How to grow Meet: John Christie, General Manager, Cruden Farm

Meet: John Christie, General Manager, Cruden Farm


Photo - Cruden Farm

Cruden Farm is the wonderful garden of the late (and much-loved) Dame Elizabeth Murdoch. Sandra Ross spoke with John Christie about steering the garden into the future.


What’s it like to be working in one of Australia’s most beautiful gardens?

It’s an absolute privilege to be here and also to be working with Michael Morrison who has been here more than 40 years and is critical to the next phase of this garden’s journey.

 

The partnership between Michael and Dame Elizabeth was remarkable.

I think it’s one of the great Australian horticultural relationships. As in any creative relationship, they didn’t necessarily agree on everything, but part of the success of the garden is the deep respect they held for each other’s views.

 


The view across the dam to the stables. Photo - Robin Powell

 

What are your duties as GM?

It’s basically the oversight of the whole operation: the garden and the farm, which is critical to the aesthetic of Cruden Farm. Part of my role here is to try and capture where we’re at the moment. There’s that old adage that in order to plan for the future we need to understand the present and to understand the present we need to look back at the past. There are obvious things to do; a plant list, a map of the property. And gardens being gardens, they are cultural artifacts. There’s a history to every plant and we are teasing out that history. Some plants came from important nurseries long gone. Some were given and/or planted by an extraordinary array of people. Some are family plantings. So part of my role is to co-ordinate all of this and to help forge the new direction.

 


The house nestles into the garden. Photo - Robin Powell

 

What is your background?

I’ve had a meandering path. I started in zoology, then became interested in human evolution and things cultural and anthropological. I taught in Arnhem Land for 17 years, where my wife was a nurse. We started growing food as part of our health program, linked to our literacy and numeracy program. I realised that plants underscore everything! So when I came back to Melbourne I decided to work in horticulture, and three years ago I started working here with Michael. When this new position was created they asked me to step in.

 

This is the garden of one quite remarkable person; that’s quite a legacy.

We have photographs from the ‘20s and ‘30s that show what can happen to a property over the course of one lifetime: the huge elms at the front of the house as seedlings for instance. There are other legacies of continuity too. The farm manager Andrew’s father and uncle both worked here, for example.

 

I can see this garden is in the very best of hands.

Well it’s a privilege and it’s fun and we have an excellent team. There is great loyalty to the place and great excitement about the challenge ahead.

 


Photo - Robin Powell

 

We’ll be visiting Cruden Farm again on our Great Southern Rail Journey, which takes in great gardens in South Australia and Victoria at their spring peak. For details go to www.rosstours.com or call 1300 233 200.


Text: Sandra Ross 

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Author: Sandra Ross

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