A glorious Hamptons-style garden in the Southern Highlands

Time, patience and a passion for overseas gardens inspires a magnificent Southern Highlands patch that has grown in tandem with its owners.
Loading the player...

These are the days when tangy woodsmoke scents the air and bursts of russet and gold ignite the landscape in Melinda and Tom’s glorious garden in the NSW Southern Highlands. Lovingly brought to life over nine years, the formerly sparse two hectares offer the couple an experience to savour in every season – yet it’s in the cooler months that it becomes a full-sensory delight.

GROWN WITH LOVE “We didn’t have a single hydrangea in this whole garden when we arrived – it must have been one of the only gardens in the Highlands that didn’t have any,” says Melinda (pictured, with husband Tom and their children, from left, Charlie, Amelia and Poppy). “And as it’s my favourite flower, Tom planted and propagated a lot.”

“I love those mid-winter afternoons with friends around the bonfire,” says interior designer Melinda, the founder of Melinda Hartwright Interiors. “Whenever we’ve got a big pile to burn off, we get friends around. Everyone brings camp chairs and we sit around the fire with bottles of champagne and bowls of soup, all rugged up, as it gets dark.”

With its pin oak, silver birch and London plane trees, hydrangeas, entertaining area, sparkling pool, orchard and the classiest vegie patch you’ve ever seen, this garden is an indispensable part of life for Melinda, Tom and their children, Charlie, 15, Poppy, 12, and Amelia, nine.

ENTERTAINING AREA What used to be a narrow area leading from the verandah to the pool has doubled in size to create this spacious sitting area, with custom cushions by Melinda Hartwright Interiors and paved with Silver Granite pavers (try Stone Cart). A Manchurian pear tree bends over the entertaining zone, while pretty iceberg roses are layered between Buxus japonica and Escallonia iveyi hedges.

However, when they moved here from Sydney’s northern beaches in 2013, the outdoor spaces were almost bare. “It was a pretty vacant block,” says Melinda. “There were some established trees and a few hedges, but not much else.” A major renovation of the traditional-style home began six months later – the first of three, the last of which was recently completed – and the garden “has been a work in progress”.

VERANDAH When the family moved in, a dam close to the house was filled in to allow for this flat stretch of lawn, creating a stunning outlook to enjoy. Iceberg roses and hedges are flanked by Manchurian pear and ‘Capital’ pear trees.

The first step was earthworks to make way for a lawn beyond the front verandah, create a level field for the orchard and relocate a dam. “That went on for at least a month,” says Tom, who recalls it resembling “a battlefield” at first with “mud and twisted earth everywhere”.

But the couple knew exactly what they wanted. “We have a love of English gardens and American gardens, which goes hand in hand with my style of decorating,” says Melinda, who also drew inspiration from a “very dog-eared” Paul Bangay book. “We only wanted a green, white and blue garden, and some autumn colours when that came about.”

SEAMLESS STYLE “I think it’s nice if there’s a seamless flow and transition between your interiors and your outside,” says Melinda. “It just makes the whole house and garden very symbiotic and both complement each other, and there’s a really beautiful, natural flow when you’re inside looking out and outside looking in. It all just works and goes together.”

COLOUR POPS Bush roses and agapanthus in front of silver birch trees add a dash of colour in an intentionally subdued palette. “We stuck to a small variety of plants, which is more Mel’s design side of things,” says Tom. “She’ll be the first to say, ‘Don’t try and have everything in the garden. Stick with a few varieties and replicate them en masse’ – and that’s what we’ve done.”

After early, unfulfilling consultations with landscape designers, Tom and Melinda set to work themselves, and self-taught gardener Tom led the charge. “I dip my toe in every now and then, but all the hard work and the grunt, the elbow grease and blood, sweat and tears is Tom’s doing,” says Melinda of her English-born husband. “He’s out there, rain, hail or shine, in a ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ kind of way.”

