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