Our extensive young rural garden at the foot of Mount Boninyong, near Ballarat in Victoria, reflects its time and place. We are both retired architects and farmers, and had rare good luck in finding this special property, then being able to design house and surrounding landscaping as one project to produce a cohesive whole. We bought it in 2006, moved to the area from South Gippsland in 2008, and into the new rammed earth house in March 2010.
The starting point was an irregular 20 acre paddock (including the 10 acres of lake). We had to work with red volcanic soil, rocks, very strong winds and some frosts. The previous owner had done some planting mostly of Eucalyptus globulus and Acacia melanoxylon on boundary lines, but much of this had been chewed back to sticks by the cattle. All livestock were excluded after our purchase, and most trees then recovered.
The picturesque lake at the low point of the site is leased to the Millbrook Trout School, and you can walk around it to look at Mt Boninyong. About 45 acres of land is leased to a neighbour for grazing.
From the start we looked at the project as ‘landscape’ rather than ‘garden’. The general layout was conceived at the house design stage, with views from inside the house being very much part of the design, and we detailed most of the landscaping and plant selection before any work commenced. The house site is cut into a north-facing slope overlooking the water, with steep embankments in front of and behind it.
We aimed to incorporate
– flowing curved lines reflecting the sensuous natural local land forms
– transitional hard landscaping elements to help integrate the strong rectilinear lines of the house into the natural landscape
– gravel / paving / local rocks / trees / grasses / minimal house lawn areas
– simple bold scale with swathes of repetitive planting
– a broader landscape of trees and slashed/mown grass beyond the house
– plants chosen for their colour, form and texture – and toughness, so that they would require minimal watering / pruning / maintenance once established
– orchard and vegetable gardens
– some deciduous trees, to emphasise the changing seasons
Sources of inspiration and ideas included the Royal Botanic Gardens at Cranbourne – especially the ‘Australian Garden’ – and early discussions with sculptor/landscaper Mel Ogden.
Old cattle yards and some large old cypress and pine trees on the north side of the lake were removed in 2008, and we planted curving rows of eucalypts and acacias above the ‘meadow’ which is now mown in stripes. We had outside assistance with the major earthworks and rock placement, and with labour for concrete block garden walls, planting of advanced trees and laying of large concrete pavers and turf.
The dry-stone walls, ponds, most mulching, gravel spreading, raised vegetable beds and general planting we have done ourselves. Experience shows that nothing with soft leaves survives here. The fruit trees are productive but must be netted if we want any fruit.
Four Prunus ‘Shirotae’ (white flowering cherry) and a Pistacia chinensis north of the house, and the Angophora costata in the south courtyard, were planted as advanced trees in August 2010. The cherries were placed on mounds to allow views under them from the kitchen; we now sit in their dappled shade for outdoor meals in summer, on chairs or low walls. Formal lawn is minimal.
Most planting around the house was done from October to November 2010, much of it as tubestock. Some of the trees in the broader landscape, including the orchard, were planted in 2008-09.
We were extraordinarily lucky with the weather during the 2010-2011 summer. The drought broke and rain fell, giving plants every opportunity to establish. Most are thriving, though some advanced trees with poor root development blew over, and Eucalyptus caesia did not survive. Maintenance now mostly involves dead-heading euphorbias, echiums and agapanthus, and cutting back miscanthus and pennisetum grasses. Blackberries, thistles and capeweed require regular attention. And the amount of grass mowing can be daunting in the spring.
We propagate a lot of acorns and have planted an avenue of about 50 oaks nearby, along Wiggins Road.
The bird life on and around the water is prolific. We have recorded about 90 species.
‘Back Lake’ at 264 Wiggins Road, SCOTSBURN, Victoria, is opening for Open Gardens Australia on the Easter weekend 4-5 April 2015. 10am – 4.30pm. $10 entry (under 18 years free). Scotsburn is 16km from Ballarat, and an easy 1½ hour drive from Melbourne city. Tea and coffee available; plant sales. DIRECTIONS: Scotsburn is south-east of Ballarat and Buninyong. From roundabout in Buninyong take Midland Hwy A300 towards Geelong. In 3 Km turn left onto Yendon No2 Rd. In 2Km turn right into Wiggins Rd. 600 metres to garden on left. Drive in. Parking in paddock. Small buses only.