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Great Federation Gardens

Above: Five of our great Federation period gardens

I am told that most Federation style gardens have been redesigned or sold off for extra housing!

  • Hopefully not!

  • However the pressure on cities means large estates are redeveloped into smaller blocks, eliminating the previous large gardens.

Here I am going to try to point to good Federation style gardens, their gardeners and garden designers of that period.

Section 1: Landscaping Influences

Section 1: Landscaping Influences:

  • The Garden Suburb movement which influenced our suburban spread was made possible by improved sewerage and efficient public transport, leading to the practical dream of a Federation house and a garden of one’s own, typically on the quarter-acre block.

  • Suburban gardens were established in one of three styles:

  1. The Geometrical or formal style, marked by flower beds and shaped borders (the ‘parterre‘ influence) and an influence on the ‘Cottage Garden’.

  2. The Natural or Informal style (“Nature abhors the straight line”) from the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement

  3. Mixed style, combining man-made landscaping with naturalism; spatial divisions or ‘garden rooms’ were inter-related with flowing spaces of informal style.

Fed Garden styles - slide.webp
Large herbaceous borders with a mix of perennials replaced Victorian bedding. Credit: Jason Ingram
English influences
Gertrude Jekyll by William Nicholson

English influences:

  • Victorian garden styles had enthusiasm for showy hybridized plants made possible by glasshouse horticulture

  • The major English Arts and Crafts landscape professionals were 

    • Gertrude Jekyll  (illustrated at left) "a premier influence in garden design"
      - She created over 400 gardens in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States,
      and she wrote over 1,000 articles for magazines such as Country Life  

    • William Robinson (author of the Wild Garden) who espoused a naturalistic, picturesque style of gardening, and edited the 'Garden' magazine.

  • They substituted a more casual and painterly approach employing naturalized shrubs, wildflowers, and perennials.

Read More: 

Arts and Crafts Gardens included stonework. Credit: Jason Ingraed


The White Garden at the 2.5 acre Walled Garden, at Loseley Park based on a design by Gertrude Jekyll,

loseley-park-garden_by_Gertrude Jekyll.j

​The Edwardian Age was characterized by verdant large gardens maintained by large staffs of gardeners.

  • Their designs were an expression of “Art for Art’s sake”;
    Edwardian gardens displayed an appreciation of historic gardens, re-introducing both intimate scale and spatial enclosure (‘rooms’),

    • with the use of topiary and hedging,

    • with loose, naturalistic planting composition

    • in which colour plays an important role
      (especially the designs of Gertrude Jekyll).

Australian influences

Australian Influences on Federation Gardening styles:

Below Left: Charles Luffman, Principal of Burnley School of Horticulture and his bestselling title

Below Right: Book cover of the biography of Edna Walling by Sara Hardy

The Principal of Burnley, Mr. C. Bogue Luffman
Front cover of Bogue Luffmann's Principl
Edna Walling, Melbourne Garden designer

Australian influences:​

Architect Walter Butler
Walter Butler's design Marathon house and garden
  1. One of the most influential promoters of the Arts and Crafts movement in Australia was architect Walter Butler designer of Marathon, 12 Marathon Drive, Mount Eliza, Mornington Peninsula VIC (pictured above)

    • Butler conceived of the garden as the extension of the house, and it seemed logical for the architect to design both.

  2. Charles Luffman (1862 - 1920) was an influential figure during the Federation era and Principal of Burnley School of Horticulture (& taught Edna Walling)

    • ​Charles Luffman was a horticulturist, landscape architect and author.

    • The first principal of the Burnley School of Horticulture, Charles Bogue Luffman, described gardening as a form of art.

    • He worked mostly in England and Australia, designing many gardens including the Burnley Gardens in Victoria.

    • Luffman also spent many years travelling and writing throughout Europe, especially Spain, and Japan.

    • His designs were less traditional than his peers and believed in the use of both formal and informal design.

    • ​In 1903 Luffman publicly debated Walter Butler, the distinguished architect in Melbourne, on his views of formal landscaping

    • He championed the new ‘informal’ or ‘natural’ styles, specifically with great emphasis on the small garden.

