One of the nicest things about visiting designer gardens at a flower show is that you know they've only been there for a week or so and weeds haven't had time to grow.
Similarly, the very best plants at exactly the right size and shape have been selected, there's been no dog to make crop circles on the lawn and, thanks to vigilant security men, possums, cats, snails and slugs have not been allowed to eat or dig anything up. So you can admire the concept, the design and the planting without guilt or feelings of inadequacy.
Such is not usually the case when you visit a public garden, but Beleura at Mornington, near Melbourne, is an exception. It's one of the very few public gardens I've ever seen where not only is perfection not required nor even striven for, but eschewed by its creator.
Built in 1863 by James Butchart, the house was described as the finest mansion in the colony. When it was sold to Charles Edward Bright, son-in-law of Sir John Manners-Sutton, Governor of Victoria from 1866 to 1873, it became the unofficial summer retreat for the Governor and his family.
Subsequently owned by a succession of rich, powerful and successful families, Beleura was bought in 1916 by Sir George Tallis, and from 1950 owned by his son Jack. He took it by family agreement, which, he admitted was a "momentous decision, and not wholly a wise one".
From 1952, Jack began to overlay his parents' garden with a romantic, idiosyncratic version of an Italian garden. While much of the design is formal, the garden looks rather like mine - far from orderly, with casual planting, slightly unruly hedges, untrimmed trees, mossy lawns and ground covers creeping from their beds to colonise the edges of the paths.
Interestingly, keeping this public garden in the manner to which it has been accustomed - messy - is no mean feat. As Beleura director Anthony Knight explains, it's very difficult to convince the gardeners they are not to strive for straight lines, level hedge tops and weed-free beds and paths. Fortunately for Jack's vision, there are only three fulltime gardeners now and they haven't time for perfection.
The garden is a glorious place for real gardeners but you can't just roll up, pay 50c and wander at will. It's open only for pre-arranged tours, so there's a feeling of privilege in being here.
When Jack Tallis died in 1996 he left Beleura to the people of Victoria, requesting it become a house museum. In 2004, his dream was realised and the house and gardens at Beleura are now open to the public in the way he wished, by appointment and with visitors welcomed as guests.
To find out more about Beleura see www.beleura.org.au For more information on Melbourne or Victoria see www.visitmelbourne.com/nz
I love garden quotes. There's certainly no doubt that the people who wrote these knew what they were talking about.
"What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it."
Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in a Garden, 1871
"There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling."
Mirabel Osler (English writer and garden designer)
"Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it."
"Science, or para-science, tells us that geraniums bloom better if they are spoken to. But a kind word every now and then is really quite enough. Too much attention, like too much feeding, and weeding and hoeing, inhibits and embarrasses them."
Victoria Glendinning (British broadcaster and novelist)
"In gardens, beauty is a by-product. The main business is sex and death."
Sam Llewelyn (British author)
"Weather means more when you have a garden. There's nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your green beans."
Marcelene Cox (US writer)
"God made rainy days so gardeners could get the housework done."
"Unemployment is capitalism's way of getting you to plant a garden."
Orson Scott Card(US author)
"You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt."
"Love your neighbour, yet pull not down your hedge."
George Herbert (Welsh-born English poet and Anglican priest)
"Gardening is a kind of disease. It infects you, you cannot escape it. When you go visiting, your eyes rove about the garden; you interrupt the serious cocktail drinking because of an irresistible impulse to get up and pull a weed."
Lewis Gannit (US writer)