Eyes on the FU­TURE

Never short of ideas or en­ergy, Dee Napier has built a gar­den de­signed to flow with the land­scape and in­spire gen­er­a­tions to come.

Australian House & Garden - - HG GARDENING - STORY El­iz­a­beth Wil­son | PHO­TOG­RA­PHY Claire Takacs

Cen­tury-old eu­ca­lyp­tus trees stand sen­tinel in the mid­dle of the gar­den, where wide grass paths me­an­der be­tween thickly planted beds and hand-built Dry-stone walls. At left, a horn­beam hedge adds a struc­tural el­e­ment while the fore­ground is a mix of or­na­men­tal grasses, in­clud­ing Lo­man­dra, Carex and Mis­cant­hus.

A sil­very Teu­crium hedge winds its way through the grasses and canna lilies con­trib­ute a jolt of or­ange.

Dee Napier would rather tune in to her gar­den than turn on the TV news. Ev­ery evening be­fore sun­set, while her hus­band Rob watches the evening bul­letin, she spends about an hour out­doors, con­tem­plat­ing the green won­der­land she has shaped over the past 37 years. “That’s my time for think­ing – about plants, life, ev­ery­thing,” she says. It’s a rit­ual that says a lot about her love of na­ture. “When you have a gar­den,” she ex­plains, “you’re al­ways plan­ning for the fu­ture. It gives you the im­pe­tus to keep go­ing.”

Dee, Rob and their son An­drew moved to Kyalla Park, near Or­ange in the Cen­tral West re­gion of NSW, back in 1982. It’s a nat­u­rally blessed site of about 40ha, with gen­tle un­du­la­tions, a creek and rich basalt soils. When they ar­rived, there was a res­i­dence dat­ing back to 1913, a con­stel­la­tion of out­build­ings and just the rem­nants of a gar­den. “There were some beau­ti­ful old trees, but the rest of the gar­den had been ne­glected for years and the sheep were al­most up to the house,” Dee re­calls. The homestead needed re­fur­bish­ing, but her de­sire to start a gar­den took pri­or­ity. “We could have done with a new kitchen, but I wanted a bull­dozer in­stead, to shape the gar­den.”

Dee started out with mass plant­ings of old-fash­ioned roses, peren­ni­als and shrubs, ar­ranged in blocks of colour around the home. De­spite her ir­re­press­ible en­ergy and ideas, the gar­den evolved slowly for the first decade. She was work­ing full-time at her own gar­den nurs­ery and Rob of­ten trav­elled in his ca­pac­ity as prin­ci­pal of Or­ange Agri­cul­tural Col­lege. “We just worked on the gar­den when we had the time and money,” she says.

As her gar­den­ing con­fi­dence grew, Dee set her sights on pad­docks be­yond the home’s bound­ary. To­day, her gar­den ex­tends over 6ha, in the form of an am­phithe­atre around a lake. The cen­tral area is ter­raced into five lev­els, di­vided by Dry-stone walls of basalt rock sourced on the prop­erty. Some were hand­built by An­drew when he was a teenager. “Ev­ery hour he spent build­ing walls was traded for an hour’s use of my ute,” says Dee.

All the shapes are curvi­lin­ear and there’s a lovely in­ter­play be­tween the swathes of lawn and rib­bons of densely packed

beds. Trees such as yel­low box ( Eu­ca­lyp­tus mel­liodora), white box ( Eu­ca­lyp­tus al­bens), Mon­terey cy­press ( Cu­pres­sus macro­carpa) and a cen­tury-old lin­den ( Tilia x eu­ropaea) form a tall canopy, while horn­beam hedges make up the mid-storey. In the cen­tral gar­den, a Teu­crium hedge snakes its way through or­na­men­tal grasses such as Lo­man­dra, Mis­cant­hus and Carex. The en­tire gar­den twin­kles with light-catch­ing lay­ers of fo­liage.

Dee is pas­sion­ate about shap­ing her gar­den in sync with its nat­u­ral sur­round­ings. “I be­lieve you should bring the land­scape in and work with what you’ve got: in our case, the lovely gum trees and views into the pad­docks,” she says.

