In the outskirts of Sydney sits something much more than a beautiful garden. Glenmore House, a Georgian, sandstone cottage complete with myriad outbuildings, has expansive gardens which draw you in and wrap you up. The whole package portrays an entire lifestyle; so much more than just a pretty garden that the owners might get to enjoy when they’re not too busy, it clearly depicts a complete way of life.
The outbuildings are key to the feel of this garden, providing a raison d’être for each individual plant. All seem to adorn one barn or another, purposefully anchoring the bricks and mortar (or timber and nails) to the land. In return, the buildings create walls of each garden room, providing structure in a way that feels entirely uncontrived. As you walk past ‘The Dairy’ on one side, ‘The Barn’ on the other with the enormous vegetable patch in front of you, the whole place strongly exudes ‘the good life’.
Mickey and Larry Robertson bought Glenmore House in 1988, then a cottage inhabited by wildlife and surrounded by weeds. Mickey, an interior designer, jumped at the chance of creating a garden, despite her urban roots. Clearly, she has many talents beyond interior design.
With one exception (which I’ll come to), everything in this garden has exquisite ‘fit’. Mickey has an extremely discerning eye, finding just the right materials and products to adorn and furnish the grounds of her property, adding character and interest in a manner of ease; there is no pretension or conspicuousness to her style.
The one exception, for me, are the dramatic Agave at the front of the main house. I love their simplicity, I love their colours against the sandstone and grey metal but standing in front of them I felt they swamped and overly dominated a picture postcard cottage, competing with it in a negative way. The house is very Australian (with a hint of England), and such bold, Mexican specimens look out of place to me, masking most of the ground floor. Despite Agave americana‘s common name, ‘century plant’, it rarely lives for more than 30 years, so perhaps (doing my calculations since 1988) it is time to refresh this planting soon?!
The mix of plants is diverse, with subtropical-looking Strelitzia (actually from South Africa), Mediterranean-looking Perovskia (actually from Central Asia) and English-looking roses (actually, on the whole, from China) all finding their space alongside the American Agave. In fact, the only group that is conspicuously missing is Australian natives.
I don’t know if it was through trial and error or great skill from the start, but this garden is one of the best I have seen for ‘right plant, right place’: the more tropical plants finding protected corners or warm stone walls; the ever-tough Acanthus, finding a roothold amongst large, established trees; Oleander hedges currently being extended further in areas of full sun; and huge banks of gorgeous Hydrangea in the shade of a barn. It pains me to say it, but I do love this kind of ‘sensible’ planting; choosing species that actually want to be in the little microclimate they find themselves in. Mickey has created a garden full of happy, healthy plants, which no doubt have a much lower than average incidence of pest and disease and require far less ongoing maintenance. Plants in their ‘right’ place also inherently look right to me.
Sadly, my photos don’t really do the garden justice; they were taken at the end of a particularly damp, grey day (think squelchy, thick mud everywhere), just two weeks after freak storms, in the last few weeks of autumn, as many plants were shutting down for winter. It occurs to me that we (generally) have such wonderful ‘garden light’ here in Australia: even in our harsh, midday sunlight, gardens look beautiful against the blue sky, shadows implying warm rays of sun.
Of course, gardens photograph at their best in soft, early morning or late afternoon sunlight, and I wonder if this as partly due to the calmness that we associate with these times of the day. As we look at a photograph of a softly lit garden, we imagine walking around the garden with a cup of tea before anyone else awakens, or perhaps with a quiet glass of wine after the busyness of the day.
Despite the poor light shown here, I hope these photos have captured enough to transport you to ‘the good life’ for a moment or two. Perhaps life in the country is not all it’s cracked up to be, but I’m certainly very happy to keep dreaming about it for a long time yet.