EVEN though spring is scheduled to start on Monday, the log fires will still be roaring at Mount Wilson, just a two-hour drive west of Sydney. Deciduous trees will be bare, but evergreen boundaries of flowering camellia still tempt walkers to peer into gardens, many established in the early 19th century.
Mount Wilson is an outcrop of rich red volcanic soil at the northern end of the Blue Mountains in NSW. The area, about 100km west of Sydney and nearly 1000m above sea level, has long provided a retreat from the summer heat of the coastal cities.
A village of just a few dozen properties centred around a few lanes, Mount Wilson is home to some of Australia’s best gardens. Cold climate trees, bulbs, alpine species and frost-hardy perennials have contributed to gardens on a grand scale, created from when the explorers Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth crossed the Blue Mountains in 1813.
This rich garden heritage, made possible by the wonderful soil, is not immediately obvious, however. When you turn off the Bells Line of Road toward Mount Wilson, the soil is at first poor, from sandstone, supporting twisted snow gums ( Eucalyptus pauciflora). After a few hundred metres, however, the soil suddenly changes and the vegetation becomes a lush, deep green: almost tropical-looking.
Peter and Marilyn Laving’s property, Wollemi, thrives with both environments and soil types.
Going down their long, winding drive you arrive at the sandstone escarpment the property overlooks. Looking northwest you gaze across the beautiful Grose Valley, catching glimpses of Mt Victoria, Blackheath and Katoomba in the distance.
“You can see [it is] quite unique,” says Peter. “The idea was to capture what was here; not do too much. To create with the landscape.”
A seat has been perfectly positioned to watch the sunset. Peter reflects on the spirit of the place, of the extraordinary landscape. “It speaks to you. ”• The surrounding native vegetation is dominated by mountain ash ( Eucalyptus regnans), loved for its bark, which strips off in summer to reveal shining white trunks.
Excavation for the plateau on which the house was to be built provided an opportunity to create the gar- den on several terraces, with a wide, flat lawn formed from the basalt soil from under the house site. “We are now in the third stage where we are looking at the structure and trying to beautify, ” says Marilyn.
The property enjoys good, but inconsistent, rainfall. And the prevailing weather attacks from the west, says Marilyn, necessitating the planting of robust species. There are lavenders, rosemary and the tough hebes. A collection of grasses — Lomandra longifolia ‘Tanika’ along with L. longifolia ‘Nyalla’, with its lovely blue-grey colour — is being cut back now.
Most of the walls throughout the garden are built of the local basalt. The first wall, along the driveway, restrains flower carpet roses, which are backed with agapanthus.
The vegetation becomes a lush, deep green: almost tropical
A garden rockery, planted with a selection of ground-hugging grevilleas, restrains a second terrace.
The prostrate grevilleas, such as Grevillea ‘Poorinda Royal Mantle’, don’t need any pruning. And the pink-flowered trailing grevillea, G. goodii, with soft blue leaves, is a ground cover that will cascade over walls or down banks, while ‘Scarlet Sprite’ has a spreading form. Prune lightly from an early age to encourage thicker growth and increased flowering.
The smaller-growing spider grevillea, G. rosmarinifolia, is a dense, spreading shrub native to the cool climate of southeastern Australia. It flowers in gorgeous red “toothbrushes” from winter to spring. The holly-leaved G. aquifolium is found in Victoria and South Australia and bears coiled, nectar-filled flowers through spring and summer.
Among the upright grevilleas, Grevillea juniperina ‘Molonglo’ flowers yellow at Wollemi.
There are also proteas, waratah ( Telopea speciosissima), the red-flowering Leucadendron ‘Jack Harre’ and Callistemon ‘Great Balls of Fire’.
Prune the taller growing grevilleas from the base up to create a well shaped tree. Those that have been allowed to become leggy will recover from a hard