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Adelaide Hills Gardens – a review

Trevor Nottle

Trevor Nottle

February 23, 2021

A coffee table book is a coffee table book is a coffee table book; a paraphrase of a well-known circular poem by Gertrude Stein; the rose and the coffee table book are ubiquitous in every publishers repertoire but marked by great diversity.

Christine McCabe’s new book covers much new ground in her review of Adelaide Hills gardens as evolutionary melting pots.

Unlike similar books from other states which put much emphasis on the grand and historic McCabe’s book uses old Nineteenth Century gardens as the jumping off point for a survey of new gardens that express new personal visions and fresh insights into the nature of gardens in what is a warming and drying climate.

As her bridge across the century the author chose to illustrate the Grove Hill site just below Norton Summit, which was more an experimental adventure for its Nineteenth Century owner, Charles Giles than a garden.

Grove Hill garden. Image, Simon Griffiths

It makes a powerful statement about the determination with which South Australians have adapted to the climate and made successful gardens. It is a theme which is carried forward up to the present day in McCabe’s selection of gardens included in her book.

The small gardens illustrated are a pleasing inclusion in a genre of books that are all too often focussed on large estate gardens created by wealth and power. This book has a few such important gardens but they are well balanced by the proportion of smaller gardens. The smaller gardens are more varied too so the book has a richness and texture that is not always created when large, costly  gardens dominate.

Beechwood. Image, Simon Griffiths

The author’s voice is chatty, informed and observant with delightful reflections on the gardens and the characters who made them, or own them. In some respects McCabe considers herself to be the outsider that she was when she first arrived in the Adelaide Hills 20 years ago. This is a handy device by which to draw her readers into her confidences and one that is stylistically charming and endearing. It seems readers have a friend guiding them through the gardens she drops in on, as indeed they do.

What stands out most about Adelaide Hills Gardens is the subtle wit with which McCabe has created a mix of gardens that neatly covers the possibilities raised by the title but also looks forward to gardens, at least seven of them, that are exploring the future of gardens in the region.

Glenalta. Image, Simon Griffiths

Stepping outside the familiar and comfortable old, grand and rich formula for garden coffee table books has allowed the author to significantly broaden the public discourse about the nature of gardens and garden making in Twenty First Century Australia.

Adelaide Hills Gardens by Christine McCabe, is published by Thames & Hudson, Melbourne, Australia, 2020, and the RRP is $80.00.


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