  3. William Guilfoyle was the major landscape figure during the Victorian era, designing the garden at Rippon Lea at Elsternwick. His influence continued in the Federation period.

    • Guilfoyle was a gifted garden designer but also the supplanter, in 1873, of Sir Ferdinand Mueller as Director of Melbourne's Botanic Gardens.

    • Guilfoyle was a plant enthusiast, a thinker, and even a scientist, albeit more of an enthusiastic amateur than Mueller.

    • In the 35 years it took him to transform Melbourne's Botanic Gardens into one of the world's spectacular botanical landscapes, Guilfoyle also amassed a systematic collection of many thousands of plant species from all over the world. 

  4. Frances Georgina Watts Higgins (1860–1948), known as Ina Higgins, was a landscape gardener, pacifist and women’s political activist. 

    • She played an important role in the advancement of horticulture in Victoria, becoming one of the first qualified landscape gardeners in Australia.

    • Pictures of Hethersett in the early 1900s, show evidence of her vision.

    • She imbued the garden with Federation influences, such as a rose arbour, gravel path and a circular central driveway lined with grass edging and annuals, with roses and dahlias behind them.

  5. Edna Walling became the twentieth century advocate of naturalistic planting and designed over 300 gardens.

Charles Luffman
William Guilfoyle
Edna Walling
Ina Higgins at the garden at Kilenna 191
Ina Higgins
William Guilfoyle, Director Melbourne Botanic Gardens
Edna Walling, 1966

Above Left: Victorian Landscaper William Guilfoyle    Above Right: Designer Edna Walling

Edna Walling's style changed very little throughout her career, however each garden is unique.

  • She is renowned for her use of stone, especially in low fences or walls and steps, where moss was encouraged to grow.

  • Dense greenery with few flowers, and

  • a naturalness that softens and unites the garden to its house, also identifies Walling's gardens.

  • Her aim was always to create unity between the house and the garden.


Edna Walling's basic design principles were based on a set of design ethics:

  • Work with existing landscapes and existing features, such as slopes, rocks and trees

  • Begin by 'sculpting' the surface of the land, preferably not levelling it

  • Create a unity between the house and the garden

  • Use architectural principles to structure the garden and soften with dense planting

  • Individually design for each house and garden and the needs of the clients

  • Keep garden maintenance to a minimum

Edna Walling was one of the earliest environmentalists to advocate the planting of Australian native species.

  • Walling’s had a haphazard method of spreading seeds from a bucket and

  • during the regular journeys she made between Melbourne and Adelaide,  she often stopped overnight to pitch a swag in nearby bushland. Source

Creative Edna Walling by Sam-Cox-detail_

Section 2: Federation Garden Styles

A: Queen Anne Revival

Section 2: Federation Garden Styles
A: Queen Anne Revival

At the turn of the century, the Victorian fashion of garden bedding was still in style but architects begin to show an interest in the context of their creations:

  • recommending built garden features such as

  • painted gateways, white-painted pavilions, terrace steps, and stone walls.

  • These are to be planted with “old fashioned” flowers and

  • trees such as apple, pear, and native trees,

  • surrounded by a mixture of daffodils, yellow tulip, larkspur, bellflower, bachelor button, monkshood, white poppy, white phlox, bleeding heart, briar rose, and peony.

  • Clumps of shrubs are spaced along property lines.

1. Garden furniture

  • erection of timber or iron tubing arbours 

  • and rosaries to support climbers,

  • with timber slat lattices on walls and sheds.


Attached to larger houses or in larger gardens,

  • summerhouses, 

  • conservatories,

  • gazebos,

  • bush-houses for ferns.

Foundation plantings
Vict. arbor thumb.jpg

Above left: Typical Queen Anne white-painted timber structures in the garden

Below: Foundation plantings along the frontage at Longueville, NSW

longueville federation after edited.jpg

2. Foundation plantings


To Show or not to Show the foundations of the house?

The Federation House usually has extensive stone, sometimes brick, foundations, and these were a feature of the Federation Style, rising well above ground level, unlike Victorian style, where the foundations rise only to ground level.

