Other people's gardens

English style in the highlands

Perennial Hill in Mittagong is one of those rare blooms – a garden open in summer. Most gardens around Sydney open for a spring bonanza of roses and blossoms and fresh new growth on trees or for a fiery blaze of autumn colour. But for Julie Hulbert, who with husband Craig makes Perennial Hill, summer, when the perennials she loves are at full tilt, is the best time in the garden.

The garden slopes from the road to a two-storey house whose burnt-red render makes a striking backdrop for the plantings. Paths wind past densely planted flower borders and a room of richly textured and coloured shrubs to the house. In front is a tear-shaped bed of herbaceous perennials that in winter is totally bare save for a blanket of mulch and a lick of frost and in summer is a towering mass of colour, with dahlias, heleniums and monardia interweaved among tall grasses. Even standing by that massive growth spurt is invigorating.

Around the back is a cypress-hedged room with deep mixed borders where cardoons, buddliea and plume poppies looms over shasta daisies and phlox. A terrace looks over blowsy flower borders towards a shady walk where more than a dozen varieties of hydrangea nod massive heads of bloom.

The Hulberts are both professional plantspeople, who live to grow things and who can’t stop themselves collecting. Craig’s current passions are for cuphea, hard-working little shrubs with cute but not showy flowers; his more than 15 elderberries; and oxalis, not the weedy ones, but the striking hybrids with odd flowers and fabulously marked foliage. Julie loves her perennials, and has developed a passion for salvia. There are now more than 120 varieties in the garden, including several rare treats.

The garden, created over the last decade and a half, and open since 2015, is in a constant state of assessment and alteration. Despite her horticultural credentials, Julie describes herself as an L-plater, always seeking to improve the garden and its plantings, inspired by visits to great English gardens, such as Bressingham, Hidcote, Great Dixter and the Royal Horticultural Society gardens.

The Hulberts do all the work in the garden themselves, and also propagate plants that are sold in the onsite nursery and at the Bowral markets. Julie does most of the propagating, Craig takes responsibility for structures and has built the stone walls, welded the metal supports that keep the lounging perennials in order and woven the brush fences from Lombardy poplar prunings and the cones and tripods from willow.

It’s impressively industrious as well as beautiful, and as in any lovely garden, there are plenty of good ideas to souvenir. Here’s just one – the Herberts use iron doormats where one garden leads into another. The iron frames become embedded so are only visible as you step on them. They prevent the green entrance to garden rooms becoming compacted, worn-bare eye-sores, and stop the spread of gravel from one part of the garden to another. Clever.

 Perennial Hill is open Saturday and Sunday, 10am-4pm, until the end of March. $8 entry. 1 Nero St Mittagong.

It’s time to
Enjoy gum blossom
Remove spent gum blossom from flowering gums so that the tree doesn’t put all its energy into producing gumnuts.

Get more paws
Prune spent stems on kangaroo paw to just above the tiny flower buds noticeable halfway down the stem to encourage more flowers.

Kill weeds
Two new weedkillers for organic gardeners: Yates Natures Way, based on clove oil, and Slasher from OCP, which also uses plant oils to kill other plants, including moss and algae. For weeds in paving, the no-spray organic solution is boiling water.

Watch for lily caterpillars
Check undersides of leaves on liliums and crinums for hoards of tiny caterpillars that will turn into big fat striped eating machines that decimate clumps overnight.

 

 

 

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Other people's gardens

Dream gardens

What does it mean to make a garden? What longings do gardens fulfil; what dreams do they satisfy? These are the question at the heart of a new gardening show, Dream Gardens, launching on ABC TV this week. Eschewing how-to tips on growing plants (done so well by ABC’s other garden offering, Gardening Australia), this is a show that looks instead at what we want from gardens and how clever garden design can deliver it.

Michael in a publicity shot from episode one of Dream Gardens

The host is the ebullient Michael McCoy, a garden designer and writer (and, full disclosure, my friend.) McCoy has a degree in botany, long experience as a hands-on gardener and sought-after garden designer, and a passionate curiosity about what makes good garden design work. He’s empathetic, enthusiastic and opinionated – the perfect partner to lead viewers around these eight gardens-in-the-making.

McCoy insists that the ‘dream’ in Dream Gardens is verb not adjective. This is not about ‘ideal’ gardens but about the vision that gives gardens a unique personality. “A garden is dream-driven from Minute One,” says McCoy. “The way gardening is often presented in the media is as a problem-solving exercise, as if the challenge was only to conquer pests and diseases, whereas the quality of a garden is a function of the quality of the dream behind it. So we are definitely about the verb – come dream gardens with me!”

Dustbowl to salad bowl? That’s the dream here in Toowoomba, in episode 1 of Dream Gardens.

The dreams featured in the eight-part series include the transformation of a dustbowl paddock into a self-sufficient kitchen garden; a garden to banish the memories of the Black Saturday fires of 2009; a happy ending to a construction nightmare that saw the desire for a pool become a $200,000 hole in the ground; and a longed for resort-style garden in a longed-for location.

Each story starts with the vision and follows its interpretation and creation by some of Australia’s leading garden-making professionals, including Sydney’s Michael Bates, Christopher Owen and Matt Leacy. Side trips to some of Australia’s great gardens, such as Paul Bangay’s Stonefields and Fiona Brockoff’s ground-breaking seaside garden Karkalla, allow McCoy to explore relevant design principles and show off some really beautiful garden photography.

McCoy says the beauty of the show is that it reminds us “how incredibly enriching a garden is and how expressive it is of the character of its owners. Gardens are as diverse as the people who make them and we see how wonderful it its when the life and personality we are used to seeing expressed in our houses leaks through the walls into the surrounds: we see the kind of nurturing a great garden provides and the longings it satisfies.”

We’ve been waiting a long time to see the quality and diversity of Australian garden design explored on television. I won’t be missing a minute.

Dream Gardens screens on Thursdays from February 9 at 8pm on ABC TV and iview.

It’s time to

Visit cool gardens
Lynn McGough started her mail-order rare plant nursery, Lynn’s Rare Plants, so that she could grow what she wanted in her garden. See the results when the garden, Foggy Dew, opens for its first summer viewing, this weekend, February 4 and 5 and on March 4 and 5. 10am-4pm, 20 Northcote Road, Leura, entry $8.

Deadhead aggies
Cut and compost finished flowering stems of agapanthus to prevent seeds falling into the clump or spreading elsewhere.

Order bulbs
The spring bulb catalogues are out. Make a plan.

Manage trees
Judy Fakes has spent close to 10 years arbitrating disputes between neighbours about trees. In an illustrated talk for the Australian Garden History society she’ll outline how the Trees act works to protect both trees and neighbourly relations. Wednesday February 15, Annie Wyatt Room, National Trust Centre, Observatory Hill, drinks 6pm, talk 7-8.30pm. Members $20, guests $30, bookings Jeanne@Villani.com.

 

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Other people's gardens

Visting Stonefields

In November I led a fun and garden-loving group around some great gardens in regional Victoria. (I’m taking the tour again next November, though the updated itinerary is not finalised yet. Contact Ross Garden Tours if you’re interested in joining me.) One of the highlights was  a morning spent at Paul Bangay’s garden Stonefields. This is the story I wrote about the garden for Spectrum.

Stonefields, Paul Bangay

 

Paul Bangay is one of Australia’s most high-profile garden designers. His country garden, Stonefields, an hour or so from Melbourne in the hills between Daylesford and Ballarat, is featured in his new book, Paul Bangay’s Country Gardens, among other large projects in Australia, New Zealand and the Hamptons in New York, now the site of some of his biggest commissions.

