As a measure of how much a cool climate aesthetic pervades ideas of the garden consider this: of the eight private Australian gardens featured n Phaidon’s massive account of worldwide gardens, The Gardener’s Garden, only one can be found north of Canberra. The single standout from the temperate and sub-tropical climes is Stringybark Cottage, home to New Zealand-born garden designer and horticulturist Cheryl Boyd. Surely Stringybark is not the country’s only impressive warm-climate garden but it certainly deserves its spot in the parade.
Boyd has carved the garden out of towering stringybark and tallowood forest in the Noosa hinterland, not far from Eumundi. In keeping with traditional landscape approaches, the garden is quite formally arranged around the house. Borders wrap around a lake-like lawn that gives out through curved low hedges and an archway to garden rooms and a wilder garden beyond. Here formality melts into the forest so that the borders between garden and bush become invisible. What looks like wilderness is revealed as an artfully edited clearing, where bleached wooden chairs, made from wood harvested on the property, have grown lichen and scales. Stories told around the fire pit seem to have seeped into their skin.
Boyd is an endless experimenter with plants, mixing textures and colours to create arresting and original combinations. At the back of the house a scramble of white bougainvillea weeps and twists like bridal finery over the stiff bold form of red-backed alcantera. In the shade tassel fern and electric ferns offer a lacy counterpoint to the bold, almost plastic perfection of anthirium flowers. A favoured groundcover combination is deeply pleated and variegated pilea (sometimes found in Sydney garden centres as an indoor plant, but reliable outside where there are no frosts) with burgundy-tipped bromeliads.
Her artist’s eye extends beyond the planting and layout to sculpture that makes clever use of found objects. A giant disco ball made from collected sticks is suspended from trees in front of the house; a twig tepee glitters in occasional sunlight through the trees; and an old truck cable winds like a diamond python up a trunk. There are cairns of stones on stumps, and garden archways made from the prunings of the crepe myrtles.
It’s a garden of magic, surprise and beauty, and as a bonus it has one of the best-looking pools I’ve seen in a private garden. Irregularly shaped with a sand-coloured surround that gradually deepens, and a rock-marked paddling area, it is the antithesis of the glaring aqua rectangle. The pool is backed by the impressive silver fans of Bismarkia plams, a great match for the driftwood-grey Adirondack chairs by the pool edge.
I’ll be talking to Boyd about the garden, her sculpture, and how well her plant choices translate to Sydney gardens at Collectors Plant Fair on Sunday April 10, Hawksesbury Racecourse, Clarendon. Tickets, $35, www.collectorsplantfair.com.au.