Around 1890 foundation plantings of mixed evergreen and deciduous shrubs are sometimes recommended around the house

  • but the idea of hiding the Federation house's *stone-built' foundations does not take off until after WWI and

  • does not become common until the 1930s.

3. Flowers in the Queen Anne Revival garden


In the front yard circular flowerbeds

  • were planted with cannas, caster bean, elephant ears, with coleus and dusty miller edging,

  • and these flower beds are positioned opposite the windows, for ease of viewing.


Flowers for cutting are planted in the back yard

  • and include china asters, zinnias, stock, and sweet pea.

  • Gardeners avoid the bedding shapes planted in primary colors of earlier Victorian gardens, and

  • avoid showy flowers such as magenta dahlias.

Flowers in the Queen Anne Revival garden
Period Gardens 9781740459068.jpg
Circular garden at Boomerang, Elizabeth Bay
B: Edwardian Informality

B: Edwardian informality


Compared with the rigid style of the Victorians, Edwardian gardeners favoured a more relaxed look, with naturalistic planting inside a strongly structured framework.

Edwardian knot garden

Key Edwardian garden features were

  • hedges, terraces, sunken gardens,

  • pergolas and arrow-straight paths adorned with informal planting to disguise their geometry.

  • It was a style that barely changed until World War II.

As today, gardens were designed to look like an extension of the house,

  • often featuring a series of intimate linked spaces formed by hedges and trellises.

  • Old-fashioned fruits – and flowers such as hollyhocks and roses – were key plants, with the aim seeming to evoke a distant past style.

  • The gardens at Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire, created in 1907 and now owned by the National Trust, are a classic example of Edwardian horticulture
    – there are hedged rooms with box-edged beds, yew pillars and straight lines are filled with a mix of shrubs, roses, bulbs and perennials such as lavender.


Gardening Guru Gertrude Jekyll

But it was gardening guru Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) who really popularised this style, which is often referred to as ‘country garden’ yet is more a description of the garden’s atmosphere than of its location.

  • Jekyll also pioneered new ways of using colour:
    • a border, for instance, could start at one end with blue, grey, white, pale yellow and pale pink flowers,
    • graduating to stronger yellows, oranges and reds.
  • Gertrude Jekyll also favoured single colour borders, an idea later taken up in the white garden at Sissinghurst in Kent.

  • Self-seeding was encouraged, with the little daisy known as Mexican fleabane and favourites such as alchemilla happily popping up in the cracks between paving slabs or in gravel paths.

  • Evolving alongside the country garden was the cottage garden. Read more

C: Wild & Native Plantings

C: Wild Gardens & Native Plantings

Native gardening Inspiration:
1. Australian popular books

As the twentieth century progressed, public awareness grew of the value of native plants in the public landscape and private garden.

  • Books such as those by William Guilfoyle, Curator of the Melbourne Botanic Garden, and

  • Ernst Heyne, a South Australian nurseryman,

  • described how native plants could be used to meet the same design requirements as exotics.


2. Renowned artistic inspiration

The proliferation of Australian and particularly South Australian gardening literature in the first half of the twentieth century, in the form of books, magazines and newspapers encouraged an increasingly accepting audience to cultivate native plants in the home garden.

  • Public opinion was further influenced by art. 

  • Two local South Australian artists, Rosa Fiveash and Hans Heysen, were both renowned for their artworks,

    • Fiveash for her exquisite botanical illustrations of native plants and

    • Heysen for his paintings depicting South Australian bush landscapes.

While still a student at the Adelaide School of Art, Rosa Fiveash's meticulously accurate dissection drawings saw her invited to produce the illustrations for J. Ednie Brown's book Forest flora of South Australia.

  • Fiveash taught art for many years, and one of her pupils was Alison Ashby, who became a prolific botanical artist herself.

