A Look At Heide Modern's Enchanting Kitchen Garden Restoration

One of the defining features of Melbourne’s Heide Museum of Modern Art is its heritage gardens — and none are more famous than the Heide Modern kitchen garden.

The kitchen garden was originally established by Heide co-founder and arts patron Sunday Reed, who modelled it on French and English cottage styles, combining rambling flowers with fragrant herbs and leafy vegetables.

Now about 50 years on from its creation, Heide has fundraised more than $100,000 to restore the garden with the guidance of heritage gardener Michelle Stewart. Take a closer look at how the works have already improved the space for generations to come.

Christina Karras
Supported By Heide Museum Of Modern Art

Heide Museum of Modern Art features five gallery spaces and acres of parklands, including the Heide Modern kitchen garden.

The Heide Modern kitchen garden has a production area in the lower section of the space that is filled with seasonal vegetables all year round, accompanied by annual and perennial flowers, roses and herbs.

The top end reveals an ornamental flower garden laid out with a series of paths, intended to slow the journey through the garden.

Restoration works have been underway for the last year after a successful fundraising campaign.

‘Many of the produce varieties are selected for their heirloom status, and the herbs reflect a European diet such as rosemary, tarragon, sage, basil, and mint,’ heritage gardener Michelle Stewart says.

Tomatoes in the vegetable garden!

The productive garden space offers a wide array of fresh vegetables and herbs daily.

It’s filled with European varieties like artichokes, rhubarb, salad leaves and more that change throughout the seasons.

No visit to Heide’s world-class art exhibitions is complete without wandering through the tranquil garden.

Christina Karras
26th of October 2023

When John and Sunday Reed purchased Heide in 1934 it was a neglected former dairy farm.

The arts patrons had a vision to create a haven for emerging modernist artists, and in the years that followed they successfully transformed the acreage into a verdant parkland that enveloped their family property in Bulleen, which officially became a public gallery in 1981.

The kitchen garden was a particular passion project for Sunday and it remains one of the most beloved spots of the grounds, nestled below Heide Modern. She designed the garden with inspiration from French and English cottage gardens, planting herbs and traditional flowers, alongside seasonal vegetables, while a central arbour showcases beautifully fragrant roses.

‘From a bare cow paddock, the space was transformed into an abundant market garden and overflowing garden space,’ says heritage gardener Michelle Stewart. The trained chef and fine arts graduate is also a qualified horticulturist who’s been working on the garden’s restoration for the past year, after Heide raised more than $100,000 to help ‘recapture some of the romance’ of Sunday’s original vision.

‘The garden had become somewhat diluted from Sunday’s original design and required some work to bring it back to its former glory,’ Michelle adds. ‘The ethos of a rambling wild French-style cottage garden was still in there, just a little wilder than it should have been.’

One of her main tasks was to remove some of the ‘undesirable’ growths and weeds that had overrun the beds, freeing up space to reintroduce plantings informed by Michelle’s research and Heide’s archives — such as sweet rocket — while varieties like rosemary, sage, basil, artichokes, and salad leaves reflect a European diet.

‘The Reeds preferred rare and unusual plants and over the years many of these special varieties have dwindled or have been replaced with more generic varieties.  Sunday was also a collector, so the garden was recorded to have over 21 types of pelargonium and geranium, many thyme and salvia varieties and also a selection of lavenders. Some of these are being reintroduced throughout this restoration process,’ she says.

But the most significant change has been employing a gardener dedicated to the weekly maintenance and upkeep of the space.

‘Sunday did not use any pesticides in the garden and as such we still follow this method and grow organically,’ Michelle explains. Today, all of the fresh produce grown in the garden is harvested for the Heide Kitchen restaurant, continuing Sunday’s garden-to-plate ethos.

Michelle says visitors have already commented on how much the idyllic space has improved thanks to the recent works.

‘It is wonderful to look out across the garden and see how well settled it is looking. There is a lot of effort on my part to make it look as though the garden has done this all by itself. It is always exciting to watch something that you have grown on from seed establish itself and flower.’

She hopes it will continue to thrive across the seasons, but right now in spring happens to be the best time to see the garden in full bloom!

Get tickets to visit Heide Museum of Modern Art here.

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