The first thing that strikes you about Mayfield is the scale of the place. It’s massive, one of largest privately owned cool-climate gardens in the world. If Garrick Hawkins had set out with such a grand horticultural ambition he might not have chosen the challenging conditions of Oberon. But that’s where he runs cattle on 5000 acres, and where he built a grand weekender for the family, and started developing a garden. Here’s the house, from the top of the hill, where a private chapel, built for a family wedding, commands a great view of the property.
“When we started we didn’t intend to make it quite this large,” says Hawkins. “It just sort of evolved bit by bit.” Hawkins’ collaboration with local nurseryman, horticulturist and garden all-rounder Peter D’Arcy has seen the garden ‘evolve’ into to a 160-acre project that employs more than 25 multi-skilled people.
The garden pays homage to Hawkins’ personal favourites from the follies and features of the great gardens in England. There’s a Chatsworthesque cascade for instance:
and an aviary based on the one at Waddesdon Manor. In the early stages of Mayfield’s development this ‘best-of’ approach seemed risky, but now, with the trees grown, the mid-storey flourishing and the delicate colouring-in between the structural planting starting to take shape, the features have nestled into the garden.“It has been interesting watching the spaces which once seemed large and open become smaller and smaller each growing season,” says Hawkins.
This spring Mayfield moves into a new phase. The lower part of the garden, called the Water Garden (and inspired by the stone and water features at Longstock Park Water Garden in England), will now be open all year.
There is also a café; a shop stocked with locally-produced goods, including Mayfield relishes and chutneys; and a nursery selling a range of plants, some of which have been propagated at Mayfield. This part of the garden, initially begun as a simple dam, will now operate as a tourism business.The rest of the garden will be exclusively for the Hawkins family, except for six weeks in spring and in autumn when the private garden, with its cascade, walled kitchen garden, chapel, aviaries, deluxe hen houses, orchard, croquet lawn, maze, rose garden and 500-seat amphitheatre, will open.
So now’s our chance. As you can see from these pictures, I’ve only ever visited in autumn. But I know the drill. Arrive early, allow the whole day and start with the big picture. Don’t be distracted by the details of the Water Garden’s irises and lilies; the wisteria hanging in curtains; the cherry blossom and rhododendron in bloom; the incredible stone walls, you’ll get to them later.
Head to the top of the hill. From the terrace, the vast expanse of the garden stretches beneath you, bisected by curving lines of dark green conifers as emphatic as exclamation marks. Beyond the garden, lines of velvet hills roll across the horizon. Take in the scale – of the ideas, the work, the cost and the effect. In the world of Australian gardens, Mayfield is a rare treasure.