WILD SUR­ROUNDS

CAROLYN ROBIN­SON DE­SIGNED HER TEN­TER­FIELD GAR­DEN TO COM­PLE­MENT THE RUGGED RU­RAL LAND­SCAPE.

Country Style - - GARDEN - WORDS CAROLYN ROBIN­SON PHO­TOG­RA­PHY CLAIRE TAKACS

CRE­AT­ING THE GAR­DENS that sur­round my home at Ea­gles Bluff, an 80-hectare prop­erty near Ten­ter­field, NSW, has been a con­tin­u­ous joy. It has also pro­vided the op­por­tu­nity to rec­tify the mis­takes I made when plant­ing our first gar­den at Glen­rock, the ru­ral prop­erty north of town that my hus­band, Peter, and I bought in 1989. It was our first home and gar­den, and I cut my gar­den­ing teeth there. Af­ter fill­ing sev­eral pad­docks with gar­dens at Glen­rock, I was keen to ex­per­i­ment fur­ther. Pete and I also wanted to be fur­ther from the town and its bur­geon­ing out­skirts. In 2008, while scan­ning a real es­tate win­dow, my eyes ze­roed in on a ru­ral prop­erty with river frontage. When I first saw the prop­erty and walked along the rock-strewn river, the possibilities rolled out in front of me. Ea­gles Bluff is bounded by the Bluff River for two kilo­me­tres on the east and south. To the north is the wilder­ness of the re­fresh­ingly un­tram­melled Bluff River Na­ture Re­serve. To the south, an­other moun­tain soared, but this one had seen the work of man — the sense­less killing of trees on a slope so steep that only wild goats and na­tive wildlife could in­habit it. It stood stark and bar­ren, the dead trees sil­hou­et­ted against the sky in aw­ful con­trast to the sur­round­ing moun­tains. From this moun­tain came the name of our new prop­erty, for it is a marvel­lous habi­tat for wedge-tailed ea­gles. We chose a small rise above the river as the site for the house, as we wanted to be within sight and sound of run­ning wa­ter. The gar­dens needed to en­hance the view, not de­tract from it. Luck­ily, the land slopes away to the north, and the sub­se­quent gar­dens were filled with sun-lov­ing Aus­tralian na­tives and Mediter­ranean plants. To the south, the main fo­cus was to soften and screen the bar­ren moun­tain, and pro­vide shade from the harsh sum­mer sun. In 2010 we built the house and planted de­cid­u­ous trees in two large gar­den bor­ders ad­ja­cent to it to pro­vide shade. Be­yond the drive, a stag­gered row of eu­ca­lyp­tus trees — in­clud­ing Eu­ca­lyp­tus siderox­y­lon ‘Rosea’, E. sco­paria and E. acaci­iformis — was planted in a large cres­cent-shaped border filled with grey, glau­cous, sil­ver and pur­ple fo­liaged plants. It con­tains some of my favourite plant com­bi­na­tions, such as Beschorne­ria yuc­coides with Bud­dleja crispa and Berberis thun­bergii ‘Atrop­ur­purea Nana’ with Gaza­nia ‘Tresco’ in the fore­ground. An­other won­der­ful com­bi­na­tion is Yucca ros­trata ‘Sap­phire Skies’ teamed with Pen­nise­tum se­taceum ‘Rubrum’ and clipped balls of Teu­crium fru­ti­cans. Fur­ther to the south, an­other stag­gered row of eu­ca­lyp­tus pro­vide shade and form the back­bone of a gen­er­ous border. They are un­der­planted with or­na­men­tal grasses and dis­sected with steps of de­com­posed gran­ite with sleeper ris­ers. >

“To the north is the wilder­ness of the re­fresh­ingly un­tram­melled Bluff River Na­ture Re­serve.”

“One of my par­tic­u­lar loves is the con­trast be­tween clipped shrubs and the soft free-form habit and move­ment of or­na­men­tal grasses.”

