In mid March members of the Australian Garden History Society enjoyed a lovely day out in the Yarra Valley. It was good to see countryside less drought stressed than it has been in previous years. Our trip included two gardens open to the public. The National Trust historic farm ‘Gulf Station’ is always a delight to visit and the dedicated volunteers gave us an excellent description of the pioneer history. ‘Alwyn Gardens’ was a perfect spot for lunch.
This extensive garden is an inspiration demonstrating many design concepts. It is a wonderful example of passionate garden makers who love to experiment with contemporary and traditional concepts.
One of the advantages of belonging to the AGHS is that we get to visit private gardens and enjoy a personal tour and talk by the owner. At ‘Lubra Bend’, AGHS member and owner Rosemary Simpson shared her journey of overcoming imposed disruption of her paddocks, devastating bush fires and constructing a natural landscape complete with billabongs, dry creeks (in the summer) and stunning sculpture.
Rosemary explained how ‘Lubra Bend’, the property was originally taken up by newspaper proprietor David Syme in the 1860s. At that time it included all the land between Healesville and Yarra Glen. In the 1960s the Russell Stokes family purchased the property and established a wonderful Guilford Bell house with an extensive garden of oaks, elms camellias, magnolias and an extensive cypress hedge.
In 1999, Rosemary and her late husband Bob moved into this now mature landscape to embark on new challenge. In the following years they resurrected the croquet lawn, reinvigorated the orchard, created new paths and avenues and installed a swimming pool. They also planted many trees in conjunction with Melbourne Water. Rosemary also created a substantial vegetable garden using the ‘no dig’ method.
After Bob passed away in 2006 Rosemary engaged award winning landscape designer Philip Johnson to create a rock and water garden for the dry and barren entrance paddock. We experienced the result as we entered the property enjoying the wonderful contrast of dry garden set around rocks and ponds. The sound of falling water added to the experience as the last of the lotus flowers surrounded by dramatic seedpods. The planting was a mix of natives and exotic plants but all were drought tolerant.
Johnson was contracted again in 2007 to extend the water way from the top pools down a cascade, through the camellia grove and on through to the wetlands. Further landscaping included a massive set of Aztec-style steps which enabled an easy transition down the steep slope. There is a further billabong along the descent as the water works its way to the river below.
Johnson describes his design as,
‘A sprawling wetlands which meander across the 300+ acre property, assisting with fire safety and home to an abundance of wildlife. Requiring no mains water, storm water management systems sustain the vast network of billabongs, where a habitat corridor has been created linking the property to the Yarra River. Hand selected boulders showcase Nature’s sculptural brilliance. The soul of the landscape is the lower billabong, which was transformed from an old disused tennis court. Stormwater runoff is captured here, with overflow going directly back into the Yarra River, bordering the site. Permeable winding gravels paths and stepping stones invite exploration and also aid water capture. The entire landscape was built working with existing soil from the site. Sustainable mulches are created from composted green waste. Considerable land contouring has been done to increase water capture, retention and enhance overall aesthetics’.
On Australia Day weekend 2009 Rosemary opened the garden for Open Gardens Australia. Ten days laters they were completely burnt out in the bushfires, but their neighbours fought all night and saved the three cottages, the garden and the house. Six years later it is hard to imagine that devastation, despite being the end of summer the dry garden and ponds at the entrance looked stunning. The display gardens and vegetable garden near the house had plenty of colour and vigour, large globes of quince hung from the trees in the orchard.
The paths that led down to the river were enticing and the planting sat very comfortably in the landscape. This landscape has been on my ‘wish list’ for quite some time and I certainly was not disappointed.
The garden is open strictly by appointment. For more info go to www.lubrabend.com.au to enquire about a garden visit email email@example.com