TRUE DED­I­CA­TION

RE­CY­CLING AND START­ING SMALL CAN LEAD TO BIG THINGS IN THE HANDS OF A PAS­SION­ATE GAR­DENER.

Country Style - - CONTENTS - WORDS JEN­NIFER STACK­HOUSE PHO­TOG­RA­PHY CLAIRE TAKACS

Years in the mak­ing, Brenton Roberts’ sprawl­ing gar­den in South Aus­tralia’s Mount Lofty Ranges started with a small roll of turf and a few pots.

BRENTON ROBERTS AND his wife Libby were liv­ing in Mel­bourne when they bought an old house known as Ray Brodie Cot­tage, set on two hectares of gar­den and bush­land at Aldgate in South Aus­tralia’s Mount Lofty Ranges. While they were wait­ing to move back to their home state, Brenton be­gan plan­ning his fu­ture gar­den on paper us­ing skills learnt at a gar­den de­sign course at Burn­ley School of Hor­ti­cul­ture (now part of the Univer­sity of Mel­bourne). “Since we moved in 2012, I’ve largely cre­ated the gar­den I planned,” says Brenton, 38, a na­tional sales man­ager who also dab­bles in gar­den de­sign. “Some things have changed, but the ba­sic plan has come into be­ing.” Cre­at­ing the gar­den has taken many years of work. The slop­ing site was one of the real chal­lenges. Brenton tamed it with ter­races: one for the large green lawn in front of the 1868 stone cot­tage, and one for the veg­etable gar­den. To cre­ate the ter­races a lo­cal earth­mov­ing con­trac­tor dumped clean fill on the site over the course of 18 months. Once the first ter­race was level, Brenton and Libby, 35, an oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist, planted what is now a lush lawn. “We didn’t just or­der $1200 of turf,” says Brenton, who has cre­ated the gar­den on a bud­get. “We bought one roll of Santa Ana couch, a very fine-leafed couch, and cut it into hun­dreds of sprigs that we painstak­ingly planted into the soil.” The sprigs were spaced about 20 cen­time­tres apart, but reg­u­lar wa­ter­ing (the prop­erty has ac­cess to bore wa­ter) and weed­ing meant that it didn’t take long to cre­ate the beau­ti­ful green lawn that’s a fea­ture of the gar­den and a favourite play area for the cou­ple’s two young chil­dren — nine-year-old Lachie and five-year-old Maya — and dogs Thorby and pup Bruce, who are Kelpie crosses. “I prob­a­bly wouldn’t do a lawn that way again,” Brenton ad­mits, but adds that do­ing it that way gave him $1000 he could spend on other things for the gar­den. Time and pa­tience have been key fac­tors in the gar­den’s de­vel­op­ment. The boldly planted drive­way is an­other ex­am­ple of Brenton’s abil­ity to plan, save and then plant. Orig­i­nally en­gulfed with low, bushy plants that were a fire haz­ard, the drive­way is now lined with 70 Manchurian pear trees un­der-planted with a sea of the her­ba­ceous suc­cu­lent se­dum ‘Au­tumn Joy’. “About four years ago I bought four or five pots of ‘Au­tumn Joy’,” says Brenton. “I kept tak­ing cut­tings from the plants, grad­u­ally build­ing up their num­bers to around 800, and sav­ing thou­sands of dol­lars in the process.” When it came to plant­ing, it was a mat­ter of mak­ing a hole and drop­ping in a stem. Each plant has grown and the ef­fect is strik­ing, as the colour and form of the suc­cu­lents mir­rors that of the trees above through the sea­sons. >

“Through win­ter, both plants have a straw colour, but in spring they de­velop bright-green new growth that ma­tures over sum­mer be­fore the se­dum sends up tall heads of pink flow­ers,” says Brenton. “By au­tumn the se­dum flow­ers have deep­ened to red, which re­flects the au­tumn colour of the or­na­men­tal pears.” Four pear trees left over from the drive­way plant­ing have been trans­formed into liv­ing sculp­tures. Brenton has trained them as es­paliers against the walls of the house. “The hor­i­zon­tal lines of the es­palier soft­ens the stone, but doesn’t hide it,” he says. A knee-high hedge of ed­i­ble fig of­fers the same ef­fect and Brenton prunes it ev­ery 10 weeks to keep it low. “The idea of the low hedge was to soften the look of the house, but also to di­rect peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence the gar­den be­fore step­ping onto the lawn,” he says. Brenton has also di­rected his in­fi­nite pa­tience to shap­ing two Mex­i­can cy­presses (Cu­pres­sus lusi­tan­ica ‘Pri­vate Green’) into top­i­ary spi­rals as a gate­way into the gar­den. “It has been a labour of love — if I’d bought these as ma­ture pot­ted plants they would have cost $800 or $900 each,” says Brenton. Found ob­jects have also been in­cor­po­rated into the gar­den. Sticks col­lected from the one-hectare of stringy­bark wood­land be­side the house have been used to form a 1.5 me­tre-high stick fence around the veg­etable gar­den. The gate, too, was found on the prop­erty and dragged up to its cur­rent po­si­tion. “Then I found some rusty re­in­forc­ing mesh ly­ing around on the prop­erty and used it to make the col­umn that we filled with sticks and bark col­lected on walks,” says Brenton. “It’s a bit of fun and the whole fam­ily cre­ated it.” The veg­etable gar­den is part pro­duc­tive and part planted for looks, ad­mits Brenton. “I love the ap­pear­ance of a healthy veg­etable patch, so I of­ten grow plants that are struc­tural and colour­ful, like pur­ple cab­bage and ar­ti­chokes.” While he is de­lighted with the way the gar­den has come to­gether, Brenton has lots of plans for its fu­ture. The re­cent dis­cov­ery of a pre-1930s plan of the prop­erty in an old drawer has fu­elled a new de­vel­op­ment. The plan shows the site of the orig­i­nal or­chard and has set Brenton to de­sign­ing and plant­ing a new or­chard on the site of the old one. For Brenton, part of the plea­sure of cre­at­ing this gar­den is to share its progress and his pas­sion for gar­den­ing on so­cial me­dia. Us­ing In­sta­gram, he has doc­u­mented the chang­ing face of the gar­den and plans to chron­i­cle the progress of the new or­chard as it grad­u­ally reaches fruition. Fol­low@bren­ton­roberts­gar­den­de­signs on In­sta­gram.

ALDGATE SA GAR­DENBrenton Roberts pur­chased Ray Brodie Cot­tage in 2012. Set on a steep block, the gardens and path­ways were over­grown and hadn’t been tended to for more than 20 years. Se­dum ‘Au­tumn Joy’ is pep­pered along the side and front of the house. A num­ber of Mex­i­can cy­presses (Cu­pres­sus lusi­tan­ica ‘Pri­vate Gar­den’) have been shaped into top­i­ary spi­rals as sign­posts to en­ter the gar­den.

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