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

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & WINE - HOLLY KERR FORSYTH

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

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