Stonefields is rarely open to the public. Every two years the gates open to benefit the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, an event that drew 8000 visitors across a spring weekend this year. Bangay also hosts occasional tours: no more than 24 people, tickets $240 each. I was lucky enough to visit another way, as leader of a tour group on a sunny morning when the irises and white rhododendrons were blooming, the wisteria was only just starting to fade, and the viburnums and dogwoods looked lovely.

Stonefields, Paul Bangay

An irreverent streak is also part of the Bangay style. The apparently classical statue in the rose garden, enrobed in a veil of dripping wisteria is a find that harks back to the adolescent Bangay’s lust for an antiquity to call his own, answered when a local church replaced its concrete statue of Jesus. Bangay acquired the statue, knocked off the head and the stigmata-showing hands, and presto…

The garden is as grand and tightly controlled as you’d expect from a designer whose reputation has been built on formal, geometric gardens of great precision. Two full-time gardeners keep the plants performing, the privet hedges clipped to a knife-edge and the fine-leafed lawns flawless. Indeed the finish of the garden is so perfect it verges on intimidating, which explains my reaction to the part of the garden I found myself continually drawn back to, the pool lawn that adjoins the terrace at the back of the house.

Stonefields, Paul Bangay

There are various neat perspectival tricks here and clever inversions of expectation. Instead of an infinity pool, for instance, the lawn itself has the infinity edge, its perfect green seeming to drop into the wild bush in the valley below as you take in the view from the terrace. Once you approach that apparently vertiginous edge however, wide stone steps appear that lead down to another garden area, with twin herbaceous perennial borders in shades of red and purple leading to an outdoor dining area on one side, and the woodland and lilac walk on the other. The plants here are chosen so that they never get high enough to be visible from the terrace, maintaining the illusion of green infinity. From this lower level, it is the pool itself that disappears, its location marked only by alternating benches of box, cut at different heights.

Stonefields, Paul Bangay

Hedges enclose both sides of the lawn, with dense herbaceous borders in cream and gold tones, and symmetrically placed, matching pool pavilions. I sat on the cushions in one of the pavilions, taking in the framed view of controlled garden giving way to wild bush, and the green-tiled pool with its restless light reflections. I loved the cleverness of the design and its subtle wit, those expansive views, and the gracious scale of everything. One part of me wanted to live this live of perfection and order, and another part rebelled and demanded a plastic banana lounge and a bunch of teenage boys bombing the pool.

Paul Bangay’s Country Gardens, photographed by Simon Griffiths, is published by Random House, $80

It’s time to

Buy up
Garden Life, Richard Unsworth’s outdoor store, goes on-sale on Friday January 13. All plants are 20%-50% off, and selected pots and homewares are 50%-70% reduced. 158 Princes Hwy, St Peters.

Going away
If going away for a few days soak indoor plants, then place them all together on an old towel in the bathtub. Run a few centimetres of water in the tub. Massing them together increases humidity and reduces transpiration. Sodden bottoms will cause root rot over a long period, but not in just a few days.

Feed frangipani
Encourage a good season of flowers with a feed of manure and compost.

Pick Christmas bush
Vases and jugs of Christmas bush the perfect seasonal decoration, and the trees respond well to the trim.

Trim Chinese jasmine
Prune back the long whippy bits of Chinese jasmine to keep it in check.

 

 

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Oranges
Other people's gardens

Eating oranges at Versailles

Versailles is so overwhelming that visitors feel exhausted as soon as they arrive. They take one look at those long vistas (not actually as long as they look, courtesy of a perspective trick managed by designer Andre le Notre) and start hunting for the ice cream concession. The only way to manage the vastness is to narrow your focus. It seems like a good approach to writing about the blockbuster exhibition Versailles: Treasures from the Palace, which opens this weekend [December 9, 2016] at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

So let me tell you about oranges at Versailles and the role of four large bronze vases that are part of the exhibition.

vase

Vase with boars and ‘Janus’ heads, 1665 © Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Christophe Fouin

The vases also feature in a painting in the show, ‘Still Life with Orange tree’, by Jean-Baptiste Monnover. They show the vases holding small, standardised orange trees in blossom and fruit. Siamese ambassadors to the court of Louis XIV reported that the Hall of Mirrors was filled with these vases of orange trees, perfuming the air. Visitors to the exhibition will experience the effect as orange blossom fragrance is wafted through the room.

vase-and-blossom

Jean‐Baptiste Monnoyer, Still life with orange tree, c. 1671–75 © Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Christophe Fouin

The oranges, like so much at Versailles, came originally from Vaux le Vicomte, the house and garden built by Louis’ finance minister Nicholas Fouquet. Fouquet’s brother had built up the citrus collection in travels through Italy and Spain, and they grew at Vaux in the wooden planter boxes we now know as Versailles tubs. Following the imprisonment of Fouquet and the dismantling of Vaux, the oranges were moved to the Orangerie at Versailles.

The NGA exhibition includes a topographical oil painting by Etienne Allegrain, ‘View of Versailles from the Orangerie’, c 1695, which shows the Orangerie parterre and the glasshouse in which the plants were protected from the extremes of a northern winter and nurtured into flower. The man responsible for this effort and the rest of Louis XIV’s amazing edible production was the lawyer-turned-plantsman Jean-Baptiste Le Quintinie, who, like the oranges he grew, had originally been at Vaux.

orangerie

Étienne Allegrain, View of Versailles from the Orangerie, c. 1695 © RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles) / Franck Raux

The Orangerie, with its great panes of glass, was a triumph of French technical skills, and the trees it protected carried a heavy symbolic meaning. The orange trees grew in planters featuring Louis XIV’s ubiquitous Sun King motif, and the fruit itself made the Sun King claim reality. These emblems of the sunny south fruiting in the cold swampy north operated as the physical manifestation of Louis XIV’s divine identity. When ambassadors and powerful guests visited Versailles they were presented with early peas, strawberries and oranges, foods that were magical in this part of France. They were literally eating the fruits of Louis XIV’s mastery and power.

Which makes the big bronze vases, with their boar heads and Janus decorations, indicative of the way in which Louis XIV announced his understanding of absolute monarchy at Versailles, and expressed it through a combination of style, science, art and gardening.

It’s time to

Trim lavender
Lightly trim lavender after each flush of flowers to promote another flush.

Give seaweed
Use a seaweed solution regularly to boost plant health and help them cope with extreme weather.

Prune shrubs
Spring-flowering shrubs, such as abutilon, brunsfelsia and Mackaya bella can be trimmed to shape now they have finished flowering, or at least slowed down in the case of abutilon.

Enjoy hydrangeas
When picking for the vase choose only the fully-opened mature flower heads. Fresh new heads will quickly droop.

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Other people's gardens

Disobedient gardens

The idea that a garden is a place of healing is now well established in the scientific literature. Central Coast-based garden designer Michael Cooke was forced into a very personal understanding of exactly how a garden is a place you nurture and which nurtures you back when, in 2012, he was seriously injured. Cooke, a keen and experienced horse rider had a serious fall and was in a coma for nine days. The prognosis looked grim, but after months of physiotherapy, exercise physiology, speech and occupational therapy, Cooke was allowed home. Little by little he ventured back into the garden, where he found solace, inspiration and the revelation that this – family, friends and gardens – was all he wanted. He has attempted to capture this sense of the richness offered by life in the garden in his new book, co-authored with photographer Brigid Arnott, called Disobedient Gardens, and he reckons the project was a big part of his recovery.

