A cultivated place
The Emerald City has a surprising number of flourishing hidden gardens
THERE has been a lot written about the spirituality of gardens but they can be dead sexy too, a notion borne out recently at the inaugural Australian Garden Show staged in Sydney’s Centennial Park.
I am travelling with a gaggle of earthy New Zealand garden writers who are struck almost dumb by the ‘‘incredibly good looking’’ Aussie-based designers. The LifeStyle Channel’s Charlie Albone is tweaking his lovely show garden — ‘‘I was delighted to track down some foxgloves,’’ he says with a winning smile — while just down the way an elegantly besuited Brendan Moar is explaining his best-in-show garden. It’s a groovy patch called Suspended, involving trailing rhipsalis dangling over water and plenty of ‘‘nanna plants’’ (pansies and violas) potted in snaking, industrial steel tubing.
And while green rules in the Emerald City’s first major outdoor garden show in almost a decade, there’s plenty of Darlinghurst black to be spied — black decking, black walls and blackened timbers, charred using the Japanese technique of shou-sugi-ban, which is apparently quite the thing in the world of horticultural design at the moment.
The show’s special guest, award-winning garden designer and Chelsea Flower Show judge Andrew Fisher Tomlin, bucks the trend on opening night by wearing a very loud, short-trousered suit daubed with hibiscus and frangipanis. ‘‘At Chelsea everyone dresses like a bank manager,’’ he says, gesturing to his ensemble.
Fisher Tomlin’s take on an Australian garden, September Sky (an elegant tapestry of westringia, callistemon and lomandra designed with fellow Brit Tom Harfleet), is less colourful than his shorts but still one of the show’s highlights, along with Jim Fogarty’s The Last to Leave, a beautiful garden signifying the 2015 Gallipoli centenary.
Designers were given only nine days (compared to Chelsea’s 17) to put together the show’s 13 display gardens and the results are impressive, augmented by a goodly selection of garden-themed attractions.
Backed by Destination NSW, the Australian Garden Show intends to make a splash on the horticultural design circuit, with director Myles Baldwin hoping to more than double the number of show gardens to 30 next year. ‘‘We’ve designed this early spring event to bookend Melbourne’s autumn show,’’ he says.
Visiting Sydney during the first balmy flush of spring, I’m reminded again that this is a city in a garden, not a spick and span urban space such as, say, Singapore, where gardens have been mandated, but a more spontaneous, slightly raffish affair with bush visible from the CBD, gawky winter-naked frangipanis peeping above walled courtyards and towering gymea lily flowers wobbling like battle pennants on motorway median strips.
It’s also a city of secret gardens. OnPaddington’s busy Oxford Street, just past Victoria Barracks, the romantic Reservoir Gardens lie hidden like a lost Roman ruin. Occupying the belly of a long-abandoned 19th-century underground reservoir, built to store water from the Botany swamps, the gardens provide a serene interlude from the busy street above and in the morning are generally deserted (wheelchair access is available via a lift).
Amid pillars of rusted steel and ironbark, the brick arches of this handsome relic are laced with tree ferns, and deckchairs are scattered around a serene contemplation pool.
In the eerie East Chamber, old graffiti has been preserved and is set alongside an enormous planter box bristling with grass trees.
Claiming some of the most enviable real estate on the planet, Sydney’s 30ha harbourside Royal Botanic Gardens are no secret. And while most visitors to Sydney manage a stroll closer to the waterfront, many miss the succulent garden (tucked away near the southeast corner), a really wonderful collection of arid zone adapted plants featuring a knockout rusted-iron centrepiece designed by Jamie Durie and planted with barrel cacti and towering, pale, alien-like euphorbia.
Behind the high walls of Darling Harbour’s Chinese Garden of Friendship lies another country, where thun- dering waterfalls and the squawks of nesting ibises do their best to drown out the noise of the city looming around and above. This is an intricate and magical garden, designed and built by Chinese landscape architects 25 years ago to celebrate Australia’s bicentenary. Monumental amounts of stone and rock have been used to create the winding pathways, mountaintop temple,
Clockwise fr above, the C Garden of Friendship; succulents a Botanic Gard Paddington Reservoir Ga this year’s Au Garden Show