Below Left:  Cockies Tongue, Red Templetonia, family FABACEAE - artist: Rosa Fiveash (1854-1938)

Below Right: Summer, by Hans Heyson, 1909. This painting won the Wynne Prize in 1909 (Art Gallery of NSW)

Cockies Tongue templetonia-retusa.jpg
Summer Hans Heysen 1909.jpg
William Robinson
William Robinson - England's Wild Garden
William Robinson - The Wild Gardener
Ellis Stones garden design.jpg
Natural gardening inspiration from popular writings by:
3. William Robinson (5 July 1838 – 17 May 1935)

an Irish practical gardener and journalist whose ideas about wild gardening spurred the movement that led to


Robinson is credited as an early practitioner of


Robinson's new approach to gardening gained popularity through his magazines and several books—


Robinson advocated more natural and less formal-looking plantings of

  • hardy perennialsshrubs, and climbers, and

  • reacted against the High Victorian patterned gardening, which used tropical materials grown in greenhouses.

  • He railed against standard roses,

  • statuary,

  • sham Italian gardens, and other artifices common in gardening at the time.


Modern gardening practices first introduced by Robinson include:

  • using alpine plants in rock gardens;

  • dense plantings of perennials and groundcovers that expose no bare soil;

  • use of hardy perennials and native plants; and

  • large plantings of perennials in natural-looking drifts.[3]


4. Edna Walling (4 December 1896 – 8 August 1973) 

Natural gardens were poneered in Australia by inter-war garden designer Edna Walling

  • pioneers of the ‘bush garden’ style also includes her protege Ellis Stones.

  • and some wonderful examples of their work can be found around Melbourne

In gardening and landscape design circles, Edna Walling is considered royalty.

  • Migrating to Australia from the UK in 1899 when she was fourteen, Walling studied at Victoria’s Burnley Horticultural College and went on to become one of Australia’s most influential landscape designers.


Not only did Edna Walling pioneer the use of native plants and initiate her own urban development while still in her mid 20s,

  • throughout her life Walling also wrote prolifically on gardening for magazines and books.

  • Her designs, both formal and informal, can be seen in gardens throughout southern Australia,

  • many of which were early examples of sustainable gardens,

    • favouring drought hardy native plants over introduced species.


Achieving this as a woman working independently in 1920s and 1930s Australia would have been no small feat. Indeed,

  • Walling projects an image of a determined and industrious woman and

  • is considered by some to be an early feminist and conservationist.

  • Initially influenced by English horticulturist and gardener Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932),

  • Walling began her career working in the Arts and Crafts style of gardening, where bespoke design was key.

5. Ellis Stones (October 1, 1895 – April 9, 1975)

In 1935, a chance meeting with Edna Walling resulted in Stones changing career,

  • first concentrating on garden construction

  • then gradually undertaking design work.


Stones constructed many of the rock outcrops, walls and ponds in Walling's gardens.

  • In the magazine Australian Home Beautiful, of December 1938, Walling wrote:

    • "It is a rare thing this gift for placing stones

    • and strange that a man possessing it should bear the name Stones...

    • Lovely as formal gardens can be, it is these informal schemes, in which boulders form so important a part, that appeal so tremendously...

    • they give us the atmosphere of the country, and the refreshment of mind derived from such" 

Read more: 

Edna Walling
Ellis Stones
Section 3: Great Federation Gardens

Section 3: Great Federation Gardens

Retford Park Bowral

1. Retford Park 

1325 Old South Road, Bowral NSW

Story by Jonathan Chancellor and Margie Blok 5 September 2014 for

“Built in 1887 for Samuel Hordern, Retford Park was well known for its association with many breeds of livestock imported to Australia and developed there by the Hordern family." 

  • The house is a fine example of a late Victorian mansion with Edwardian gardens.

  • It is now owned and managed by the National Trust of NSW.

Retford Park, Bowral NSW

Acknowledged as one of the great country gardens of Australia, this magnificent garden was part of the Australia’s Open Garden Scheme for many years.

  • James Fairfax was the keeper of the Retford Park English park and garden that features magnificent trees, mature shrubberies and hedged garden rooms, all sustainably managed using organic principles.

  • Rhododendrons and azaleas are at their peak in October.

  • Century old bunya bunya pines, redwoods and oaks impressed visitors.

  • There are more recently planted Wollemi pines.

  • There’s an impressive collection of classical and contemporary sculptures and that marvellous Guilford Bell swimming pool pavilion.

  • One later occasion on a private visit, Jeffrey Smart was there strolling the grounds. Sadly no painting ever emerged to immortalise the pavilion.


