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Meet: Richard Heathcote, director, Carrick Hill

Photo - Robin Powell

In spring of 2014 an unusual bloom will open in the gardening world – the world’s only Museum of Gardening. It will be housed in the grounds of historic Carrick Hill in Adelaide. Robin Powell spoke with Carrick Hill director Richard Heathcote.


The museum has grown out of the extraordinary collection of old tools that garden festival lovers know as The Old Mole.

Yes that’s right. Over the last 15 years Richard Bird has assembled a wonderful collection of hand tools. Richard’s wife Lyn Walker was coordinator for the Australian Open Garden Scheme. Richard would accompany her to these wonderful gardens and while she walked around with the owner, he’d be thinking ‘I wonder what’s in that shed?’ He usually found something interesting!


So why a Museum of Australian Gardening?

Richard didn’t just collect the tools, he also collected the stories that go with them. And they tell the tale of how we garden and how that has changed – or not changed. So the gardening museum’s story is about how you garden and what you garden with. I think that makes it a unique museum in the world.


Carrick Hill. Photo - Robin Powell


What’s the connection with Carrick Hill?

Richard’s collection is especially strong in tools of the early 20th century. This is our time. The garden here was started by Ursula Hayward in 1936. This time was really the last hoorah of the gardening hand tool - before the whipper snipper took over! For instance, there are 220 metres of hedge here at Carrick Hill, so that’s 440 metres of hedge to clip. The head gardener Cliff Jacobs, who worked here for 50 years, used to trim them by hand. He had a favourite pair of German shears and he sharpened them so often they ended up like knitting needles!


Where will the museum be based? 

Our site was a dairy. The museum will be like a big shed or a village hall. The tool collection will decorate the walls and the central space will have moveable benches and display cases – for meetings and flower shows and demonstrations and workshops about doing things in the garden. All of these activities will connect back into what you can do in the garden. The museum will have an archive on tools and gardening and a quantity of gardening books, catalogues and ephemera. The focus is on the 20th century as that is the era represented here at Carrick Hill.


Tools from the Old Mole. Photo - Robin Powell


Do you have a favourite tool in the collection?

There are plenty to choose from as there are currently 762 tools in the collection, and it continues to grow! An interesting part is the collection of children’s tools – both toy tools and children’s-size tools. There’s now a movement that champions children in the garden, but of course children in the garden has a long history. Gertrude Jekyll wrote a whole book on children and gardens – how gardening was a deeply powerful and educational part of bringing up children. And of course the royal children had their own wheelbarrows and sets of tools.


Carrick Hill is open Wednesdays to Sunday and public holidays from 10 am to 4.30pm.


Text: Robin Powell 

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Author: Robin Powell