I'm a mum, teacher and published writer who loves travel, vintage, art and history.
Published July 28th 2015
Flora, history, heritage, and art
Heritage Hill is an historical precinct set on two acres of landscaped gardens in the heart of Dandenong. There are 3 buildings on the land; Laurel Lodge, Benga, and St James Anglican Church. Heritage Hill holds exhibitions, art and craft workshops, school holiday activities, and garden tours throughout the year. Laurel Lodge can also be hired for weddings and other functions.
Looking on to Laurel Lodge from the winding driveway
My daughter and I recently attended a botanical watercolour art class at Heritage Hill, with resident artist Domenica Vavala. The classes were wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable. Domenica introduced us to the medium by demonstrating some basic techniques, and the materials we were to use in class. We then went looking for flowers and plants in the beautiful gardens to bring back as subject matter for our watercolours. Domenica walked around the room, giving one-on-one tuition and feedback to each of us. There was a lovely, comfortable and welcoming energy in the room. Everyone was supportive of each other's works and people were happy chatting, reflecting, and painting in an unintimidating environment.
The classes were held in what used to be the lounge room of the beautiful historic residence Laurel Lodge. It now houses exhibitions throughout the year and is also used for art classes and workshops. Laurel Lodge was built in 1869 and was designed and constructed by colonial architect Robert Huckson. The historic building was once a residence with an interesting past, and many of its occupants throughout the years were prominent citizens of Dandenong, including Miss Matilda Shaw, the Head of an elite boarding school, Dr Henry Moore, the district Doctor, Joseph Clark, and Robert Woodcock.
More recently, there have been 'suspicious' happenings noted by resident artists and some Heritage Hill staff. The question is timidly posed 'Could the house be haunted?' followed by a nervous laugh or an attempt to rationalise the occurrence. We had our own 'odd' experience while we were there. My daughter walked through the beautiful gardens of Laurel Lodge looking for some flowers to use as subject matter for her paintings when she heard the unmistakable sound of footsteps on the gravel path and the sound of crushing leaves underfoot. She turned around believing it to be me behind her, but when she did she was surprised to see no one there. I was further away looking for my own botanical inspirations.
Even with the stories and occasional strange happenings there is nothing eerie about Laurel Lodge. It is hard not to imagine what it would have been like in the 1800's, especially when you pass the horses' trough by the meandering driveway or when you stroll past the enormous Moreton Bay Figs that majestically flank the front of the building. Inside, the building has recently been restored, and the original lovely large solid timber door supports a beautiful leadlight window with two quaint Kookaburras adorning its centre.
The resident artists have their studios upstairs and downstairs the first two rooms, and the hallway of the house, feature artist exhibitions. Currently the botanical art of Fred Woodman hangs on the walls. This exhibition will run until Monday 10th August, 2015. Fred Woodman is a botanical artist from Noble Park who draws inspiration from flora found within the City of Greater Dandenong.
The Gardens of Heritage Hill are a beautiful display of cottage and landscaped gardens with flora native to Australia in addition to trees from around the world, like the Natal Bottle Brush from South Africa, the Giant Burmese Honeysuckle, and the Strawberry Guava from Brazil. The gardens also feature Camellia, Gardenias, Persimmon, Star Magnolia, Chinese Windmill Palm, and Climbing Ophelia, to name a few. Interestingly, before 1970, red gum had covered the area surrounding Heritage Hill, but was removed as the area developed. It certainly would have been a stunning sight!
Here is a sample of the activities and events at Heritage Hill:
Heritage Hill Garden Tour and Picnic in the Historic Gardens is a tour that explores the flora of both Benga and Laurel Lodge gardens. A leisurely picnic in the historic gardens follows the tour. Bring your own picnic lunch. Bookings essential. Dates are:
Thursday 20th August, 12pm to 2pm Thursday 17th September, 12pm to 2pm Thursday 22nd October, 12pm to 2pm
Thursday 19th November, 12pm to 2pm
Thursday 10th December, 12pm to 2pm
There are a number of dates throughout the year for the Heritage Hill House and Garden Tour with Devonshire Tea served in the lovely Langley Gallery. Cost is $16, and $14 for a senior's discount. For a full list of dates and to make a booking contact Heritage Hill on (03) 9793 4511.
There are other great tours like the Tours of Dandenong with Heritage Hill Artists in Residence. These are walking tours where resident artists take you on a tour of their favourite places in Dandenong. Find out the artist's favourite spots for food, art, culture and inspiration. Tour dates are as follows:
Friday 28th August, 11am to 12.30pm with artist Domenica Vavala
Friday 18th September, 11am to 12.30pm with artist Peter Douglas
Friday 11th December, 11am to 12.30pm with artists Debbie Symons and Jasmine Targett
Cost $5. Bookings essential.
Heritage Hill also hosts Music for Seniors in the Garden with upcoming dates on: Monday 19th October and Monday 16th November from 1.30pm to 3pm. Donation entry. Bookings essential.
Other regular events and activities on the Heritage Hill calendar includes Yoga classes and a number of interesting workshops like; 'Collaged Gardens' on Tuesday 1st September from 10am to 1pm with artist Elizabeth Barnett, a Printmaking Workshop on Sunday 4th October using Gelli Plates, and Botanical Wreath Making and Handmade Christmas Decorations on Tuesday 8th December, from 10am to 1pm. Cost $10. Bookings essential. They have many great craft and art workshops and art classes throughout the year so to find out more you can contact Heritage Hill directly or follow the The Hive Facebook page for regular updates here.
There are also great School Holiday Program activities throughout the year. For the upcoming September-October school holidays the kids would love the 'Beastie Creature Book: Drawing Workshop' with Resident Artist Domenica Vavala, 'Get Moving with Koala Gymnastics', 'Close Encounters - Australian reptile viewing and handling', 'Exploring the Micro World', and 'Zine to Go! Zine Making Workshop' with exhibitor and zine-maker Shirley Innes. All workshops are from 10am to 11.30am for children aged 5-12 years. Cost is $5 per child. Bookings are essential.
Heritage Hill is also presenting 'Inspirational Stories - Our Elders' until Friday 7th August, 2015. Celebrating NAIDOC week and local aboriginal culture this exhibition is about story telling. The exhibition also showcases group paintings and works of individual young artists and is supported by sound scapes of the elders telling their stories.
To find out more information about What's On at Heritage Hill you can call (03) 9793 4511 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Heritage Hill is located at 66 McCrae Street, Dandenong. The main entrance is from McCrae street and walking through the main gate will lead you into Benga. The office is the first room on the right. Entry to the gardens is free and if you walk down the garden path you will get to Laurel Lodge which is the house behind Benga. The main entrance for Laurel Lodge was traditionally from Langhorne Street. The front door of Laurel Lodge is usually locked, but you can enter via the back door to see the exhibitions. Parking is available on McCrae Street, however that gets quiet busy during the day. There is also parking on Langhorne Street just opposite the Police Station.