Glenmore House, Camden: An idyllic lifestyle?

Peroskia and Canna at Glenmore House. Janna Schreier

Perovskia and Canna flowering at Glenmore House

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.

Poppy field at Glenmore House. Janna Schreier

Rusted metal poppy field at Glenmore House

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’.

Low maintenance planting at Glenmore House. Janna Schreier

Garden rooms form naturally around the many outbuildings at Glenmore House

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.

Lavender and conifers. Janna Schreier

Cottagey lavender, gravel and timber gates offset against a deep green conifer hedge

Beautiful cloche. Janna Schreier

Beautiful cloches protect the lettuces from nibbling visitors

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.

Glenmore House with Agave. Janna Schreier

Agave americana at the front of the main house

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?!

Protected tropical plants at Glenmore House. Janna Schreier

Pockets of subtropical style plants bring a lush feel to this verandah

Colour at Glenmore House. Janna Schreier

This herbaceous border brings a piece of England to the New South Wales countryside

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.

Autumn texture at Glenmore House. Janna Schreier

Striking textures and plant combinations keep the autumn garden alive

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.

Calendula carpet at Glenmore House vegetable garden. Janna Schreier

This little spot in the vegetable garden reminds me of the planted pathway in Monet’s garden. Here Calendula fill the space, instead of the Nasturtium in France

Citrus guarding an entrance at Glenmore House. Janna Schreier

Citrus provide a sense of enclosure to this area where regular cookery classes take place

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.

Herbaceous borders at Glenmore House. Janna Schreier

An attractive border, despite the weather and seasonal conditions

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.

Perfect country garden seating. Janna Schreier

Perfect country garden seating at Glenmore House

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.

Plant silhouettes at Glenmore House. Janna Schreier

Plant silhouettes as we left Glenmore House

13 thoughts on “Glenmore House, Camden: An idyllic lifestyle?

  1. Mickey Robertson says:

    Hello Janna,

    What a quite delightful article about your garden visit here at the weekend. I see you are a girl of great plant and landscape wisdom.

    To answer the two very valid points you raise: first, native species run the length of the creek, at the bottom of the paddocks here, forming a natural surround and extended backdrop to the garden….and we enjoy their colour and form from almost every aspect of the garden, as well as the house. When we ‘go for a good walk’….beyond the confines of the garden fence, out beyond the dams, through the glade and down amongst the great sandstone boulders, we find ourselves in another realm altogether….with huge eucalypts towering overhead. Their unmistakable scent & shafts of sunlight causing visions of great beauty, make for an easily accessible change of scene….a good way to clear the mind. We’ve carried out an enormous amount of bush regeneration down there over the years, but there’s still a long way to go. So while there may be only a handful of eucalypts IN the garden, we are well surrounded by them, where we feel they ought to be!

    And I know….I’ll never win everyone over with the Agave americana! They were a brave, bold choice, and once upon a time, spiky plants were not my favourites. Ah…..but I learned, I grew…they are part of my own garden journey. They speak of a time of discovery…of the great plant hunters, of specimens plying the seas between lands far and wide…and they are to be found in all the local historic properties here. They anchor our house in the era in which it was built. So I didn’t plant them only for their architectural colour, form and spectacular embossed aubergine-riimmed leaves, but out of romantic notion and a nod to the era, whilst also creating some simplicity (it was wisteria & roses when we came here). They were also planned to be enjoyed from the inside (as much of the garden has been), giving a breathtaking view beyond the deep red hessian curtains in the sitting room….a living, sculpture leading the eye beyond. They have become wild monsters, with a life and shape all of their own (which we can’t control) and we love them because of it!

    I hope this puts our ‘missing plants’ & weird choices into perspective! Thanks again Janna.

    Very best wishes

    Mickey

    • jannaschreier says:

      Thanks, Mickey. Great to understand more and a shame I couldn’t catch you on Sunday. I look forward to returning and seeing ‘beyond the garden fence’ too and who knows, I may fall in love with those Agave! I actually quite like your brave, bold choice when looking at them in the photo, I just wasn’t so keen standing next to them. But as you say, our tastes significantly develop and change over time and the historic element is very appealing. I’ll be back!

  2. Adriana says:

    As soon as I saw the photo of the Agave americanas out the front of this lovely house I thought ‘eeeww’! I do like Agave, but not planted in this way. Agave can make a great architectural statement in a planting design – such as a focal point within a border etc. Something to draw your eye towards. We can legitimately and respectfully give the past a ‘nod’ by using (historical) plants sympathetically in a design but only the best specimens should have centre stage. These just overwhelm the space and detract from the lovely home (and look a little sad and floppy too – so not deserving of centre stage and asking for a standing ovation!)
    In fact that photo pulled me up so short, that I had to go back and read your post three times to enjoy the rest of this very special place Janna.

    As designers we do tend to look at gardens with a trained eye – to determine what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes I find I have to stand back and view my own garden dispassionately too, when my gut tells me something isn’t quite right. It is very hard though when your garden is also your passion! It’s a bit like a writer having to grow a thick skin, because there will always be critics amongst the fans but it’s not all bad because you can learn from critics and improve, or get new ideas or a new way of looking at things.

    I like the rest of this garden and will certainly put it on my list of ‘to visit’ in the future. I can see they have put their hearts and soul into it.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Your standing ovation made me laugh, Adriana!! I am quite sure you would love 99% of the garden though – I hope you manage to get there when you are visiting NSW some time. And the 1%, well, as you say, it’s always good to make you think…

  3. Suzanne says:

    There are certainly some very beautiful gardens here in the East. I am ‘green’ with envy. I shall return home determined to make the most of my little piece of this Earth and borrow some of the great ideas you have shown Janna. I love the woven cloches and poppies. What a beautiful home,.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Don’t be too green! I am quite sure your garden is equally as beautiful. You’ll have fun getting out in it again when you get home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that!

  4. Garden Walk Garden Talk says:

    Those rusted metal poppies are such a unique garden addition and really gave the place character and a feel of so much more to come. This was a wonderful tour with so many different styles in one place. That agave certainly makes a statement!

    • jannaschreier says:

      The poppies are gorgeous, aren’t they? Only a temporary display for the open garden, but they look quite settled there. And yes, the Agave do make a statement; always good to see adventurous planting, whether it’s your preference or not. I love having my thinking challenged.

      • Garden Walk Garden Talk says:

        They would have to be temporary here as well. Too may thieves! I don’t mind adventurous planting being a designer. Our area has created a distinctive garden type here and it all started with garden walk open gardens.

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