“My mum cried when I bought this house”:

Natasha Mor­gan has trans­formed a run­down ru­ral post of­fice into an en­dear­ing home and a hub of cre­ativ­ity, writes Jane Cramer.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY COR­RIE BOND

a for­mer post of­fice is trans­formed

For Natasha Mor­gan, the gar­den is at the heart of who she is. That’s no sur­prise, given Natasha is a land­scape ar­chi­tect, but Oak and Mon­key Puz­zle, a for­mer post of­fice in Vic­to­ria’s Cen­tral High­lands, is so much more than a beau­ti­ful, well-de­signed prop­erty. It’s a hub of cook­ing, grow­ing and com­mu­nity col­lab­o­ra­tion.

In 2013, Natasha was look­ing for a week­ender in close prox­im­ity to Mel­bourne. To al­low her to pur­sue all the things she wanted to do most in life, the prop­erty had to have high rain­fall, good soil and be close to an artis­tic and cul­tural com­mu­nity.

Natasha’s pas­sions in­clude cook­ing and pre­serv­ing, a love that was fos­tered by her Mal­tese grand­mother, whose pick­ling kit is now Natasha’s most prized pos­ses­sion. Be­ing able to grow and ar­range flow­ers was also a high pri­or­ity for the ex­pe­ri­enced gar­den de­signer.

“Hav­ing spent two years work­ing with Mel­bourne’s most sought-af­ter florists and event de­sign­ers, it was time to cre­ate [some­thing of] my own,” says Natasha, adding that “grow­ing plants and de­sign­ing gardens was al­ways go­ing to be a must-have.”

So when a two-hectare prop­erty in Spargo Creek, a 90-minute drive from Mel­bourne, came up, Natasha had found the place that ticked all the boxes. Built in the 1860s, the house was orig­i­nally the Spargo Creek

“Grow­ing plants and de­sign­ing gardens was al­ways go­ing to be a must-have.”

Post Of­fice. “My mum cried when I bought this house,” Natasha re­calls. “It had bats fly­ing in and out of holes in the walls, but I could see the po­ten­tial, and as time went on it be­came ob­vi­ous to all we had found our home.”

It’s hard to be­lieve Natasha has trans­formed a run­down ru­ral prop­erty into a haven of beauty and a hive of cre­ativ­ity in such a short time. “Af­ter a year of ren­o­va­tions I was able to move in with my two young chil­dren,” she says.

Natasha has carved out a life where her chil­dren, Saf­fron, six, and Oliver, four, can run, pick fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles, col­lect eggs and scream at the top of their voices. The name comes from the trees grow­ing in the gar­den.

The front gate gives the first hint of what lies ahead. The charm­ing farm stall show­cas­ing Natasha’s home­made pre­serves, fra­grant posies and fruit cor­dials – to­gether with a hand­writ­ten note “sorry, sold out of eggs” – is our in­tro­duc­tion to the home beyond. We fol­low the gravel path lead­ing to the white weath­er­board house and gar­den.

Natasha has mowed a path in the nat­u­ral grasses that run along the side of the prop­erty and planted a row of sil­ver birch trees, leav­ing the rest to run wild. Chooks, geese and an or­chard com­plete the idyl­lic scene but it’s at the back of the house where the gar­den magic be­gins. A se­ries of raised rec­tan­gu­lar gar­den beds now runs from the back of the house, but dur­ing their plan­ning and cre­ation Natasha was short on funds. Af­ter en­list­ing the help of fam­ily and the lo­cals, tempted by the of­fer of free beer, the beds took only two days to build. Those clos­est to the house, the kitchen gar­den, are filled with herbs, ber­ries and veg­eta­bles, which change sea­son­ally. The higher ter­races give way to the flower gar­den, a riot of unique and rare blooms.

Be­tween the beds are crushed rocks. The cen­tral grass path leads the eye to the Wombat State For­est, which en­closes the gar­den on three sides and acts as a nat­u­ral buf­fer. The dry-stone wall, built by local stone­ma­son Joshua Bowes, was fea­tured in one of the many work­shops Natasha holds in col­lab­o­ra­tion with local ar­ti­sans. These take place in a con­verted ship­ping con­tainer, with its own deck and din­ing area, at the side of the gar­den.

In­ti­mate and very hands-on, the work­shops of­ten in­clude a two-course meal lov­ingly pre­pared by Natasha, fea­tur­ing sea­sonal pro­duce from her kitchen gar­den. The flower gar­den, mean­while, is the source of the fresh blooms and fo­liage for flo­ral in­stal­la­tions and work­shops.>>

Natasha has plans to con­vert her old shed into a com­mer­cial kitchen so she can in­crease the out­put of her cor­dials and pre­serves, which are sold at local cafés as well as at her prop­erty’s front gate. “I am al­ways look­ing for pre­serv­ing recipes to try out,” she says. The night be­fore we ar­rived she was up late mak­ing a huge batch of rhubarb, rose and vanilla bean cor­dial.

“There is a sense of sat­is­fac­tion that’s un­par­al­leled by grow­ing, ten­der­ing, har­vest­ing and shar­ing,” Natasha says. “To be able to grow some­thing chem­i­cally-free, and at its ab­so­lute peak bot­tle it for a rainy day, gives me an over­whelm­ing sense of achieve­ment and pride.”

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE LEFT: Black Hol­ly­hocks. The back gar­den, with easy ac­cess to the kitchen gar­den beds. The gar­den shed. Natasha’s farm stall at the prop­erty en­trance. OP­PO­SITE: Natasha with her chil­dren, Oliver, four (left) and Saf­fron, six.

Jude the Ob­scure.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Natasha, Saf­fron and Oliver. Natasha’s favourite David Austin rose, The main bed­room. CLOCK­WISE FROM MID­DLE LEFT: Ar­ti­choke flow­ers at the front of the weath­er­board home. Natasha on the front porch. The main bath­room. Oliver in the liv­ing area. Natasha’s kitchen.

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