Tom credits YouTube for his gardening skills. “It’s just my passion,” he says. “It’s not just gardening – I like being outside. In the winter, even when there’s not much going on in the garden, there’s always logs to be split and trees to be taken down, bonfires to light.”

SHADY NOOK Perched beneath a pin oak tree with a backdrop of hydrangeas, a French garden setting from Lydia du Bray Antiques presents an enchanting spot to pause and breathe in the serenity.

HYDRANGEA HEAVEN “Now you can sit down and feel like you’re more a part of the garden,” says Melinda of the hydrangeas, which flower until May, when “they start going rusty red. I have great joy in picking and cutting the flowers that Tom grows. We get baskets of hydrangeas all through summer, which is wonderful. I never, ever have to buy flowers”. A pergola designed by Melinda leads to the pool.

Tom’s hard work means Melinda is never short of hydrangeas.

The ongoing labour of love has been worth it. “Coming here was finding paradise,” says Melinda.”Now, with how the garden has grown up around us, we’re encased in greenery and trees and it’s beautiful. We can’t see anything but green.” Until autumn weaves its magic.

Stylish vegie patch

EDIBLE GARDEN “The vegie patch is purely a Covid-19 lockdown moment,” says Tom of the rabbit-proof structure he built with the help of YouTube tutorials. An arbour draped with passionfruit leads into the space. “It’s really a parterre garden as much as a vegie garden,” says Melinda.

SCENTED SURPRISE Sweet peas “are gorgeous for cutting”, says Melinda.

“We did a lot of research and looked at a lot of designs to come up with the shape that we wanted,” says Melinda of the parterre-style vegetable garden, where Tom has planted carrots, spinach, strawberries, onions, kiwifruit, figs and mint. “I said to Tom, ‘I don’t want it looking rustic and like it belongs on the back of a farm. It needs to look as formal and designed as everything else.’ It’s now a really lovely asset and attractive feature.”

“I love houses with orchards in England, so it’s something I always wanted to plant. We’ve got pears, plums, apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries, apples and figs,” says Tom.

TREE BENCH A London plane tree encircled by a timber bench is a highlight, especially in autumn. “It turns the most beautiful golden colour,” says Tom, who repurposed the bench, originally in Melinda’s parents’ former garden in nearby Fitzroy Falls.

“Sitting on the verandah, the lawn rolls down to the dam and that’s where you can survey the whole place. I love that,” says Melinda.

Toy cavoodle Ruby poses in front of Hydrangea macrophylla.

traditional garden style

With its time-honoured lines, classic palette and wisteria-draped French doors opening to Melinda’s beloved verandah, the home enhances the garden’s beauty – featuring bush roses, agapanthus and silver birch and ornamental pear trees – and vice versa. “Theme, scale, perspective, balance, proportion – all those things in the garden are the same as they are in the house,” notes Melinda, who, with Tom, is now reaping the fruits of their labour. For Tom, documenting the journey on Instagram as @tomsgardenpath helps him see how far they’ve come. “It’s a bit like children, the garden,” he says. “You don’t notice them growing up around you – and then you look back at photographs to realise how much they’ve grown. It’s the same with the garden.”

Bush roses add a touch of warmth to the mostly cool colour scheme.

A lichen-covered seat is an evocative touch around a London plane tree.

“Autumn is sweeping up leaves, winter is chopping wood, and spring is fertilising and getting ready for a new start,” says Tom.

Boston ivy calls to mind an English country home.

The dainty beauty of Hydrangea macrophylla (lace cap).


Design: Melinda Hartwright Interiors, @melindahartwrightsignature; @tomsgardenpath

Hydrangea paniculata lends a cottage-garden feel.

Lovely white Nymphaea hybrid hardy waterlily enhances the dam.

An abundance of agapanthus brightens the garden in warmer months.


Take a tour through Melinda and Tom’s glorious Southern Highlands home and be inspired by Melinda’s magnificent transformation of the house over three separate renovations into a Hamptons haven.

Related stories