As the days of winter gradually grow longer and the narcissus begins to flower, gardeners know that spring is not far away. Daffodils seem to have an extraordinary meteorological ability to influence the temperature, casting off winter’s stony greys with warm yellows that leave their admirers feeling decidedly peppy.
I had the opportunity to visit one of Australia’s most highly regarded heritage gardens last week while in the Blue Mountains attending a wedding. A garden in which, at this time of year, the daffodil features prominently. I’m talking, of course, about Everglades, a garden seen by many as one of the most impressive open gardens in the country, and for good reason.
Perched on the edge of a ridgeline with jaw-dropping views up the Jamieson Valley, Everglades is 13 acres of expertly crafted gardens in Leura, NSW. It was built in the 1930s by renowned Danish born landscape architect, Paul Sorensen. The claiming of Sorensen as one of our own here in Australia is an act in and of itself very Australian. Other appropriated luminaries of recent decades that highlight this wonderfully Australian tendency include actor Russel Crowe, the band Crowded House and singer Marcia Hines. All of who, although not born Australian, have contributed so much to our collective consciousness that they are considered, for all intents and purposes, Aussies of the highest order. Where the aforementioned actor, pop band and diva rose to dizzying heights, achieving some of the greatest accolades in their chosen professions, so too did Sorensen achieve great things on a grand scale with many of the gardens he built in and around the Blue Mountains.
What makes Sorensen, and Everglades, so noteworthy in the annals of Australian garden history is the sheer volume and quality of work completed by the man in his lifetime. Towards the end of his life Sorensen was asked why, unlike his southern contemporary Edna Walling, he didn’t write more on gardening and design over the years. Taking slight umbrage at the question Sorensen is reported to have responded, “While Edna Walling was busy writing about gardens, I was busy building them.” Such an acerbic response hints that Sorensen’s temperament was one of a man who took the practice of gardening and design very seriously indeed. Everglades is easily the jewel in the crown of Sorensen’s large body of work, typifying all that made him a wonderful designer.
Dry stone walling was used extensively in many of his designs but none more extensive than Everglades. The garden consists of several terraced levels, almost all of which are constructed in the dry stone style. It features many different areas that include a rockery, glade, vegetable garden, grotto, lookout and even an open air garden theatre. The garden is on a grand scale in the European tradition, reflecting the ancestry of its original owner and financier, Henri Van de Velde. Van de Velde was a wealthy industrialist with, it seems, a penchant for overdoing things (most of all his bathrooms, which are a must-see in the residence at the garden’s centre). I for one am glad old Henri was such a spendthrift when it came to his home and garden – were it not for him such a wonderfully enchanting, Great Gatsby-like garden would not exist in Australia today.
From now until spring Everglades erupts into orgastic fits of flowers, including massed displays of tulips, rhododendrons, cherries, azaleas and daffodils. It is well worth a visit if you happen to be passing by the area. I would even go as far to insist on planning a special trip up from Sydney to view this garden in the flesh, especially when the extensively planted azaleas are in full flight. Head up now to catch the last of the daffodils warming the still chilly surrounds, or pack a picnic in a few weeks time and enjoy the flowering displays.
Until next time, happy gardening.