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.
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.