A stunning, mountain high garden oasis

Secluded walkways and secret spaces define this gorgeous garden.
Sanstone homestead surrounded by lush greenery.Photography: Sue Stubbs

Each turn of the paths that meander through Bill and Lyndall’s garden in the Blue Mountains, NSW, reveals another surprise: a pretty arch, smothered in star jasmine; a pond stocked with bright goldfish; a rose garden aglow with reds, yellows and pinks; a stand of acanthus, nodding in the light breeze; a graceful statue presiding over a water feature.

It’s a garden in which you feel you could spend hours peeling back its layers, only to find there is yet another area to discover.

 Twin sandstone planters, 
home to a pair of rare Wollemi pines, flank the front steps of a stone homestead in the NSW Blue Mountains.
Twin sandstone planters, home to a pair of rare Wollemi pines, flank the front steps. (Photography: Sue Stubbs)
Blue mountains garden with cinder block pathways.
Cinder paths weave through the front garden between beds stocked with orangey-red hippeastrum and variegated flax, edged in mossy bricks and box. (Photography: Sue Stubbs)

The bare bones of the space – including the layout of the front section, a grouping of beautiful mature trees and some of the pathways – were in place when the couple moved here, but it has nevertheless changed almost beyond recognition.

Where once there was dry, powdery earth, sparse plantings and a plethora of crazy paving is now richly composted flowerbeds edged in neat box hedging, overflowing with native and non-native plants and set alongside cinder and brick paths. “When you’ve got mature trees, you get a lot of movement in the ground,” explains Bill. “The paving was very unstable, so we decided to define the garden with some brickwork.”

Sandstone homestead in the Blue Mountains with a lush garden in the foreground featuring calla lilies, hydrangeas, acanthus and hippeastrum.
A loose arrangement that includes canna lilies, hydrangeas, acanthus and hippeastrum creates a relaxed contrast to the more formal clipped topiary beyond. (Photography: Sue Stubbs)
Close up of the red flowers of Hippeastrum.
Hippeastrum provides a fiery burst of red. (Photography: Sue Stubbs)

The removal of a giant tree also necessitated some changes.

“We had a huge liquidambar and, because it was so big, it virtually controlled the eco system of the whole garden,” recalls Bill. The tree was soaking up a lot of moisture as well as casting a large portion of the garden into shade, so when it became unstable and had to be taken out, a swathe of plants that couldn’t cope with the changed conditions also had to be moved.

Dividing existing plants and transplanting others has been at the heart of the creation of different areas of the garden. Bill and Lyndall have had a lot of help from their gardener, who comes in a couple of days a week. “He is very experienced,” says Bill.

Garden statue in the foreground with a Japanese maple tree in the background.
A graceful stone statue is the centrepiece in the smaller of the garden’s two ponds. Beyond, a feathery Japanese maple brings year-round colour. (Photography: Sue Stubbs)

“He moves something, transplants it and it grows, which is a gift!” Bill’s own skills as a fencer – he runs fencing firm Bill Gibson Fencing – have also come in handy; a new perimeter railing encloses the whole space and the chooks, inherited from the previous owners, now have the run of the boundary thanks to a second fence that runs along the inside. “When kids go past on the way to school they stop and have a chat with the chooks,” smiles Bill.

Elsewhere, the couple have relaid stretches of lawn, put in a patio at the back of the house and installed an outdoor kitchen. The pond, also the couple’s handiwork, is now stocked with goldfish that flash silver, red and orange as they weave in and out of the pond foliage, but initially, the planting wasn’t a success.

Pond with a stepped waterfall at a garden in the Blue Mountains NSW.
After a shaky beginning, the large garden pond, complete with a stepped waterfall and beautiful goldfish, is now a tranquil space with a distinctly tropical feel. (Photography: Sue Stubbs)

“The plants went into the pond with too much earth and it soured,” explains Bill. “So I pulled them all out and put in some gravel, then put them back with a little of the soil they had established themselves in and bingo! Of course, a lot of leaves fall into the pond and decompose, and the plants feed on that.”

The addition that has made the most difference, however, is a bore that supplies the garden’s water needs. “If we hadn’t been successful in putting that in we’d have had to change the whole garden to gravel beds and Japanese gardens,” says Bill.

Magenta granny's bonnet flowers close up.
Magenta granny’s bonnets (Aquilegia vulgaris). (Photography: Sue Stubbs)

As it is, the plantings are a colourful mix of natives such as old man banksia and lilly pilly, along with English cottage garden favourites. Stately jacarandas, crepe myrtle, Japanese maple, liquidambar and a vast silky oak provide shade, while buffalo grass rolls around the eastern verandah. It’s a work in progress, says Bill. “It’s still evolving, but we’re quite pleased with what we’ve done so far.”

A formal, cottage garden featuring a mix of bush and climbing roses.
A selection of standard and bush roses introduces both scent and colour to the side entry, accessed through an arch shrouded in fragrant star jasmine. (Photography: Sue Stubbs)
Close up of orange bush rose flower.
(Photography: Sue Stubbs)

If the front garden is a place to dwell, thanks to a selection of benches artfully set in just the right places to pause, so the backyard has a more practical edge.

This is where the vegie garden lives, and where a new patio, bordered with a drystone wall of sandstone and a screen of bamboo, has been installed. It’s ideal for entertaining and celebrations, such as the family wedding Bill and Lyndall hosted in the garden last year.

Pale acanthus spikes and the giant leaves of the Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa) make a lush setting for a pretty framed seat, painted green (try Wattyl Weathergard Colorbond Cottage Green for a similar shade). (Photography: Sue Stubbs)

A more recent addition is the shed which, as a nod to their home’s original incarnation as a coaching inn, has been built to resemble the stable that might have once stood there.

A collection of old tools and found objects adds character. “My gardener is a bit of a collector, as am I, and we are often adding little artefacts,” explains Bill.

Timber garden shed decorated with a rustic shovel.
A shovel found by the gardener decorates the shed. (Photography: Sue Stubbs)

As much a visual delight, the garden impacts on other senses too: it’s a setting replete with the scent of fragrant roses, jasmine and lavender, while the sounds of running water and myriad birdlife fill the air.

Small wonder the couple like to just sit, sometimes, and take it all in. “Half an hour of relaxation in the garden is priceless,” says Bill. “I’ve got to pinch myself every so often and say, is this really ours?”

Close up of yellow gazania flower.
Yellow gazania. (Photography: Sue Stubbs)
Pale lilac Tulbaghia violacea ‘Silver Lace'.
Pale lilac Tulbaghia violacea ‘Silver Lace’. (Photography: Sue Stubbs)

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