(Or) … The English Garden in Stirling
Our ¾ acre block to the east of Stirling is on a south westerly slope that is fortunately much more manageable than the steep angles of many properties in the district. A heavy clay horizon seems to channel water across the block from surrounding springs providing a reliable supply of water, perhaps too much in winter, to many areas of the garden. This is augmented by a bore that provides good summer irrigation as needed. This has allowed us to create an English style garden not possible in most of the state.
When Kate purchased the property in 2001 the back garden was undeveloped and rather a weedy mess. All that is now left from what she inherited are a wattle and five gum trees, three of which dominate a central woodland area that now includes a wide assortment of trees, camellias, hydrangeas, triumphator lilies, bluebells and notably a Himalayan giant lily, Cardiocrinum giganteum, that flowered for the first time in 2016 and which will hopefully be followed by others in future years.
Kate installed a large lawn surrounded on two sides by meandering Kanmantoo stone walls that provide a restful and pleasing setting at the heart of the garden. Also put in place at this time was a gravel drive that accesses the rear of the garden which was lined on the west side with manchurian pears. These grew very rapidly but started to split and fall over and for aesthetic and safety reasons had to be removed last year after some stormy winds.
Amongst the many plants that Kate introduced to the garden were a range of liliums. These have taken to the garden very well and produced some spectacular stems over the years. Of particular note are some triumphators that rise above our heads and Pink Brilliants one of which won Kate the Grand Champion exhibit at the 2015 Lilium and Bulb Society Show at Hahndorf.
When Hugh joined the garden team in 2011 he found a lovely but mostly green garden. His first and most important self-appointed role was to try and rid the garden of all weeds. This was not because the garden was especially weedy but because he had no other particular garden skill or experience at that time and because he likes order and understood from his agricultural background that the best way to manage weeds is to never let them set seed. The next important role was to introduce more colour – lots of it.
A lucky break came when the neighbouring house was pulled down and garden cleared and assorted heavy machinery stored on the property for several months. This was an opportunity to pull down the adjoining garden fence and invite the earth mover in to create terraces out of the sloping garden. No other access to the back garden was possible for large machinery. Two lorry loads of chicken manure was incorporated at the time and helps explain why height indicators on some plant labels are gross under-estimators of what we have subsequently observed.
Another lucky break came in 2014 when Kate acquired a large collection of dahlias from an old property in Meadows. The tubers had to be dug out of a nursery with no knowledge of what each tuber was. They were planted in rows in what had been an upper terrace lawn that had been dug over so that they could be colour and type sorted prior to planting through the garden the following year.
After creating the terraces the next step was to install more Kanmantoo stone walls and steps to match what Kate had before. Nick Blanks was recruited for this work and he excelled himself in building these to a high level of craftsmanship. These provide a framework for a set of borders and paths that provide the formal part of the English garden. A set of double borders now house the roses (Just Joey, Apricot Nectar and Queen Elizabeth) that were part of the old garden and which had been planted in the terrace lawn alongside the dahlias for a year before being brought back to their new setting. The chicken manure has also done a world of good for them but makes pruning a regular and more monumental task.
The terracing also allowed for a more structured vegetable area, a berry cage and potting area. A new palace for chooks completed the area behind the woodland.
The principal aim of the garden is to provide an enjoyable space for all the year rather than one season and to grow plants that provide interest and enjoyment to us and visitors and particularly those plants that are not able to thrive in the more Mediterranean environments of the Adelaide Plains. Plants that work well for us and which we particularly enjoy include, in no particular order, assorted liliums, hellebores, dahlias, flowering cherries, viburnams, tulips, camellias and alstromerias.
These and many others have been sorted to some degree into colour beds with sunset colours along the gravel drive, whites in one set of borders and rich reds and purples in another.
For the future we are planning to increase and diversify our lilium collection having been enthused by and learnt so much from Jeff Boden, champion lilium grower, breeder and life member of the LIlium and Bulb Society. We also need to learn how to manage winter waterlogged soils and create better structured borders.
Hugh Wallwork Aug 2017
Editor's note: This garden was first photographed in 2014 (the images below were the result). We're planning a new big photography project to update this page in the next month or so, so keep an eye on it for developments.