In my younger years, I used to fantasise about having a garden of a few acres, where I could fulfil all my dreams of planting favourite trees and shrubs, creating colour-themed borders in broad brushstrokes, and including every single plant I had ever wanted to grow. Suffice to say, this fantasy was never realised and I remain in suburbia. It was a great pleasure, therefore, last week to visit a garden in Sydney's north-west, where Pamela Wallace has created, in just five years, a magnificent garden on five acres, which is, quite simply, my dream garden, full of many of the plants that I dearly love.
Surrounded and sheltered by towering gum trees on the perimeter of the property, the garden is formally designed in generously sized, sweeping borders around the house then graduates to more informal areas beyond, including a woodland walk, a garden hugging the dam, and a meadow garden of grasses and self-seeding annuals. Being able to create such different features is one of the wonderful aspects of having an acreage garden. In this garden, they all fit together like pieces in an enormous jigsaw puzzle! It's impossible to do justice to this beautiful garden in its entirety in this blog, so I refer readers to Pamela's very comprehensive description in the Garden Ramble section of our website. I decided instead to focus on the seasonal highlights I so enjoyed during my visit, and to talk about some of the opportunities and challenges of gardening on acres that I gleaned, which, as it happens, also have lessons for all gardeners.
At this time of year, the deep flower borders around the house are in full bloom and just a joy, showing that autumn in Sydney can be the very best time of year for gardens. The borders are themed in colours of blues, pinks, purples, whites and silvers near the front of the house, with golden foliage in some areas for contrast. Stars of these borders now are tall shrubby salvias in all their glory, including inky-blue 'Anthony Parker', velvet purple Salvia leucantha 'Santa Barbara', white-and-mauve 'Phyllis' Fancy', deep purple 'Amistad', blue 'Indigo Spires' and white-and-purplish blue 'Meigan's Magic'. Joining them are the profuse blooms of many shrubby Plectranthus, including purple and white forms of tall Plectranthus ecklonii and the lower-growing Cape Angels series, including a most unusual form with white-variegated foliage and white blooms.
In a garden of this size, these plants have the scope to spread to their full width and show their natural form - unlike in my garden where they are squeezed in amongst other plants! The effect is truly breath-taking. Purple is a favourite colour for Pamela, and the salvias and Plectranthus plants are complemented by several robust specimens of Tibouchina 'Jazzie', which grows to around 2.5 m in height and is smothered in rich purple blooms for an extended period: a plant I have never seen before except in pots at nurseries, which give no idea of what a wonderful shrub this is. Roses of many colours are used extensively in the garden and are in the autumn flush at the moment, and like the Tibouchina and dahlias, their floral form provides a contrast to the spires of the salvias and Plectranthus, and they also play a vital role in the various colour schemes of the borders where they are grown. Roses grow well in this part of Sydney, perhaps due to the cooler winters and lesser humidity in summer.
Though there is an amazing palette of many plants in the garden, many of them rare, repetition of the plants in different borders, and in combination with diverse plants provides a sense of cohesion, important in a garden of this size - but also for any garden, I feel! Borders at the side and back of the house introduce hotter colours of reds, oranges and yellows in various shades. I enjoyed the contrast of blue and purple salvias and Plectranthus with rich golden foliage, such as golden Duranta, gold-variegated Euonymus, gold-leaved zonal Pelargonium and yellow-variegated Iresine here. When the deciduous trees begin to colour up later in autumn, this adds another layer of hot colour to contrast with these blue and purple flowers.
Foliage is central to the garden and provides much of the colour and texture that makes the borders so beautiful to behold, giving ongoing interest throughout the year as seasonal flowers come and go, something for all us gardeners to remember! Melianthus major (including a very desirable dwarf form); purple-leaved, shrubby Euphorbia cotinifolia; various grasses; many brightly hued coleus varieties; and a most unusual gold-variegated leaf Strobilanthes persicifolia (syn. Strobilanthes anisophylla) were just a few of the plants that caught my eye. Repetition of key foliage plants - such as silver and lime Helichrysum petiolare, velvety silver Plectranthus argentatus, silver and purple Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyeriana), Alternanthera 'Little Ruby' and its new cousin 'Little Maroon', and crimson and yellow-veined forms of Iresine - provides another thread of unity through the garden.
In a large garden like this, low-growing foliage plants also play an important part to carpet the ground under trees and between shrubs in an attractive way whilst also suppressing weeds, to reduce maintenance of such areas. Low-growing Plectranthus fill this role in dry shade admirably, particularly glossy, round-leaved Plectranthus verticillatus and Plectranthus ciliatus, which both grow into wide rugs and are a mass of dainty white bloom in autumn. The variegated form of Plectranthus parviflorus is also an excellent groundcover and has delicate spires of blue flowers for much of the year. Tradescantia pallida 'Purpurea' and forms a pretty tapestry weaving amongst the other plants, with rich purple leaves is also so useful to fill bare areas quickly.
Having space also allows the scope to display large pieces of sculpture to good effect, and Pamela has some lovely pieces in the garden. She particularly likes spheres, and has some beautiful pieces cleverly positioned, such as the three spheres nestled between lime Helichrysum petiolare (pictured, left), and a stunning metal pear in the centre of the courtyard garden.
Creating new garden beds in such a big garden is a challenge, especially on heavy clay soil. In this garden, all the borders that Pamela has made have been achieved by first layering newspaper on top of the existing grass where she wants the new bed to be, and piling compost, manure and shredded prunings on top. After about six months, the soil is ready for planting. The surface of all the established garden beds is kept covered with a layer of shredded prunings mixed with duck manure, to keep moisture in, reduce weeds, and feed the soil, helping to manage the task of looking after a big garden. The lush growth of the flourishing plants is a testament to the effectiveness of this approach, which I have recently adopted, and can be used in any-sized garden.
The garden is still evolving - Pamela often enlarges garden borders and has plans for new areas to create in the future. Her hard work, knowledge, enthusiasm and passion for gardening are reflected in this stunning garden: my friends and I came home utterly inspired with ideas for our own plots!
18 Oct 20
Although my garden is semi-tropical in nature now, I still have some vestiges from my cottage garden days!
11 Oct 20
Consider training a shrub into a small tree.
04 Oct 20
October is iris time in Sydney gardens: the best are the tall bearded irises and Louisiana irises.
One crowded hour
27 Sep 20
Much can be achieved in regular short stints in the garden.
20 Sep 20
We may not be able to grow massed displays of tulips in our climate, but try some of these South African corms instead.