​The philanthropic former newspaperman James Fairfax gifted his historic Retford Park estate in the NSW Southern Highlands to the NSW National Trust.

  • Its envisaged the Italianate 1887 residence will sit within a protected 32-hectare heritage curtilage.

  • It will be preserved in perpetuity for the community with some funds from the neighbouring prestige residential development being directed into a trust which will pay for the long-term upkeep of the home and gardens.

  • The gifting won’t take place until subdivision sales take place. I notice they are progressing quite well.

  • The Old South Road property, which sits on the southern edge of Bowral’s rapidly suburban expansion, has long sat on about 100 hectares including the land now zoned for subdivision.

Under the proposal, the 29-hectare eastern part of the estate has been subdivided into rural-inspired lots ranging from 8,000 square metres to four hectares lots.


Above: Retford Garden was established in the Federation period.


Retford Park has been the country home of the arts patron James Fairfax since he paid £15,000 in 1964 for it on a then four-hectare holding.

  • “I think Retford Park is an important part of the heritage of the Wingecarribee Shire area and provision has been made in my will for the house and the immediate surrounding land, including the garden, to be left in trust to be viewed by future generations,” Mr Fairfax stated in 2009.

  • Listed on the register of the national estate since 1980, Retford Park takes its name from the village in Nottinghamshire, the northern England town from where Anthony and Ann Hordern immigrated in 1825.

  • The grounds have many heritage oaks, an enduring association with the Hordern’s retailing business, whose emblem was an oak tree under which were the words: “While I live, I’ll grow”.

  • English garden designer John Codrington, whose services were a gift to James Fairfax from his mother, designed the fountain path, which leads into the garden from the house.

  • Grey-leafed plants clipped into dense mounds line a red gravel path, with just a splash of white agapanthus exploding around the fountain in summer.


Above: Retford Park: You can see the bones of Federation Filigree style here.

  • It was first sold after Anthony’s great-grandson, Sir Samuel Hordern, died in 1956, leaving an estate of $279,000.

  • It was briefly owned by the cattle stud operator King Ranch (Australia), of which Edwina Hordern’s husband, Peter Baillieu, was managing director.

  • In his 1991 book, Regards to Broadway, Fairfax recollected he’d had no plans to buy a country house.

    • “But chatting to Peter Baillieu at a cocktail party in December 1963, I learned that Retford Park and 10 acres [four hectares] of land were to be sold.”

    • It occurred to James that it might be a suitable place for his mother to stay on her annual six month visits from England.

Gallery of Retford Park Garden Design:

Gallery of Retford Park Garden Design:

james Fairfax, the eldest son of the late Sir Warwick Fairfax and his first wife, Betty Wilson, then set about regularly buying adjoining rural land.
He also set about enlivening the house.

  • “When my offer of £15,000 for the house and 10 acres with an option to buy another 10 in three years was accepted, I went into the usual ‘What on earth have I taken on?’ syndrome, but soon recovered as I got involved in the redecoration which was being done by Leslie Walford,” he recalled to Sue Rosen in 2011.

  • Leslie Walford, who died earlier this year, said in a 2011 interview with Rosen that he recalled flying up to Mittagong with James to inspect the house.

  • His first impressions of it was “the garden choking the house”.

    • “The house was a sort of cow-pat colour, a very unappealing colour.

    • It had thick walls and narrow long slit windows and a tower, a rectangular piece of work with lots of frilly balconies, cast-iron lace and a pretty porte cochere.

    • It had some delicate prettiness added to the strength of the architecture … it was a wonderful looking house.”


Read more:


Colour photos courtesy of Highlife Magazine, which reports on life in the Southern Highlands of Australia.

The Hordern History
Australia's First Seaplane
Lebbeus Hordon aviator.jpg

The Hordern History


The Hordern ‘boys’, dashing, handsome, fun-loving and exceedingly rich, with a shared passion for grand motor cars, aeroplanes, polo & stock breeding, were to have the most significant impact on the Southern Highlands.

