Fan­tasy for­est


Old trees take on an im­pres­sive new life as strik­ing top­i­ary in cen­tral Vic­to­ria.


CLOCK­WISE, FROM ABOVE Barry and Ruth Mur­phy; the house is sur­rounded by trees, in­clud­ing a quince; quince blos­som; this corkscrew top­i­ary has been re­fined over decades; cean­othus in bloom. FAC­ING PAGE, FROM TOP Ruth and Barry stroll down the poplar av­enue; a car­pet of blue­bells un­der the oaks.

See more great coun­try gar­dens at coun­try-gar­dens

Mov­ing a drive­way can ef­fect more changes in a coun­try gar­den than the route to the front door. Such was the case at Barry and Ruth Mur­phy’s prop­erty, Rose­bery Hill, where the change led to an out­break of top­i­ary that has made part of the ex­ten­sive gar­den an amaz­ing fan­tasy land. The story starts 30 years ago when the Mur­phys de­cided to re­move a short drive from the nearby road and cre­ate a wind­ing, en­tic­ing path through an av­enue of trees to their se­cluded house at Pipers Creek, near Kyne­ton in cen­tral Vic­to­ria. Along the old drive­way were a few rem­nant Mon­terey cy­presses (Cu­pres­sus macro­carpa). “They were about 60 to 70 years old and were fall­ing apart, drop­ping branches in the wind,” Barry says. “So we de­cided to get rid of them.” “We burnt out the old hearts of each one but af­ter­wards, seedlings kept com­ing up from the roots,” Ruth adds. “Our idea was to keep them trimmed to eye level, so we didn’t have to use a lad­der… Well, that was the idea. But they es­caped!” Barry says he has even had to get big­ger lad­ders (“I started with a 10-foot one, then had to go to 14-foot!”) His de­signs are equally im­pro­vised — “I didn’t start with a plan, just started trim­ming” — though he does say the cou­ple draw in­spi­ra­tion from books and gar­den­ing mag­a­zines. To­day the cy­press off­spring would be at home in Alice’s Won­der­land. The quirky clipped shapes could com­pete with the as­ton­ish­ing cen­turies-old col­lec­tion of yew top­i­ary at the renowned Levens Hall in the north of Eng­land. Barry and Ruth de­scribe their top­i­ary fol­lies, tucked away among ma­ture trees and shrubs, and their en­tire gar­den as the tri­umph of Mother Na­ture over hu­man en­deav­our. But this is not strictly ac­cu­rate. A great deal of hard work has gone into fash­ion­ing the four-hectare gar­den and park­land, the cul­ti­vated heart of their sheep and cat­tle prop­erty of 108 hectares. Their tim­ber house was built by Ruth’s great-grand­fa­ther and the prop­erty name comes from Rose­bery Top­ping in York­shire, where the fam­ily lived be­fore mi­grat­ing to Australia in 1851. “We love both roses and berries, but the name is re­ally all to do with fam­ily con­nec­tions,” Ruth says. The present drive­way, 300 me­tres long, was carved through the pad­docks and then bor­dered with 70 red oaks (Quer­cus rubra) that Barry ger­mi­nated from acorns. In au­tumn, the trees turn glo­ri­ous shades of crim­son and in spring the ground be­neath the oaks’ fresh green leaves is a blue­bell and daf­fodil show­case. In­deed, bulbs and roses — “Any­thing with a per­fume,” says Ruth >

— are high­lights, along with f low­er­ing shrubs. But it’s the ex­ten­sive tree col­lec­tion that’s the abid­ing mem­ory. Trees are Barry’s pas­sion. He has a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in conifers and has col­lected many un­usual species. “I love cedars — par­tic­u­larly the Mount At­las cedar (Ce­drus at­lantica). I think it’s a won­der­ful tree with its spec­tac­u­lar branch­ing habit. But there are al­ways dis­ap­point­ments… we find that many of the conifers die here af­ter 20 or 30 years. Although we have deep soil, the trees we’ve planted have to sur­vive with­out be­ing wa­tered. We live in a true Mediter­ranean cli­mate. One tree we’ll never plant again is the Law­son cy­press (Chamae­cy­paris law­so­ni­ana), which we put in early on. It needs an an­nual rain­fall of more than 1000 mil­lime­tres.” By con­trast, oaks, an­other tree with a strong place in Barry’s heart, thrive in this area. Barry has planted an en­tire ar­bore­tum of nearly 70 species, and that doesn’t in­clude a beau­ti­ful av­enue of cork oaks (Quer­cus su­ber) lead­ing out to the sheep pad­docks. One of his favourites is the Mace­don oak, a hy­brid that Barry points out is quite dis­tinc­tive, with its red leaves hold­ing on into July. A cen­tury-old cork oak also com­mands at­ten­tion. An av­enue of po­plars, f ive dif­fer­ent catal­pas, var­i­ous limes — in­clud­ing the com­mon lime (Tilia cor­data) with its fra­grant f low­ers — del­i­cate weep­ing maples, and f low­er­ing cher­ries are some of the many other beau­ti­ful and un­usual trees on the prop­erty. The cli­mate at Pipers Creek can be testing for gar­den­ers. “We get se­vere frosts — mi­nus four de­grees — that do a lot of dam­age and then, in sum­mer, the hot north winds are ter­ri­ble,” Ruth says. “Our worst day was Black Satur­day in Fe­bru­ary 2010 — the bark on trees was cooked and the sap boiled. The wind, no mat­ter the di­rec­tion, is the en­emy.” “We are try­ing not to ex­pand the gar­den,” Barry in­sists. “We have a lot of weed­ing but our big­gest job is re­mov­ing branches, mostly the lower limbs of the trees that are half dead. Of course, we’re re­mov­ing our mis­takes as well! It’s heavy work. The aim in win­ter is to try and get things un­der con­trol.” “We like to start the day with a wan­der and of­ten get lost in the gar­den,” Ruth says. “We come from farm­ers on both sides of the fam­ily… We just need to grow plants and en­joy ev­ery new pair of leaves.”

CLOCK­WISE, FROM TOP LEFT Each month Barry spends two to three days keep­ing the cy­presses trimmed; the cen­tral Vic­to­rian land­scape; dark green shapes con­trast with the oak leaves above; tiny bells of blad­der cam­pion (Si­lene vul­garis), a hardy peren­nial; though strik­ing, the top­i­ary sec­tion is just a small part of the gar­den; lilac in bloom.

The cy­presses that kept com­ing back have been sculpted into an im­pres­sive geo­met­ric ar­ray at Rose­bery Hill.

Rose­bery Hill, on Pas­to­ria Road, Pipers Creek, Vic­to­ria will be open daily dur­ing the Kyne­ton Daf­fodil Fes­ti­val, Septem­ber 3–13, 2015. For more in­for­ma­tion, tele­phone (03) 5423 5253. And see page 128 for our fea­ture on her­itage toma­toes.

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