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Sunday's Roses

Sunday’s lifelong passion for roses can be traced to the gardens of her childhood, at Balholmen and Merthon, her family homes in Toorak, Melbourne and at Portsea on the Mornington Peninsula. Much of her knowledge about roses was garnered from books and she often typed up notes from publications by rosarians such as Gertrude Jekyll, Samuel Reynolds Hole, B.V. Rossi and Vita Sackville West. At Heide she grew an idiosyncratic but intelligent selection of wild and species, old and hybrid roses, and these were essential to her palette as a gardener. After nearly ninety years of rose cultivation on the property, around 150 of the original 250 or so bushes planted still remain.

From the outset Sunday loved old-fashioned, rambling roses in preference to modern varieties and her earliest order, from a local nursery in June 1938, was for a mix of wild and heritage species, including ‘Fortune’s Double Yellow’, an old tea rose discovered in China in 1845’; and ‘Gloire de Dijon’, an extremely tolerant climbing tea rose in soft apricot with ruched petals.

She was resourceful about obtaining new cuttings and plants, with Neil Douglas, the gardener at Heide in the 1930s, encouraged to transplant a number of ‘old sailing ship’ or colonial era roses from his mother’s garden at Bayswater. Sunday also sought out specialist nurseries in Australia and overseas, and sourced several species from Alister Clark (1864 – 1949), the well-known hybrid grower who bred some of Australia’s best-loved roses and was invited to Heide to identify roses that were already onsite when the Reeds moved in. In the late 1960s Sunday grew Clark’s winter-flowering ‘Lorraine Lee’ and ‘Squatter’s Dream’ in her second kitchen garden, created near Heide Modern, the new modernist residence on the property.

Sunday in Rosa Mutabilis c.1974, photographer unknown

The second kitchen garden contained a plethora of roses, including the deep pink Bourbon rose ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’ and the soft pink Boursalt ‘Madame de Sancy de Parabere’, both bred in France in the late nineteenth century. ‘Tea Rambler’, a spectacular pink multiflora, was one of several species trailed along the fence. Sunday knew that the wild roses of the northern hemisphere, numbering over 125 separate species, are a traditional part of the plant stock for a romantic cottage garden and she wanted to reflect the diversity of the genus, from R. multiflora watsoniana with its finely cut leaves, to R. gigantea, which has huge pale yellow-cream flowers and unexpected height. Among the other wild roses at Heide is R. gallica officinalis ‘Apothecary’s Rose’, a favourite of John’s and rare in Australia.

While Sunday grew wild or species roses for their purity and history, the blooms she loved most were the heritage varieties, especially those with delicate colouration and exquisite perfumes such the gently scented ‘Madame Pierre Oger’. The pale pink Souvenir de la Malmaison’, another Bourbon, named after Empress Josephine’s garden at Malmaison near Paris, was a favourite of both Sunday and her father, Arthur Baillieu, and was planted at Heide in the early days. Sunday grew it in bush form and as a climbing rose in the original kitchen garden. Also of sentimental value was a rose that she grew in the perennial border near Heide Cottage, which she referred to as ‘my mother’s rose’, in memory of Ethel Baillieu, who died in 1932. Purportedly a cutting from a bush beside Ethel’s grave, the rose has been identified as ‘Duchesse de Brabant’, a repeat flowering tea rose. Throughout her life Sunday made gifts of cuttings and rose plants to fellow gardeners, including several she struck herself and referred to with a Heide prefix, and such gestures indicated her deep fondness for the recipient.

Heide’s most famous rose is ‘Mutabilis’, a China rose, immortalised by the artist Sidney Nolan in a 1945 painting of Sunday, who was then his lover. She appears like a nature goddess floating in a cloud of the rose’s blooms, which darken from creamy yellow to pink to soft crimson as they open. Nolan’s allusion to this display forms an ingenious metaphor for Sunday’s capricious nature, while the image beautifully encapsulates the nostalgic, restorative and symbolic role that roses played in Sunday’s life.