Hunters Hill gardens

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Epiphyllum in bloom at Clifton garden, Hunters Hill

It's always wonderful when gardens are opened to the public to help a worthy cause, and on Friday 2 November 2018, three lovely gardens in Hunters Hill will be open to help raise funds for L'Arche, an innovative international charity enabling people with intellectual disabilities to live in the community. I attended the event last year and thoroughly enjoyed the day. The participating gardens can vary from year to year, but Clifton, at 7 Woolwich Road, Hunters Hill is a regular, and hosts a L'Arche talk at 11 am plus a fashion parade and morning teas to aid the fundraising on the day.

Mature trees frame the historic house Clifton at Hunters Hill

Situated on the Parramatta River, the historic house Clifton was built in 1880 for John Rider Jones, who was the chairman of the Sydney Stock Exchange from 1890 to 1894. The original property was previously subdivided into six blocks, and the garden today represents a triumph of integrating the magnificent home with its surroundings, and incorporating the history of the garden into the modern vision of the owner, skilled gardener Felicity McCaffrey. The garden is nestled beneath a huge sandstone wall at the top boundary of the property, providing a sense of enclosure and a splendid backdrop. Sandstone is used for walls elsewhere and there are other natural shelves of this rock that are incorporated into the design of the garden.

Ancient, towering Port Jackson figs, Brachychiton and Podocarpus macrophyllus, iconic native trees in many Sydney historic gardens, provide a fabulous background structure to the property and anchor the scale of the house to the garden, whilst also framing the superb views of the river. The garden comprises a series of quite formally shaped 'rooms' on various levels, which all fit together into a seamless whole. Restful areas of lawn such as on the terrace overlooking the river provide a balance of space. The rooms are defined by walls and formal hedges, providing excellent structure and a unifying sense through the use of repeated plants. However, each room is has a different microclimate and plantings have been chosen to suit.

The Fountain Garden at Clifton, Hunters Hill

The Fountain Garden has a stilt hedge of thriving Pyrus nivalis (snowpear) , underplanted with oak-leaf hydrangeas and Arthropdium cirratum, and this area provides an effective frame for the house and a cooling effect. At the back of the house is a tranquil courtyard with a Balinese-influenced collection of bamboos, all housed safely in large pots, which provide an effective screen and dappled shade for the rooms in this part of the house. An adjoining courtyard has enormous Japanese maples in pots, tall tree ferns and an array of potted bonsai and interesting shade-loving plants, including begonias, yellow Clivia, ferns and philodendrons, all protected by fabric sails high above the garden. These areas provide great ideas for patio gardens. Of particular interest are the various epiphytic plants grown here and in other parts of the garden, including Epiphyllum (orchid cactus, featured at the start of the blog), hoyas and Dendrobium orchids.

Plumeria rubra var. acutifolia - frangipani

I also enjoyed the use of a palette of subtropical plants in the garden, including Strelitzia, frangipani and a number of Acanthaceae shrubs, such as Odontonema, Brillantaisia and various Strobilanthes species - these plants were all the rage in the 19th century when they had been just discovered in the wild, and their presence in the garden is a deft historical touch - and, of course, these plants have all recently had a resurgence in Sydney gardens, as they flourish so brilliantly here!

The River Garden at Clifton, Hunters Hill

A set of stone steps leads up to a productive vegetable garden high above the house, with flourishing fruit trees, herbs, vegies and even some raspberry canes. The front lawn is bordered by a stone balustrade framing views to the river. A huge hedge of mophead Hydrangea below the lawn terrace is comprised of specimens that were all propagated from two original shrubs that grew in the garden and this planting is a mass of colour in early summer. Steps lead down to the river's edge, along a delightfully cool area filled with shade-loving ferns and Monstera deliciosa. The River Garden, sheltered by a Murraya hedge, is a large, sun-filled area with a predominately Mediterranean feel to it, with towering Echium fastuosum with its giant panicles of iridescent purple-blue blooms, rosemary, banks of lavender, a wonderful thyme 'lawn' and globe artichokes in full bloom!

Metal settee planted out with succulents at Ivy Alley Nursery, Hunters Hill

The two other open gardens are within walking distance of Clifton. The second garden open for the event will be Milthorpe, 12 Crescent Street, Hunters Hill, another historic waterfront estate, which will be open for the first time this year. The third garden will be Ivy Alley, 7 Garrick Lane, Hunters Hill, which is a delightful garden nursery. I visited here last year when it was open for the L'Arche event and wrote about it here.