Garden by Michael Cooke

“I believe the time I spent writing this book,” he says, “reflecting and thinking about the gardens I created, together with being outside working, and just walking about looking at the garden with my dogs by my side, is what really healed me.”

The evocative title suggests gardens that are badly behaved, but by disobedient Cooke means a garden that balances manicured and wild elements and that reveals its own character rather than being dominated by a gardener, or worse by a designer. He favours textures that are weathered and organic, messy and time-affected over the shiny, neat and new. He likes a garden that has grown in a relationship with its owners, each impacting on the other to create a place of character, memory and beauty.

Cooke has been working in the five gardens presented in the book for years, helping develop and shape their character. Included are Valleyfield, the garden of Buon Ricordo chef Armando Percuoco and Gemma Cunningham in the Hunter Valley; a Georgian cottage with bucolic views at Foxground on the South Coast; an historic garden at Mount Wilson; a long-time friend’s large garden in the Central Coast and Cooke’s own home, Hawthorne.

Garden by Michael Cooke

Images from Disobedient Gardens by Michael Cooke and Brigid Arnott (Murdoch Books) $59.99

It’s Hawthorne that is at the heart of the book, and Cooke wonders whether readers will find it too wild and unrestrained. Certainly gardeners on one end of the chaos-control spectrum will find the garden a cause of anxiety rather than healing. It looks loved and lived in, an aesthetic romantically captured by Arnott. Early winter light catches a dewy lawn and box balls clipped into irregular teardrops; Cooke’s studio is shot at sunset, golden light just visible through the trees, and echoed in the windows of the low-slung building, whose red roof seems perfectly matched by a froth of crabapple blossom; slanting sun catches the sheets drying on the old Hills Hoist above a carpet of fallen autumn leaves; even the mossy stone flagging on the terrace looks appealingly lived-in rather than merely grubby.

Garden by Michael Cooke

Images from Disobedient Gardens by Michael Cooke and Brigid Arnott (Murdoch Books) $59.99

The seesaw between control and chaos is explored in each garden in the book, and the images, along with Cooke’s evocative story-telling, will have you considering the balance of restraint and wildness in your own garden and how noting how getting it right creates a place that feels like home.

Garden by Michael Cooke

Images from Disobedient Gardens by Michael Cooke and Brigid Arnott (Murdoch Books) $59.99

It’s time to

Head east
When Ellerslie Garden Show was sold to Christchurch council, and then failed to make as much money as the council expected it was mothballed. Slipping into the garden show gap – Auckland. See the New Zealand Flower and Garden Show in Auckland, November 23-27.

Fill the house with plants
One of the most annoyingly anachronistic bits of last year’s A Little Chaos movie about Versailles, was Kate Winslett’s character’s achingly hipster courtyard garden. It could have been designed by Rose Ray and Caro Langton, two London-based plant sellers and stylists who perfectly grasp modern interior plant-scaping. Their new book, House of Plants: Living with succulents, air plants and cacti, Quarto, $40, shows how it’s done.

Look for bugs
Bronze orange bugs are big bugs, often with brightly coloured backs that suck on citrus. Their very size is intimidating, especially en masse. Knock occasional visitors off the tree, and then step on them. For larger gangs, spray with something like Yates Nature’s Way Citrus and Ornamental Spray.

Feed the hydrangeas
Use a flower-boosting foliar feed as hydrangeas prepare to launch the show.

 

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Other people's gardens

Cool climate treats

The spring garden-visiting season is nearly over. If you spent some time looking at someone else’s garden this spring, join the club. Garden visiting is a massive tourism-related activity, but it essentially operates underground. There are no useful figures that show how popular looking at other people’s gardens, both private and pubic, is in Australia, but in the US garden tourism generates more revenue than any other form of tourism, including gambling. Because garden viewing is widely spread, often involves volunteers and doesn’t employ lobbyists, it doesn’t draw attention to its economic benefits, though Singapore’s massive tourism boost courtesy of Gardens by the Bay has been an eye-opener for the bean-counters.

So why do we go see gardens? One reason was right in front of me waving its lolly-pink hands as I rambled through gardens in the Southern Highlands recently. The Chinese cedar, Toona sinensis ‘Flamingo’, previously Cedrela, in spring is the colour of fairy floss. It’s screamingly pink, floaty as chiffon, elegantly tall and slender and irresistible to gardeners who live in cold climates.

Toona sinensis, Chinese cedar

Experiencing stuff you just can’t grow is one of the lures of garden visiting. In cool climates, Cedrela makes me laugh, I can’t walk past a lilac without sticking my head in for a deep breath of that amazing fragrance, and I am struck green with envy by the gorgeous tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera. I first noticed this tree in autumn when its crown glows as yellow as Irish butter. The leaves have the shape you’d cut out of paper if you had to show a tulip about to fall apart. I assumed that was the source of its common name, until I saw it in flower in spring. The flowers are like mini tulips, held facing upwards, in amazing graduated tones of green and orange. It’s stunning.

Tulip tree, Liriodendron

And then there are the maples – all those soft-leafed, highly dissected Japanese maples look so good in cool climate gardens just coming into delicate leaf in spring. The leaves flutter like feathers in the slightest breeze, and then slowly settle back into a dome that demands to be stroked. (These maples sneak into cooler gardens in Sydney, in places where they can be offered protection from crisping westerlies and scorching afternoon sun: not at my place.)

Japanese maple, Acer palmatum 'Kinshi'

Seeing plants you know used in new ways, meeting unfamiliar plants, seeing how space is used, how the gardens relate to the house, where the seats are placed, even how the practical things work, like where the bins go, and the clothes line, and how the watering works; all these inspire factors gardeners to go garden visiting. But ultimately the lure of another’s garden is the pleasure of being in a beautiful place, with nothing to do, not a weed to pull, simply for the joy of it.

Garden seat

There are just a few weeks left to visit someone else’s spring garden: check My Open Garden for late season offerings, and expect most garden gates to be shut by the end of the month.

 

It’s time to

Boost your skills
The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney has teamed up with horticulturists from Yates to offer monthly workshops on garden know-how. Next up – Growing Summer Vegies and Herbs on Friday November 25, at Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan and Saturday November 26 at Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, 10am-2pm, $95, includes a Yates ‘starter pack’ to take home.

Check the tank
A rainwater tank is an excellent way to save water to spend on the garden, but only around half of installed tanks are used, primarily because they are not working properly. Get the tank fixed before the hot dry weather arrives.

See Melbourne gardens
Garden DesignFest opens more than 30 private gardens, designed by professionals, in Melbourne and rural Victoria over two weekends, 12 and 13, and 19 and 20 November.www.gardendesignfest.com.au

Plant a mango
New dwarf varieties get to around 4m, small enough for many suburban gardens. Plant into a sunny spot where soil has been enriched with plenty of compost and old manure.

 

 

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Other people's gardens

Big ideas for small gardens

I can’t win – this weekend there’s no gardening in Spectrum because there’s too much advertising! So this week’s dose of gardening life comes from the current issue of Garden Clinic and it offers a few suggestions for making the courtyard a more satisfying space. If this seems like just the thing you need to find out more about, you’re in luck. Next Saturday, November 12, Richard Unsworth and Linda Ross are holding a workshop on using pots and plants to create creative small outdoor spaces at Garden Life in St Peters, 11am-2pm. It’s free for Garden Clinic members (sign up here) and $65 for non-members, including refreshments. Book on 1300 133 100.

