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