Let’s begin at her Peony Estate in Arthurs Seat Rd. Originally grown for more than 2000 years in China, the peony is a flowering plant in the genus Paeonia — and Jill loves them. When you stroll down her long driveway past her sister’s truffle farm to the left and the acres of free farming land that have been passed on to her by her father, Ray Holmes, you are taken back to a time when living on the land might have been brutally wonderful. Simpler, but harsh at the same time. Set back is her and her husband Philip’s wonderful home and her prized Peony Estate, where thousands of peonies can be found behind a stunning 200-year-old gate from Egypt. It’s like you’ve been transported through a time portal where ancient premium Peninsula land melds with modern-day sensitivities under the umbrella of unobtrusively good taste.
She explains. “Herbaceous peonies are sold as bare root rhizomes with a few buds (or eyes). They love the sun. The Chinese have a saying about them: ‘The first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap!’ Our peonies are ready to flower, and each plant can produce multiple blooms. It’s a wait and see campaign. It’s been hard work. We actually hand-ice each plant. (The flower buds need ice to develop, and if it melts during June and July it needs to be replaced.) We are looking forward to seeing the results.”
The land that grows these gorgeous flowers is magnificent. Jill’s great-great-grandparents Robert and Eliza Sheehan purchased the Red Hill property from James McKeown in 1886 — although Jill’s father is quick to mention that the original inhabitants of the land were the Bun Wurrung people in his wonderful historical record of the family’s history entitled Red Hill Ancestors, dedicated to his wife, Pat. McKeown had planted a large grove of European trees around his home from seeds provided by the Melbourne Botanical Gardens and many of them still stand today.
The Sheehans came from Victoria’s Western District in search of a cooler climate after leaving their farm in Murtoa to their eldest son, and began clearing the land until they invited their daughter, Olive Holmes, and her large family to join them. They milled the timber, planted vegetables and fruit trees and had cattle grazing. Now, 132 years later, we see Jill and her sister, Jenny, tending to the land once again. Jill continues. “The remaining 80 acres (32ha) we have is still being farmed today — albeit very differently. The adjacent land formally known as Endeavour Gully is now owned by the National Trust and makes up the largest continuous treed area on the whole of the Mornington Peninsula.”
As you drive through Red Hill you’ll come across road signs like Sheehan’s and Holmes Rd and Sheehan’s Corner. Now you know why. Jill’s Peony Estate is open to the public for visits in November and is well worth a wander to be historically and aesthetically inspired. Or you can visit her history-laden cool store to pick up some peonies or purchase some of Jill’s fabulous art — yes, she can do that too! This Peninsula hands-on creative majored in woodwork at Melbourne University in 1977 and has been painting for years.
Everything Jill puts her mind to has a deeply satisfying artistic quality, whether it’s her peonies or painting or creating a beautiful space for Mornington Peninsula residents and visitors alike to unwind and connect with the generational earth beneath them.
Log on to redhillpeonyestate.com.au to find Peony Estate’s 2018 open days, or phone Jill on 0438 558 633.