Hill Of Con­tent

Turn­ing a big idea into a hu­man-scale land­form shaped gar­den de­signer ap­proach Michael Bates’ to his own patch on the slopes out­side Syd­ney.

Australian House & Garden - - News - STORY Michael Bates | PHO­TOG­RA­PHY Jason Busch

A gar­den de­signer’s own lush moun­tain sanc­tu­ary.

The Blue Moun­tains, just west of Syd­ney, have a de­cent el­e­va­tion by Aus­tralian stan­dards, as well as ex­cel­lent vol­canic soils, a cooler cli­mate than the coast and the abil­ity to cul­ti­vate sub­tem­per­ate ex­otics. Here, the ideal of an Ar­ca­dian par­adise can be carved out in an Aus­tralian set­ting with­out be­ing too con­trived. Gar­den­ing in the moun­tains is not just a ther­a­peu­tic pas­time, it’s a way of life. To some of us, it’s al­most a re­li­gion.

I bought this Mt Irvine prop­erty, Talla­wong, in 2001 as a young land­scaper and set out on a 30-year gar­den-mak­ing pro­gram. The tim­ber cot­tage and gar­den date back to 1915 when two brothers – orig­i­nal set­tlers from the 1890s – split their hold­ings af­ter a dis­pute and one built this house. The toil of these first set­tlers and the his­tory of mak­ing this place are still pal­pa­ble. Talla­wong has been the re­cip­i­ent of a cen­tury of what I like to call ‘af­ter­noon-tea gar­den­ing’. Peo­ple would have get-to­geth­ers, swap­ping plant knowl­edge and cut­tings. They’d go home and pop things in the ground, and if they flour­ished, so be it.

They had no de­tailed knowl­edge of how big trees would grow. So, my first stage of gar­den-mak­ing in­volved re­moval. A lot of over­ma­ture spec­i­mens were ei­ther vi­ciously pruned or re­moved, though­manys­till­re­main.Anon­go­ingtree-man­age­ment­pro­gram is im­por­tant to keep the sun fil­ter­ing through.

This gar­den has also been a great re­cip­i­ent of many sal­vaged plants from other projects. The feel­ing of sav­ing a spe­cial spec­i­men and giv­ing it a new life in my gar­den – in this time of un­fet­tered con­sumerism and wastage – is very sat­is­fy­ing.

My bold­est ges­ture, the land­form, was in­spired by a study tour to the UK, dur­ing which I saw the works of great gar­den de­sign­ers such as Vita Sackville-West and Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown. But the

most in­flu­en­tial work was that of Charles Jencks, within his Gar­den of Cos­mic Spec­u­la­tion near Dum­fries, Scot­land.

I was mo­ti­vated to cre­ate my own land­form near the dam. Orig­i­nally, I wanted a dou­ble helix, but that idea was too grand for the space. I played with a spi­ral, but couldn’t calm it down so that it wouldn’t block the view of the wa­ter from the house. In­stead, the land­form mor­phed into its cres­cent shape.

As you cir­cle the base of the land­form, or walk along it, your view and per­spec­tive con­stantly change with your el­e­va­tion. It’s a con­tem­pla­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, a way of har­ness­ing the restora­tive qual­i­ties of the moun­tains on a hu­man scale.

I now view my process as sculpt­ing the land in four di­men­sions. I don’t just carve out and shape the land; I plant grow­ing things that cre­ate new spa­ces and op­por­tu­ni­ties all the time.

I al­ways say I gain equal plea­sure from work­ing in the gar­den and re­lax­ing and shar­ing the place with fam­ily, friends and peo­ple I find in­ter­est­ing. Watching peo­ple of all ages in­ter­act and re­spond to the gar­den is very sat­is­fy­ing.

As my chil­dren have grown, the tree house, tram­po­line and sand­pits have been del­i­cately re­moved, some­times to the cha­grin of one or other of them. They want these things to re­main for their own fu­ture chil­dren. An en­chant­ing moun­tain child­hood is some­thing they want the next gen­er­a­tion to ex­pe­ri­ence as well.

The op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a gar­den where I am the client can­not be over­stated. Here, I can fill my gar­den with things I like. It’s been an im­mea­sur­able plea­sure, and the idea that I am only half­way through this project is life-af­firm­ing. As I lounge in the ham­mock and al­low ideas to float in and out, the tan­ta­lis­ing prospect of what to do next is a con­stant de­light.”

ABOVE Wis­te­ria ‘Mac­robotrys’, which pro­duces breath­tak­ing flow­ers of 40–50cm long, grows over a per­gola at the side of Michael’s house. A swing hangs from a Do­ryphora sas­safras tree, a rem­nant from an in­dige­nous rain­for­est. OP­PO­SITE Michael in his wife Sophia’s flo­ral do­main – “As a clock­wise from top left wed­ding gift, I gave her a prime patch of ground to make a flower gar­den.” A Ja­panese maple shel­ters the tim­ber seat and dry-stone wall in the en­try court­yard. Artist Willem van Stom cre­ated the pear sculp­ture from horse­shoes; it hangs, fit­tingly, from a pear tree, across a stretch of lawn with a weep­ing maple.

THIS PAGE In­spired by Bri­tish sculp­tor Andy Goldswor­thy, Michael from top cre­ated this sur­real egg in stone left over from a job. A com­fort­ably aged gar­den shed at Talla­wong. Michael re­laxes with Gypsy, his Jack Rus­sell ter­rier. OP­PO­SITE TOP In­ter­ac­tive sculp­tures of birds in flight, also the work of Willem van Stom, are cre­atively re­ar­ranged on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. By the house, a pizza oven, fire pit and ca­sual seat­ing make for laid­back en­ter­tain­ing. OP­PO­SITE BOT­TOM Michael built a jetty over the dam, which of­fers a fine view from the house. The wal­nut tree be­side it bears a crop around Easter.

This is an edited ex­tract from The New Aus­tralian Gar­den: Land­scapes For Living by Michael Bates, pub­lished by Mur­doch Books, $59.99. Michael’s com­pany is Bates Land­scape, Ar­tar­mon, NSW; (02) 9818 6666 or bates­land­scape.com.au.

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