Garden by Garden Life, photo by Nicholas Watt

Garden by Garden Life, photo by Nicholas Watt

Big ideas for Small gardens

Courtyard and balcony gardens are less forgiving than suburban gardens. A big garden can ramble a bit, drawing you past a bit of a dead patch with the lure of the something great glimpsed just around the corner. But in a small garden everything is on show, all the time. So those tired potted plants that have outlived or outgrown their containers nag us with their sad faces. The impulse purchases pile up near the tap or the back door in a dispiriting way; the paint chipping off the furniture has turned from rustic to ruined. There’s nothing for it, but to start again with a fresh eye and new inspiration.

For most of us a small garden makeover won’t mean changing anything expensive, like the flooring or walling of courtyards and balconies, but simply re-dressing the space with new plants, and perhaps some new containers, a fresh coat of paint, and a cushion. For inspiration we turned to Richard Unsworth, whose design business, shop and book, all called Garden Life, are a storehouses of great ideas for small spaces. See how you can work a few of his top tips into your own small garden space.

Keep it simple

Garden by Garden Life, photo by Paul Sinclair

Photo by Paul Sinclair

Simple works best in a small space, says Richard Unsworth. This courtyard is about eating outdoors, and the black and white tones of the dining table and chairs are echoed in courtyard floor and in the black and white pots and hanging lanterns. The space is completely engaging, with something to look at on all levels, from the shadows cast by the kentia palm on to the floor, to the hanging pots and lanterns and the big-banana-like leaves of giant strelitzia overhead.

Scale it up

Garden by Garden Life, photo by Nicholas Watt

Photo by Nicholas Watt

Richard reckons the number one mistake that home gardeners make in putting together a courtyard or balcony garden is in choosing small features to fit the small space. Small plants and furniture only make the space appear smaller he says. Instead, he advises, make a big gesture. Use a couple of big pots with big plants to give the space structure, then fill in the structure with smaller pots. Also consider how are you going to use the space. Do you need a table and chairs for dining, or could you eat inside and use the space for an outdoor lounge or one really great chair? Once you have the structure sorted, balance the hard and soft elements, making sure that there is not so much hard floor, wall or pot surface that the space feels unwelcoming. Use hanging or climbing plants to soften walls, and trail plants over pots to soften their edges.

On this terrace, the custom-made planters are scaled up. The central planter is large enough for a pair of mature dwarf date palms, two prized sculptures and supporting planting. In cylindrical pots of matching colour cloud-pruned junipers offer a contrast of shape and texture.

Show off

Garden by Garden Life

Small spaces look best when there is a certain amount of coherence and repetition in the materials and the plants used. But where does that kind of discipline leave us plant lovers! We know that the mass of little pots featuring our current treasures looks a bit of a mess. And yes, it’s hard to look after and a nightmare to sweep!- but we can’t help our urge to collect and our need to nurture. The solution, says Richard, is a display table. A handsome, or suitably rustic, table can be used to create an ever-changing display of treasures: plants we have recently fallen in love with; much-loved sculptures; a few precious rocks or shells or other found objects. A display table solves the collection problem – it looks good, is fun to arrange – and is easy on the back.

This is an especially stunning display table, anchored by the antique Sri Lankan brass ornament whose arching shape is mirrored in the frame of flowering star jasmine curving around an arched French door, but the idea – a careful composition of pieces and plants to nurture and love – is one that is easily replicated at home.

 

Mix textures

Garden by Garden Life

Too many different materials and plants crammed into a small space is dizzyingly busy, but the strict minimalism of all-matching pots and a limited plant palette is dull. Richard advises a careful blend of textures to keep everything balanced but interesting. Choose plain containers as a base –perhaps matte dark lightweight and cheap fibreglass – and contrast them with a few unusually shaped terracotta pots and perhaps a striking bronze or ceramic container filled with something eye-catching. Likewise put some coherence into structural or screening plants, then mix up textures in the rest of the planting, contrasting soft and hard, filmy and sharp, big and small.

The different textures of grey pots, side table stools and sofa cushions form a harmonious background against which the textures of succulent, strappy and bold foliage plants stand out, complemented by coloured soft furnishings and the sheen of a burgundy ceramic jug. Geo screens hide the car space and the neighbour’s wall in this inner west terrace courtyard.

5 great plants for balconies

Big:
Magnolia ‘Little Gem’ is a popular choice for small gardens, but beware – these evergreen beauties don’t like living in a pot for long. Better long-term choices are citrus and olives.

Shady:
Sanseveria, (let’s not call it mother-in-law’s tongue) – is great value in shade. ‘Mason’s Congo’ has big fat speckled leaves; S. stukyii has long cylindrical spires of grey-green leaves; and ‘Silver Sword’ has striking blue-green foliage.

Hot sun:
The rush-leafed bird of paradise, Stelitzia juncea, is hardy in a really exposed spot, including blasting westerly sun. It tolerates dry spells and general neglect and only needs to have the faded flowers removed.

Hanging:
Rhipsalis, donkey’s tail sedum, purple or variegated tradescantia, and Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ are all good hanging from pots to curtain a wall, or trailing over containers to soften the edges.

Climbing:
Chinese star jasmine, Trachelopsermum jasminoides, is hard to beat for wall covering as it takes full sun or full shade, is covered with foliage from top to bottom and has flowers too.

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Other people's gardens

Gardening for good

I love the way gardening connects us to the past, to the generations of gardeners who have also found pleasure and satisfaction in growing things and making gardens. Of course it also connects us to our own past, and gardeners find they need that connection , even, or especially, when they no longer have a garden of their own. I was struck by the way that we will find a way to garden, somehow, when I met the volunteers who look after the garden at Lindesay in Darling Point, which is owned by the the Women’s Committee of the National Trust. Here’s the story I wrote for Spectrum about the garden:

You have to crouch down a bit to get the full effect of the views from Lindesay as they would have been when Campbell Riddell built his harbourside Gothic Revival villa at Darling Point in 1834. Stand tall and a conga line of tradie trucks, parked in the lane that has truncated the sloping lawn since early in the 20th century, are a visual intrusion. But get into the right position, one of the handily placed, black-painted ironwork benches will do fine, and you can link the lawn to an imagined set of stairs headed by a pair of impressive agaves, and conjure yourself into 19th century Sydney’s high society.

Lindesay, Darling Point

Volunteer gardener Ros Sweetapple is showing me around. Sweetapple started gardening at Lindesay in the early 1960s. The property had recently been willed to the Women’s Committee of the National Trust and the plan was to recreate a garden setting for the villa that was reminiscent of 19th century gardens. An English oak was planted as a symbol of ‘home’ for the first lady of the house, Caroline Riddell. A hoop pine was added to acknowledge the place of native auricarias in 19th century horticultural fashion and the central lawn sweeping down to the view was edged with other plants on the era’s must-have lists.

Lindesay, Darling Point

Ros Sweetapple gets to grips with the buxus.

Sweetapple jokes about having been closely supervised in the early days, and only allowed to trim the parterre with ‘nail scissors’. She also recalls visits made to Rookwood cemetery to collect cuttings of old roses so as to fill Lindesay’s beds with authentic 19th century plant material.

By 2014 the attempt to make a 19th century garden in the 21st century was failing and the focus on authenticity in plant material gave way to something far more elusive, a bid to recreate the sense of pleasure that being in the gardens at Lindesay had always provided; to offset the house and the views – without replicating a 19th century plant palette.

Lindesay, Darling Point

Partly this change had to do with pragmatism. Like all National Trust properties Lindesay has to sing for its supper. The weddings, functions, fairs, photo and film shoots that pay its way, all demand a garden that looks good every day of the year. To make it happen the mature plantings stayed but everything else went. Sydney-based garden designer, Christopher Nicholas, devised a planting plan that is modern, has references to the past and looks very good in a wedding photo. Flowers flush throughout the year, mostly in subtle blue tones, and never in enough chromatic dazzle to disrupt the tapestry of silver, blue and purple foliage that supplements the background greens, and complements any bridal party.

