For several years now, my gardening friends have been telling me about a garden at Yetholme called Hillandale, telling me I simply must go to see it. They would go all misty-eyed at the mere mention of the name, which took on a sort of other-worldly mystique to me. Finally, last weekend, I was able to make the journey, and I now totally understand what they were on about.
Over the past 21 years, Sarah and Andrew Ryan have created a 6-acre masterpiece around their delightful historic farmhouse nestled in a valley within their property of 170 acres, situated between Lithgow and Bathurst, 1200 m above sea level. Much of the property comprises a veritable arboretum of mature evergreen and deciduous trees, including oaks, cedars, maples, liquidambar and spruces from the original garden, planted in a traditional English style more than 100 years ago. These stately trees provide a protective shelter and windbreak for the garden, towering above rolling lawns. Their reflections in the dam at the lower end of this area provide a serene picture. Water from a spring runs along a narrow channel to this dam, through a tranquil, shady area amongst tree ferns.
Around the house is a gorgeous cottage garden, and shadier woodland areas awash with graceful banks of pink and white windflowers, and mature shrubs of Camellia and various Hydrangea with ageing flowerheads in hues of antique pinks, greens and purple. Hellebores, Epimedium, Aquilegia, Solomon's sea and Campanula species carpet the ground, with the promise of blooms in late winter and spring, as do mature shrubs of dogwood, Viburnum and rhododendrons in sunnier spots near the house.
Walking up towards the rise of the hill, one encounters a charming glasshouse full of cold-sensitive treasures, such as unusual succulents, Fuchsia and Pelargonium. Below it is a magnificent border of Dahlia flowers, in full bloom, with an array of shapes and hues, sparkling in the sunshine like exotic jewels. Many have dark foliage, accentuating the rich colours of the blooms, including the quintessential 'Bishop of Llandaff'. Attention to deadheading ensures the display lasts until frost arrives. Various shrubs provide a backdrop to the border, including the most unusual Lespedeza thunbergii, with pendulous sprays of rose-purple pea-like flowers in late summer.
A little further up the hill is the tour de force of the garden: the 125m-long perennial border, which is at its zenith in late summer and early autumn. A winding walkway down the middle of the border allows the visitor to experience the plants up close and personal. The border is anchored to the landscape by various shrubs on either side along its length, including plump roses and deciduous, purple-leaved cultivars of shrubs such as smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria), Sambucus nigra and Berberis thunbergii, adding sultry colour to the backdrop of the perennials.
Entering the border is like being transported to another world. You are completely surrounded by plants towering above your head, so you feel like Alice in a floral Wonderland. The sheer exuberance of flower and foliage sends one into a giddy state of excitement. Many of the plants are ornamental grasses, including a number of Miscanthus sinensis cultivars (of which the pink-flowered 'Flamingo' was to me the most stunning) and the airy panicles of Stipa giganta, repeated along the border to provide a rhythm and coherence to its structure. Amongst these are huge clumps of stunning perennials, many of them plants native to the tallgrass prairies of North America, and thus perfect partners to the grasses. These include a wide variety of daisy-like plants (Asteraceae), such as Helianthus, Heliopsis, Helenium, Rudbeckia, Aster, Gaillardia and Echinacea. Majestic Eupatorium maculatum, with its domes of tiny dusky-pink fuzzy flowers is an unlikely member of the Asteraceae family that is also a classic prairie plant. Other daisy flowers are added to the scene to continue visual theme, such as Shasta daisies and more Dahlia.
Variation of form is provided by flowers held on spires: a number of Salvia (including herbaceous species), Gaura, Agastache, Persicaria, Monarda and Aconitum. Further diversity comes with the spherical metallic-blue heads of Echinops, the globe thistle; the parasol-like, purple-tinted blooms atop the enormous stems of Angelica gigas, resembling something like the chocolate Queen Anne's lace on steroids; the plush crimson plumes of dark-leaved Amaranthus cruentus; the pale yellow pincushion inflorescences of the giant scabious (Cephalaria gigantea); and the bold clusters of tiny star-shaped, scarlet-pink flowers of Sedum 'Autumn Joy'. Foliage interest and contrast comes from the paddle-shaped leaves of Canna, the burgundy and silver leaves of Persicaria 'Red Dragon', silvery-leaved Salvia species, and a massive stand of the big, heart-shaped, grey-green leaves of the plume poppy (Macleaya cordata.
The substantial bulk of each perennial, repeated down the border, provides the impact needed in an area of this scale. Many are unusual cool-climate varieties we can only dream of growing in humid old Sydney, provoking many cries of 'Oh my gosh, look at THAT'. The walk through the border satisfies all the senses. Backlit by the autumnal sun, the grass heads and flowers appear to glow with an inner light. The diversity of textures, colours and forms creates a sumptuous tapestry, set against the calm background of green, rolling pastures with the occasional horse. The murmuring of what seem to be thousands of bees happily flitting from bloom to bloom provides a natural soundtrack to the scene. Plants brush softly against the skin as the visitor navigates the path, and the perfume of roses fills the air. There is movement as the grasses and flowers sway in a gentle breeze.
It's hard to imagine when standing in the middle of the border when it is at its peak, but this area is bare (apart from the shrubs) when all the herbaceous growth is cut down in winter, and at times is covered in snow. Most of the prunings are cut up and left there, covered with stable straw, to break down and feed the soil. It must be thrilling to watch the border emerge from its winter dormancy, into the brand-new growth of spring and the emergence of the early flowers, such as Iris, poppies, lupins, Euphorbia, then onwards and upwards as it achieves its ultimate height and fullness in late summer and early autumn.
Tearing myself away from the border, I visited the productive vegetable and cutting gardens near the front of the property, but I couldn't resist returning for another walk through the border to re-experience the feeling of being totally immersed and engulfed by flowers and foliage. To see such beauties allowed the space and conditions they desire to be able to grow to their full potential, is garden visiting at its very best.
The allure of the orchid cactus
24 Oct 21
This intriguing epiphytic plant is in bloom now.
Ageing and gardening
17 Oct 21
As one gets older, there is the need to rethink aspects of one's garden.
Painting with coleus
10 Oct 21
Coleus can make wonderful pictures in the garden.
03 Oct 21
Tough and undemanding plants from my parents' garden are favourites in my own.
The value of green spaces
26 Sep 21
Earlier this year, I visited Callan Park in Sydney's inner west.