“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.
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.
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.