Old trees take on an impressive new life as striking topiary in central Victoria.
OLD TREES TAKE ON AN IMPRESSIVE NEW LIFE AS TOPIARY IN THIS GARDEN 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.
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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.