The team of volunteers keep it in great condition with five hours help a week from a professional, Nicholas Ball of Avant Design. Visit to see a precious slice of Sydney’s domestic history, and to nab some inspiration for textural planting in Sydney’s modern domestic gardens.

Lindesay, Darling Point

Lindesay is open to visitors on the first Thursday of every month except January, and its famous Christmas Fair is on November 17, 18 and 19. 1 Carthona Avenue, Darling Point.

It’s time to

Check the mulch
Use an organic mulch to reduce annual weeds, slow evaporation from the soil and maintain a more constant soil temperature. The ideal depth is about 50mm. Any deeper and water is prevented from reaching the soil and plant roots, any less and the benefits are missed.

Prune abutilon
Flowering slows in late spring and this is the best time to prune for a thicker shrub or to trim to fit the space.

Last chance
Florilegium: Sydney’s painted garden finishes its run at the Sydney Museum this weekend. The exhibition features botanical illustrations by internationally renowned artists of significant plants in the living collection of the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney. 10am -5pm, $12.

Feed the lawn
Use a lawn food to nourish new growth, water in well, and raise the blades on the mower a few notches to allow a longer leaf to shade roots over summer and prevent scorched patches.

 

 

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Ooralba, design by Hugh Main
Other people's gardens

The most innovative gardens in NSW

What are the most innovative gardens designed in NSW since 1980? Architect and writer Howard Tanner had the opportunity to explore this interesting question for the State Library of NSW. Tanner’s answer, a survey exhibition called Grand Garden Designs, is a contemporary companion piece to the library’s extensive and fascinating Planting Dreams exhibition, which documents 200 years of garden-making in Australia.

In compiling his selection Tanner talked to garden makers, designers and garden lovers, then criss-crossed the state to see the gardens himself, before pruning the list to 22. Nicholas Watt, Jason Busch, Sue Stubbs and Murray Fredericks then photographed the gardens over the spring and summer of 2015. The State Library has acquired more than 600 images of the gardens to add to its collection of garden photography and to preserve this moment in NSW garden history.

The hermitage, design Daniel Baffsky, Photo, Sue Stubbs

The hermitage, design Daniel Baffsky, Photo, Sue Stubbs

Visiting a garden is a total sensory experience. You don’t just see it, you hear it, smell it, feel it and experience it changing in time, even if only moment-to-moment. So a still image, no matter how beautifully framed and lit, is only ever a snapshot, a suggestion of what you might experience in the real thing. To overcome the limitations of viewing gardens in a gallery, the exhibition offers multiple ways in – through images on the wall, large back-lit projections, more images on interactive computer screens, Tanner’s excellent catalogue, and a short film of interviews with some of the garden-makers.

Horse Island

Horse Island, design Christina Kennedy. Photo: Jason Busch

Most of the gardens featured are private, and most have the expansive space – and budget – to create a big vision, such as the recreated subtropical forest and botanical ark of Sea Peace, outside Byron Bay; the natives-only garden on Horse Island in Tuross Lakes; or Peter Fudge’s grand re-imagining of Hadrian’s Villa in hedges at Tobermorry in Moss Vale.

Tobermorry, design Peter Fudge, photo Jason Busch

Tobermorry, design Peter Fudge, photo Jason Busch

Some of the gardens invite you to look out at the view, such as Hugh Main’s garden at Ooralba in the Southern Highlands, where mounded, jelly-like lumps of clipped eleagnus echo the line of the mountains on the horizon. Others enclose you in their arms and ask you to stay awhile, like Michael Cooke’s Wirra Willa on the Central Coast where a boardwalk winds through only slightly gardened bushland, and a pavilion sits over the lake.

Wirra Willa, design by Michael Cooke

Wirra Willa, design by Michael Cooke, photo Murray Fredericks

Public gardens are a vitally important part of any snapshot of our garden life in the early 21st century as private gardens shrink along with the time to make and maintain them. Tanner has included the atmospheric Paddington Reservoir Gardens, designed by Anton James in 2009. Here two sunken courtyards complement a Gothic architectural space, one a lawn dotted with eucalypts, the other with a dark rectangular pool surrounded by banksia and tree ferns.

Paddington Reservoir

Paddington Reservoir, lead designer Anton James, photo Jason Busch

In his catalogue essay Tanner identifies influences on contemporary designers from the rich textural plantings of Piet Oudolf, the clipped forms of Nicole de Vesian, and the spatial relationships of Japanese design. He also notes a renewed appreciation of Australian natives and a desire to create spaces to show off sculpture. For me, though, the take-home message from these inspiring and innovative gardens is the way in which they fit their space, expressing that age-old idea of the garden, the genius loci, the spirit of place.

The image at the top of this post is Ooralba, designed by Hugh Main, photo by Murray Fredericks.  The exhibition runs until january 15, 2017 at The State Library of NSW. Entry is free.

It’s time to

Tidy bottlebrush
Trim finished callistemon flowers to promote a bushier plant and more flowers next year. If the bush has been neglected and is looking straggly, you can cut it to the ground and let it start all over again.

See art deco
Mahratta is one of few remaining gardens in the Sydney area designed by Paul Sorensen, a leading designer of the early 20th century. The garden surrounds a wonderful Art Deco house, now owned by the School of Practical Philosophy. It’s open this weekend, October 22-23, 10am-4pm, $5, $10 including a tour of the house. 25 Fox Valley Road, Wahroonga.

Feed the lawn
Apply a complete fertiliser, according to pack directions, and water in well.

Talk with Costa
ABC Gardening Australian host and educator Costa Georgiadis is a passionate advocate for gardens and their ability to create connections within communities. He’s talking ‘Gardening for our Future’ at the State Library of NSW, November 12, 2-3pm, $20. Bookings: www.sl.nsw.gov.au/whats-on

 

 

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Other people's gardens

Retford Park

Spring is so quick in Sydney, it barely lasts longer than the bunch of jasmine, crispy but still fragrant, on my desk. To get your fill of spring you need to plan, and to travel. So don’t forget Glenmore House Spring Fair this weekend, and make plans to head south at the end of the month for the domestic-scaled country charms of the Bundanoon Garden Ramble, and the wonderfully grand Retford House. This is the story I wrote about Retford for the Sydney Morning Herald.

In April this year James Fairfax made a gift of his property Retford Park to the National Trust. It’s been his Southern Highlands home since 1964 and under the terms of the gift will continue to be his private home until his death, but for three days this month the garden is open to the public. It’s a great opportunity to see an important, beautiful and surprising garden.

Samuel Hordern, founder of the emporium Anthony Hordern & Sons, originally developed the property in 1887 and commissioned his architect Albert Bond to build a Victorian Italianate style house. The coral-pink, white-trimmed, two-storey building, with its turreted portico, is now framed by mature trees and settled comfortably into an expansive garden.

Retford Park

When James Fairfax bought the property after the death of Sam Hordern III, he inherited a fine garden with a well-planted park (a grand old bunya pine near the house and two Algerian oaks in the park which in the summer form a cave of green are special treasures) and added his own style, so that Retford Park reveals layers of garden design, while maintaining a wonderful coherence.

English garden designer John Codrington, whose services were a gift to James Fairfax from his mother, designed the fountain path, which leads into the garden from the house. Grey-leafed plants are clipped into dense mounds along a red gravel path, with just a splash of white agapanthus exploding around the fountain in the summer.

