FROM THE ASHES

HOW A WESTERN AUS­TRALIAN COU­PLE REGENERATED THEIR MUCH-LOVED GAR­DEN AF­TER A DEV­AS­TAT­ING FIRE.

Country Style - - CONTENTS - WORDS CLAIRE MACTAGGART

Avid gar­dener Ruth Egerton-war­bur­ton has brought her WA gar­den back to life af­ter a bush­fi­fire.

DUR­ING THE SUM­MER OF 2009, a large firestorm swept through the Bridgetown area of Western Aus­tralia’s south-west. Much of Anthony and Ruth Egerton-war­bur­ton’s 910 hectare prop­erty, Brack­en­hurst, was lost, ex­cept for their house. A third of their sprawl­ing gar­den was de­stroyed. Rather than lament­ing their loss, Ruth ex­panded the gar­den with re­newed vigour, plant­ing fire-in­hibit­ing trees, such as oaks and spot­ted gum, at the perime­ter and through­out the sur­round­ing pad­docks. “I learnt a lot from that fire and even­tu­ally some things grew back — it was ex­tra­or­di­nary,” says Ruth. “Nearly all of the de­cid­u­ous trees re­turned. If the root sys­tem is in­tact in the ground, plants can re­gen­er­ate.” Since then, the threat of fire has been an in­flu­ence on the de­sign of Ruth and Anthony’s park­land gar­den, which now cov­ers more than eight hectares on the sheep and cat­tle prop­erty less than five kilo­me­tres north-west of Bridgetown. The Egerton-war­bur­ton fam­ily were early pi­o­neers of Western Aus­tralia and Anthony is the third gen­er­a­tion to live at Brack­en­hurst, which was orig­i­nally set­tled by his grand­fa­ther, Ran­dle Egerton-war­bur­ton, in the 1880s. When Ruth and Anthony mar­ried in 1960, Ruth ini­tially cared for and added to her mother-in-law’s

gar­den, which flflanks the 97-year-old bungalow home­stead, be­fore ex­pand­ing into the neigh­bour­ing pad­dock with de­cid­u­ous trees and roses. “In 2000, I was go­ing through a bad time and I was en­cour­aged to grow a gar­den of my own. One day, as I leaned on the gar­den gate, wist­fully look­ing into the pad­dock, I thought, ‘This pad­dock would make a lovely de­cid­u­ous tree park, and I could have a rose gar­den down the bot­tom.’ Along came my hus­band and I told him my idea. He said, ‘What? That’s my lamb-fat­ten­ing pad­dock!’ “I said, ‘Well, you have 900 hectares — I can have a few,’ and he grudg­ingly re­lented,” says Ruth, with a smile. She ini­tially planted de­cid­u­ous trees in­clud­ing oaks, plane trees (both Lon­don and Ori­en­tal) and poplars in the hilly, grav­elly loam pad­dock, which she then hand-wa­tered with a fi­fire­fi­fight­ing unit on the back of a farm ve­hi­cle. They used a post-hole dig­ger to pre­pare every hole for the trees, and horse ma­nure, rock min­er­als and a sea­weed so­lu­tion were added be­fore plant­ing. “Deep wa­ter­ing is re­quired so they can sur­vive hard times later on, and I con­cen­trated on that for the fi­first three years,” Ruth ex­plains. Ruth and Anthony’s son, Ran­dle, built a dam at the bot­tom of the pad­dock that sup­plies the retic­u­lated gar­den. While de­vel­op­ing the pad­dock gar­den, Ruth took cut­tings and sourced plants lo­cally and from afar, and was given 152 roses from a friend’s gar­den un­der the pro­viso they trans­plant them, which they did over many weeks dur­ing win­ter. Over time, the gar­den has ex­panded and now in­cludes more than 1000 rose bushes. “My real love is her­itage and tea roses, and they do ex­tremely well here — they love the heat,” says Ruth. Most of the gar­den struc­tures and 300 roses were burnt in the fi­fire and many peo­ple helped Ruth re­store what was lost, along with funds raised by lo­cal gar­den clubs. A long gar­den arch of roses now ex­tends from the square gar­den and pond area, and fea­tures Zephirine Drouhin, Bantry Bay, Madame Gré­goire Staeche­lin, Blos­som­time, Lordly Oberon, Kath­leen Har­rop and Pierre de Ron­sard. Fur­ther plant­ings of fi­figs, spot­ted gum and de­cid­u­ous trees — in­clud­ing oak, poplars and plane trees — have been un­der­taken since the fi­fire, based on their re­sis­tance to fi­fire, and they now help pro­tect the gar­den and house. These were planted in the windrows of burnt, fallen trees (which were cleared by her son, Ran­dle), form­ing a large park­land above the rose and cot­tage gar­den. “Salvias do well and av­enues of camel­lias and aga­pan­thus pro­vide a won­der­ful dis­play in sum­mer,” Ruth adds. Mulching is im­por­tant to pro­tect plants against wa­ter loss in sum­mer, when the tem­per­a­ture climbs as high as 40°C. Truck­loads of sheep ma­nure and com­post are added. Ruth main­tains that ev­ery­thing re­moved from the gar­den — clip­pings and limbs — must be shred­ded and re­turned to the soil. “I re­mem­ber once read­ing that there are only three things you should know about gar­den­ing,” says Ruth. “Feed the soil, feed the soil, feed the soil. I’ve taken that on board and do my best.” Anthony and Ruth love to walk through the gar­den and share it with their grand­chil­dren. “It means ev­ery­thing to me; it’s my life. I love watch­ing things grow. One gar­den is all from cut­tings and that gives me a great sense of achieve­ment,” she says. Ruth con­tin­ues to re­plant trees in the pad­docks of Brack­en­hurst to pro­vide shade and shel­ter for their stock and add to the beauty of the land­scape. Al­most a year af­ter the fi­fire, Ruth planted 50 English oak trees, which she grew from acorns that can be traced to the Egerton-war­bur­ton fam­ily home in the north of Eng­land. “Our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren have each cho­sen a tree to call their own,” Ruth says. “A gar­den is a lovely place to relax and con­nect with the nat­u­ral world, and can also help fi­fire­proof your home.”

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY CLAIRE TAKACS

CLOCK­WISE, FROM LEFT Ruth stand­ing by an arch of Bril­liant Pink Ice­berg roses; “My lit­tle bit of Monet,” says Ruth of the yel­low roses and iris look­ing back to­wards the shed; the bearded iris plants were gifted to Ruth af­ter the fire. FAC­ING PAGE, FROM TOP Golden Hol­stein roses flanked by the iris flow­ers; “Our son, Ran­dle, built the dam that has made ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble,” says Ruth.

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