Mists of time

There’s a touch of Bri­gadoon about the gar­dens of Mount Wil­son

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AUSTRALIA - CHRIS­TINE McCABE

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

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