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More recently, Melbourne-based architect David Wilkinson, who has been involved in the garden’s on-going design over several decades, suggested a different sort of water feature. The Millenium Canal is a rectangle of reflective water with a surface area of 2000 square metres, commemorating the year 2000. It runs parallel to the driveway, edged on its far side with a row of maples whose glowing red leaves are mirrored in its surface in autumn.

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Wilkinson was also responsible for the Green Room, designed to display one of James Fairfax’s many artworks, a bronze sculpture by Inge King called Euphoric Angels. The success of this restrained and meditative space is in its grand scale, with an enormous grassed expanse between Thuja hedges focussing attention on the work as it takes flight from a clipped teucrium plinth.

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On the other side of the hedge the former tennis court is now the Laurel Lawn, with a perennial border of mostly red-flowering plants, and beyond it the surprise of the Pool Pavilion, designed by architect Guilford Bell in 1968. The low-slung modernist building features glass walls that slide away to open the space completely to a swimming pool on one side and an ornamental pond on the other. Donald Friend’s sculpture Man Jumping Over Goat gambols here among the waterlilies.

Retford Park

There’s much more to discover: the Knot Garden, designed to highlight two 17th century marble benches; the Emu Walk, where a mob of emus explores an avenue of pollarded lindens; and a Peony Walk, orchard and kitchen garden. Linger to take in Retford Park’s layers of history and the pleasures of its art and gardens.

Retford Park

 

Retford Park is open October 21-23, 10am-4pm, $10, 1325 Old South Road, Bowral.

It’s time to

See Galston gardens
There are eight large gardens open in Galston this weekend (October 14,15,16). Entry is $5 per garden, or a $20 ticket allows access to all gardens all weekend. For garden details and addresses go to www.gasltonggarden.club.com.au

See more gardens
While you’re in the Southern Highlands for Retford park, head down the road to Bundanoon, where eight gardens are open for the annual Ramble. www.bundanoongardenramble.org.au.

See art
Eden Unearthed is an exhibition of 30 installations by invited artists who have engaged with the various nooks and crannies of Eden Gardens to create site-specific works. Until March 1, 2017, free entry, 307 Lane Cove Road, Macquarie Park.

Buy art
Artisans in the Gardens opens this weekend at Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, until October 23. All works celebrate the natural world in some way, and are for sale. Also for sale just next door are bits of the actual natural world – plants from the Growing Friends.

Buy more art
Also while whiling away the weekend in the Southern Highlands, see florist/sculptor Tracey Deep’s beautiful and intricately formed explorations of shape and shadow, at Sturt Gallery until November 13.

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Other people's gardens

Garden Fair at Glenmore House

Mickey Robertson opens Glenmore House garden for her Spring Garden Fair next weekend, October 15 and 16. I’m a big fan of the garden, which is elegant and domestic at the same time, and which communicates a wonderful sense of well being. Honestly, you feel that all is right with your world while you walk around the gardens or lounge in a chair in the shade of one of the repurposed outbuildings.

I’m also a fan of Mickey’s strategy for making the garden pay its way. Rather than just charging to come have a look, Mickey has made Glenmore the location for a range of interesting events. We came to dinner, for instance, for Kinfolk’s first Australian event, and sat here one gorgeous summer evening:

Glenmore House

There are also workshops – I did one with India Flint and learned how to make a bag out of a scarf and use native plants as dyes (more on that some other time). And each season, vegetable garden guru Linda Ross holds a Kitchen Garden day, sharing her experience on growing your own, matched with lunch from Mickey’s very impressive kitchen garden.

Glenmore House

Pear arch in the kitchen garden

Mickey has always opened the garden in spring and the open day has now morphed into a full-on Fair. So next weekend there will be plants and stylish garden things to buy, Martin Boetz is making lunch, and there’ll be cake and tea and various entertainments. Mickey’s just-released book, The House and Garden at Glenmore (here’s a review of the book by gardener, writer, artist, Silas Clifford-Smith, who blogs as The Reflective Gardener) will be for sale in the Barn, where Mickey also sells the linen dress that is her uniform, and other hard-to-resist bits and pieces. It will be a beautiful day out in the country, whatever the weather.

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I wrote about the garden for the Sydney Morning Herald,  but today as a flashback I thought I’d include a bit from a story I wrote a few years ago for Your Garden magazine, Australia’s longest-running garden magazine, launched in 1947, and killed off just this year by Pacific Publishing.

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Mickey Roberston traces her dream of a country house life filled with flower gardens, orchards and a vegetable patch to childhood bedtime stories. “Blame it on Beatrix Potter and those nursery rhymes,” she says, “…Mary Mary Quite Contrary.” In 1989 when Mickey and husband Larry found Glenmore House, in the rural hills south-west of Sydney, there were no pretty maids all in a row. On the contrary, the house was derelict, the garden overrun, yet Mickey’s childhood dream began to take shape.

The house, a rough-hewn sandstone cottage, Georgian in style and dating from the 1830s, had been alternately rented and vacant for some 35 years, so “when we would come from the city on a Saturday morning and put the key in the lock we would hear the scuttling behind the door,” remembers Mickey. The couple worked weekends for 18 months before they could spend a vermin-free night in the cottage and wake to the view over hills and a winding creek towards the Razorback Ranges.

Glenmore House

Blackberry and lantana had swallowed the garden and its outbuildings, though persimmons and peppercorns were visible through the mess. “I started planning and making little drawings on pieces of paper,” explains Mickey, whose career as an interior designer is apparent in the garden as well as the house. She rejected the curved organic shapes of a typical country garden, for something more room-like. “I like straight lines, compartments, a certain amount of orderliness.”

She also likes structures and one of the charms of the gardens is the use of the original outbuildings – a hayshed, barn, dairy and stables. These formerly rundown constructions have been restored and given fresh purpose. They also offer points with which to frame the axes of the garden.

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Mickey’s early planting ideas were heavily influenced by English country gardens, but, ensconced at Glenmore House, she gradually developed a sense of history about the garden. “I was hugely influenced by what Leo Schofield did at Bronte House,” she explains. “That garden is just such a thrill! And about the same time I was working at Brownlow Hill, an early-19th century property close by and saw the agaves, aloes, yuccas, and the Chinese elms and bamboo forests there. That was when the wisteria and the roses I’d planted out the front came out and I became really interested in garden history.”

The front of the symmetrical stone cottage, grey dormer windows like eyebrows, a bullnose verandah shading the lower rooms, now has a garden that suits its no-nonsense lines: a forecourt of pale grey gravel, a round pond and two great clumps of silver-blue Agave Americana.

Now, says Mickey nothing is planted purely for its good looks. “There has to be some historical or romantic reason for planting it.” As an example she points out the olive and almond trees, both early sentimental plantings that link her to memories of times spent in the south of Spain with her late parents-in-law.

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The almond and olives form part of an orchard planting that includes citrus, black and white figs, apples and crabapples. The adjacent garden of perennial borders gives Mickey opportunity to practice her talent for developing horticultural pictures. The two facing borders are wide enough and long enough for the development and repetition of tone and texture. The structure is supported by plantings of bronze flax, Phormium tenax, and through the seasons different plants take starring roles. In autumn apricot cannas, burgundy heads of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, bright red hips of the rugosa rose ‘Frau Dagmar Hastrup’ and bleached blonde, fairy-floss heads of ‘Miscanthus sinensis’ draw the eye.

