Daffodils at Rydal: Opening my mind

Mixed dafodills and jonquils at Chapel House, Rydal

Mixed daffodils and jonquils at Chapel House, Rydal

By some enormous stroke of good luck, a few days before the Daffodils at Rydal event, someone asked Paul what his favourite plants were. By even better luck, one of the three plants that came into his mind happened to be daffodils. Aha, I thought. I’m not one to miss a garden trip opportunity.

Stunning, furry buds of Salix caprea

Stunning furry buds of Salix caprea

Jo, one of the organisers of Daffodils at Rydal, had kindly emailed me about the event. It sounded like fun, but it was two and a half hours from Sydney and it clashed with so many other spring garden events. As the time got closer, I was also slightly unsure about daffodils. In Australia?

Early tulips, daffodils and geese at Chapel House, Rydal

Early tulips, daffodils and geese at Chapel House, Rydal; all tie together beautifully

Spring is the big time for Australian plants. They all get their flowers out in one big spring burst before the onset of summer heat and drought. And really, daffodils couldn’t be more different to Australian flowers. Our flowers, generally so subtle, often small and usually spread amongst the foliage. Daffodils, well, they are bold and brash and bright and associated with English gardens; they could never pass for a local.

Avenue of snowflakes at Chapel House, Rydal

Avenue of snowflakes at Chapel House, Rydal

I’m not one for thinking that Australian gardens should only grow Australian plants, but I do think a sense of locality is a real asset. The English garden style has evolved over hundreds of years and whether it has any English natives or not, the traditional style and choice of plants fit perfectly along an English streetscape. The majority of plants have a similar tone of green to the natural vegetation and the same delicate, lush, herbaceous growth. They look like they are meant to be.

Silver birch and daffodils: a match made in heaven. At Chapel House, Rydal

Silver birch and daffodils: a match made in heaven. At Chapel House, Rydal

In Australia, so many gardens still take their lead from England, despite our radically different climate and natural vegetation. I feel we are really missing a trick in creating a new style which gives a nod to the Australian landscape, whilst still offering a cheery, beautiful outlook. Cranbourne manages this, as does Barangaroo, but how often do we see home gardens that have any connection to the landscape around them?

Magnolia blossoms, near Rydal

Have you ever seen a tree so full of Magnolia blossoms? I saw this just outside Rydal and got Paul to slam on the brakes so I could take a photo!

Boat’s End garden, in South Australia, seems to do this very well. I’ve not yet visited, but photos I’ve seen look outstanding, despite seemingly low numbers of natives. It’s the colours and the textures and the forms that seem to give a real feel of Australia.

Geese on the lake at Chapel House, Rydal

Geese on the lake and the bursting open of willow leaf buds at Chapel House, Rydal

There’s also a home garden in Western Australia that I want to share with you shortly, but I’m struggling to come up with many more than two. A couple of Victorian designers I know focus on natives, but they, along with amateur native designers, are very few and far between.

Beautiful display of daffodils at Karingal, Rydal

Thoughtful display of daffodils at Karingal, Rydal

But I’m getting sidetracked. The point is that despite sitting in subtropical Sydney, thinking daffodils were a misfit, I was amazed and delighted to find that daffodils in the hills looked absolutely stunning. Not in the slightest out of place.

Daffodils and Acacia at Pioneer Park in Rydal

Daffodils and Acacia look fantastic together, here at Pioneer Park in Rydal

They looked perfectly fitting next to yellow Acacia. They set off the trunks of eucalypts almost as well. They integrated with the rolling hills and the local stone walls and I soon felt that Rydal without daffodils would be utterly wrong! The beautiful nineteenth century stone cottages and public buildings looked just right with a splash of yellow outside on a bright spring day. It really was a wake up for me.

St Matthew's Church in Rydal, built from local stone in 1869

St Matthew’s Church, Rydal; built from local stone in 1869

The key lesson is that for a garden to look ‘right’, it has to fit with its surroundings in some way; it needs connections to other vegetation, to its buildings, to its people. But we have to think laterally and we have to relax preconceptions; the smallest little hamlet has its own unique sense of place that we can build on, magnify and bring a very special feel to.

Gorgeous violets in Rosie's garden

Gorgeous violets in Rosie’s garden, Rose Cottage, Rydal

It’s often hard to put your finger on the exact reason for a place–be that a house; a garden; a village; a park or a city centre–feeling so special. But as I’ve thought about this more and more, that phrase, ‘a sense of place’ is virtually always relevant. There is something distinctive about it, something that makes it unique, something that ties the place together, which our brains interpret as special. We may not be aware of the reasons, but we are very aware of connecting with a place, of understanding it as a whole and of the positive emotions we experience whilst there.

Natural stream at Chapel House, Rydal

This narrow stream running through the garden at Chapel House could not be more sympathetic to its surroundings. It invited you to take a seat and sit peacefully for hours

Daffodils at Rydal

Daffodils at Rydal; so cheery

I looked at the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites when I got home from Rydal. Some, such as Angkor Wat, are extremely old, but others, such as the Sydney Opera House, are relatively new. And yet experiencing both these examples has sent shivers down my spine. They are unique, they are distinctive, they have created an incredible sense of place around them.

