Update: There are new owners at Annsleigh Gardens and Cafe since we published Carol’s article back in 2013. Please welcome Karin and Ian Tonks to 4 Metaira Road in Ridgley Tasmania. Phone 0418 999 600 for details or follow Annsleigh Gardens on Facebook for news.
Annsleigh Gardens: Blood, Sweat and Tears
Five acres of English Gardens, nurtured from the soil of a bare sheep paddock, the beginnings of Annsleigh Gardens dates back over 40 years, when the original owners built their house and then began to establish gardens around it. Opened to the public in 1989, the gardens quickly became a popular tourist attraction. Due to ill health, Annsleigh Gardens and Café was closed in 2009 and put on the market. Purchased by John and Sue Chalk in 2011, their vision was to restore these once magnificent gardens to their former glory, a task of love, financial strain and sheer hard work as the gardens had become so sadly neglected.
John and Sue Chalk moved to Tasmania from Queensland 11 years ago, purchasing a small farm at Tewksebury, which they have since expanded to 100 acres and run cattle. A love of small farming stemmed from having lived on a farm early in their marriage. Their love of Tasmania grew having had previous visits to the state, with Sue having relatives living here in the North West. Until January this year John also worked full time in IT. The keys to Annsleigh Gardens were handed over to John and Sue in November, 2011. In April 2012, the Annsleigh Gardens and Café was once again opened to the public. Today these gardens are sheer testament to their hard working endeavours, and a credit to all involved in the restoration.
The Gardens Today: Thanks John and Sue Chalk
With hired labour, and voluntary help from friends and neighbours, John and Sue have now brought Annsleigh Gardens back to a magnificent splendour. The gardens are an ever evolving labour of love, with flowing paths that take one from one landscaped surprise to another, through many themes and garden layouts. Majestic European trees reach for the skies as below grow flowering and ornamental trees, a profusion of shrubs, bulbs, perennials and annuals delight the senses with both colourful displays and perfumed fragrances. Rose gardens, a succulent garden, arbours with wisteria, cherry blossoms, camellia, rhododendron, laburnum walks and so much more can be seen.
A magical pond complete with goldfish (ask staff for feed), miniature cottages, fountains, statues and a working water wheel are among the many decorations, as well as beautiful poetry boards featuring words perfectly fitting to the themes. Kev and I spent over two hours wandering the gardens, continually losing each other amongst the beauty as something new would catch our eye. Words from one of the beautiful poetry boards come to mind…”By the time you know where I am… I may very well be somewhere else” …as we would just locate one another, then off again on a separate path. Truly a delight, these gardens are level and accessible, suited to any age group and seating is conveniently located throughout if you need a rest.
Back Down Memory Lane
I have to share one very special themed area of these gardens, being a lover of history it truly won my heart. Named a Colonial theme, this area truly took me back to my childhood, memories came to mind the entire time I was in there. As I opened the gate, the first memory sprang to mind, the old drop down weight gate fastener slid down and up as I opened and closed the gate. Before me was a world of 50 years ago… the old clothesline stretched across the backyard, Butch the dog lay quietly in his kennel keeping watch, the old chook happily in her cage, though I doubt she’s ever laid an egg and as I wandered the path the old homestead came into view.
This section of the gardens was perfect, no fancy trimmings, just basic life as it was all those years ago, right down to the old ‘thunderbox’ in the backyard (for those who don’t know, a thunderbox was the common name for the ‘dunny’ or ‘toilet’ as we call it today. Termed as Australian Slang today, it was called the thunderbox because ‘sometimes when you go to the loo you ‘pass wind’, and it sounds like thunder’. I don’t think I have to explain the box part). So many memories here, even the old milk separator that took me back to childhood, the hours spent turning the handle as the thick rich cream was separated from the fresh warm milk after milking was over. The ‘longjohns’ drying on the line, the old washbasin and stand… so many memories, but you’ll have to visit to enjoy them all as I did!
Eat and Drink in the Café
The Annsleigh Gardens Café is housed in a beautiful conservatory, with garden views from every window and a small gift shop with Tasmanian craft and produce available for purchase. The café serves a hearty morning breakfast, casual light lunches and delicious sweets, with your choice of coffees, teas and cold drinks. A licensed café, Tasmanian wines and beers are also available. Delicious homemade food is prepared fresh on the premises, with a menu which varies with the seasonal availability of local fresh produce. Wherever possible John and Sue promote the usage of fresh Tasmanian produce, and are happy to cater to special dietary requirements, i.e. gluten free, allergies and food intolerances. Children are welcome accompanied by adults, and a play area is also located inside the café. Staff are friendly and attentive, making the experience one of comfort and pleasure.
After our two hour wander through the gardens, Kev and I had worked up an appetite, so decided afternoon tea was a necessity. Two cappuccinos were ordered, and I must say they were perfect! I’m a confessed sweet tooth, I didn’t hesitate in going straight to the Sweets list on the well layed out menu, where lemon meringue pie caught my eye. But alas, they also have a ‘Sweets Board’ on the wall… now a dilemma. I’d read ‘Blueberry Cake with Ice Cream’. I sat in turmoil, “What to have!”. I just couldn’t decide, so asked Sue to give me her recommendation. Blueberry Cake with Ice Cream won, it was delicious, superb! Kev is so easy when it comes to food, a toasted sandwich he ordered, but I must admit to having second thoughts as the aroma of those toasted sandwiches wafted to my nostrils, they smelled divine, and Kev didn’t hesitate in telling me they tasted divine also.
I cannot begin to imagine the seasonal changes that occur within these magnificent gardens. The magical shades of Autumn, the subtle hues of Winter and the vibrant colours of Spring. But one thing I do know, I have promised John and Sue I’ll be back to see every season as this ever evolving garden goes through every change. If this region is on your holiday/travel itinerary, then Annsleigh Gardens and Café is a must do. If you’re a local or Tasmanian, then head there for a visit, you truly don’t know what you are missing!
Annsleigh Gardens and Café are open 9:00am to 5:00pm daily all year round (closed 24, 25 and 26 December). For large groups bookings are essential. The gardens are suited to people of any age, with ample off road parking. Most of the gardens and the café are wheelchair accessible.
All photos strictly ©Carol Haberle, H&H Photography. You can follow Carol on Facebook at Haberle Photo Cards. Carol writes feature articles for this website about all things Tasmanian. If you’d like Carol to visit you, please contact Think Tasmania.