The art of pa­tience

A re­source­ful de­signer has cre­ated a gor­geous gar­den with min­i­mal out­lay

Gardening Australia - - CONTENTS - Words PHIL DUD­MAN pho­tog­ra­phy LUKE SI­MON

new be­gin­nings

Bren­ton Roberts fell in love with gar­den de­sign from an early age. Grow­ing up in the Ade­laide Hills, he was ex­posed to lots of beau­ti­ful gar­dens, in­clud­ing his grand­mother’s, where he dreamt away many child­hood hours. “I loved the peace­ful en­vi­ron­ment of gar­dens, and was drawn to the cre­ative el­e­ment of trans­form­ing rel­a­tively un­sightly spa­ces into some­thing in­spir­ing and amaz­ing,” he says.

He chose a ca­reer in sales and mar­ket­ing, but later ex­plored his pas­sion at Burn­ley Hor­ti­cul­tural Col­lege in Melbourne, gain­ing a Grad­u­ate Cer­tifi­cate in Gar­den De­sign. He cre­ated gar­dens for work col­leagues, and spent ev­ery spare mo­ment plant­ing out his mod­est cot­tage in Flemington. “We gar­dened the life out of that place, and had done all we could.” With a wife, two kids, two kelpies and an ever-in­creas­ing urge for ex­press­ing his gar­den­ing ideas, Bren­ton was bust­ing to get back to the Ade­laide Hills, where he could spread out a lit­tle.

In 2012, Bren­ton found his new play­ground, 2ha in the Mount Lofty Ranges, sur­rounded by beau­ti­ful bush­land re­serve, just 20 min­utes from Ade­laide. It was a steep block, over­grown and unloved for nearly 30 years, but the soil was loamy and fer­tile, and the rain­fall was the high­est in the state. Then there was the mag­nif­i­cent house, a charm­ing sand­stone cot­tage built in 1868.

“We knew noth­ing of its his­tory un­til we landed upon a map of the property from 1928 stashed away in a kitchen drawer. It showed an orchard, which we were keen to in­ves­ti­gate,” Bren­ton says. “Also, a gar­dener who worked at a nearby man­sion once lived there, so it had some in­ter­est­ing hor­ti­cul­tural con­nec­tions.”

Bren­ton and his wife Libby set to work im­me­di­ately, clear­ing the scrub. They un­cov­ered some sig­nif­i­cant plants, in­clud­ing four old oak trees, gi­ant clumps of stre­litzias, echi­ums that had thick, woody trunks like trees, eu­phor­bias, roses, and thou­sands of bulbs and irises. Be­yond the wild, weedy black­berry and hawthorn, they found the orig­i­nal orchard, too, with pears, cher­ries, wal­nuts and 100-year-old ap­ple trees, some of which were huge. On top of that, they un­earthed a bore, an old well and a dam full of wa­ter. “These were crack­ing finds,” says Bren­ton.

“It meant we could gar­den to our hearts’ con­tent!”

They dreamt of cre­at­ing a large, coun­try-style gar­den, with gravel path­ways me­an­der­ing through beds of free-flow­ing peren­ni­als, with a touch of for­mal­ity thrown in. Level spa­ces were needed for kids and adults to play, and re­tain­ing walls, fenc­ing and sculp­tures had to be in­stalled. Raised beds had to be built for grow­ing all the ve­g­ies, and thou­sands of plants were re­quired to fill the many deep and gen­er­ous beds… and all of this work had to be done on a tight bud­get. It was go­ing to take a lot en­ergy, cre­ativ­ity and re­source­ful­ness to pull it off. Thank­fully, Bren­ton has oo­dles of these qual­i­ties.

The ma­te­ri­als for struc­tures and sculp­tures were sal­vaged from the property and lo­cal recycling yards, and plants were se­lected on the ba­sis of their ease of prop­a­ga­tion, visual appeal when re­peated in the land­scape, and abil­ity to sur­vive lo­cal con­di­tions with lit­tle attention. A lot of the plants were prop­a­gated from the orig­i­nal plant­ings, and form the ba­sis of the gar­den. “Those old plants that sur­vived for decades taught me what would work, and they never fail,” says Bren­ton.

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