Members of the Cottage Garden Club, which meets every few months in Epping, NSW, will all know Nancy Shaw's plant stall. It always has an alluring display of healthy, robust plants she has grown for sale - all chosen for their suitability to Sydney's climate. Recently, I paid a visit to Nancy and Ted's 1-acre garden at Bayview, on Sydney's northern beaches, to see the source of these specimens.
What was once a jungle of well-entrenched bamboo and other scary weeds, has, over 14 years, been transformed into a garden that showcases the incredibly wide variety of plants that can be grown in Sydney. The front of the house has a planting of pretty, low-growing natives, many of which were grown from seed collected locally. The side of the property over looking Pittwater, with a canopy of tall eucalypts and angophoras, is a fabulous native garden. It looks totally natural, with little paths wandering in and out of rocky outcrops but each plant is placed thoughtfully to create balance of different sizes (ranging from tall shrubs down to groundcovers), and contrasts of foliage and flower form. Structural native plants with strong and distinctive outlines, such as grass trees (Xanthorrhoea species, Gymea lilies (Doryanthes excelsa) and cabbage tree palms (Livistona australis), provide a foil to the fluffier shapes of many small-leaved native shrubs such as Boronia species, Prostanthera species, Westringia fruticosa, Epacris longifolia and Correa species. The bold flowers of Banksia and kangaroo paws (Angiozanthus) give a contrast to the daintier blooms. Many native Dendrobium orchids grow on the large rocks, providing a magical sight in spring.
The pathways through the native garden lead down the slope and pass by some rainforest natives, including some lilly pillies ('Pink Cascade') with brilliant pink-flushed leaves, which with their lush, glossy foliage cleverly segue the garden style into a moist, shaded rainforest section. It is filled with a mixture of native and exotic foliage plants such as tree ferns, bird's nest ferns, bromeliads, Alocasia and Cordyline intermingled with flowers glowing like jewels amongst the leaves: including flourishing blue ginger (Dichorisandra thyrsiflora) and the tallest Kohleria erianthus I have ever seen. The pendulous, showy blooms of a beautiful Medinilla shrub (pictured above) also decorate this area - this subtropical plant is a relative of Tibouchina and does well in warm sheltered Sydney gardens.
The garden then leads uphill out of the shade and into a more open, sunny area which is landscaped with deep, sweeping borders filled with shrubs and perennials that provide a feast of colour throughout the year. At the time of my visit, a generous planting of Camellia sasanqua was in full bloom, providing an effective backdrop for massed plantings of many different shrubby Salvia specimens, heliotrope, Gaura and elegant Japanese windflowers, which swayed in the breeze. A rich variety of plants that thrive in Sydney's climate fill the borders, and give colour over a long period - all arranged with an eye to effective combinations of hues, form and texture. The borders are edged with rocks found on the property.
The garden also has edible plants, with a number of citrus trees and a caged vegetable garden: the cage is to outwit the local bandicoot population! Nancy loves to propagate plants and has several shade houses and a nursery area, where she grows on cuttings from many of the unusual plants she has in her garden. She is happy to have garden clubs and groups of friends make an appointment to come along to visit the garden and buy plants from the nursery. It is a lovely day out to visit this scenic part of Sydney and see such an awe-inspiring example of what can be grown! To contact Nancy, phone (02) 9979 3930.
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