Wychwood has long been one of my favourite gardens in Australia and I felt a sense of personal loss when I heard that Karen Hall and Peter Cooper had put the property on the market and were moving on. So when I found out they had written a book about the garden, I had to have a look. This is the story I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald and at the bottom are some of the photos I took the first time I saw the garden, back in 2004.
Twenty-two years ago Karen Hall and Peter Cooper piled everything they owned into a VW station wagon and left the heat and humidity of Queensland for the four seasons of Tasmania. They ended up in Mole Creek, where a property with a little farmhouse and a platypus-filled creek was for sale in their price range. It became Wychwood, one of the loveliest gardens in the country. A few years ago Hall and Cooper decided that they had done what they set out to do at Wychwood and put the property on the market. Around the same time they were approached by Murdoch Books to write about the garden. The property is still for sale, but the book is complete, capturing the stories, great moments, seasonal beauties and practical lessons of a beautiful garden.
As coincidence would have it, I too moved into my house 22 years ago and started a garden. It is not one of the loveliest in the country (though I like it) and it’s certainly not in any sense finished. So I read Hall’s ‘Golden Rules’ of gardening with interest. Her first is to grow what suits your conditions. A simple rule, yet one I am addicted to breaking. Next, says Hall, know your enemies. She had to deal with possums and currawongs; my mum (on the NSW south coast) swears about the lyrebirds, but here in the suburbs my garden enemies are mynahs, and only because they hunt out every other feathered thing in the garden.
Grow what you love, says Hall, and I’m with her on that, though what I love keeps changing, causing ructions in my garden. Worse, what I love is not always appropriate. (See rule #1). Plant small, she advises, which is both good financial and horticultural sense, and perfectly achievable if you are willing to practice some patience. Mulch and water are her garden’s other practical keys to success.
Hall’s next tranche of rules gets into the big difference between Wychwood and my garden – the aesthetics of the thing. Create illusions; consider a bed a painting; take into account the colour, texture, habit, and form of plants and their partners and whether a screen or a see-through curtain is the better choice, says Hall. It’s these artistic choices that charm the visitor to Wychwood and create the magic that has them reluctant to leave. Beds of perennials and shrubs are colour-controlled and contain contrasts of texture and leaf size. A mown-grass labyrinth is an irresistible walk. Trunks glow silver in a grove of birch. Heirloom apples are espaliered along the fence in an orchard with a sense of having been there for generations. Everywhere the exuberance of the planting is balanced by the structural forms of perfectly trimmed hedges and balls of box.
Hall and Cooper are garden artists and having created these wonderful images they’re leaving Wychwood to a new gardener with a different eye. Meanwhile, I’m still breaking the rules and practising my garden painting. Who know when my sense of finished might be.
The photos above are all by Peter Cooper and are from the book, Wychwood, published by Murdoch books, $60 . My own photos of Wychwood show it about halfway through its development.
It was so long ago – 2004! – that I was shooting on film, and had to have the shots scanned, which has made them look a bit odd. I was garden editor of Good Taste magazine at the time and in the story I wrote, Peter recommended his top three perennial performers for a summer border. The sedums are selected for special mention in the book, and I thinkteh other two are worth remembering too:
1. Sedum – carefree, good-value perennials that like dry summer weather, good drainage and plenty of sunshine. They can be cut down at the end of winter and will shoot straight back up again. Look out for ‘Autumn Joy’, with copper-burgundy flowerheads; ‘Vera Jameson’, which has burgundy foliage and pink flowerheads; and ‘Matrona’ which is taller than usual, with a pink tinge to the blue-grey foliage and pink chunky flowers.
2. Miscanthus – especially Miscanthus sinensis, ‘Sarabande’, with tall creamy flower heads in autumn; ‘Zebrinus’, which has striped stems like the shadow pattern through a bamboo screen; and ‘Gracillimus’, which has a finer leaf, a more upright habit and doesn’t grow as big as ‘Sarabande’.
3. Euphorbia – E. dulcis has purple foliage and feathery purple-red bracts; E. polychroma has bright green leaves and gold flowerheads; and E. characis wulfennii is a greeny-blue with yellow flowerheads.