Magnolia grandiflora
Bull bay or southern magnolia

Jenny Phillips, 2015. © The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust.

The fountain and pleasure garden at Vaucluse House

The gardens and grounds at Vaucluse House are part of a grand and romantic vision of landscape, preserved in Sydney’s best-surviving mid-1800s estate. Discover the splendid pleasure garden, Victorian kitchen garden and idyllic natural setting on the edge of Sydney Harbour.

Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums.

Southern magnolia in the pleasure garden at Vaucluse House

Southern magnolias are native to the southern states of the USA. Their dramatically large, fragrant flowers, glossy evergreen leaves and spreading canopy made them among the most fashionable ornamental plantings in 19th-century Sydney.

Photo © Katrina James for Sydney Living Museums.

Vaucluse House showing a southern magnolia (right, in front of Moreton Bay fig)
NSW Government Printing Office, June 1909, albumen print
Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums 

In 1903 a reporter for the Australian Town and Country Journal described an immense magnolia tree overshadowing the lawn at Vaucluse House as, ‘the largest now in the colony, since that in Government House grounds (of which Lord Jersey was so proud) has been sacrificed for the view’.

Vaucluse, near Sydney
Frederick L Fisher, 1874, watercolour
Sydney Living Museums

This watercolour depicts the planting scheme established by the Wentworth family at Vaucluse House between 1827 and 1862. While the estate as a whole was laid out according to picturesque principles, the inner pleasure garden followed the gardenesque style that became fashionable from the 1830s, with ‘specimen’ trees and ornamental shrubs planted so as to contrast differences in form and foliage.

Southern magnolia

Magnolia grandiflora