PLANT­ING GUIDE

Country Style - - CONTENTS - For in­for­ma­tion on work­shops and stock­ists for Natasha’s pre­serves and cor­dials, visit natashamor­gan.com.au. To fol­low Natasha on in­sta­gram @natasha_­mor­gan_

A se­lec­tion of de­lights worth plant­ing now.

If not the quaint road­side stall Natasha Mor­gan decks with her home­made pre­serves, cor­dials, posies and fresh cut flow­ers on the run through the Wom­bat State For­est to Dayles­ford, you may never no­tice the ram­bling timber cot­tage set back among a grove of big trees. A gravel drive me­an­ders into this en­clave of oaks, pines and an an­cient mon­key-puz­zle tree, and cir­cles a gar­den bed at the front door. Once in­side the house, you take in the gar­dens, the beds over­flow­ing with herbs, veg­eta­bles, berries and flow­ers. Fur­ther out are a clus­ter of bee­hives, an or­chard and a chicken run. And over­look­ing it all is the ship­ping con­tainer Natasha has con­verted into a stu­dio space, where she holds be­spoke din­ners and events, and work­shops on ev­ery­thing from sea­sonal food, for­ag­ing and floristry, to gar­den de­sign and dry stonewalling. The old house, on two hectares, was once the post of­fice for the tiny ham­let of Spargo Creek, 100 kilo­me­tres north-west of Mel­bourne. It has not only been home for two-and-a-half years, but the hub of the new life Natasha and part­ner Michael Howard have cre­ated for them­selves and their chil­dren, Saf­fron, five, and Oliver, three. Pre­vi­ously, they lived in Mel­bourne’s West Footscray, where for sev­eral years they had been “pas­sively” look­ing for a place in the coun­try. “We had a list: a ra­dius of one-and-a-half-hour’s drive from Mel­bourne, high rain­fall, good soil, and art and culture. I’d imag­ined a week­ender — some­where to have a gar­den and grow things,” says Natasha. “We’d vis­ited friends in the area of­ten over the years, and when we got a real-es­tate alert, we thought, this looks in­ter­est­ing! We came on the week­end, stood un­der the trees in the pad­docks, looked at each other and said, ‘How are we go­ing to make this hap­pen?’” Natasha trained as an ar­chi­tect and land­scape ar­chi­tect. She has worked as an ur­ban de­signer, land­scape ar­chi­tect, and a lec­turer at Mel­bourne Univer­sity and RMIT, where she con­tin­ues to teach part-time. Michael is a land­scape ar­chi­tect, too, cur­rently lec­tur­ing full-time at RMIT. It was af­ter the chil­dren ar­rived that Natasha felt a need to re-eval­u­ate. “I was ru­mi­nat­ing on what I was do­ing with my life,” she says. “When I thought of the things I like, it was al­ways things with my hands: gar­den­ing. I wanted a place to grow and har­vest. I’d al­ways loved flow­ers, and the ideas evolved. This prop­erty was the an­swer to my ques­tions.” Mean­while, Natasha had taken time out to do a flo­ral workshop with Katie Marx at New­stead in cen­tral Vic­to­ria. Michael is also a horticulturalist and had once been a buyer for noted land­scape de­signer Paul Ban­gay, among oth­ers. “He has a huge love of flow­ers, too,” Natasha adds. They moved to Spargo Creek, in Vic­to­ria’s cool cen­tral high­lands, in the dead of win­ter. “It was very cold — down >

