Looking at it now, it’s hard to believe Connie and Julian Menegazzo bought Cloverdale when it was ‘just a paddock’ for growing wheat, barley, and canola on their working farm.
‘It was a very windy site with only two red gums by the dam,’ Connie says. ‘I wanted to create a welcoming garden that felt like home, with lots of green with flowers, trees and lawns.’
Fast forward more than 40 years of hard work (and more than 4000 trees planted!) and this has become one of Melbourne’s most elaborate private gardens, nestled into the city’s outer western suburbs. The Werribee garden has evolved ‘randomly’ over the years, with Connie often returning from visits to other gardens with new ideas that sometimes worked – and sometimes didn’t.
A year after building their home on the block in 1983, the couple had an avenue of 80 Ulmus glabra ‘Lutescens’ (Golden Wych Elms) planted along the driveway. They are one of the most enchanting parts of the property, but Connie says establishing them in the early years ‘was a struggle’ because they lacked protection from the wind.
‘Now they are very happy and since extending the dam in 2004 we no longer need to water them as their clever roots reach the water,’ she adds.
The local Lollypop Creek flows through to their dam, which beautifully reflects the textured ‘forest’ of natives they planted along the banks, featuring Poa Labillardieri (tussock-grass), Lomandra Longiflora (basket grass), Acacia Baileyana Prostrate (Wattle), and Clematis Artistata (Australian clematis).
‘The garden, dam and forest attract many birds that are a joy to watch,’ Connie says. ‘We also play host to the odd lone pelican and often a few swans, both birds paddle majestically around the house.’
By 2014, another 200 native trees and shrubs were planted in what the couple call the ‘sheep paddock’, along with colourful flowers such as claret ash, jonquils daffodils and blue bell bulbs. Many plants, including the Salix babylonica (weeping willows), originated from cuttings Connie sourced from friend’s gardens, and ‘seeing them brings back many happy memories of times gone by’.
There are a few native frangipanis scattered throughout – and ‘their scent is just magic’ – along with the fragrance of the blooming rose bushes around winding garden paths and a romantic arbour. There’s too many plant variations to name, but each space weaves beautifully into the next almost as if it was an expansive park.
Connie says she spends anywhere between 6 to 20 hours (or more!) in the garden every week. And besides hiring someone to plant the elm trees, she and Julian have done the rest themselves with occasional help from family.
‘There is no rhyme or reason to our garden,’ she adds. ‘The plant choices are mine and I just planted the things that I liked and that would survive! As you walk around there is something different around every corner.’