“Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go.” A quote by Captain James Cook in reference to him digging for potatoes in his garden? Perhaps unlikely, but the great explorer may have had a greener upbringing than his sea blue finale. It wasn’t my sole reason for heading to Melbourne, but along with the restful Fitzroy Gardens, the ever changing observatory and the house and gardens of the Cook family, the area remains a focal point of horticultural attraction in the heart of the Victorian capital.
Delving a little south firstly, well, very south. Through the earth’s core and back out the other side, we have arrived a little hot and bothered back in the UK. It’s 1933 and the owner of the Cook’s cottage decided to sell it. In an attempt to prevent its being taken overseas the owner made it a condition of sale that the building remained in the UK. However, the UK became “the British Empire”, and so it was that the house and gardens became Australian with the acceptance of an outrageous bid in the region of £800. The local officer had offered a mere £300. Australia bound it became.
Why Australia? Well, it all began because a report of the impending sale appeared in the Herald of Melbourne. Sir Russell Grimwade (a rather wealthy local businessman) proclaimed that the house should be bought for re-erection in Melbourne as this was the capital to the state whose coastline was indeed part of Captain Cook’s arrival on the shores of Australia.
The cottage was packed piece by piece and placed into over 250 boxes including 40 barrels. Arguable and most surprisingly, the original hedera helix that donned the walls of the cottage was also collected. Cuttings galore followed and a box of ivy slips headed off to sea to be transplanted in their new country. Port Dunedin sailed from Hull with garden et al bound for Melbourne.
A location in the spacious Fitzroy Gardens was chosen under large shady European trees and the re-construction work was completed six months after docking in Melbourne. The cottage was handed over to the Lord Mayor, H. Gengoult Smith by Russell Grimwade on the 15th October, 1934 during a centenary ceremony.
Following its arrival and construction, the cottage soon became a popular attraction for both tourists and locals wanting to escape the city life. In 1978 further restoration work was carried out on the cottage and the garden was laid out to produce an English cottage garden style around the house. The theme of the garden was to intermingle a mixture of English herbaceous plants with rows of seasonal veggies and fruit. Rhubarb erupted from its crater. Red current bushes that tangled their subtle fruit on the awaiting vincas below. It was all very much adding to the theme of the period reconstruction, although Captain’s Cook fondness for broad bean’s will remain as mysterious as the reason for him returning to Hawaii that cost him his life.
The exact building date of the original house stands at about 1755 as above the door is scribed “1755” and the initials “JCG”, (James and Grace Cook?). However, it is believed that our young explorer may not have spent much time on his hands and knees de-heading the petunias.
It is a house made typically for the era in a North English town. Not exactly renowned for its tropical climate, the house was detached and composed of two storeys with only one main chamber on each floor. It has small windows and doors not because the hobbits had stayed but to preserve heat that is a rare commodity in the Yorkshire hills.
Little is of course known on the layout of the original garden. The current plants used are species which would have been prevalent in the mid-18th century but unless the Cooks were as adventurous in the garden as they were at sea, it seems unlikely that the current selection of plants would have all been present in the current garden we see today.
What is original and arguable the most impressive story of the Cook’s garden is the surrounding Hedera. Part of the original ivy cuttings, they had clearly travelled with little sea sickness and now eclipse and flank large sections of the building exterior. The joy of travel had clearly spread right through the Cook family.