Australian House & Garden
French Connection A magnificent Mediterranean-style garden in the Adelaide Hills.
A new book showcasing the beautiful gardens of the Adelaide Hills reveals this French-inspired beauty, designed to celebrate light and space.
Yantaringa, which translates as ‘house on top of a hill’, has lovely views down over steeply sloping paddocks, where wood ducks paddle on the dam and a few errant rabbits frolic in the grass. It’s a fairly common view for a historic Adelaide Hills house, but the garden at Yantaringa is less typical. Owners Scott and Jodi Brumby love the structure and clean lines of French gardens, and with the ongoing help of designer Virginia Kennett they’ve restored and remade Yantaringa’s old-fashioned garden to cater to contemporary life.
The 2.7-hectare property dates from the 1860s, when Chinese market gardeners are thought to have built a modest two-room cottage on the site. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that master builder and designer Walter Torode established a larger house.
When the Brumbys arrived in 2002, the property held plenty of large trees but had no “daunting horticultural history” to hamper redevelopment, says Virginia. At the front of the house, the overwhelming scale of several old pines and poplars had severely distorted a line of flowering cherry trees. The cherries were removed, as were roses that were failing to thrive in the shade. Nevertheless, where possible, existing trees and shrubs were retained. The Brumbys “provided a very strong aesthetic brief”, says Virginia, and the garden evolved in tandem with the restoration and expansion of the house.
Over the course of almost two decades, Virginia has helped bring a certain je ne sais quoi to Yantaringa. There’s a French mood apparent from the moment guests arrive in the courtyard of plane trees and neatly clipped box set into gravel. The cone-shaped Japanese box ( Buxus microphylla var. japonica) act as soft bollards, preventing cars from parking too close to the house. An old privet hedge that miraculously survived the building works separates the gravel courtyard from the pool area.
At the garden’s entrance, beneath those towering old pines and poplars, Virginia has established repeating sweeps of clipped Japanese box in-filled with mass plantings of elephant’s ears
( Bergenia cordifolia), the native grass Poa labillardieri ‘Suggan Buggan’ and New Zealand flax ( Phormium tenax). Several Magnolia ‘Star Wars’ – small trees that produce ravishing rosy-pink flowers in spring – stand daintily amid the bergenia.
Beyond these big sweeps, the palette is muted, green on green, most plants selected to be as drought-tolerant as possible because the Brumbys are conscious that a ready water supply cannot be taken for granted in the future. In the small entrance garden, however, burgundies and purples predominate, with plants including smoke bush ( Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’), forest pansy redbuds ( Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’) and purple Japanese barberry ( Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea).
In the ‘family-friendly area’ of the garden, designed for entertaining, a vine-draped arbour links the lawn – dominated by a copper beech ( Fagus sylvatica f. purpurea) – with the guesthouse, swimming pool and outdoor dining space. The pool area features clipped balls of tree germander ( Teucrium fruticans) and is screened with a hedge of laurustinus ( Viburnum tinus) and a wall smothered in Virginia creeper ( Parthenocissus quinquefolia).
Below the pool, the vegetable garden is terraced down the slope using curved gabion walls backfilled with locally quarried rock. At the edge of the garden, a young arboretum features ginkgo ( Ginkgo biloba), claret ash ( Fraxinus angustifolia subsp. oxycarpa ‘Raywood’), evergreen dogwoods ( Cornus capitata), kousa dogwoods ( Cornus kousa), English oak ( Quercus robur), California live oak ( Quercus agrifolia) and sawtooth oak ( Quercus acutissima).
It’s perhaps unusual for a designer to have such a long relationship with a project, but Yantaringa is one of Virginia’s favourites. “When I visit the garden now, I am struck by its composure,” she says. Virginia believes most modern garden “interventions” are too ‘built’, with too much rigidity and formality. She prefers a simple and restrained garden “in which plants, not built forms, are celebrated”.
At Yantaringa, the Brumbys, with Virginia’s help, have reimagined an old Hills garden for future generations, working deftly with the site and wisely preparing for hotter, drier summers.