Hello to those of you still paying attention: it’s been a long time between drinks! With a few minutes spare, I thought I’d post the story I wrote on Sarah Ryan’s lovely garden Hillandale. It’s within striking distance of Sydney and definitely worth putting in your shiny new 2018 diary. Sarah opens the garden on the last weekend of the month until the end of 24-25 March. Don’t bother with pencilling it in – pick a weekend and commit to pen. Here’s what I wrote for Spectrum – and to see some more images of Hillandale, check out the gorgeous ‘Dreamscapes’ book by Australian photographer Claire Takacs.
I’m standing at the top of the perennial border in Sarah Ryan’s beautiful Hillandale, trying to work out why I like it so much. Before me the border is rocketing into its mid-spring phase. Iris the colour of lapis nod in the foreground, mounds of fresh lime growth glow, there’s a sprinkling of white and about mid-way down a glowing orange section of Euphorbia griffithii ‘Dixter’ against twin pillars of maroon elderberry and carex grass the colour of a beach-bleached blonde. The colours and textures backlit by morning sun and laid out down the slope before me are lovely.
I’ve also walked this path on a late autumn afternoon, starting from the bottom and walking up the slope with the slanting sun backlighting the towering growth of perennials and grasses at their peak volume so I had to almost elbow my way through. It was a magic experience then too. The siting of the border cleverly maximises the effects of light and of the backdrop of bucolic fields and distant hills. The narrow winding path changes the perspective with every step, and slows passage through the garden, forcing you to stop and admire its multiple effects.
If the garden was just this border, it would be reason enough to travel to Yetholme, a spot midway between Lithgow and Bathurst, but there’s more. The old cottage nestles into the slope and is dwarfed by century-old rhododendrons that are discreetly shielded by mature trees so that they don’t stand out as mountains of hot pink, but shine through the green and spark in the sun.
When Sarah and her husband Andrew found the property in 1999, it was covered in blackberry. Sarah could see the rhododendrons under the shroud of weeds and felt that this was a Sleeping Beauty she could awake. It took more than a kiss though. She had to crawl under the blackberry cover and hack at its stems, then pull off the brambles and burn them. But gradually the bones of an old country garden appeared. Mature trees sourced from Paul Sorensen’s nursery in the early 20th century and planted in a style influenced by his great tapestries of evergreen and deciduous trees, form the superstructure that Sarah has worked under and through.
The swampy area at the side of the house was once original tree-ferned rainforest. The Ryans have harnessed the water into a rill that snakes a narrow path through verdant grass to a small lake that reflects the old cottage and its iron roof. Turf-covered stone bridges arch elegantly over the little creek, which Andrew keeps sharp-edged with a skilfully wielded whipper-snipper.
On the other side of the house is a vegetable garden and a glasshouse full of the kinds of plants you can’t grow out in the open here where snow stays on the ground in winter. There are succulents and geraniums arranged with ‘tip finds’ – like the fish tanks that turn out to be the perfect place to grow bog plants, such as variegated Schoenoplectus zebrinus and carnivorous sarracenias, that don’t like to be submerged in a pond.
The glasshouse was a present from Andrew, reassembled piece by piece from the property where it was no longer wanted, on top of new stone footings that match those of the original cottage. Like the rest of the place, the glasshouse has the artless look of the perfectly placed and proportioned: not showy, just beautiful.
Sarah is modest about her skills. “The border makes me look like a great gardener, but it’s just that everything in it is growing to its potential,” she shrugs. Go see Hillandale and make up your own mind.
HIllandale garden and nursery is open on the last weekend of each month until March 2019, 287 Eusdale road, Yetholme, 10am – 5pm, $10 entry.