Bush beauty: Fash­ion de­signer Jenny Kee’s moun­tain re­treat



THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF AUS­TRALIANS: the sal­ties, who are perched on the edge of our con­ti­nent, and the ones who live in­land, on the plains or in the moun­tains. This garden be­longs to moun­tain woman Jenny Kee, a pioneer­ing artist whose dis­tinc­tive style is in­spired by the Aus­tralian en­vi­ron­ment as well as global in­flu­ences. She moved to the Blue Moun­tains more than 40 years ago, seek­ing a quiet life. This is Jenny’s sec­ond moun­tain garden in Black­heath, and she’s here to stay. It is a true for­ever garden on so many lev­els. The site is steeped in majesty and beauty. Af­ter trav­el­ling down the long gravel drive­way lined with the ubiq­ui­tous Monterey pine, the out­look opens up. The el­e­ments that im­me­di­ately strike you are the bor­rowed land­scape of the Blue Moun­tains’ plateaus and the sense of the Grose River Val­ley be­low. The dis­tinc­tive peaks of Mount Hay and Lock­ley Py­lon are vis­i­ble in the dis­tance. When the af­ter­noon light strikes this es­carp­ment, it is a cause for pause and ob­ser­va­tion for even the most en­er­getic of us. Many quiet mo­ments of com­muning have been shared from the ve­ran­dah while tak­ing in the view. There’s a strong spir­i­tual el­e­ment to this garden. While the fash­ion for Bud­dhist stat­ues and prayer flags is com­mon in the gar­dens of young Aus­tralians, in Jenny’s garden it is part of an authen­tic way of life. Her prop­erty is used as a Bud­dhist re­treat, and Jenny’s of­fer­ings of seed pods, pine cones and wilt­ing waratah flow­ers show her rev­er­ence for na­ture. When craft­ing a garden on the edge of wilder­ness, it is vi­tal to con­sider how to bring the cul­tural and nat­u­ral el­e­ments to­gether in a har­mo­nious way. The land­scape ar­chi­tect, Craig Bur­ton, is the mas­ter of this. He ex­pertly reads the land­scape, know­ing what moves to make to over­lay, but not over­whelm, the his­tory and cul­tural her­itage of the site. This project re­quired all of his skills. The first job was to col­lab­o­rate with mas­ter ar­chi­tect Glenn Mur­cutt to site a new art stu­dio, com­plete with a room for a visit­ing Ti­betan monk. It’s a sim­ple rec­tan­gu­lar corten-steel build­ing with a skil­lion roof that has metal wings, which mod­er­ate the view. The stu­dio runs per­pen­dic­u­lar to the late 19th-cen­tury cot­tage clad in sec­ond-hand cor­ru­gated iron. A tim­ber boardwalk and fence with thin ver­ti­cal slats is the con­nect­ing de­vice be­tween the old and the new build­ing. This sub­tle ges­ture has the pow­er­ful ef­fect of height­en­ing your an­tic­i­pa­tion as you ap­proach the build­ings and glimpse the views be­yond. Fur­ther up the hill sits the rusted iron garage that is Jenny’s work­shop — a place to cre­ate tex­tile and art projects. Be­hind the house is the quin­tes­sen­tial Aus­tralian shed, painted rusty red to com­ple­ment the garage. The build­ings sep­a­rate land­scape spa­ces that have sub­tly dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters. Craig’s tal­ent for blend­ing the old and the new is supreme, and his abil­ity to weave in the client’s per­son­al­ity is a tes­ta­ment to his con­sid­ered de­sign. So for the western slope, nu­mer­ous spec­i­mens of Jenny’s favourite waratah plant — Telo­pea specio­sis­sima ‘Shady Lady’ — were planted and nur­tured, and they are now flour­ish­ing. This waratah is her em­blem; it’s her flo­ral muse that blazes across her art­work. >

Two sig­nif­i­cant her­itage plants — Cordy­line aus­tralis and English oak — were pre­served be­cause they date the cot­tage and are se­nior enough spec­i­mens to jus­tify the ex­otic in­tru­sion. A se­ries of long re­tain­ing walls en­sure that the build­ings sat sep­a­rated from the nat­u­ral land­scape. The sand­stone walls had to match the rus­tic char­ac­ter of an ex­ist­ing long wall be­hind the stu­dio that was built in record time by a Ti­betan stone­ma­son. Drift plant­ing of Lo­man­dra longi­fo­lia ‘Tanika’ fills the space be­tween the stu­dio and the re­gen­er­ated bush, a con­trast­ing tex­ture that set­tles the build­ing into the land­scape with one sim­ple stroke. The space be­tween the stu­dio and the drive­way is ded­i­cated to a com­mon tus­sock grass meadow punc­tu­ated by blush­ing spec­i­mens of the waratah and nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring Gah­nia. At the south­ern end of the stu­dio, there’s a sim­ple square lawn that folds up in a grass ramp at the end. It forms an open space for the monks and a pic­nic place for Jenny, friends and fam­ily. The clear­ing in front of the cot­tage has a rem­nant rhodo­den­dron, a func­tion­ing veg­etable patch and a field of com­mon tus­sock-grass. Among the grasses is a sculp­ture. Craig de­signed a new garden room on the north­ern side of the cot­tage that opens out onto a stone ter­race and seat­ing steps as well as a fire pit. Bud­dhist groups use this area for meet­ings and med­i­ta­tion, and it main­tains a sense of pri­vacy. The gravel mar­gin at the rear of the cot­tage and stu­dio is punc­tu­ated with ran­domly laid step­ping-stones with frayed edges. Square gran­ite stones that were al­ready on-site have been wo­ven into the mix. The new path al­lows Bud­dhist monks to per­am­bu­late around the stu­dio as they pray. Craig de­cided to aban­don the orig­i­nal gravel path and sleeper steps, and cre­ate a brand new spine path that leads to the space be­tween the cot­tage and the stu­dio. It con­tains less daunt­ing steps and is more of a gen­tle ramp — mak­ing it much more user friendly for el­derly vis­i­tors. The site con­tains a hang­ing swamp — a rare and pre­cious ecol­ogy on the side of the val­ley. Bands of clay be­neath wa­ter-bear­ing sand­stone lead to high lev­els of soil mois­ture, al­low­ing a fern land to flour­ish. Nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring rough tree fern, bracken fern and Gah­nia have re­gen­er­ated due to the unique hy­drol­ogy here. Nearby, two burnt branches look like a pair of pre­his­toric crea­tures cir­cling each other, about to pounce. It is quite ex­tra­or­di­nary how some sta­tion­ary ob­jects can evoke a sense of move­ment. They cre­ate in­ter­est and en­hance pres­ence in the fore­ground of the un­con­tained wilder­ness be­yond. This moun­tain re­treat, com­plete with its nat­u­ral garden and breath­tak­ing views, is a restora­tive place to visit, and it re­quires lit­tle main­te­nance. The sense of space and be­ing in the bush is all en­com­pass­ing, and this place draws out a reflective and quiet re­sponse. Be­ing in na­ture elic­its a feel­ing of some­thing big­ger than any one hu­man life. This is an edited ex­tract from The Aus­tralian Garden: Land­scapes for Liv­ing (Mur­doch Books, $59.99) by Michael Bates. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit mur­dochbooks.com.au

Waratahs are seen in the fore­ground, eu­ca­lypts in the back­ground and ferns in Blu­thethemid­dleatartist­jen­ny­kee’sblue Moun­tains prop­erty — com­plete with a Glenn Mur­cutttt-de­signed stu­dio.

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