THE GREEN SCENE
From the terrace of Mount Wilson’s Wildenstein I can see all the way to downtown Sydney; it’s quite a view and one that captivated Swans star Buddy Franklin, who was secretly wed here late last year. This romantic garden, open by appointment and for high teas, is also a wedding venue run by multi-tasking journalist and newsreader Keegan Buzza and interior designer James Stein.
Keegan is busy whipping up some superior scones (lemonade being the secret ingredient) in Wildenstein’s huge kitchen, cluttered with the stylish detritus of a recent wedding, in an incredible house crammed with outsized antiques.
It’s a stage and the garden a theatre, where lawns sweep down to great banks of azaleas popping orange and pink, guarded by ceramic Chinese lions. Clipped hedged rooms house lichen-encrusted statues and benches so apparently ancient they appear to grow from the earth. Massed hydrangeas provide a sumptuous allee.
The property was established by James’s antique dealer father (also James), who carved the garden from a 5ha cow paddock over almost three decades. With an unswerving eye he created a property full of interest and charm, commissioning renowned potter Lino Alvarez to fashion a battalion of urns to line the driveway, then planting great swaths of hellebores at their feet. He massplanted everything, from bluebells to hydrangeas, creating magical glades among the pine trees and strewing the top field with daisies growing in long grass. But most magical of all is a dark glade shadowed by three enormous, almost oak tree-sized banksias.
“They predate Cook’s arrival,” says Keegan, “and are listed by the National Trust.” Join Keegan and James and their retinue of Indian runner ducks and giant mastiff hounds on the garden’s next open day, April 16, during the Mount Wilson Autumn Festival. More: bluemountainsweddingvenue.com.au. Afterwards drop by the enchanting Windyridge with an onsite nursery specialising in cool-climate plants, open seven days in spring and autumn. Third-generation nurseryman Rodger Davidson and his irrepressible wife Wai manage this incredibly beautiful 2ha garden more or less by themselves — the nursery spilling from their quirky Swiss-style cottage, the lot engulfed by exotic trees and shrubs.
Windyridge dates from 1877 and the garden has been open to the public for decades. “The old two-shillings entry sign is lying about somewhere,” says Rodger. But when the Davidsons took over in 1995, Wai began creating a garden on a grand scale. Two years later, their plant collection arrived in five semi-trailers and they set to planting tens of thousands of plants and bulbs, more than 2000 azaleas and about 400 different Japanese maples. With the help of landscape architect Gordon Sykes a series of terraces was laid out and a woodland walk established, skirting a sunken parterre in shades of green and smoky blue, courtesy of neatly clipped curry plants. There are sheets of cyclamen, a huge variety of magnolias, white clematis scrambling up stunning white flowering waratah trees, and dozens of rare plants, including dainty blue Tibetan orchids. Lawn flows down to the centrepiece of this masterful garden, the stunning lake and waterfall cuffed with variegated iris, gunnera and other water-loving plants. I suggest visiting in late October when Wai’s 10,000 peonies are in flower.
Wai has gardened at Mount Wilson since the 1970s so knows the village like the back of her hand, and over tea (it’s a help-yourself situation in the nursery), a retinue of ancient dogs dozing at our feet, I get the impression this is a community entirely devoted to gardening, with the attendant rivalries this engenders (cue a body in the conservatory and the imminent arrival of Miss Marple).
There is an element of competitiveness, agrees Keegan, but this village is “essentially a kinship” built around gardening over a century-and-a-half, and for visitors one of the most magical places in Australia.
Windyridge, above left; Wildenstein, above right