The borders are let go all through winter, the dried heads of the flowers and grasses hanging on against the frost. And then, in mid-August, everything but the flax is cut down, the whole lot covered with compost and manure, so that it springs into lush new growth.

Glenmore House is about an hour south of Sydney on Moore’s Way at Glenmore, and is open 10-4.30pm next Saturday and Sunday, October 15 and 16. Entry $10. Mickey will take tours of her Kitchen Garden at 11am and 2pm.

 

It’s time to

Repot the orchids
Cymbidium orchids like to live close but not overcrowded. If pots have become packed, lift and divide them now and repot into fresh orchid mix.

Consider azaleas
Petal blight destroys azalea blooms, turning them sludgy first, then crispy. A systemic fungicide, such as Zaleton, sprayed from first colour in the buds until flowering is finished, is one solution. The other is to swap high-maintenance azaleas for something less troubled by pests and disease.

Rehydrate the pots
The ghastly westerly winds of the last week sucked the moisture out of everything. Potting mix is particularly susceptible to becoming hydrophobic once it dries out. Use a soil wetter, such as Eco-hydrate, to allow you to really soak the mix in preparation for a hot day on Monday.

Feed freesias
The evil westerlies dried up the last of the freesias. Trim back the dead flower spikes and feed the foliage to boost flower production for next year.

 

 

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Acquilegias, Old Wesleydale, Tasmania
Other people's gardens

Old Wesleydale

One from the vault again this week, a piece I wrote for Garden Clinic earlier this year about Scott and Deb Wilson’s wonderful Tasmanian garden, Old Wesleydale.

When people talk about Scott and Deb Wilson’s lovely garden what they mention first is the elephant hedge. The elephant in the room might be an unmentionable, but the elephant in the garden is a talking point. It came about by accident. Scott was wrestling, yet again, with a floppy old Lonicera nitida hedge in front of the house while Deb stood back, advising on the long view. Suddenly she saw a line of elephants begin to form, like cloud animals, out of the chaos. She alerted Scott, who accentuated the curves and lines and the elephant hedge was born.

Elephant hedge, Old Wesleydale, Tasmania

The hedge, which continues to grow and subtly change, is both light-hearted and seriously skilful and that combination of levity and a deep commitment to excellence runs right through Old Wesleydale. The property itself has a serious history. Set in the gorgeous countryside of the Meander Valley of northern Tasmania, backed by the deep blue ridges of the Great Western Tiers, this was frontier territory in the early 19th century. The property was half-fortress, half-farm, and the great drive leads not to the house, but to a massive barn, protected by a 2m high perimeter wall, and featuring window slits in the upper storey from which besieged pioneers could aim their muskets.

Acquilegias, Old Wesleydale, Tasmania

The heritage buildings were all dilapidated when the Wilsons arrived and they were given permission to restore the original lines of the barn, removing a later addition, as long as none of the materials were removed from the property. That left plenty of mellow old red bricks with which to build a walled garden on the northwest side of their new house. Scott’s hedge work is on show here too with sharply defined box hedges containing a froth and bubble of planting that changes with the seasons. In late summer there are lime heads of euphorbia and pink cones of echinacea, while in spring it’s all pretty nodding granny’s bonnets. Clematis and roses, including creamy ‘Lamarque’ and pretty ‘Pinkie’, clothe the walls, and hydrangeas bubble up in front of them. Heritage apple varieties from 1830s are grown as ‘step-‘over’ espaliers, tied on to hurdles of woven willow.

Hydrangeas, Old Wesleydale, Tasmania

Through the gate is another smaller walled garden where the walls contain enough warmth to extend the vegetable growing season. As well, towering delphiniums and fabulous dahlias are grown here to pick for the house. Raspberry canes are covered with fruit in summer.

 Old Wesleydale, Tasmania

At the rear of the house what was once a horse paddock is now the Terrace Garden. The tall silver trunks of birch dominate a play of light and shadow, the shade under the shining birches echoed in the light-dark coloration of a black-stemmed, white-flowered cow parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, and in variegated hostas and lamium. Adding more light are philadelphus and viburnum, deutzia and windflowers. The whole garden is overlooked by 40 ‘Ranelagh’ crabapples.

Again hedges play an important part in the design here, guiding sight lines and adding structure to the plantings. Hedges of rugosa roses, hornbeam, elderberry and viburnum define different areas of the garden.

Old Wesleydale, Tasmania

Scott travelled to England to study the ancient craft of laying hawthorn hedges so that he could faithfully restore the kilometres of hawthorn hedges first laid by Irish and Scottish settlers to the area in the 1840s. Hedge laying involves making a partial cut in semi-mature wood then laying down and securing that cut stem. Suckers grow from the cuts and a dense hedge forms. That’s the 25-words-or-less explanation; the real thing is a bit more complicated, but Scott is now taking classes to spread the skill of maintaining our important landscape hedges.

One of the other historical landscape features of the garden that adds a special quality is the ha-ha at the front of property. The ha ha is an invisible but impenetrable barrier between the stock paddock and the garden, drawing the bucolic rural landscape into the garden without the visual interference of a fence. First developed in 17th century France, a ha ha consists of a steep sharp slope running into a rock or masonry retaining wall. Scott and Deb spent four years building their ha ha, using basalt and dolerite rock collected around the farm. The ha ha is typical of the approach of these two inspiring gardeners whose appreciation of history and old skills is matched by playful personal expression.

**You can stay in the old stone cottage on the property and pretend this gorgeous garden is yours for a bit. Details here. 

It’s time to:

Get to Bronte House
This inspiring garden is open tomorrow, Sunday 18 September, from 10am – 2pm. 470 Bronte Road, Bronte. Entry $2.

Prune
Cut back shrubby tibouchinas ready for a burst of spring growth.

Feed
Now that the weather is warming the whole garden can be fed with all-purpose fertiliser.

Make a list
Plant Lovers Fair at Kariong on the Central Coast on September 24 and 25 promises to fill your garden with new treasures. More than 40 specialist growers will bring their wares, and there’s a free speakers program.. Go to Plant Lovers Fair for details.

 

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Other people's gardens

Happy Birthday Capability

This month marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. He’s the man responsible for the beautiful ‘natural’ landscapes that surround many great English estates, colouring the image of England as a ‘green and pleasant land’. A generation of young aristocrats in the mid-18th century returned from their Grand Tours keen to express their newly acquired ‘taste’ by, among other pursuits, pulling out their fathers’ dowdy old baroque gardens and replacing them with the bold plans of Capability Brown.

Brown’s plans were certainly bold. The distinguishing features of a Brown landscape: a serpentine lake resembling a river, with waterfalls; copses of trees on a ridge of hills; and parkland sweeping right up to the house, required massive changes to the topography, and also to the people who lived on the estates. One village, complete with church and graveyard, was moved when Brown decided it interrupted the views.

Croome court, National trust

Croome Court, Worcestershire, designed by Brown in 1758 and requiring the draining of a morass and removal of a village. Photo: The National Trust

His ambitious designs challenged contemporary engineering technologies and horticultural techniques, including the transplanting of mature trees to create those signature silhouetted clumps. Brown’s clients weren’t keen on waiting half a century for the expected effect to grow in, so he experimented with a number of transplant methods. His ‘transplanting machine’ was a long pole attached to cartwheels. The pole was tied to the tree while it was vertical, then lowered by ropes, wrenching the tree from the ground. Success rates varied.

