Traditionally, when we think of highly sophisticated gardens, it’s often grand parterres and well-clipped, formal hedges and topiary that come to mind.
“having, revealing, or involving a great deal of worldly experience and knowledge of fashion and culture”,
contains an element of timeliness; it is related to fashion and culture. So whilst big country estates, with their parterres or Capability Brown landscapes were certainly sophisticated in their time (and continue to appeal to us, historically, today), surely repeating this style in 2015 shows a certain lack of sophistication?
I visited the garden at Kiloren, in Crookwell, in 2012, and was extremely taken with its beauty. However, a return trip this weekend highlighted to me that it really was in a whole other league to most ‘beautiful’ gardens. There are, quite simply, very few gardens that show the level of skill of Kiloren.
It’s not surprising that Kiloren is special. It was originally designed, in 1952, by arguably Australia’s best garden designer of all time, Edna Walling. Since then, it has had just two sets of owners; the first of which clearly appreciated the design that they commissioned, and the second, the current owners, have retained the design ethos but, I am quite sure, taken it on to a whole new level.
Rob and Jennie Churchill have lived at the property since 1982 and this second generation of Kiloren guardians is equally as skilful as Miss Walling.
Gardens are all about balance. Just enough of this particular factor, but not too much. There are so many design elements–contrast, harmony, light, shadow, proportion, unity–and each has a perfect sweet spot. This sweet spot is different in every garden; hence why garden visiting is endlessly fascinating, and hence why garden design is endlessly complex.
To find the sweet spot in just one dimension, requires an extremely sharp eye, as well as, generally, a good few years of trial and error. After 34 years of working the garden, week in, week out, it is hard to see a single improvement, on any dimension, that could be suggested to Rob and Jennie.
As you walk around this serene property, everything looks effortless. You see self seeded plants popping up everywhere you look. Surely this is nature at its best? But a trained eye can see that nature doesn’t result in gardens like this. This is ‘effortlessly chic’ at its very best.
I’ve always loved the idea of effortlessly chic. For interior design, hairstyles and fashion, I’m attracted to the idea of things looking stylish, without any hint of contrivance or of trying too hard. I tend to achieve the ‘effortless’ without the ‘chic’, particularly where clothes, hair and make-up are involved, but then that’s why I’m a garden designer, not a fashion designer; I’m just not passionate enough about those other areas!
You can see the effortlessly chic style shine through in so many areas of the garden. I became quite fixated by this simple gate, for example. It’s a bog standard, somewhat weathered, timber gate, but I just couldn’t take my eyes off it. It provided a focal point, a frame, a backdrop, a dividing mechanism, a contrast, character….I could go on and on. It was just perfect. Not trying too hard, not shouting a statement; just effortlessly chic.
In the same way, bird baths throughout the garden–very simple, stone structures–created a similar effect. They weren’t in your face and yet they added so much. They added life, reflection, atmosphere. Again, effortlessly chic.
I also noticed that, in this cold temperate climate, the colours were very soft. Most, but not all, of the flowers were pastel shades; softer than many colours seen in warmer climes. And yet it wasn’t a textbook colour scheme, there was a very broad mix that looked perfect together, whilst giving the impression of being entirely random.
Another aspect that was perfectly balanced was the light. There are many mature trees in this garden, but Rob and Jennie carry out extensive pruning every year. It is a delicate operation, optimising for the majesty of the trees whilst maintaining dappled, rather than oppressive light. We visited in the late afternoon and the light was completely magical; I could have gazed, entirely transfixed by the light, until well past sunset.
This property is blessed with basalt soil and a decent rainfall, which transpires in the lush, sweeping lawns that unify the garden. There is moss in the shadier parts, daisies in the sunnier parts, all adding their sparkle to the magic.
Jennie told us that they have got bolder with their decisions over the years. That they are now happy to try things and to open up canopies and experiment where they might not have risked it earlier on. It is clear that they adore their space, that they have put their heart and soul into creating their piece of paradise and how lucky for Kiloren that its loving owners have such huge artist talent.
I often find gardens that I love. But I rarely find whole properties that I yearn to move into tomorrow. Grand properties are often stunning to look at, but I would hate to be responsible for one. Kiloren has a characterful, homely, cosy house, nestled into the contours of the land, that quite literally hugs the terrace and looks out on to trees and lawn and beautiful, naturalistic planting from each and every window. It almost never happens that everything comes together all at once in the same place, but its masterly creators and owners have meant that Kiloren is one such property.
It is, quite simply, heaven.
You can see more about the garden on its very own website, here.