This whimsical country garden in Victoria is a blooming beauty

An ever-changing palette of flowers and foliage invites one to dive deeper into this cottage garden.
A blooming garden with a meandering path to a weatherboard cottage.Photography: Martina Gemmola

Filtered through an ancient oak tree, dappled light flickers over this garden in country Victoria, joining bobbing flowerheads and wiggling bees in a bucolic dance, choreographed by nature – and by landscape designer Tim Pilgrim.

A country garden with a white weatherboard cottage and a dog sitting on a path.
Meandering paths create a sense of journey in this country garden in Macedon, Victoria. The primary path guides guests towards the century-old oak tree to the right, while a minor corridor leads to the old front door, now the entrance to homeowner Virginia’s home office. (Photography: Martina Gemmola)

The story of this garden began when city girl Virginia was seduced by the country, encouraged by friends who had settled in Macedon. In the wake of Covid, Melbourne had lost its charm and, Virginia says, “Every time I’d visit their house, it would feel like this beautiful escape from the city.” Oak Cottage, with charm in spades and more than enough room for green-thumbed tinkering, stole her heart.

A summer courtyard surrounded by cottage garden flowers.
With the massive oak tree keeping the main entertaining area in shade, this ‘summer courtyard’ has been designed as a spot to soak up the sun. “I like to sit and have a morning coffee there, just listening to all the birds singing and the bees buzzing,” shares Virginia. (Photography: Martina Gemmola)

The adorable cottage deserved a gorgeous front garden to match, but while Virginia is a keen amateur gardener, she was unsure where to start. “I wanted something beautiful, that I could enjoy and spend time in, but it was an unclear vision.” Luckily, the friends who prompted her tree change include Grant Smitten of Macedon Ranges Garden Services, who knew Tim Pilgrim by reputation.

A meandering garden path surrounded by purple flowers and foliage.
The spherical-shaped allium ‘Purple Rain’ is a colourful feature in the flowerbeds throughout the garden. (Photography: Martina Gemmola)

Tim, who specialises in naturalistic cottage gardens, set about crafting a plan. “Talking to him about what I was hoping to achieve really helped shape my thinking and helped me work out how I wanted to use the garden.” Through their conversations, the garden design started to emerge, like an image coming into focus – the spot where Virginia had soaked up afternoon sun was sketched into a summer courtyard, the living umbrella of the oak tree dictated the position of a paved dining area, while the dappled shade from that tree inspired a brightening palette of whites, mauves and pastel colour, which worked neatly with the blowsy, layered cottage garden look Virginia loved.

A garden bed with red valerian floweres.
Red valerian dances in the breeze. Soil cleared during construction was used to mound beds and create this raised section, which is retained with a wall of vertical railway sleepers, cut varied heights for higgledy-piggledy charm. “It adds to the whimsy, striking a balance between wild garden and playful formality in the landscape,” says Tim. (Photography: Martina Gemmola)

Though the garden is richly layered with flowers and foliage, it’s surprisingly low maintenance, designed to have a thorough clipping and tidy up twice a year, with not much in between, says Tim. The labour-light design is due to his preference for a naturalistic style that allows perennials to run through their full cycle with minimal interference. “I try to choose plants, not just for the colour of their flower, but for their structure into decay,” he says. Flowers peak and die back, with new cast of blooms always following on their heels.

A garden path around an oak tree and cottage garden beds.
The foot of the oak is planted with shade-loving plants: Japanese forest grass, little ferns, white oak hydrangeas and white valerian. Beyond is a firepit, a favourite spot in the cooler months. (Photography: Martina Gemmola)

This idea of multiple garden heroes, each stepping into the spotlight, then fading out to support a new star, requires a skilful balance and an imaginative vision. Tim explains that this scene, with its haze of mauve and white, punctuated by purple alliums like fireworks, is just one of the garden’s many faces. As the alliums fade to straw-coloured seedheads that roll around like tumbleweeds, Tim says a new palette, driven by peachy orange achilleas, will emerge. Hot pinks start to come through late in the season, fading into rich autumn tones to complement the falling leaves of the oak. “It’s an ever-evolving display. Hopefully, we’ll get six ‘scenes’ out of it.”

A table and chair setting outside a weatherboard cottage and oak tree.
The faded red of the recycled bricks defines the dining area (set with a table and chairs from Early Settler) and marries seamlessly with the terracotta-toned granitic sand of the paths. Corten steel edging is virtually invisible, except where made into a feature, as in the ring around the oak tree. “I don’t like to overcomplicate the materials used,” says Tim, who favoured natural and recycled options. (Photography: Martina Gemmola)

This constant change encourages Virginia to keeping exploring, drawing her outside to snatch little moments of serenity in the middle of a work day. “Often if I’m on a lunch break or I have 10 minutes between meetings, I’ll wander out and have a look, see if something new has started to bloom. There’s something about that connection to nature and being in the fresh air,” she says.

A blooming garden with a meandering path to a weatherboard cottage.
The paths are laid in compacted granitic sand, a cost-effective and practical choice by landscape designer Tim Pilgrim. The permeable surface is useful for this high-rainfall area, reducing puddling. (Photography: Martina Gemmola)

Tim’s country garden flowers

A pink and yellow hydrangea.
This hydrangea was salvaged from the original garden. (Photography: Martina Gemmola)
A gathering of white seaside daisies.
Seaside daisy is used to brighten spots of dappled shade. (Photography: Martina Gemmola)
Lamb's ear leaves.
Lamb’s ear adds a tactile element, with its velvety silver foliage. (Photography: Martina Gemmola)
A cluster of pink snapdragon flowers.
Snapdragons provide a splash of colour in the kitchen garden. (Photography: Martina Gemmola)
A blooming salmon ranunculus flower.
Salmon ranunculus makes a spectacular cut flower. (Photography: Martina Gemmola)
Spiked stems of a lamb's ear plant.
Tall flower spikes of lamb’s ear bring a brightening silver shade. (Photography: Martina Gemmola)
Round blooms of purple rain.
Allium ‘Purple Rain’ is the hero of the garden in spring, popping like fireworks above the beds. (Photography: Martina Gemmola)
A cluster of pink fortune flowers.
Agastache ‘Pink Fortune’ has been chosen for its spires of pink flowers and stunning seed heads. (Photography: Martina Gemmola)

Landscape design: Tim Pilgrim, tpgardens.com.au.
Landscape build: Macedon Ranges Garden Services, 0497 857 735, macedonrangesgardenservices.com.au.


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