Petworth Park, National trust

An aerial view of Petworth Park shows how Brown made the link between garden and natural landscape imperceptible. Photo: National Trust

Like any new fashion, Brown’s designs operated as a refutation of past practices. Flowers were banned, and so too was ‘foreignness’, represented in older gardens by classical statues, temples and references to antiquity. Instead the new landscapes were expressions of honest English virtues. Livestock replaced statuary as part of the decorative programme. A charming group of cows or sheep could be admired from the house, separated from it by a ha-ha. These ingenious in-ground barriers are formed by a ditch or steep slope bounded by a retaining wall, so that animals are restrained without a visual barrier.

Brown’s new landscapes were also pragmatic. Mowed by the estate livestock they were much less expensive to keep up so landowners could spend their disposable income on other pursuits – like fishing in the lakes and hunting in the woodlands. Brown’s heyday coincided with the development of better guns, so that hunting and shooting became a more important part of aristocratic leisure. Pheasants were introduced to England from India at this time too, and they liked to live on the edges of copses trees that were fortuitously features of Brownian plans.

Croome, National Trust

The stream at Croome, with a Brown signature planting of Lebanon cedars. Photo: National Trust

Brown’s plans were immensely popular and he worked on more than 170 estates through his career, transforming the landscape of England. In effecting that transformation he also changed perceptions of landscapes in a way that resonated across the English-influenced world for centuries. So when Lachlan Macquarie marked out the boundaries of the Botanic Gardens and Governor’s demesne (domain) 200 years ago, the landscapes of Capability Brown shaped his visions.

It’s time to

Plan for daffs
The heritage village of Rydal celebrates spring with thousands of daffodils blooming in public parks and private gardens. Gardens are open on 10-11 and 17-18 September. Go to www.rydal.com.au for details and accommodation options.

Prune hydrangeas
Take out the weak and spindly branches and a couple of the oldest gnarliest ones to allow room for renewal, then cut off the dead flower heads, back to the first pair of fat buds.

Feed the vegies
Keep winter-growing vegetables moving with regular soluble fertiliser.

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Other people's gardens

Small space gardening

The smaller the space available for private gardens the grander the public gardens. This seems to be the very pleasing credo of the Singapore government whose spending and commitment to public gardens and green space is inspiring.  Just imagine a government closer to home handing over more than 100 hectares of prime waterfront land for public gardens (and an army of workers to maintain it in beautiful condition) instead of, for example, allowing a billionaire to build a big casino.

While the public gardens – and even the street trees – are gorgeous, Singaporeans are also keen home gardeners, albeit in very limited areas.  So the locals at the biannual Singapore Garden Festival don’t crowd the Landscape Gardens designed by internationally renowned designers and constructed by local landscapers, like this very do-able design by Adam Frost, with a floating pavilion in a grove of Caesalpnia ferrea, and plantings of yellow and white flowers.

An Urban Jungle by Adam Frost, Singapore Garden Festival 2016

The crowds are at the displays of gardening on a much smaller scale. Like this from the Balcony Gardens section, with a leaf-papered wall featuring a display box of tillandsia and broms, and a  hat stand for a really ordinary cap.

Tillandsia hat stand

More traditional are the crafts of bonsai and penjing. Here’s one of the striking works in the calligraphy section of the bonsai pavilion, all of which were created by local enthusiasts. It is the symbol for happiness, turned upside down.  In the same way that Anglo superstitious types would never hang a horseshoe upside down in case the luck falls out, so at Chinese New Year Chinese superstitious types hang symbols for happiness upside down, so as to invite happiness in.

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And for those without even a balcony with which to engage with green life, the show offered indoors inspiration, including these begonias in black frames hanging in a lounge room space.

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Back outdoors Leon Kluge and Bayley LuuTomes offered a beautiful fantasy of garden living and a message of integrating the natural and man-made worlds. In their small spaces an integration of the natural and the man-made is exactly what Singapore’s garden-lovers aim for. Was it this resonating theme or the garden itself which scored for its designers the People’s Choice Award this year?Leon 'Back to Nature' by Leon Kluge and Bayley LuuTomes, Singapore Garden Festival 2016

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Other people's gardens

Dead gorgeous perennials and clipped things

Two things struck me on an early winter garden whip-around in regional Victoria. The first was how gorgeous dead perennials can be (or should that be how dead-gorgeous perennials can be?). We don’t get much chance to appreciate this effect in Sydney. Our winters are just cold enough to make perennials look wan and sick, but not cold enough to shock them into brown, grey and black skeletal forms.

garden by Michael McCoy

Michael McCoy is a master of textural perennial planting and on a freezing, rainy afternoon a garden he designed outside of Woodend near Mount Macedon was a picture (even with a rain-spotted phone). Black verbascum stems stood against silvery whisps of perovksia, dark chocolate sedums and the occasional blue-green of euphorbia spires and freeze-framed fireworks of Yucca rigida. I couldn’t imagine it looking any better in flower.

garden by Michael McCoy

While perennial death pictures aren’t part of our gardening palette, clipped things are, and I saw some terrific examples down south. There were hedges of course, as walls, windbreaks, screens, and at one garden as a giant roll of firm grey cushioning along the front of the house. Made from westringia and assiduously clipped into a long cylinder, the owners described it as mirroring the curve of the hills, but it seemed to me more of a massive bolster turning the whole house into a daybed from which to take in the view of those hills.

At the Vineyard Gardens in Mornington Peninsula, the curving perennial borders are walled by high hedges, but it was the fat columns of clipped lillypilly interspersed through the borders that gave the space a wonderful sense of being inside outside.

The vineyard garden

On the other side of the hedge, balls of teucrium and westringia acted as formal grey boulders in a grove of lemon-scented gums. The contrast of formal and informal, wild and clipped, bush and garden had a disorienting appeal.

The vineyard garden

The same idea was given a different treatment in a walled space in the same garden where white-flowered ‘Natchez’ crepe myrtles were underplanted with more trimmed plants, primarily Helichrysum petiolare clipped into undulating mounds like a sleeping body snuggled under a doona.

An international inspiration for this kind of well-clipped, drought-tolerant gardening is the late Nicole de Vesian’s garden la Louve, in the Luberon Valley of Provence. De Vesian was a designer at Hermes for years and when she gave up haute couture for horticulture it was in dry and rocky ground which severely limited her plant choices. As is so often the case, the constraints made for an elegant solution, and la Louve, with its shapely forms of rosemary, lavender and santolina among the fig, olive and yucca, makes visitors itchy to get home to their own garden and a pair of clippers. I had just the same response on my visit to Victoria.

My trip was a speedy famil for a tour I’m leading for Ross Garden Tours in November. As we’ll be visiting regional Victoria in spring, there’ll be no perennial death pictures, but plenty of flowers! See the full itinerary here. (Do you reckon I could gather enough interest to do a cool climate garden tour in early winter – it’s so beautiful!)

It’s time to

Take the tropical tour
Dr Dale Dixon is leading a tour of the public and private sections of Latitude 23, the tropical glasshouses of the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney this Thursday. Meet the ant plants and the world’s smallest fig among other oddities. Thursday 28 July, 9.45–11 am. $25. Bookings: 9231 8182

Take cuttings
Ensure cold-sensitive coleus aren’t lost over winter by taking lots of cuttings. If you have nowhere warm to overwinter them, keep the cuttings in water. They won’t all survive the transplant from water to soil so make sure you double up.

Collect leaves
Pick the fallen leaves from the foliage of lower-growing plants so they don’t get smothered.

Buy fragrance
Daphne is one of the signature scents of winter. ‘Perfume Princess’ is a new variety that flowers over a long period, with an intense perfume, in gardens or pots, semi-shade or full sun. It’s Australia’s Nursery and Garden Industry Plant of the Year for 2016.

 

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