TEA, ROSES AND REST
Green tea and a lamb named Boofa are just a part of the story on Heatherly in Victoria’s Acheron valley.
The garden on Heatherly was awash with roses when Georgie Leckie moved to her husband, Will’s, family property in Victoria 16 years ago. “Will’s mother had a passion for roses and after living here for 25 years, she left me a beautiful garden,” Georgie says. “I either had to run with it or decide that gardening wasn’t my thing and bring the fences in.”
Motivated by touring Open Gardens Australia properties and taking inspiration from garden writers such as Paul Bangay, Georgie and Will took the bit between their teeth and ploughed on. Buoyed by what had gone before, they are now writing their own chapter into the Heatherly history and the garden was just the beginning. Beyond the boundary fence, a shearing shed became a workshop, the sheep gave way to cattle, and some of the calf-high pasture is now waist-high green tea.
“The first time I came here, I was mesmerised by the beautiful valley, surrounding hills and the drive through the The Black Spur north of Healesville,” Georgie recalls. “I’d met Will on a plane as we both returned from working holidays in Europe and four years later I was invited to the property with mutual friends.”
Back in Melbourne, Georgie worked in interior design at Georges Department Store. “I have a beautiful memory of a bathroom I’d seen while nannying in the UK,” she says. “It was wallpapered in Fuchia, a $150-per-metre chintz fabric by Colefax and Fowler.” When one of her Melbourne clients was nonplussed about 20 metres of the same leftover fabric, Georgie readily accepted it and it now hangs in the Heatherly dining room as a graceful reminder of a special place.
Though the house didn’t require renovation, the Leckies made cosmetic changes and decorating the bedroom sowed the seed for Heatherly Design Bedheads. Though she didn’t make her own winged bedhead, Georgie had already grasped an opportunity and made her own simple bedheads for her children. The Heatherly bedheads evolved from there to what they are today.
“In our room, didn’t know whether to start with curtains, wallpaper or the bedhead,” Georgie says. “I’d always wanted special fabric for my own room and though I’m a ‘blue’ girl, I also love crisp apple green and so the Designers Guild fabric in the master bedroom was perfect. My early days were spent juggling children and at mothers’ group I threw around ideas for upholstered bedheads. I began with three plain designs and 20 fabrics and sold to friends in 2006 and 2007.”
With toddlers at her side, Georgie converted the disused woolshed into a workshop. A large rug covered the floor and the skirting table with its revolving top and new Laminex veneer was the perfect workbench. An air compressor to drive the staple gun was the perfect Christmas gift.
“Once I got to handling big orders, like king-sized bedheads, the versatile workbench was brilliant and the compressor saved my hands when using the staple gun,” she says. “Going slowly in those early days taking orders and figuring out transport and logistics was invaluable.” While Georgie was sewing and stapling, the children were playing on the floor making cubby houses out of the remnants. It only took six months however, to realise that the business was ready to shift up a gear.
“I was doing up an order to be sent to Bondi and realised that was the moment I’d been waiting for,” she adds. “When there is so much to choose from in Sydney, this customer had chosen my product and ordered online. It was remarkable that I could create something in my woolshed and send it to a wider market.” The wool shed was soon repurposed as a storage shed and the business moved to Melbourne where Georgie now employs specialist upholsterers.
Parallel to Georgie’s business, the farm had taken a surprising turn when a Japanese green tea merchant came to the district seeking growers. Heatherly now grows 30 acres of green tea. “The tiny plants, all 170,000 of them, were 10-20cm tall and struck from the mother plants,” Georgie says. ”They were vulnerable little things going into paddocks that needed everything in their favour to get where they are today. It took about five years to get reasonable yields and we now harvest up to four times between October and March. We had some excellent input from the Japanese to mentor us through this delicate process. Recently a Melbourne food guide’s dietician included green tea as one of the top ten super foods you should consume daily.”
Words: Kathy Mexted
Photography: Kim Selby