Cool-headed na­tives


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

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