  • Sam Hordern II inherited the Italianate mansion Retford Park, which sits within walking distance to the North of Milton Park,

  • on the death of his father in 1909, he continued to operate it as a stock breeding showpiece for nearly 50 years.

  • Sam II became president of the Royal Agricultural Society in 1915 and was knighted in 1919.


Lebbeus Hordern acquired Hopewood in Bowral in 1912 and lived there until his death in 1929. Lebbeus imported the first sea plane ever to land in Australia.

  • In 1910 Anthony III, bought Mansfield’s Farm, a 1200 acre property, changed its name to Milton Park after taking a cursory glance at his bookshelf and seeing the word Milton on the spine of a copy of Paradise Lost, and

  • immediately commenced to plant shelter belts of Cypress & Pine to protect his Estate from the prevalent westerly winds.


Anthony Hordern was 21 when he bought the Estate.

  • Previously described by gossip columnists as Sydney’s most eligible bachelor with an annual income in 1910 of ‘not less than 50,000 pounds a year’.

  • He married Viola Bingham shortly before buying Milton Park.

  • He retained Morrow and De Putron of Sydney, the family’s favoured architects, to design his home. Their work for the Horderns included

    • Retford Park,

    • Hopewood,

    • Babworth House in Darling Point and

    • various extensions to Anthony Hordern and Sons Department Store.

- ​ Milton Park History

Milton Park Country House Hotel & Spa

2. Milton Park Country House Hotel & Spa

200 Horderns Road, Bowral NSW 2576

  • “Considered by many to be the greatest garden in Australia”

Set apart in its own secluded hilltop woodland estate of more than 300 acres just east of Bowral in the beautiful Southern Highlands of New South Wales,

  • Milton Park Country House Hotel & Spa is now a five star hotel.

Milton Park Country House Hotel has a grand history.

  • Originally known as Mansfield Farm, it was purchased by Sydney retailer, grazier and stock breeder, Anthony Hordern, in 1910.

  • The adjoining 5000-hectare Retford Park was owned by his father, Sam Hordern.

  • The heart of the hotel is the mansion, designed by Morrow and de Putron.

  • It demonstrates Federation arts and crafts and has rendered and shingled walls, hipped and gabled roofs, tall chimneys and Art Nouveau detailing.


Milton Park was built in 1911 by Anthony Horden (1889-1970) and named after the town of Milton on the south coast which was founded by his maternal grandfather, John Booth. The architects were Morrow & De Putron of Sydney.

  • The mansion was the focus of entertainment for many members of the Sydney “social set” of the time.

  • After the death of Anthony Hordern III’s first wife, Viola, in 1929 and following his marriage in 1932 to Ursula Mary Bullmore, changes were made to the house as well as the gardens.

  • From 1960-1976 Milton Park was owned by King Ranch (Aust) P/L but Mr P Baillieu and his wife Edwina, a daughter of the Horderns lived there. From 1977 until 1984 the Baillieus remained at Milton Park.


In 1984 the property was sold and the then new owners, Drs Ron White and John Cooper initiated a program to establish the house as the core of a country house hotel resort.


In 1961, the property was sold to the King Ranch Company of Texas who set it up as a showpiece for their stud quarter horse and Santa Gertrudis cattle breeding enterprise.

  • Edwina Hordern, one of Anthony’s daughters, and her husband lived in the house and continued to maintain the garden.

  • By 1984, the property was considered financially unviable and was divided into 40-hectare lots which were later sold, leaving the homestead and a four-hectare garden.


A further 120 hectares comprised the original home, farm, cottages and outbuildings. It was purchased by a consortium and converted into an international standard hotel.

  • It was sold again in 1989 and the new owner spent $14 million expanding the property to 340 hectares.

  • His plans failed when an investor failed to materialise and the property was sold to Aman Resorts in 1993.

    • Luxury Hoteliers Aman Resorts became a member of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux collection, which includes only the finest luxury hotels from around the globe.


In 1998 Milton Park was purchased privately by the Dobler Family and the owners have refurbished the estate, the hotel and the gardens to their current magnificent state giving it added touches of comfort and luxury.

Gallery of the Garden at Milton Park, Bowral NSW:
Gallery of the Garden at Milton Park, Bowral