The pleasures of a flower garden
Inspired by the great English gardener Norah Lindsay, Frogmore in Australia combines maximum formality of design with maximum informality of planting
Nurseryman Jack Marshall and florist Zena Bethell looked to the English gardener Norah Lindsay for inspiration when designing their flower-packed garden
FROGMORE IS A BRILLIANT WORLD OF FLOWERING PLANTS
Looking glorious in the autumnal sunshine is Frogmore, a brilliant world of flowering plants hidden behind banks of trees and hedges. But this is not the Frogmore beloved of Queen Victoria that forms part of Windsor Great Park, this Frogmore, named after its English counterpart, is in Australia – 62 miles north of Melbourne among the Victorian hills. Its owners Jack Marshall and Zena Bethell like to experiment with planting ideas from gardens around the world, but they are true believers in the classical tradition of garden design and the rule of geometry. “Our mantra is maximum formality of design and maximum informality of planting,” says Jack. “We look to that great English gardener Norah Lindsay for our inspiration.” The inf luential British garden designer Russell Page once said of Norah Lindsay (1873-1948) that ‘ by her planting she evokes all the pleasures of a f lower garden… with an air of rapture and spontaneity’. Page’s comments happily apply to the gardens at Frogmore. When Jack and Zena bought the property 16 years ago the site presented a perfect opportunity to create the Lindsay style of garden. Both come from backgrounds in horticulture – Jack in a wholesale nursery business and Zena in f loristry with years of experience with a major Melbourne f lorist – and wanted a space that would accommodate both a vast garden and a small nursery.
Surrounded by eucalyptus forest the garden offers fabulous vistas but the site initially presented problems for the couple. “The site had once been a potato paddock and then a perennial nursery for many years,” explains Jack. “The first issue we had to address was the poverty of the soil; even now we are constantly
reinvigorating the garden with up to 17 truckloads of stable manure every year. It had water – above the ground – and the old rectangular outlines of the former garden beds proved useful for our projected design.” These outlines helped Jack and Zena create the controlling axes that allow people to read the garden. “We wanted it to be legible so that unconsciously the visitor’s eye is taken up the slope to the big sky overhead,” says Jack. “Our first plantings established the green structure of hedges, using hornbeam and box for the planting. Box has become the leitmotif in the garden over the years. The hornbeam, inside the garden perimeter, looks light in winter while the native eucalypts are evergreen.”
While Jack and Zena’s first geometry exercise was all about straight lines and right angles, their work now includes squares and cubes, triangles and, in one sensational area, circles. The solidity of flat-topped box squares and cubes anchor the more ephemeral seasonal plantings. Triangles provide the under-pinning of the fabulous Sunset Borders. With the solidity of the hedge at the back, the planting is orchestrated in triangles of perennial planting, such as cannas, forming the outline, then infilled with annuals. As Jack points out: “When it’s in full flower, you’re not aware of the underlying balance.” The inclusion of annuals, says Jack, gives a greater depth of saturated colour. “You have to have the larger flowers of dahlias, celosias, zinnias and calendulas,” he says.
The formal gardens are made up of different areas, featuring separate colour palettes and each with their own beauty. While the dynamic Sunset Borders mix hot colours, the Crimson Border or Bishop’s Border relies on the dark reds and purples of cardinals’ and bishops’ clerical robes. Another border features a successful interplay between crimson and delicate violet and lavender colours. A total contrast is the Pale Garden – a subdued and exquisite arrangement. It’s not a white garden like the one made so popular at Sissinghurst by
Vita Sackville-West: Jack and Zena have cleverly incorporated soft lemons and pinks to mitigate the effect of the browning-off of white f lowers in Australia’s severe summers.
Geometry also underpins the Prairie Garden area, which is an interpretation of the New Perennial style of planting, popularised by the likes of Piet Oudolf in Europe and Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden in the USA. It features big bold clumps of plants and massed grasses, such as different types of miscanthus and panicum. Although it appears to be free form, the underlying structure is circular, much more apparent when you walk through the tall waving foliage. Jack and Zena think this contemporary style of gardening with massed plants, particularly the grasses, is misunderstood in Australia. “The common attitude is that long grass equates with snakes and fire hazards… it’s going to take time for gardeners to understand the difference between the prairie style, which is green foliage in summer and cut down in winter, and the native grasses of Australia, which are green in winter and dried and bleached in summer,” says Jack.
When the sunshine disappears behind the clouds and winter sets in, Jack and Zena retreat to their computer where photographs and spread sheets await. Meticulous planning for next season’s borders is about to begin.
USEFUL INFORMATION Address 1560 Trentham-Greendale Road, Lerderderg, Victoria 3458, Australia. Tel +61 (0)3 5424 1777. Website frogmoregardens.com.au Open March – April (the garden’s flowering peak is mid-March), 10am-4pm, admission AU$10. Jack and Zena’s boutique nursery on the site is open all year apart from July. Web frogmoregardens.com.au Open March and April each year. The garden’s flowering peak is mid-March.
In the right-hand border of the Pale Garden, Nicotiana mutabilis, with white flowers that fade to shades of pink, rises from a froth of Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Psyche White’ and Ammi majus, while on the left the pale-lemon Dahlia ‘Lime Glow’ stands out among Scabiosa columbaria subsp. ochroleuca and Symphyotrichum pilosum var. pringlei ‘Monte Cassino’.
This image The biscuity grasses in the Prairie Garden seem more golden set against the red autumnal foliage of Viburnum opulus ‘Notcutt’s Variety’, while the golden foliage of the tallPopulus nigra ‘Italica’ contrasts with the evergreens of the forest.Facing page At the forest edge there is a softer formality to the garden with swathes of Miscanthus sinensis ‘ Sarabande’ flanking a raised runway of Buxus sempervirens.