The map was created with a black ink outlines and in water colour. It illustrates the aspect of the park that was intended to be seen from the house. Werribee mansion needed an impressive park that was equally compelling and at the time that meant an English style garden of gently rolling lawns set against groves of trees, usually including a lake and picturesque features such as the grotto that we see here. It was designed to recreate an idyllic pastoral scene, in the manner of landscape design that emerged in England during the 18th & 19th century.
THE GREAT LAWN
From the Mansion, the view is framed on either side by garden beds, and the eye directed out towards the rolling grassy lawns, dotted with magnificent and rare specimen trees. The farm and any utilitarian buildings are kept out of sight.
The trees planted at Werribee Park were planted withy the future in mind. There was a particular emphasis on conifers. Today the trees are mature and many are rare or exotic. There are many trees on The National Tree Register dotted through the Park.
Below this rich parkland can be seen a small man-made lake, with its own miniature island. It can host an array of waterbirds including Pacific Black and Shoveler Ducks, Dusky Moorhens, Coots, Large Egrets and White-faced Herons.
A small raised promontory intrudes into the lake and it is there that you will find a romantic gothic style grotto, the embodiment of naturalism in 19th century landscaping. You approach it at the end of a winding path, lined with lichen encrusted stones. Then you cross a small bridge, and short curving path leads to the grotto’s entrance. A short entryway leads you to the Grotto’s interior, a cave like circular space, encrusted all over in decorative designs made with with delicate seashells, pebbles, and animal teeth, formed into wonderful swirling patterns. The floor is circular and decorated with sheep's teeth, backbones and evidently, there are also a few of the Chirnside family’s teeth in the floor. A ray of light beams in from a discreet window in the ceiling, penetrating the gloomy interior and illuminating the patterns within. Today, you can't enter the interior but you can see it through an interior through a glass door.
The grotto was built in 1877, and decorated by the Chirnside family and the head gardener. The shells lining the interior is decorated with shells such as mussels and abalone, collected from the homestead at Point Cooke. The art of decorating with shells was at its peak in the 19th C. No stately home was complete without a grotto decorated in shells. The European shell mosaic craze conveyed the idea of an interior decorated with a variety of shells arranged in a symmetrical organic pattern. This was often interspersed with looking glass, so that when a lamp was hung in the middle, a thousand points of lights would glitter and sparkle over the space, giving a magical effect. It’s a truly special place but it’s not in good condition and needs some maintenance But none the less it has to be one of the best example to be found in Australia.
On either side of the entrance, steps lead up and around the mound, from where you get a beautiful view back to the house. The planting on the mound is of drought tolerant plants include cotyledons, agaves, aloes and a ground cover, Rosea ice plant.