Rosie's garden store full of daffodils and other goodies

Rosie’s garden store; stocked full of daffodils and other goodies and beautiful in its own right

And whilst we might struggle to create an Angkor Wat in our back garden, we can use the concept of these places, to create something very special. Something that talks to its surroundings, something that becomes bigger over time as it connects up with more and more in the vicinity, something that eventually has the character of Rydal at daffodil time. We need to look for patterns and connections and build on these until the sense of distinctiveness is clear. Not to clone things, but to complement them and create a definite character and sense of unity.

Forest View history, Rydal

Classic Australian practice of chainsawing a house into two and moving it somewhere else

Forest view today, Rydal

It looks pretty good in its new position and try as I might, I could not see the join! Not bad for $3,000 in 2000

If you live in the Sydney area, I’d thoroughly recommend a drive up to Rydal this weekend to see the spectacle of the Daffodils event. You can follow the heritage walk around the village, learn about its 1870s boom and see the stunning architecture from this time, you can pop into one of many gardens that are open, see my favourite Rose Cottage and the natural Pioneer Park. Then head over to Chapel House, for a completely sublime experience. I left these magnificent gardens with a very sad Paul who just wanted to move in tomorrow!

Views to the hills from Karingal, Rydal

Glorious views to the hills from Karingal, Rydal

Not only will you have a wonderful day out, but hopefully, like me, you will feel the sense of place that Rydal has developed, and continues to develop, over the past one hundred and fifty years. By observing places with a unique identity, it helps us to see our own areas in a new light. To see what is special about our own garden, street, suburb or town and see how we can add to and grow that identity for the benefit of its residents for the next one hundred and fifty years and beyond. What better gift to leave behind?

10 thoughts on “Daffodils at Rydal: Opening my mind

  1. Deirdre says:

    I totally agree that cold-climate bulbs look totally wonderful in the inland country areas of NSW, which have the perfect climate for them! Rydal looks amazing and I hope to get there one day.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Thanks, Deirdre. Of course I should have already known that, having lived in Canberra for several years, but it’s funny how you forget! It’s hard to comprehend that driving out for a couple of hours can change the scenery so drastically. Hope you enjoy Rydal as much as I did.

  2. Adriana Fraser says:

    What is not to love about daffodils – they cheer up even the worst of Victoria’s winter and early spring weather and I can see their sunny faces out of my office window even as I type this. Rydal sounds great Janna. Another for the promised must-visit list?

    • jannaschreier says:

      Yes, the list is progress! How nice to look out on daffodils from your office. I did have some jonquils in Sydney for my first winter here. They came in a pot from Canberra. Whilst they were pretty they sadly just looked ridiculous. A bit like cacti in England I guess. We are forecast 29 degrees tomorrow; it’s no surprise they don’t suit us really.

  3. Louise Dutton says:

    What a stunning magnolia…..how lucky you were to come upon it! Truly spectacular! Another garden to visit. They are piling up, I certainly will be busy when I can finally find the time to visit all these magnificent gardens! In the meantime, you continue to inspire me to think about developing my own garden. I am looking forward to watching the growth and colour this Spring.

    • jannaschreier says:

      I’ll let Paul know that his emergency stop was well appreciated! I hope your magnolia looks like that in years to come. It will be very exciting to watch the growth in your garden this spring. So often plants focus on putting roots down first and only once that has been done, do you get significant top growth. A lot of your plants should be on to that stage by now, which is great, especially as we are supposed to be in for a dry summer. Can’t wait to see some photos!

  4. Jeremy Finkelstein says:

    I really feel that a ‘sense of place’ has to be one of the most important influences when designing a garden. I recently traveled around England and Wales looking at gardens and it was amazing how even in such a comparatively small area and with such similar climate, how often the feelings of place had completely changed the garden style.

    What I am wondering, and maybe you’d be able to help answer.. how does the sense of place really affect a residential garden in an suburban environment? I’m not sure that looking at the gardens of the neighbours is always what the garden should be based off, and whilst sometimes a house will be able to inspire and direct a garden style and feel, often an average looking house is what causes the owners to invest in a garden in the first place, to hopefully bring attention away from the house itself! Part of me wants to just move to the countryside where gardens can really borrow from the landscape and that sense of space is paramount, but inner-city Melbourne is certainly a more challenging environment, I guess.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Thanks for your comment, Jeremy; it is music to my ears! I think about this question continually, although find many don’t agree with its importance.
      In the short term, the two additional factors I look to are the personalities of the owners (e.g. formal/quirky/laid back and also nationality/passions etc) and the integration of strong, unifying components (e.g. a broadly Australian, eco-friendly or artistic theme). Suburban gardens can have a very strong ‘micro’ sense of place in this way, particularly if they are well enclosed. I can think of a number of excellent examples.
      More macro senses of place in the UK have been developed over hundreds of years and I think we just have to be patient here. I believe Australia is still in the early stages of finding its senses of place (particularly in relation to gardening); we’ve done English gardens, we’ve done native (and rejected it) and I think over time we will find new hybrid styles that endure in the long term. A celebrity designer type could speed up this process by championing a new look and achieving broad scale buy-in, but, as you point out, each area then needs to diversify from there. I don’t feel I’m going to really see it in my lifetime.
      I’m thinking of doing my Masters thesis on this topic, so I’ll hopefully develop more satisfactory answers/thoughts, but in the meantime, I, like you, dream of country living!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s