RHAPSODY IN BLUE
A LOVE OF FRESH AIR AND COOL CLIMATES BROUGHT TWO WELL-TRAVELLED GARDENERS TO NSW’S BLUE MOUNTAINS.
How the NSW village of Leura, with its cool-climate and fresh air, charmed two seasoned gardeners.
FITZROY STREET, IN THE BLUE Mountains village of Leura, NSW is a dead-end. In some towns or cities, the passage might be described as a cul-de-sac or a no-through street, here the description is unerringly accurate. That’s because any driver who crashes through the barrier at the end of the bitumen is certain of a dead end — the street finishes only metres from of one of the most spectacular gorges in this World Heritage-listed area. The owners of number 32, the last house in the street, Robert Brain and Neal Blewett, have named their property Dead End House in a touch of Monty Python-esque humour. Jokes aside, the blue abyss on their doorstep is not the reason they bought the property some 20 years ago; the allure of Leura was the climate and fresh mountain air. Both Robert and Neal were brought up in Tasmania’s cool climate and have spent years away from Australia — Robert living in Italy and the UK and Neal as a Rhodes Scholar and later as Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK during the Keating years. “We thought about returning to Tasmania to live, but you can get in the car and from here drive to any mainland city. As well as the fresh air, the distinctive seasons were the chief attraction,” says Neal. Today, the garden at Dead End House reflects not only the current owners’ interests, but also the changes in horticultural fashion over the past 150 years. The awe-inspiring landscape of the Blue Mountains with its dramatic cliffs, waterfalls and deep, forested gorges has always attracted visitors and after the completion of the railway in 1869, the area became fashionable for many of Sydney’s prominent citizens to build summer retreats. At an altitude of nearly 1000 metres, it was possible to grow many beloved exotic plants, such as oaks, elms, daffodils and lilacs, and they thrived in the rich soil. This period in the 19th century also marked the peak of popularity for conifers, as the Bhutan cypress and deodar in the garden at Dead End House attest. Their dark foliage and strong forms added a novel dimension to the landscape, especially in the winter when the trees were leafless, and a contrast to the muted tones of the surrounding eucalypt forests. In the traditional English-style gardens with their immaculate lawns and clipped hedges, the native tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) were generally retained, adding their luxuriant appearance among the newly introduced exotics. >
GARDEN LEURA NSWThe magnificent violet-blue head of Hydrangea macrophylla in full bloom. FACING PAGE Owner Robert Brain tending to the flowering shrub in his sprawling garden at Dead End House in NSW’S Blue Mountains.