A bucolic off-grid cottage garden in the Southern Tablelands

Faced with an empty nest, two avid green thumbs make the move to a remote country property with enough and to create the garden of their dreams.
Brigid Arnott

You’d never guess the trials and tribulations that have plagued this idyllic patch of paradise outside of Nerriga in the NSW Southern Tablelands. In the five years that husband-and-wife duo Brad and Amanda have been here, the garden has faced countless frosts, hungry wildlife and several natural disasters. “In 2019, the drought was in full swing and we were watering every second day,” recalls Amanda. “In September we had snow… and then in December the fires came through.”

stone house cottage garden
Amanda and Brad enjoy their garden outlook. (Credit: Brigid Arnott)

The couple stayed to defend their 1850s stone cottage, which sits on nearly 13 hectares, but the damage was still significant. “We lost roughly 80 per cent of the gums on the property, along with so much habitat and wildlife,” says Amanda.

Rains followed (and never really stopped) in 2020, and they’ve been flooded several times since. It’s a testament to Amanda and Brad’s passion, hard work and tenacity that the garden exists at all, and is in fact flourishing. “It’s a lot of work, but satisfying,” says Amanda. “I was brought up with an appreciation of art and I think the garden is a creative outlet for me.”

stone cottage garden timber shack
Deep, curved garden beds filled with shade-tolerant plant species including Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan’, miscanthus, weigala, abelia, valerian and sedum ‘Autumn Joy’.

The pair purchased the property in 2017, when their children Matt and Emily moved out of the family home at Shoalhaven on the South Coast. “The climate was a big adjustment,” says Amanda. “We’re in a valley, a real frost pocket. We did a lot of research into what would grow here – and even then, plants labelled as cold and hardy shrivelled up and died!”

stone cottage parterre garden recycled brick path
Recycled brick pathways define the layout of the cottage garden that sits in front of the house. It features English box hedges, a timber garden arch at one end and a mix of cottage-style plants, from agastache and iris to penstemon ‘Hidcote Pink’ and lamb’s ear. (Credit: Brigid Arnott)
stone cottage parterre garden
A magnolia ‘Soulangeana’ and weeping apricot fill the top-left corner. “I’m particularly fond of this space,” says Amanda. “There is always something in flower and I’m excited to see how it matures over time.” (Credit: Brigid Arnott)

With some lovely mature trees already in situ, they planted a vegie patch and a mixed orchard of apples, pears, pistachio, stonefruit, pomegranate, mulberries, figs, quince and more – about 45 trees all up. An old timber barn was transformed into a covered gazebo area complete with outdoor setting, rustic candelabra and hammock, and a garden of shade-tolerant species built around it. To the east of the orchard, Amanda and Brad have created a magical woodland area, more than a hectare of which is planted with Quercus palustris (pin oaks), Ulmus parvifolia (Chinese elms), poplars, deodar cedars and silver birch – to name a few! “The woodland will keep developing, but it’s for the future,” says Amanda.

vegie garden artichokes
Globe artichokes do well in a cold-climate location. (Credit: Brigid Arnott)

“I preserve [artichokes] in oil and they’re delicious with a soft goat’s cheese!” says Amanda. Gardening in a cold climate in general was a challenge for Amanda and Brad, but they embraced it wholeheartedly. “I joined the local Braidwood and Nerriga garden clubs when we moved here, as it’s the best way to see local gardens and find out what grows well in an area,” explains Amanda. “It’s also a perfect way to meet people who share your passion.”

cottage garden purple onion flower
Purple onion flowers in the vegie patch. (Credit: Brigid Arnott)

For now, she and Brad get endless enjoyment from their garden at the front of the cottage. Recycled brick pathways lead to an arbour surrounded by Pyrus nivalis (snow pears) at one end and a 1970s-style copper fireplace at the other. Two central parterres of Buxus sempervirens (English box) hedge, and further hedging around the edges, set the perimeter, while the full-sun position allows clematis, dahlias, lilies, Camellia japonica, gaura (butterfly bush), iris, foxgloves and echinops to not only survive, but thrive.

cottage garden vegie patch
Amanda and Brad check on the progress of the vegie patch. (Credit: Brigid Arnott)

The vegie patch contains fennel, asparagus, comfrey, blueberries, leafy greens and more. “Everything and anything, depending on the season,” says Amanda. “We’re in the garden every day in some way or another. There’s nothing better than observation to see what’s going on.”

stone cottage garden catmint
Catmint Nepeta and evening primrose attract pollinators to the garden. (Credit: Brigid Arnott)

“I don’t want the gardens to feel stiff and formal – they’re designed to be lived in,” says Amanda. “In fine weather, we usually set up tables under the trees for a long lunch. The outdoor fireplace is cosy in winter, and a nice spot to enjoy a few drinks and a cheese platter.”

cottage garden bird house
(Credit: Brigid Arnott)

A bird house made by Amanda’s dad sits among a garden bed filled with abelia, Teucrium fruticans, Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan’, Viburnum opulus ‘Sterile’, golden ninebark, golden privet and more. The area is protected from westerly winds by a large hedge of Bhutan cypress. “I like the contrast of hedges against wilder plantings,” says Amanda.

off grid stone cottage cow
Rosie is one of four resident miniature cows who keep the paddocks healthy and provide manure for the gardens. (Credit: Brigid Arnott)

On hot days, you’ll find her in the hammock, reading a gardening book, making plans and taking in the sights and sounds of her patch of paradise. “We often close our eyes and listen for as many sounds as we can make out,” says Amanda. “It’s very meditative.”

cottage vegie garden fresh garlic
Amanda’s daily wanderings result in a swag of fresh garlic. (Credit: Brigid Arnott)
cottage garden pink albertine roses
An ‘Albertine’ climbing rose and spirea shrub pop against a black timber wall. (Credit: Brigid Arnott)

“Where possible we’ve used recycled materials in keeping with the romantic cottage, to maintain a sense of harmony,” says Amanda. 

cottage garden foxgloves
Foxglove ‘Pam’s Choice’ was selected for Amanda’s mother Pamela. (Credit: Brigid Arnott)
cottage garden valerian
A wire teapot among a bed of valerian. (Credit: Brigid Arnott)

Take a tour of Brad and Amanda’s characterful cottage in the Southern Tablelands.

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