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.
“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.
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”.
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.”
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.”
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
“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.
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.”
“Autumn is sweeping up leaves, winter is chopping wood, and spring is fertilising and getting ready for a new start,” says Tom.
TOUR MELINDA AND TOM’S HOME
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.