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.

Australian House & Garden - - News - STORY & PHO­TOG­RA­PHY Kim Woods Rab­bidge

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.

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