How do those secret gardens grow? Megan Blandford wanders through the lush gardens of these rolling hills.
Towering gum trees, ferns in shades of deep green, steam trains winding over photo-worthy trestle bridges, and cosy lunch dwellings; that’s right, this is the Dandenong Ranges.
Visiting the Dandenongs, as the locals call it, is an escape for many city-dwellers: turning onto the roads that run past the national park is crossing from suburbia to an oasis, and it’s hard to believe it’s so close to Melbourne.
The same can be said of the neighbouring Yarra Valley, although the landscape is vastly different.
With hills gently rolling between more than 70 cellar doors, and fresh produce at every turn, the only thing missing from a valley visit is an exploration of its natural wonders.
Until now, that is.
The Yarra Valley
Few have experienced the three-hectare ode to nature that lies behind the famous 600-metre-long cypress hedge because Melba Estate was only opened in 2014.
Opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, whose face you might have seen on the $100 note, took shelter here from the bright lights of the stage.
Explore her ultimate secret garden, complete with winding cobbled paths, mysterious hedge tunnels and Victoria’s oldest swimming pool, on a guided tour offered each Monday and Saturday.
It includes morning or afternoon tea in the acclaimed restaurant.
Alowyn is a two-decade dedication to creating almost three stunning hectares for people to enjoy.
There are six display areas here, including an edible garden, a French garden, birch forest and the 100-metre-long wisteria and rose-covered arbour.
No garden visit is complete without something to eat and drink, right?
So we should tell you that this one is right by the winery, cider and ale trail, as well as the chocolaterie that’s reminiscent of a Roald Dahl world.
The Dandenong Ranges
Tucked alongside the small village of Olinda, the National Rhododendron Gardens are no small patch.
No less than 40 hectares of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and other natives and exotics reside here, with the star of the show – the multi-coloured rhodies – popping into flower as spring reaches the hills.
If you can resist a walk through the neighbouring Mountain Ash forest, then you’re just going to have to come back again. visitdandenongranges.com.au
The hills come alive with bright flowers and woodlands at Cloudehill, which adjoins a nursery and cosy cafe. Walking among the giant 80-year-old European Beech trees will clear your head and your tension, ready for the week ahead.
The garden is made up of 20 ‘rooms’, each with its highlight, such as Japanese weeping maples, bold sculptures or Himalayan tree rhododendrons.
If you like views with your gardens, then you’re in luck at the hills’ (literally) top spot, overlooking the city skyline and the towering Dandenong Ranges National Park.
The maze has four secrets to uncover, including (spoiler alert) sculptures, butterflies and illusions; it’s like brain training inside a lillypilly hedge puzzle.
Events to look out for
8 September to 4 October
More fun than you can poke a tulip at, the festival is home to 700,000 brilliant flowers plus market stalls and entertainment.
Join in tours to discover more secrets, including private gardens, famous acreages and newly restored reveals.
The Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges are an hour’s drive east of Melbourne.
Stick with the garden theme, plus added wine, at Chateau Yering Hotel
Botanica Editions offer three soulful options in a secret oasis near Healesville
Choose between private houses or cosy cottages in the hills; visitdandenongranges.com.au