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Published January 4th 2018
You can finally have a peek inside, as well as a fine lunch
Heronswood is possibly my favourite attraction on the Mornington Peninsula. It has it all - stunning views, remarkable gardens, a restaurant and an evocative old historical house, which until recently, was out of bounds to the public. But this has just changed!
This remarkable Arts and Crafts House (circa 1870 Gothic), originally belonged to a series of university lecturers, who seemed to hand it down to one another as a summer retreat away from the rigours of academic life.
The first owner was one of the four Foundation professors at Melbourne University. But perhaps the most famous owner was his student, H. B. Higgins, who wrote the Harvester Judgement, at Heronswood. This document formed the basis of the Australian arbitration system, basically ensuring that Australian workers all received a fair basic wage.
In more recent years, Heronswood became famous for its spectacular gardens, which feature heirloom vegetables, fruit trees and flowering annuals and perennials. In fact, this garden is one of only four listed in the Oxford Companion to Gardens, along with the Melbourne Botanical Gardens and Ripponlea.
It is also home to the Digger Club, a gardening club and online seed provider with over 78,000 members, although visitors can buy plants and seedlings at Heronswood, making it another reason to visit the property.
As you might expect of a gardening club, the garden is a showpiece with massive banks of flowers cascading down steep inclines, enormous century-old trees and because it is up so high, there are expansive and breathtaking views over the bay.
Heronswood was also home to an English-style thatched roofed restaurant. But on a fateful day in January 2014, a grassfire way down below near the Mornington Peninsula Freeway in McCrae spread east and embers somehow flew up the huge hill and landed on the thatched roof setting it alight. It went up in flames and could not be saved.
HERONSWOOD FIRE 14th January 2014 *** Photos by Yanni on the Mornington Peninsula Newsgroup - Facebook.
There was a bit of a lull with the complex being without a restaurant until just recently, when Heronswood's owners, Clive and Penny Blazey, decided to move their family upstairs and allow the downstairs of their magnificent old home to be used as a restaurant.
I know that I have been dying to get into this house for years, so it is wonderful to now have at least the ground floor open to the public.
The inside was not everything I expected. Yes, there are magnificent high ceilings, carved wooden fireplaces, beautifully shaped bay windows that look out over the garden and sea views, but there is an assortment of furniture some of it seemingly modern, so as yet the restaurant does not seem to have an olde worlde concept happening. But I guess after the fire, the most important thing was opening up a cafe/restaurant and that decorating options have not yet been fully realised.
One of the great things about eating at the cafe/restaurant is that many of the vegetables are picked straight from the garden, such as heirloom carrots, beetroot, mizuna, wild rocket, spring onions lettuce, mint and parsley.
You can see some of these goodies below in the vegetable plate of organic vegetables and goat's cheese that I opted to have for my lunch.
Where not grown on the property, food is sourced locally, so on the menu you will find dishes such as local bread and Ridge Estate Olive Oil, Black Beauty zucchini and three cheese tart, pork belly salad with local peaches, garden fennel, zucchini and pepper greens and pomegranate dressing and crushed meringue with garden blackberries and pink peppercorn ice-cream. The cost is around $25-$30 a head.
One of the drawbacks for return tourists visiting the new restaurant is that it costs $10 to enter the gardens, where the restaurant is now sited. The previous restaurant was outside the gardens, so there was no such charge.
However, if you have never seen these gardens before they are totally magnificent and worth every cent. The surcharge, however, is likely to stop people coming to the restaurant on a regular basis in the same way that they visited the previous restaurant.
Of course, if you join the Digger's Club, your garden entry is free. This also allows you to visit Cloudehill in the Dandenong Ranges and St Erth in Blackwood free of charge. For more information, click here.
At Heronsood, they also do a high tea on the last Sunday of the month that includes housemade finger sandwiches with fillings fresh from the garden and a range of sweets. Finish the afternoon with tea, coffee or Heronswood's own homemade cordial or indulge with the option of a glass of local sparkling wine. Bookings are essential for these afternoon teas (03 5984 7318) which are priced $42 per person or $49 including a glass of sparkling wine.