National Rose Garden at Woolmers Estate
The Archer family didn't like to give things away. From the time the first Thomas Archer established Woolmers Estate in 1817 up until the sixth and final Thomas Archer passed away in 1994, possessions steadily filled their Georgian homestead on the banks of the Macquarie River at Longford. From vintage cars to antique furnishings and art, the accumulations of six generations make the house and its surrounding buildings a fascinating time capsule for visitors today – but the biggest collection at Woolmers is actually outdoors.
Organised in a symmetrical 19th century layout, The National Rose Garden tells the entire history of this woody perennial through 5,000 individual plants from 30 rose families. Even species from more recent times, such as the David Austin roses, get fair representation next to more established European and Chinese varieties. The 117-metre-long central garden might be planted in an orderly fashion but it's by no means a strict or stuffy design, and the winding pathways encourage exploration.
Each rose's characteristics can be pinned down – from the clustered blooms of the floribunda to the skyward ambitions of the westerlands that climb the Rose Arbor arches. Nameplates identify and describe each variety for those in doubt, but words can't really capture the bouquet of scents – "sweet" and "fragrant" just don't cut it.
Late spring and early summer are the busiest visiting times for rose fans and the estate hosts its annual 'Festival of Roses' in late November. Peak flowering continues until April and tours of the homestead run seven days a week throughout the year. Woolmers features two other gardens, both typical of 19th century colonial farm estates: a walled oasis surrounding the main homestead (now planted with trees, shrubs and perennials of the period), and a kitchen garden growing enough produce to feed what was once a self-sustaining community of residents and workers.
Listed as a World Heritage Australian Convict Site, the property includes outbuildings constructed by convicts assigned to the first Thomas Archer under a system that placed well-behaved prisoners in the employ of free settlers. Visitors can take self-guided tours of the wooden woolshed (Australia's oldest), the blacksmith shop, stables and chapel, or even stay overnight in one of seven restored labourers' cottages. Real flower fans choose the gardener's lodgings – a Gothic-style hideaway where a green thumb once slept. Probably dreaming of roses.