The gar­den at Ea­gles Bluff is an in­for­mal de­sign. Broad sweep­ing beds cre­ate move­ment and mys­tery, and stone walls and steps add in­ter­est and en­hance the views. My first stonework project was a semi­cir­cu­lar re­tain­ing wall, which be­came a pond edged with wa­ter plants and lilies. I’ve adopted a planned and con­sid­ered ap­proach to plant­ing at Ea­gles Bluff. My strat­egy is to plant schemes with longevity and I try to avoid hav­ing to re­plant, which is al­ways fraught with dif­fi­cul­ties. Trees are planted either as sin­gle spec­i­mens or in bor­ders or beds, with ap­pro­pri­ate un­der­plant­ings of species that suc­cess­fully co­habit with trees. Even though un­der­storey plants such as helle­bores had to en­dure full sun in the first few sea­sons, they have man­aged ad­mirably. Ar­chi­tec­tural plants, such as Beschorne­ria yuc­coides, Yucca ros­trata ‘Sap­phire Skies’ and Xan­th­or­rhoea glauca, cre­ate fo­cus and in­ter­est. The land­scape has been kept firmly in mind when plant­ing, us­ing na­tive shrubs against the back­drop of the river trees, and nat­u­ral­is­tic bor­ders filled with or­na­men­tal grasses ad­ja­cent to our grass­land pad­docks. I love plants and could not imag­ine mak­ing a gar­den with only a hand­ful of species. My plant­ing schemes are of­ten di­verse and I off­set this with rep­e­ti­tion or mass plant­ings of favourites in­clud­ing mis­cant­hus, pan­icum, se­dum, salvia, achil­lea and trades­cantia. One of my par­tic­u­lar loves is the con­trast be­tween clipped shrubs and the soft free-form habit and move­ment of or­na­men­tal grasses and flow­er­ing peren­ni­als. My colour taste is quite eclec­tic, al­though I don’t mix hot and cool colours in an ad-hoc man­ner. To my mind, fo­liage colour is more im­por­tant than flower colour, and the use of pur­ple fo­liage is a par­tic­u­lar sig­na­ture of my de­sign, as it works well with the glau­cous shades of na­tive veg­e­ta­tion. To achieve depth of field in a nat­u­ral­is­tic scheme, the gar­den beds must be deep — many of my bor­ders are at least 10 me­tres deep. Many gar­den­ers shy away from large gar­den bor­ders, per­ceiv­ing them to be too high in main­te­nance. How­ever, if plants grow to their po­ten­tial they cover the ground and therein lies the se­cret: fewer weeds. On some of my larger bor­ders I’ve used crushed gran­ite as a mulch to pro­mote wa­ter in­fil­tra­tion. Most of our rain comes as light falls, which in many cases would not pen­e­trate an or­ganic mulch and reach the soil. The crushed rock also pro­vides a warmer en­vi­ron­ment in win­ter, off­set­ting the ef­fects of frost, and it sets off the plants beau­ti­fully. Over the last eight years, I’ve en­joyed ex­per­i­ment­ing with in­ter­min­gling Aus­tralian na­tives and ex­otics in many of my bor­ders. The na­tives have added a won­der­ful di­men­sion to the gar­den. To see lit­tle birds flit­ting in and out of the bushes is so re­ward­ing and there are flow­ers year-round, as many na­tives flower in the win­ter and early spring when other plants are dor­mant. From a site that sup­ported few crea­tures, there are now count­less num­bers from the soil up — and the gar­den has be­come an is­land of bio­di­ver­sity.

The gar­den­ing scheme at Ea­gles Bluff is a mix of ex­otic plants and Aus­tralian na­tives — such as pur­ple bud­delia, Ceras­togima ‘Alba’ and Aca­cia bai­leyana pur­purea — that sit com­fort­ably with the ad­join­ing Bluff River Na­ture Re­serve.

The gar­den pond is a tran­quil place to sit and take in the views of the sur­round­ing land­scape. LEFT Carolyn Robin­son has honed her gar­den­ing skills over the last 25 years. BE­LOW Mis­cant­hus and Eu­pa­to­rium ‘Gate­way’ cre­ate height, while Perovskia atrip­li­ci­fo­lia (Rus­sian Sage), Se­dum ‘Au­tumn Joy’ and sil­ver Bal­lota pseu­do­d­ic­tam­nus add colour in the fore­ground. FAC­ING PAGE Carolyn added colour to the gar­den with mass plant­ings of Salvia ‘Rasp­berry Royal’ and Salvia azurea. The Eu­ca­lyp­tus siderox­y­lon in the back­ground pro­vides shade.

Stone walls and stone steps were built to cre­ate and con­nect gar­den ter­races, and en­hance the views of the Bluff River Na­ture Re­serve.

This gar­den path was cre­ated from flat-faced stones Carolyn found on the prop­erty. Border plants in­clude Aca­cia bai­leyana pros­trata (right) and Teu­crium chamaedrys (left).

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