There’s al­ways a project on the go. Two years ago, Dee de­vised a win­ter gar­den, ded­i­cated to plants that thrive in the colder months. (For Or­ange, that means frosts, oc­ca­sional snow and tem­per­a­tures that can dip be­low -7°C.) The fo­cus was on species with beau­ti­ful fo­liage and colour­ful stems, rather than flow­ers. Heath and heather, helle­bores, red-stemmed dog­wood ( Cor­nus), var­i­ous species of Ber­beris and maples are planted en masse here. Dee’s lat­est ob­ses­sion is the de­vel­op­ment of a hot peren­nial gar­den, an ode to plant­ings that bloom red, yel­low, or­ange and pink in sum­mer and au­tumn. Her se­lec­tions in­clude cone­flow­ers ( Rud­beckia), He­le­nium, salvias, echi­nacea and agas­tache.

Tree plant­ing is yet an­other on­go­ing mis­sion at Kyalla Park, and the Napiers have planted hun­dreds of them on the prop­erty, in­clud­ing an av­enue of ori­en­tal plane trees ( Pla­tanus ori­en­talis). “I’m plant­ing for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions,” says Dee, re­fer­ring to her two grand­chil­dren, who live on the prop­erty. (An­drew and his wife He­len run B&B ac­com­mo­da­tion called Black Sheep Inn, a con­verted wool­shed and cot­tage at Kyalla Park.)

Due to ill health, Dee now spends a lot of time in a wheel­chair. She can walk, but not far or fast, so she has in­vested in a whizbang all-ter­rain wheel­chair that al­lows her to zoom around the prop­erty. “I’ve be­come even more fo­cused on my gar­den since I’ve had mo­bil­ity chal­lenges,” she says. “Just be­ing in the gar­den is a ther­apy for me.”

Dee has help in the gar­den two days a week, but still spends many hours with her hands in the earth, dream­ing and schem­ing. “It’s my rea­son to get out of bed, to be ac­tive. It gives me some­thing to work to­wards,” she says. And each day, when that golden hour strikes, it’s the only place she wants to be.

A horn­beam hedge frames Dee’s ‘grass gar­den’ of Carex, Lo­man­dra and Mis­cant­hus. The en­tire gar­den is de­signed with thought­fully framed views of the land­scape and, as Dee ex­plains, “quiet spa­ces where the eye and mind can rest”. OP­PO­SITE clock­wise from top left Dee’s al­lée of ori­en­tal plane trees. Sil­ver-toned Teu­crium and English box form a two-tiered cir­cu­lar hedge around a pond. Dee loves this old wa­ter tank for its Aus­tralian­ness. A sil­ver birch stands along­side a lawn path, in a thick bed of ivy. ‘The Fairy’ minia­ture roses. Quinces ripen­ing in the or­chard. Rob feeds “les girls”, as Dee calls the chooks.

Along the drive­way, Dee has planted lay­ers of plants in tones of green and blue. In the fore­ground is a fringe of blue aga­pan­thus, be­hind which is the sil­very green fo­liage of Artemisia ‘Powis Cas­tle’, feath­ery plumes of Mis­cant­hus, a row of Bhutan cy­press ( Cu­pres­sus toru­losa) and a young lin­den tree.OP­PO­SITE PAGE clock­wise from top left A white box gum tree ( Eu­ca­lyp­tus al­bens) stands within a hedge of French laven­der ( La­van­dula den­tata). Fur­ther on, a Teu­crium hedge winds its way through Dee’s grass gar­den, where a tin kan­ga­roo sculp­ture sits among the tufts of Carex – “I wish the real ones would stay away!” says Dee. She and Ron con­verted a dam into this pic­turesque pond, en­cir­cled by a Dry-stone wall, an­other metal sculp­ture and a clipped Teu­crium hedge. Be­yond are sweep­ing views of the sur­round­ing farm­land. “Al­low­ing the land­scape in is very im­por­tant in an Aus­tralian gar­den,” says Dee.

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