Charm of the Country

Charm of the Country


japanese gardensDesigned to stand the test of time, this rural garden fuses relaxed country charm with formal elegance
Story: Natalie Raad

Photos: Brigid Arnott

Winner of the 2008 Residential Regional Open Category in the NSW Landscape Contractors Association Awards of Excellence, and rated in the top five landscapes for 2008, this garden exhibits all the qualities of an award-winning property and more.

Located on a working cattle farm in the upper Hunter Valley, an area in New South Wales noted for its wineries, horse studs and stunning scenery, this homestead yearned for a romantic country-style garden to make the rural idyll complete.

Designed by Michael Cooke Design and constructed by Nature’s Vision Landscapes, the spacious country garden combines the right mix of formal styling and relaxed rustic charm.

“The aim was to create a gracious, unpretentious garden – the sort of place where guests could celebrate a country wedding on a sweep of lawn in front of the house,” says Michael Cooke from Michael Cooke Design.

Paved garden paths of reconstituted stone pavers lead you through lawns and past beds of flowering plants. Strategically placed garden seats provide places where you can sit and enjoy the serenity, while water features add a cooling element.

“The design is simple but takes the surrounding countryside into consideration in respect to views and location,” says landscaper Adam Eurell, owner of Nature’s Vision Landscapes.

Adam describes the garden as that of a country style with formal elements. Formal touches come in the guise of an avenue of Manchurian pears and a large tiered fountain of classical design which rises up from a simple reflection pond positioned on an axis running from the front door.

“The landscape design sits nicely around the renovated residence and surrounding natural landscape of rolling grass hills and rocky escarpments,” he adds.

In addition to aesthetics, the design also needed to be practical as the owners run a working cattle farm so access was needed for heavy machinery and trucks.

“As a working farm, it was essential that the infrastructure was established to accommodate workers, livestock and transport trucks — a garden that looked beautiful and worked, too,” says Michael.

Michael first visited the site prior to major renovations to the original homestead. At that stage, he says: “There were a few semi-mature trees close to the house and there was a collection of sheds and outbuildings to consider.”

Because the home is situated on an exposed hill top, windbreaks had to be established to protect the garden from the winter cold and sizzling summer heat.

“We started with the entry and roads and divided the garden with an outer perimeter with a broad sweep of native trees,” says Michael.

“The machinery shed was disguised with screen planting and an entry was established to lead visitors to the front door where a formal axis was created with an avenue of pears, pond and fountain.”

The broad path is bordered with grasses and perennials and is protected from the prevailing winds by a grey Feijoa hedge. Fruit trees and herbs shelter behind a bay of laurel hedge to the side of the house and a mixed border of shrubs has been established beneath old peppercorn trees.

Being a rural property, there were a few challenges embedded in this project. The garden beds required special consideration if plant growth was to occur, given the project was completed in 2005, towards the end of the drought and the ground was, according to Adam, as solid as concrete.

“Incorporating organic solis with existing site soil and the installation of a complex irrigation system led to the success of plant growth,” says Adam. A continued maintenance program of regular mulching and fertilising has also ensured continued plant growth. “With minimal rainfall and hot dry conditions, all of the above have contributed to the gardens success,” he says.

Surface drainage was another special consideration for this project. Given considerable runoff is collected on the top side of the garden when it rains, it was important to ensure water was diverted away from the residence. This was achieved with a number of grass drainage swales within lawn areas to the edge of the driveway. Large concrete swales were also constructed where water crosses the driveway.

In addition to the obstacles during the design and construction of the garden, there are also on-going challenges with this type of landscape.

“Hot dry summers with minimal rainfall and cold frosty winters — neither are the ideal conditions for gardens,” says Adam. “

Another key challenge is keeping the gardens and lawns free from weeds as all paddocks are pasture sown on a seasonal basis. “Seed is ever present and after rainfall occurs, weeds seem to spring into action,” says Adam.

However, thanks to sound garden preparation and the installation of a comprehensive irrigation system, the garden is off to a good start.

According to Adam, the main features are the formal pond and Manchurian pear avenue. “The driveway arrival area opens onto an extended entry path and mixed flowering plantings all framed by a formal hedge,” he says.

The garden’s planting scheme involves hedges and numerous perennial as well as flowering shrubs.

Flowering plant species, some of which are scented, predominate and contribute to the look of country comfort. The planting palette includes roses, rosemary, lavender, iris, oleander, sedum, salvia, and santolina. Once the plants have reached full maturity, the garden will be awash in a sea of seasonal colour.

In keeping with the trend towards increased sustainability, the design called for a large herb and vegetable garden. A demolition sandstone retaining wall was constructed in order to elevate the garden bed from the surrounding lawn. This also reinforced the country-style ambience.

The overall design of the garden is classic, meaning it won’t date. With its stunning views over flood plains and grazing land, and with a natural country serenity, this rural garden is designed — and built — to stand the test of time.