ONCE A BARE PADDOCK, RED COW FARM IS NOW A LEAFY, FLOWER-FILLED GARDEN ON THE MUST-SEE LIST FOR GARDEN LOVERS AND VISITORS TO THE NSW SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS.
The story of Red Cow Farm, a garden sanctuary in the NSW Southern Highlands.
THE CURIOUSLY NAMED Red Cow Farm in the historic Southern Highlands village of Sutton Forest is home to Ali Mentesh and Wayne Morrissey, and open to garden visitors from spring to autumn. The property’s name hints at its early history, when in 1820 a land grant was made to ex-convict George Sewell. His herd of red Hereford cattle grazed the farm’s pastures. Ali says there was no grand plan for the 2.5-hectare garden but rather it was developed in response to the site and has kept evolving for more than 25 years. “For the first 18 months that we owned Red Cow Farm I couldn’t leave my work in Sydney so we started by getting structures built such as the driveway and walls, as well as planting windbreaks for shelter and excavating the lake,” says Ali. The windbreaks were vital to give shelter so hedges and ornamental plantings could establish. “When I moved permanently to the farm in 1991, a lot of walking around the property showed me how the garden could flow,” he explains. Ali, who once worked in hospitality but is now a landscape designer, says that holidays spent visiting great European gardens influenced the garden’s development. Sissinghurst in Kent was particularly inspiring for the idea of garden rooms, but he was also captivated by Christopher Lloyd’s experimental plantings at Great Dixter in East Sussex. The late Beth Chatto’s garden in Essex, where plants are matched to their native habitats, also left a lasting impression. Hedging is a feature throughout the property’s garden. As well as providing shelter, structure and formality, the extensive hedges create intimate spaces and a backdrop for plantings, as low, clipped box hedges and topiaries edge flowerbeds. “They frame the full-on exuberance of the floral plantings,” explains Ali. That exuberance is first encountered at the garden’s entrance, where the sunny garden around the 1820s cottage is filled with a profusion of flowers including old-fashioned roses that cascade over the simple white picket fence. Beyond the cottage, the planting flows through a series of 20 garden rooms. At its heart is the large lake. Some areas tumble with roses, clematis and wisteria while others, shaded by trees, are filled with woodland treasures. One of the first garden spaces Ali and Wayne developed was dubbed the Monastery Garden as it was planted with herbs in keeping with traditional gardens around monasteries. Statues of saints and an enclosing wall with five cloister-like arches developed the theme. The garden now also sports cherub sculptures, a well, a bell on a plinth and ornamental perennial plantings. Variegated ivy clothes the walls behind the arches. >