THE WINTER GARDEN
LANDSCAPE DESIGNER PAUL BANGAY REVEALS WHY WINTER IS HIS FAVOURITE TIME OF YEAR IN HIS GARDEN AT STONEFIELDS.
FOR MOST SUN LOVING PEOPLE, winter is their least favourite time of the year. Not me, its my favourite season — seeing the garden and house surrounded with mist brings the word ‘sanctuary’ to mind. Nothing is more nurturing than a warm house with a fire roaring, for me that is a home. For the garden it’s a period of rest. Due to our high mountain elevation and cold winters, often peppered with light dustings of snow, little growth is occurring. By now we’ve cut all the perennials to the ground, fed and mulched the beds, and the trees have shed their deciduous coats. This lack of herbaceous foliage and bare trees leaves only the garden’s structural and green architecture to prevail. Now is the time for the hedges to reveal their true beauty as they stand over the empty flower borders. This is one of the reasons I like using hedges in country gardens — they provide interest in winter. The formality of my garden at Stonefields, located in central Victoria, with its lower front of border planting of Buxus sempervirens and its rear taller hedges of Ligustrum vulgare, contrasts beautifully with the soft, atmospheric winter mist. Early winter is a busy time as we finish the tidy up and cutting back of late autumn. All beds are then fed with a layer of well-rotted animal manure, either chicken or sheep. Sourcing animal manure can be difficult, as it needs to have been rotting for a long time to remove all its decomposing heat that can burn some tender plants. I am often reminded of the vast supply that exists under the shearing sheds of country properties I work on, this supply is the best as it has often been residing there for decades. After the manure, we add a mulch layer of compost — our own if we have enough or a good, well decomposed commercial compost. My garden beds then drift off to sleep for the winter. It’s a great feeling of relief when all this has been done, some people think a perennial bed in winter is boring with its lack of foliage but I see a space resting and prepared for the future. We don’t cut down all the perennials, leaving the ornamental grasses to the last seconds of winter just before their fresh spring growth appears. The frost clings to their brown skeletal flowers making them a welcome addition to the winter garden. Late winter is the time for construction of new garden areas and structures. The dormancy of plants and lawns means the gardeners have more time for these projects.
Last year it was the creation of a 100-metre double lilac walk, commencing with a masonry arch topped with a pair of bronze kookaburras, and ending below the woodland with a circular level lawn. This year we plan on building a new pergola just above the circular lawn. Like all our structures in the garden, it will be constructed from concrete blocks and rendered and lime washed in the house colour. It will be crowned with timber beams and planted with the blue Wisteria sinensis; I can never get enough wisteria in a garden. The pergola will be loosely modelled on one I saw on the Amalfi coast two years ago during a trip I did with author, Trisha Dixon, in search of the original pergola that inspired influential English landscape designer, Edna Walling. Apparently she stopped in Italy on one of her trips to Australia and was so impressed with a pergola she saw that it stuck with her for life. Sadly mine will not be as long as hers usually were, being only five metres, but it will handsomely mark the entrance to my lilac walk. Not all the garden is asleep during winter; the woodland starts flowering late in the season, firstly with masses of Helleborus, which line the path through the woodland. They are cut down to the ground in early May, which rids them of their tired summer foliage and allows new leaves to emerge. By August the first flowers appear, pushing up higher than the juvenile winter leaves in clusters that set the path alight with colour. They are mostly the common pink and white Helleborus orientalis, but I am collecting more of the darker plum coloured varieties. The other welcome winter flflowers in this part of the garden are the snowdrops. They are underplantings to the Hydrangea paniculata border on the side of the woodland. One of the great surprises at this time of year is the winter flowering honeysuckle. I planted it as a companion to its summer flowering cousin in my hedgerow. The surprise is when you walk past the hedgerow and are overcome with the sweet fragrance of the flower. This informal hedge consisting of the honeysuckles, ‘Rugosa’ roses and fifive varieties of white flflowering hawthorn, meanders around the natural contours of the house field. The severity of our winters means it’s near impossible to grow citrus, except on espaliers on the northern wall of the rose garden, where they thrive on the heat retained by the stone. They are covered in fruit all winter and add colour to the otherwise lifeless rose garden. I try to incorporate as many productive plants into country gardens as I can; part of the luxury of a country garden is the space it allows you for the incorporation of fruit trees and bushes in the ornamental areas of the garden. Nearly all our rains comes in the winter with some, if we are lucky, in spring. The beauty of this rain is a stream that appears in the top paddock, overflowing into the dams below, then weaving its way along a seasonal path through our home field. I love the sight and sound of this water flowing across the grass and every year I vow to make a deep stone-lined rill for it, but with the arrival of spring it dries up and I forget all about it until the next winter when it rises again. For more information about Paul Bangay and his garden, telephone (03) 9427 9545 or visit paulbangay.com
CLOCKWISE, FROM RIGHT The Buxus sempervirens sphere walk in the outer field; Euphorbia cyparissias under ice; the newly pruned apple walk, which features a snake sculpture by Ivana Perkins; snow covers the box parterre.
An outer hedge of Ligustrum vulgare, middle planting of Rosa rugosa ‘Alba’ and Buxus sempervirens spheres in front. A row of pleached hornbeam appears behind the ligustrum hedge.