In Memory of Grace

Words by
Myles Broad
| April 29, 2014

Last month saw the passing of one of Australia’s gardening matriarchs, Grace Gordon Eckersley, at the age of 92. Grace lived a long and plentiful life that saw the creation of three wonderful gardens and an iconic dynasty of garden design.

Grace was the mother of Rick Eckersley, my business partner and a highly regarded landscape designer based in Melbourne. Whilst Rick’s other siblings had grandchildren, golf and tennis to share with Grace, Rick’s bond with his mother was gardening.

As a young boy growing up on the family farm 30 kilometers south of Hamilton in the western district of Victoria, Rick had a burgeoning interest in architecture and design. He helped his mother craft a garden from what was originally lawn and a pine tree plantation. The pair toiled together, extending the garden beds further and further away from the house. Rick recalls,

I planted it all out with mum but then I left and went off to Africa. Grace was left to look after the garden whilst I was gone and I think that’s what got her interested…I think she just took it on board that she had an obligation to look after the garden!

It was tough, rocky, rabbit ridden country. Never afraid of hard work, Grace and Rick created an oasis amongst the harsh terrain. Rick remembers there was always plenty of colour in the garden; “Reds next to yellows, oranges side by side with pinks. ‘Superstar’ Rose was her favourite at that time. It was the early seventies…” Rick recollects, “People were wearing paisley for gods sake!”

In 1986, Grace and her husband Graeme sold the farm and purchased ‘Highfields’, a modest 20 acre property near Romsey, 60 kilometres north of Melbourne. While Rick’s profile was growing as a landscape designer, he channelled his energy and talents into planning and building, alongside Grace and Graeme, the four-acre garden. Rick describes it as a shared passion between mother and son, bringing them closer together:

When we were working at it, we’d be toiling…Gardening to Grace was always about work – that’s how she got satisfaction. When the work was finished, she’d sit out there with a sherry and admire the results… She wasn’t one to sit you down, pat you on the head and tell you googly stories. It was more about getting on with the work, there was job to be done and Grace just went at it!

'Highfields' garden, Romsey
'Highfields' garden, Romsey

The next garden was at Surrey Hills, closer to Grace and Graeme’s children and grandchildren. It was a smaller plot with a focus on pleasure on a manageable scale. Rick & his brother Ross built the garden for Grace & Graeme this time as they were both heading into their eighties. It was a fully facilitated landscape with garden rooms draped in Virginia creeper, an ornamental pond and a modest potager garden. Grace saw the passing of Graeme in her time at Surrey Hills but it didn’t dampen her joy for life or for gardening. The garden was always filled with the same colour and spark that Grace gave everything in her life.

I knew Grace only in the last ten years of her life. She was a kind and generous soul who brought passion to everything she did and shared happiness with all around her. If the worth of a life were measured by the compassion and joy that one has shared and created, then Grace’s life would be considered valuable indeed. We salute a true gardener.

The garden at Surrey Hills
The garden at Surrey Hills
The garden at Surrey Hills
Rick and Grace Eckersley. Image by Derek Swalwell