FROM THE ASHES
HOW A WESTERN AUSTRALIAN COUPLE REGENERATED THEIR MUCH-LOVED GARDEN AFTER A DEVASTATING FIRE.
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.”
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.