The Long View
Starting from scratch on this northern NSW property, garden designer Carolyn Robinson has conjured a biodiverse paradise that’s attracting many new species.
Biodiversity and beauty go hand in hand on this sweeping northern NSW property.
The vista from garden designer Carolyn Robinson’s verandah changes by the hour. The home she shares with husband Peter sits among rolling hills near Tenterfield in northern NSW, looking out across a large pond to the mystical Bluff River Nature Reserve. Early-morning fog often shrouds the valley, rising slowly to reveal sylvan hills and pastures. It’s a tableau of constantly changing light and weather, all played out on the pond’s clear surface. Look up and you’re likely to see majestic, soaring eagles. Hence the property’s name: Eagles’ Bluff.
Carolyn began developing this 2ha garden on what was almost a bare site just seven years ago. At the time, the couple owned and lived at Glenrock, a property with a renowned garden just north of Tenterfield. For several years, Carolyn managed both gardens as well as running her garden design consultancy. When their new home on the 122ha property was complete, she and Pete moved to Eagles’ Bluff full-time. Here, Carolyn’s domain is the garden, while Pete manages the cattle and pastures. “We work best that way,” says Carolyn, smiling.
While Glenrock was an English-style garden, Eagles’ Bluff has taken her in another direction. This is a quintessentially Australian garden with a profound sense of place. Both house and garden are perched on a knoll with a mountain backdrop, embraced on three sides by the Bluff River.
All around the home, curved garden beds loosely following the contours of the land are full of Carolyn’s familiar plant palettes: grasses, perennials and shrubs mixed in expressive swirls of colour and texture. Typical combinations include spectacular shrubs such as Melianthus major and Buddleja
‘Crispa’ with shimmering, swaying pennisetum, miscanthus and panicum grasses. Or sun-loving perennials achillea and dahlias growing alongside homoranthus, convolvulus and rustcoloured New Zealand flax. Elsewhere, clipped lavender balls mimic rounded yucca and ground covers add rhythmic form.
Many years ago, a hill south of the river was denuded after the eucalypts there were ringbarked, so Carolyn wanted to screen it. “I planted lots of trees below the house when we first arrived,” she explains. “By planting everything at once, including the
understorey, it all established quite quickly.” This thick screen, consisting of gums and box, is one of the most appealing sections. Beneath the trees, spiky spheres of Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’ contrast with cotton lavender and westringia. Euphorbias are dotted between burgundy berberisand purple fountain grass. In the late afternoon, tufts of miscanthus glow with backlit halos.
The trees are not only a foil for the bare hill; their beautiful foliage and striking trunks segue perfectly into the landscape. Carolyn removes lower branches to reveal handsome trunks, and reduces multiple trunks to singles for strength and beauty.
Her plantings have boosted the biodiversity of the property, increasing the range of bird species and their populations. Finches and wrens now find refuge among swathes of native grasses, paper daisies and bluebells, and birdsong is a sweet accompaniment on garden walks. A bank of boulders supports the reflective pond by the home; its crystal-clear water with pickerel rush and waterlilies is a mecca for wildlife.
So dramatic is the effect of this new microclimate that the average summer temperature in the garden is a few degrees cooler – in the low 30s – than before Carolyn landscaped the site. Winter temperatures still drop to –6°C but, with added protection from the trees, the frosts are less severe. She covers some beds with homemade organic mulch and selects coloured gravel for other beds. The gravel provides extra warmth for frost-susceptible natives. “It also suppresses weeds, but water penetration is probably its best attribute,” she says.
To section some areas, Carolyn has used dry-stone walling techniques she learned in England to build several low-profile walls with flagstones unearthed in the paddocks. She’s thinking about adding stone platforms, seats and garden structures.
In front of the house, on the north-eastern side, a croquet lawn and rose garden are positioned in full sun. There’s also a fire pit where sometimes, in the afternoon, Carolyn fills a camp oven with the evening’s meal. Later that night, she, Pete and any lucky guests will dine fireside, beneath the stars and under the spell of the magical setting.
ABOVE Bamboo and Miscanthus transmorrisonensis make a pretty backdrop for the pickerel rush ( Pontederia cordata) growing along the pond’s edge. OPPOSITE Owners Pete and Carolyn Robinson. Delicate racemes (hanging flowers) of pink wisteria. Melianthus major bears tubular clockwise from top left red flowers. The heart-shaped foliage of Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’. Roses along the croquet lawn on the northwest side of the house benefit from full sun. Beautiful bark textures resemble an abstract painting. ‘Prestige Pink’ bottlebrush is one of dozens of bird-attracting Callistemon trees on the property.
ABOVE In a corner of the garden, Rosa ‘Pomponella’, a hardy and compact floribunda rose, bears masses of pink blooms with a delicate perfume. The garden shed at the rear was constructed from recycled materials so that the structure would blend unobtrusively into the New England landscape. OPPOSITE Against a majestic backdrop of riverside casuarinas, tall spikes of Mexican lilies ( Beschorneria yuccoides) emerge from behind a row of mounded Teucrium in gravel mulch. At right is Acacia baileyana ‘Prostrate’, a form of Cootamundra wattle, spilling over a path set with irregular stones.