Mists of time
There’s a touch of Brigadoon about the gardens of Mount Wilson
I wake to find Brigadoon landed in the Aussie bush as gossamer mists coil about trees, whisper through ancient ferns and puddle at the front door of my cosy guesthouse. The mountains are silent, even the kookaburras are hushed, and the first sound to be heard is the low rumble of a ute, as the gardeners arrive for work at 7.30am.
For even Brigadoon needs weeding. Carrying a cuppa down a secret garden path to the Japanese teahouse, I wait for the clouds to lift over Mount Wilson in the NSW Blue Mountains west of Sydney. Like the lofty hill stations of India, and indeed Lerner and Loewe’s mysterious Brigadoon, it’s a place outside time.
Just finding the village requires a bit of old-fashioned map reading. Phone signal sputters in and out, the road narrows and just when you thought you’d made a wrong turn, the tiny settlement of Mount Wilson materialises. Tree ferns sweep the bumpy verge; tall elm, beech and linden trees shade sleepy lanes; and flashes of brilliant colour pierce the gloaming. These are rhododendrons, right at home at this elevated altitude.
There’s no high street, shops or cafes, just a little timber church, a rather curious Turkish bathhouse-cummuseum with doors firmly shut, and old gardens concealing even older houses. The entire village is heritage listed and the cool, green mountain magic palpable, exerting a siren call to posh green thumbs since 1870 when wealthy Sydneysiders began to establish fanciful summer houses and English-style gardens. Patrick White spent his childhood years here, his parents believing the mountain air would prove a foil for his asthma; more recently Baz Luhrmann used the romantic lanes as a backdrop for The Great Gatsby.
There’s probably no better gardening country. Mount Wilson’s basalt-capped peak supports rich, free-draining volcanic soils and temperate rainforests of sassafras and towering tree ferns.
And there’s good news for visiting garden lovers, with the village now offering stylish digs tucked away within the 10ha grounds of Dennarque Estate, one of Mount Wilson’s oldest gardens.
Owned by former Macquarie Bank executive Bill Moss and his wife, Lata, the garden shelters three guesthouses, a barn conversion with a rather Monarch of the Glen vibe and fantastic outdoor fireplace of baronial pro- portions, the cute 1920s Cherry Cottage and a larger midcentury house, Koonawarra, sleeping six, decked out with Japanese antiques, rugs and furniture. I feel as happily tucked away and snuggly as a gumnut baby with towering tree ferns out the kitchen window, firewood stacked in the grate, local wine in the fridge and not a soul within cooee. I feel I have the entire estate and worldclass garden to myself, which is the real luxury of these superior self-catering stays. There’s always the chance you’ll bump into Lata, immaculately attired and generally armed with secateurs, or one of the three gardeners,or perhaps a bowerbird. Otherwise this secret garden is all yours.
Together with running a medical research foundation (Bill suffers from a rare form of muscular dystrophy), the Mosses devote much of their time to the garden; in 2006 they reunited Dennarque with neighbouring Koonawarra and for the past decade have developed an immense Japanese garden with interconnected lakes and waterfalls, lapped by azaleas and irises and filled with water lilies and squirming koi. Dozens of varieties of Japanese maples have been established, making for a stunning autumn display, best admired from the rustic but exquisite teahouse or garden room.
The couple live in the property’s original wisteria-clad sandstone villa dating from the 1870s nestled among oak, ash, elm and chestnut trees plus massive sequoias, planted in the 1880s under the direction of Charles Moore, then director of the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney.
Near the house a huge old walnut tree, equally beloved by Lata and the gang-gang cockatoos, lies near to a soaring Kashmir cypress sheltering hostas and Solo- mon’s Seal; in the walled picking garden, irises are cultivated for competition in local flower shows. There are massed hydrangeas, huge old rhododendrons, dozens of rare Himalayan lilies and mysterious remnant pockets of tree ferns, many centuries old.
Dennarque marks the highest point in the village and in 2011 took the brunt of great storm that felled countless trees. Bill and Lata took the opportunity to redevelop parts of the garden, recycling fallen timber to create an East-meets-West wonderland where the mannered landscape dissolves into wild forest.
Christine McCabe was a guest of Dennarque Estate and Destination NSW.
Dennarque Estate’s gardens have a strong Japanese influence