Eryldene, the Spiritual Home of Camellias

by Peter Levick – Eryldene Director

house-5The spiritual home of camellias was how members of the Japan Camellia Society described Eryldene when visiting Professor E G Waterhouse at his home, Eryldene, in the 1970’s. It was built for Gowrie and Janet Waterhouse in 1914 to the design of the Australian neo-colonial architect William Hardy Wilson. Eryldene was the name of Janet Waterhouse’s family home in Kilmarnock, Scotland.

Hardy Wilson designed the front garden of the house as a cottage garden and IMGP3603the ‘Professor’ as we all knew him designed the rest of the one-acre garden as a series of rooms through which one proceeded. Though camellias had fallen out of fashion at the end of the 19th Century, six were acquired for initial planting in the garden. Four still remain, ‘Contessa Collini’, and ‘Iris’ on either side of the front gate and two ‘La Pace Rubra’ guarding the entrance in the ‘Temple’.

C.japonica 'E G Waterhouse'

C.japonica ‘E G Waterhouse’

As the Professor’s interests in camellias developed he acquired a very large collection and at the time of his death there were over 700 camellias, many in tubs. A large number were obtained as scions from overseas through the mail (one should (must) not do it today for quarantine reasons).

During the period when camellias were not popular with the public many cultivar names had become lost or confused. Some nurseries in the 1930’s were selling plants as ‘pink’, ‘red’ or ‘white’. To sort out the confusion, Professor Waterhouse together with Alex Jessep, C R Merrillees and Walter Hazlewood, formed a group which became the Australian New Zealand Camellia Research Society in 1952. When a separate New Zealand Camellia Society was formed a few years later the Australian Camellia Research Society was born.

C.xwilliamsii 'Eryldene Excelsis'

C.xwilliamsii ‘Eryldene Excelsis’

The Professor had expressed the wish that after his death, Eryldene and its garden should be preserved. He died in August 1977 in his 97th year. His family was unsuccessful in negotiations with the National Trust of Australia and finally a private trust, the Eryldene Trust was formed in 1979 with the co-operation of the Ku-ring-gai Municipal Council and the New South Wales Branch of the Australian Camellia Research Society.

Each organisation nominates 2 members to the Board of the Eryldene Trust. The other Board officers and members are elected from the Trust members.

The Garden Temple

The Garden Temple

A successful public appeal enabled the Eryldene Trust to purchase the property from the Waterhouse Estate anda large grant from the NSW State Govenerment enabled the restoration of the house.

The Articles of Association of the Eryldene Trust include the aim of ‘fostering the interests of the NSW Branch of the Australian Camellia Research Society’ and ‘providing for the housing of the library of the NSW Branch of the ACRS’. This library now exists in the Garden Study at Eryldene and includes the Professor’s horticultural books which were donated to the Society by the Waterhouse family and also includes many of Walter Hazlewood’s books. The library is not a lending facility, but can be used by members for research and educational purposes. Access can be arranged by appointment with the Manager.

Tea House

Tea House

The funds for day to day running of Eryldene come from the entry charges on open days, about 8 weekends per year; (these are organised by a volunteer group ‘The Friends of Eryldene’), charges for weddings, photo shoots and similar functions, membership fees of significant donations from a number of Camellia Society affiliated. Recently major repairs to the buildings have been substantially financed by State and Federal grants.

In 1991 a Foundation was formed, the income from which would help the Trust’s finances; the target at the time was $500,000 but only $150,000 was raised and with current low interest rates and some attrition in times of Trust financial crisis, the income for supplementing the Trust’s finances is small, but the existence of the Foundation, small as it is, does provide some measure of security for the Eryldene Trust.

Garden Study housing the library

Garden Study housing the library

The management of the garden is controlled by a Garden Council (committee) which supervises the paid gardener (1 day per week) and various volunteers including occasional ‘working bees’ from the NSW ACRS Inc.

Gardens can never remain static, but the general principles of the Professor’s garden philosophy are maintained. One point on controversy has been whether to plant new cultivars of camellia. The argument is that the Professor would surely have wanted ‘one of these’, however, in large measure this has been resisted, with few exceptions; particularly the late Paul Jones’ small collection of Higos.

One cannot say that the Eryldene Trust thrives, but after 25 years it is still there and with the support of camellia lovers and those appreciative of Heritage, let us hope that the Eryldene house and garden are still there in the 2114 the their bi-centenary will be celebrated.