As we drive down the narrow, twisting driveway of Stringybark Cottage it is immediately clear that a very special garden is unfolding. Fabulous colours, textures and artwork are laid out with the skill of an instinctive artist.
Cheryl Boyd, a garden designer based in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast, has created this magnificent garden over the last 25 years and I was lucky enough to be having a personal tour.
Cheryl takes me through the meandering pathways of approximately two acres of landscaped garden, all set against majestic stands of mature Eucalypts reaching as far as the eye can see. Sculpture plays an important, but not overplayed, role in this garden with many of the pieces designed and handcrafted by Cheryl herself.
As we explore further I see extensive areas of creative planting combinations. Cheryl cleverly combines temperate plants, such as deciduous magnolias with very tropical heliconias, in a way that somehow looks completely natural.
She uses a lot of lime-coloured foliage, mixed in with darker shades, which brightens up the shady areas and shows off each species to its greatest potential.
There were three key lessons that I was reminded of at Stringybark Cottage. Firstly, not to underestimate the immense adaptability of most plants. Regardless of their natural habitat, many plants will grow quite happily in a wide range of climates. I am a big believer in selecting plants that will thrive in the exact microclimate they are located in, meaning that they grow healthily with little maintenance. However, it is always good to test the boundaries and I have been inspired to experiment with some plants from Cheryl’s garden here in Sydney. There were a number of subtropical plants that all text books would describe as ‘moisture-loving’ and yet Cheryl can leave for up to a couple of months with no water at all.
The second message was around the use of colour. Very colourful gardens packed with lots of flowers or bright foliage often have huge impact, but the downside of all this energy is that they may not feel so relaxing to hang about in. At the other end of the scale, very green gardens often feel very soothing, but they sometimes have little to hold the eye or attention. There is an elusive sweet spot, somewhere between these extremes, where the overriding feeling is of natural peacefulness, but where there is just enough colour to draw the eye and hold the breath. Different gardens call for different styles, but not many achieve such a perfect balance as this. Cheryl also takes good care to blend textures; bold, large leaves softened by airy ferns, again finding that clever balance.
The third message I took was around the placement of artwork and sculpture. Anyone can buy a piece of sculpture and site it in their garden. Few can site it well. I asked Cheryl how she thought about this and she modestly answered ‘with difficulty’. For artwork to complement, work with and add to rather than detract from a garden there needs to be some unspoken connection between the two. Cheryl sites spheres within a circular clearing, she builds arbours with tree trunks fallen just metres away and she creates a simple layered stone piece, close to a stone wall. She instinctively knows what works and repeats her magic again and again.
The mark of a great design to me, is that no one thing stands out. Everywhere you look there is beauty and surprise and yet nothing dominates or takes over and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Cheryl has achieved this in spades with the stunning Stringybark Cottage garden.
For more outstanding Australian gardens I can highly recommend a blog I have recently discovered, www.ouraustraliangardens.com.
Cheryl is happy to have visits by appointment. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.