Nestled in the lower glens of Australia’s Dandenong Range is a cabin adorned with stained glass, sculptures, and paintings that evokes “Hansel and Gretel.” A stream circles the back property, filling the gardens with the sound of water over rocks. A stroll up to the cabin’s lapis blue door takes you past strawberries, fig trees, rhododendrons, and the basil-like leaves of lemon verbena. If all those names are hard to remember, never fear: Anyone who stays at Jacky Winter Gardens receives a hand-drawn map by artist James Gulliver Hancock, detailing every tree and flower on the property.
The space is the brainchild of New York transplant Jeremy Wortsman. Wortsman moved to the Dandenongs six years ago, part of a long tradition of artists and creatives escaping Melbourne for the countryside. The prehistoric trees and the promise of fresh air have beckoned artists to the Dandenongs for centuries. Jacky Winter Gardens can be reached by hopping on the train in Melbourne and riding the rails to the end of the line, where the city morphs into a mountainous forest preserve of hills, waterfalls, and Jurassic Park–style ferns.
After first planning the house as a business venture, Wortsman realized it was financially possible to rent it out a few weeks each month and offer it to creatives for free the rest of the time. The creative residency he developed now accepts hundreds of applications a year to fill nine slots – a select group of artists who arrive at Jacky Winter Gardens to finish a work-in-progress. “The people who do it genuinely get amazing things out of it,” says Wortsman. “Plus, we love meeting new people: illustrators, artists, glassblowers, playwrights, board game designers, industrial designers. Every profession comes through.”
Artists come for up to a week to sit by the stream, muse in front of the wood-burning stove, and peck away at the typewriter. If the contemplation and solitude become too much, they can walk to the local town for a flat white – a creamy Australian coffee specialty – or hike into the rain forest for a round of “forest bathing,” a Japanese-inspired trend of reconnecting with nature. When they come home to the Jacky Winter Gardens cabin, they might find the local wallaby – a kangaroo-like creature that New York–born Wortsman still finds bizarre – waiting outside.
Wortsman’s hope is that the time away gives creatives what they need to get unstuck and cross the finish line on their projects. And it works. “I’d never been so productive – and probably never will be again,” said author Jess Hill of her visit to the cabin. “To stay there feels like stepping into an alternate dimension where creativity is the most important part of life,” added former Disney animator Tania Walker.
This isn’t the only capacity in which Wortsman manages artists’ creative time. He’s also the founder of an agency and production company, also called Jacky Winters. Some of the artists he manages were the very first residents. Wortsman hopes that artists embrace the freedom the space offers and give themselves permission to step outside their normal patterns and blocks. A parent himself, one of his personal goals is to encourage new parents to do the residency for the creative breather often denied to new mothers and fathers. Ultimately, on top of the beauty of the physical space, what Jacky Winter Gardens really offers is creative time. “Getting an hour, much less a week, is really precious,” Wortsman says.