Sydney Harbour heads, Balmoral Beach and Sydney Harbour National Park. These were all part of my wondrous daily walk for three very spoilt years. But at the beginning of March, Paul and I relocated to London. Gosh. Arriving to snow didn’t help matters, especially as a move had never been part of our game plan. It was just one of those opportunities that pops up from nowhere and before you know it you are off.
I did feel excited about being close to Europe, about all those English gardens and even projects such as New York’s High Line suddenly feeling within reach. But I genuinely felt fear. Fear of leaving behind my beloved Australia and fear of that terribly cold, grey weather I had hated and not missed one bit over the previous eight years.
As I sit here, two months on, I’m pleasantly surprised by how this change feels. I can’t wait to visit Sydney: to see friends, take a ferry out on the harbour and immerse myself in the spectacle of its natural beauty once more. But I wouldn’t say I’m missing Sydney, per se.
My morning walk now follows the Serpentine, in London’s Hyde Park. Catching a glimpse of the London Eye, rotating above the tree tops, reminds me of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, which similarly appears from nowhere when you’re least expecting it. And 625 acres of parkland more than fills my ‘green’ needs, which are accentuated in big, bad cities.
I’m struck by how different the parkland is here. It’s just so green; an entirely different green to the one of Australian landscapes. It’s not better or worse, just different, and quite exciting for it. I love exploring the naturalistic plantscapes and seeing the formal gardens. I love feeling small under the embracing, majestic trees and experiencing the buzz of human activity: children feeding ducks and paddle-boating-students laughing.
But I do feel a strong pull from Australia. A yearning inside me that will never go away. One that tells me I will definitely be back to live there some day. But it’s not for the Sydney harbour or for Balmoral Beach. What I’m missing, already, is the Australian bush. That vast expanse of untouched landscape. The soft foliage colours, deep red soils and the bright, beating sun from a dazzlingly blue sky.
I didn’t even experience it that often, not the bush proper. But being far away from it feels wrong, somehow. It’s almost like an anxiety, knowing that I can’t just get there, should I ‘need’ to. The best way I can describe it is that the bush has ‘got under my skin’. It is there, inside my head, a persistent and compelling drawcard.
I guess cities are cities the world over, to a certain extent. And whilst London is an amazing city and I’m very excited about the opportunities it brings, it’s never built-up areas that really capture my heart. And although I love the English countryside, I never missed it whilst we were away, as I do the Australian bush, so surprisingly soon after we left.
I haven’t done much garden visiting so far – it’s a somewhat seasonal activity over here – but already I can see that my tastes are changing. It has cemented a thought that has developed over the years, that gardens, in any country, should reflect the natural landscape around them. Even in cities, they can be connected to the original natural space.
So whilst I’m excited to plan trips to the very English Sissinghurst Castle gardens and the eccentric Great Dixter, a part of me still remains over in Australia. And when I daydream of my second ‘homeland’, there is one vision that just keeps coming back to me, again and again.
That vision is of Boat’s End garden in South Australia. Despite it having a majority of exotic species, it just epitomises Australia for me. It celebrates all that makes Australia ‘Australia’: the unique colours of its landscape, the forms of its gum trees and small-leaved shrubs, the rustic materials so synonymous with country Australia. It doesn’t try to be anything different, it doesn’t fight the drought or strong sun. Instead, it embraces all that we love about the country and accentuates its strengths, in the process delivering something that looks natural and beautiful and effortless, calming and serene, a thriving ecologic community.
So whilst I’ll be designing with an emerald green plant palette for the next few years, it is the muted reds, golds, greys and greens that I will be dreaming of in Australia; exactly as I saw at this beautifully curated South Australian garden.
I’d highly encourage you to visit* Boat’s End garden for yourself. Wherever you are from, it’s impossible not to feel the incredible fit that this garden has with its place in the world. It sits so extraordinarily comfortably in its landscape. And to me, there’s probably no more important element in the practice of garden design.
In the meantime, Sarah, thank you for inspiring me and giving me such beautiful memories of your breathtaking garden. I will definitely be back for another visit. I’m not sure exactly when, but I imagine it might be just one too many days of grey, English skies that sees me logging on to qantas.com.au…
[* Boat’s End garden is next open on 17-18 September 2016 as part of the South Australian Open Garden Scheme. See if you can get there!]