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Woolmers Estate, Tasmania

Woolmers Estate was built around 1819 and added to the United Nations World Heritage list in 2010. Photo - Libby Cameron

A date with Rose

Woolmers Estate, in northern Tasmania was home to six generations of the Archer family. For the past decade it has housed the National Rose Garden. Libby Cameron renewed her love of the rose on a recent visit.


Farming in the colonies

It’s easy to become hooked on colonial history when you visit Tasmania, for there are a number of significant old homes. Some are in the hands of avid restorers, others are still owned by descendants of the original settlers. Among these are Brickendon Estate (c1824) and Woolmers Estate (c1819), built by the Archer family. Both were added to the UN World Heritage List in 2010, along with 10 other Australian convict sites. The properties are considered significant because of the way convict labour was assigned. Each estate was more like a village than a homestead, as they had to be self-sufficient in trades and in food production. And that makes for a fascinating insight into early Australian life. Exploring the quaint outbuildings of the estates is a treat, as is Woolmers’ working kitchen garden, which cultivates traditional herbs, fruit and vegetables using techniques from our colonial past.



A row of creamy-yellow 'Teasing Georgia', a fragrant David Austin rose, is neatly hedged in a box. Photo - Libby Cameron


From apples to roses

Brickendon Estate is still in the hands of the Archer family, and three generations of the family are currently living there. Woolmers Estate was handed to what is now the Woolmers Foundation in 1994, following the death of the sixth Thomas Archer (‘Young Tom’), who was a bachelor. His father, Thomas Archer V, known as ‘Old Tom’, was an orchardist. His apples were sold locally and on the mainland, and he built a cider house in the 1840s when the orchard was thriving.

The National Rose Garden, which has been established by volunteers, was opened in 2001. It was laid out on part of the old orchard and more than 5000 roses were planted. There are still a few of the original apple trees remaining at the garden entrance, along with a canopy of heritage pears, trained onto an archway.

The first time I walked into this beautiful place, on a sunny day at the height of the flowering season, I was overwhelmed by the bounteous volume of healthy roses and their rich perfume floating on the fresh, clear air.



'Margaret Merrill', a fragrant floribunda bred in 1977, fills a bed behind the gazebo. Photo - Libby Cameron


Ancient to modern roses

The garden is set out in a formal symmetrical shape, typical of the mid-19th century, showing off a vast collection of roses ranging from the earliest European and China roses to the roses of the present. It is designed as a journey through the history of the rose.

Walking through the garden, the visitor passes first a bed of 16th – 19th century roses. These early roses, known as ‘old roses’, flower only once a year, so David Austin varieties, which re-flower, have been added to the beds to provide ongoing delights. Following on are beds containing 19th century roses such as China roses and tea roses, then Rugosa, modern shrub roses and hybrid musks, followed by floribunda and hybrid tea roses.


Photo - Libby Cameron

This is not an ornate garden. Many of the beds are simply framed with green hedges of English box, which flatters the assortment of coloured blooms. Some beds have a central frame to support climbers such as ‘Crepuscule’, to add height and variety to the scheme. Single coloured beds are also utilised in the design. Creamy-yellow ‘Teasing Georgia’ runs along one side of the garden, while white ‘Margaret Merrill’ fills a bed at the rear near a simple gazebo. A long central parterre with a slim water channel, known as the George Adams Memorial Garden, is a tribute to the founder of Tattersall’s, a major sponsor of the garden.


'Brass Band'. Photo - Libby Cameron 

The main rose arbour is a modern steel archway, 80 metres in length, which is festooned with 72 plants of ‘Westerland’, a large, perfumed, apricot-orange rose with dark, glossy leaves. This pillar rose is vigorous enough to provide a thick cover on both sides of the large structure. We were intoxicated as we walked under this arbour to look out from the end over the village of Longford.

The signage in the garden allows the visitor to easily follow the historic sequence of the rose, and to investigate the ancestry of modern roses. But for many the temptations of education are trumped by the sheer beauty of wandering among the beds, swooning at blooms and perfumes. We each spent hours deciding which rose was our favourite, then our absolute favourite, and then our final, definite favourite. It was a hard decision!


As well as the delights of the National Rose Garden, Woolmers features a heritage vegetable garden. Photo - Libby Cameron


Text: Libby Cameron

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Author: Libby Cameron