to mi­nus four — but beau­ti­ful.” The house had an orig­i­nal 1800s sec­tion that com­prised front and rear rooms with an up­stairs at­tic space. A new wing with the main bed­room and bath­room had been built about 10 years be­fore they ar­rived, al­though it was never fin­ished. “The pre­vi­ous owner had half ren­o­vated; when we came it was al­most derelict. There were burn piles ev­ery­where and bro­ken glass. The house was grotty. There had been dogs, cats and bats in­side, and there were Acrow props hold­ing up a wall in the din­ing room.” Natasha and Michael did some work them­selves and man­aged the rest on a small bud­get: they opened up the al­cove around a wood-burn­ing stove that they use at times for cook­ing and warmth (“It had such a low hob; I couldn’t get my head un­der,” says Natasha); re-lined the kitchen and in­stalled new cup­boards and an oven; and re­plas­tered the sit­ting room. While re­mov­ing “10 lay­ers of wallpaper, hes­sian, plas­ter and ma­sonite” from the din­ing room wall, they dis­cov­ered an early timber and earth wall im­printed with fin­ger marks and cov­ered with old bat­tens. It’s now a stand­out fea­ture. “We said, we’re not cov­er­ing this up again! We put a sealer over the rammed earth and left it as is.” The new wing has her­ring­bone-pat­tern par­quetry floors that had been left un­sanded. “We sanded, stained and sealed them,” says Natasha. How­ever, they re­sisted sand­ing other floor­boards. “We didn’t want to lose the ‘mem­ory of the boards’.” In­stead, they painted them with black ex­te­rior paving paint and did the walls in char­coal or white. The cou­ple’s love of an­tiq­uity cre­ates the har­mony in their dec­o­rat­ing tastes. “Michael likes gold and gilt; I like util­i­tar­ian — stoneware, cop­per, pewter. I col­lect antlers and he col­lects can­dle­sticks, but we have a shared sen­si­bil­ity and love patina. Things have got to feel worn; we look for things with po­ten­tial. And the house is the same for us. It had ar­chi­tec­tural merit and his­tory — the things we love.” In 2015, Natasha made a New Year res­o­lu­tion to learn to use power tools. And the first thing she made was the shelv­ing for her larder in the mud­room. “I love pre­serv­ing,” she says, look­ing at the well-stocked shelves. Es­tab­lish­ing the gar­den for pro­duce and cut flow­ers was also a pri­or­ity. “There were five ap­ple trees and we put in an­other 18 mixed fruit trees, plus started on the ter­races for the kitchen gar­den, which we fin­ished in Septem­ber last year.” They call their farm Oak and Mon­key Puz­zle af­ter the trees they fell in love with on their first visit. Through her In­sta­gram ac­count and work­shops, Natasha has dis­cov­ered a re­gion full of cre­ative peo­ple. “There are amaz­ing ar­ti­sans here,” she says, “and the ethos of our work­shops is shar­ing and cre­at­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence. If we’re do­ing flower work­shops, there’s al­ways an in­stal­la­tion in the stu­dio. Or if we’re do­ing dry stonewalling, ev­ery­one works on it. Things keep evolv­ing. It’s a place to grow, har­vest and get un­be­liev­able sat­is­fac­tion. I’m happy here. I just knew it was go­ing to come to­gether.”

CLOCK­WISE, FROM TOP LEFT Michael has col­lected the sit­ting room’s art­works from mar­kets, auc­tions and vin­tage stores; Natasha’s road­side stall; the din­ing room boasts an orig­i­nal earth wall, ta­ble from ebay and paint­ing from Cam­ber­well mar­ket; a rooster pa­trols the or­chard; a fam­ily por­trait; old soil sieves make in­spired wall decor. FAC­ING PAGE Natasha on the ve­ran­dah with some of her freshly picked flow­ers.

CLOCK­WISE, FROM LEFT The rose paint­ing is by Dora Mcrae, a friend of Natasha’s grand­mother, also an artist, whose easel sits along­side. The chair is from Man­teau Noir and the desk from Izzi & Popo; Joshua Bowes teaches dry stonewalling; Natasha’s del­i­cate draw­ings; for­aged green­ery and cut flow­ers. FAC­ING PAGE Jam sim­mers atop the wood stove in the al­cove. For stock­ist de­tails, see page 141.

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