Holly Kerr Forsyth visits David and Skye Leckie’s lush retreat. Q&A with Helen Young.
The lush garden of David and Skye Leckie’s 40ha highland retreat makes effective use of space
You would want to approach Mulberry Farm, the NSW property that serves as a retreat for former Seven Network chief executive David Leckie and his event planner wife Skye, very slowly to absorb the fantastic view. The long drive affords vistas over the lush green rolling hills of the Southern Highlands and on to the coast.
The garden was first laid out as a series of spaces by landscape architect Michael Bligh for former owners. It is now very much established and extended — aided also by rich red soil and good rainfall — and perfectly settled within the 40ha property that raises Black Angus beef cattle.
Once down the long drive, where you are serenaded by recorded music (delivered by 12 speakers hidden among the surrounding foliage) you arrive at the first garden space. There, among the gentle changes and additions that the Leckies and Bligh have brought to the property, a copse of Betula nigra, with its exciting, flaking, cinnamon-coloured bark, will be displaying autumn colours. Underplantings are of catmint, lavenders and seaside daisy. A nearby copse of silver birch ( B. pendula) displays arresting white trunks and is taking on golden foliage about now. Among the dozens of trees being planted during the Leckies’ ownership, mulberries ( Morus nigra) — native to the Middle East but prolific throughout much of Australia — respect the name of the property and will soon provide buckets of delicious fruit.
Crab-apples are a favourite in this garden: the first to flower in early spring is Malus floribunda. There is the bechtel apple ( M. ioensis) with its so-delicate pink blossom and elegant form, the burgundy-leaved M. eyelii and M. ‘Gorgeous’, with its superb red fruit, popular for crab-apple jelly.
Several courtyards, shaded by rose-covered pergolas, frame the house, which was designed by architect Richard Rowe.
The first pergola is flanked by smartly clipped box hedges and supports clouds of the climbing rose ‘Crepuscule’. This golden rose, which is rarely without a bloom in most climates, is, being almost thornless, also suited for growing through fruit trees.
Another courtyard is shaded by the coconut-ice colours of the France-bred rose ‘Pierre de Ronsard’, which, in a frost-free climate, looks wonderful with Chinese star jasmine ( Trachelospermum jasminoides).
You also might grow Pierre’s cousin, ‘Blushing Pierre’, a gorgeous cream climbing rose that I photographed in a Mildura garden.
The wet-edge swimming pool, which seems to extend right into the surrounding hills, is supported on one side by a ha-ha wall that is flanked by a swathe of the evergreen Cotoneaster dammeri. With its tiny, fragrant white flowers, this drought-tolerant, sterile cotoneaster is a fast growing and effective ground cover, perfect for stabilising banks or draping over a wall. At Mulberry Farm it looks wonderful, without distracting the eye from the fabulous view.
The stairs leading to the tennis pavilion are flanked by hedges of the white Meidiland rose, particularly
‘Often the canopy of a tree can define a space: you don’t want to clog up the spaces with plantings’ MICHAEL BLIGH
popular in large spaces as it drops its petals cleanly, obviating the need for time-consuming deadheading.
“Creation of space within a garden is all-important,” says Bligh. “To be able to walk from one space to another. Often the canopy of a tree can define a space: you don’t want to clog up the spaces with plantings.”
Of his work throughout Australia he notes, “You need to design for your client. You can show ways of improving the garden to the next level but you are not looking for a Chatsworth.
“The responsibility of the designer is to design a garden that the client can maintain. The last thing we ever want to create is a garden that will become a monster, or a burden to the client. That is not good design.”
At Mulberry Farm he has designed a walk through nearby remnant rainforest and through the paddocks to a dam with a jetty from which guests can fish.
“The walk we have made in the front paddocks begins at the fire pit,” Skye Leckie says, “and weaves its way around the two dams, and then into a ‘secret’ rainforest, with waterfalls, little bridges, seats, and brings you back full circle to the farm house.”
“I enjoy the challenge of both large and small gar- dens,” Bligh says, “But especially large gardens.” He speaks of respecting the “genius loci, the spirit of place”, as poet Alexander Pope put it.
Bligh’s work is inspired by the striking landscapes of the Himalayan region but also by parklands such as England’s Stourhead and Sissinghurst and the work of Lancelot “Capability” Brown, Edna Walling and her protege, his mother, Beatrice Bligh. Beatrice Bligh wrote two books, Down to Earth and
Cherish the Earth, about her prize-winning garden, Pejar Park, just west of Goulburn.
She would be so proud of the legacy continued by her son.
The trees at Mulberry Farm are watered by a circle of soaker hose. Watering is deep, for stretches of eight hours. Michael Bligh Landscape Design can be reached on (02) 4821 8462; michaelbligh.com.au.
Mulberry Farm, above; Rosa ‘Blushing Pierre’, inset