.”
The Autumn Garden: “After the intensity of summer, autumn descends on Cruden like an exhalation of relief. The dazzling cerulean skies are disappearing and the garden is filled with the new season’s languid light.”
“Every morning he filled the room with armfuls of whatever was in flower and shared the garden’s news, telling her of jobs done and jobs to do, describing scents and new shoots as vividly as if she were walking among the beds herself.”
Dame Elisabeth Murdoch died peacefully at home on December 5, 2012 at the age of 103. She truly had a life well lived. Writes Lisa in the book, “When Michael walks Cruden Farm now, he travels in his mind’s eye through several landscapes at once: the garden that was, full of those people and plants that have grown and gone but still remembered, that garden as it is now, tranquil and welcoming, and the vibrant garden he hopes it will be when he is no longer there. He lives by the Dame’s ethos, which gave her such strength: gain comfort from the past, live for the moment and look forward to the future.”
Situated in Langwarrin (50 minutes from Melbourne) on 54 hectares of farm land and 8 hectares of inner gardens, Cruden Farm is open to the public during special garden tours held several times a year and it can also be booked for groups, weddings and special events.
Cruden Farm Open Days with Guided Tours:
Sunday 11th June, 2017
Sunday 13th August, 2017
Cruden Farm Garden Diaries is available online here, and from bookstores nationally.
Signed copies of the book are also available from Merricks General Wine Store for only $50.