Gardens can be a living memoir, each plant a story from life. The garden as autobiography is just one of the many charms of Mickey Robertson’s Glenmore House, in the hills outside Camden.
Mickey and Larry Robertson took on the rundown sandstone Georgian cottage and its paddocks of weeds and ramshackle outbuildings in 1988. It’s now one of the loveliest of the tiny handful of private gardens in Sydney that are often open to the public. Our next chance to visit is on the weekend of May 2-3, when the Glenmore House Open Day will include plant and garden furniture stalls, entertainment and food from neighbour Martin Boetz’ Cooks Co-Op.
Mickey’s initial inspiration for the garden was a romantic mix of childhood nursery rhymes and English country gardens. That template provided the structure of the garden, which is an organically developed series of garden ‘rooms’ providing views from the house. These are often centred on the outbuildings, now restored to a rustic chic of bleached grey hardwood and rusty red.
The plantings though are more about memory and tribute than references to English country life. The life of the property itself is remembered in updated plantings of peppercorn trees; in the giant agaves against the front porch; and in a rose bed where the roses grown by the descendants of the original owners are corralled. The olive and almond orchard, one of the first plantings to be made once the property was cleared of blackberry and lantana, is a tribute to good times at Larry Robertson’s parents’ place in Mallorca.
On the corners of the borders facing the olives are different holiday memories, in twin beds of Russian sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia. “We were travelling through Europe and I’d seen this cloud of blue in Venice, in France and then in Scotland. I knew nothing about plants but I loved it and figured that if it grew in all those different places it would do for Glenmore too,” says Robertson. It does beautifully, cut down in January to form a new cloud of waving blue flowers for late autumn.
There are memories of childhood too: for Mickey in the Strelitzia nicolae, the giant black and white bird of paradise, which were a favourite plant from Centennial Park; for Larry in the ‘New Dawn’ climbing rose forming twin pillars at the end of the border, which grew in his boarding school House Master’s garden. In the citrus orchard a clementine finds a spot between lemons and oranges, planted on the same day that the Robertson’s eldest daughter Clementine, was christened.
The character of gardens to be story-book, passion map, friendship chain and aide-memoire is just one of the reasons we love gardens. A visit to Glenmore House is a reminder that the best gardens are intensely personal.