Home in the Highlands

 

 

LIFE AT WHITE GABLES

The Secret Garden

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 When I was a little girl, I read Frances Hodgson Burnett's 'The Secret Garden' and dreamed of having one of my own. In December of 2017, that dream came true  in the Southern Highlands of NSW. Much like the garden in the book, my secret garden was hidden away behind a stone wall and overgrown after years of neglect.

 

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Molly ponders the secrets lurking in the undergrowth. 

 

I can’t tell you how excited I was about restoring this garden. But I was daunted too. What intimidated me most were the blackberry vines which had taken over like triffids and tore at my skin whenever I ventured beyond the perimeter. Although garden gloves helped a little, what I really needed were those elbow-length leather gauntlets worn by falconers. Suffice it to say that removing the blackberries was a long and thorny process involving lots of Betadine. The old roses with their large thorns and gnarled wood also proved to be dangerous. I took to them with secateurs and even though it was summer, administered a heavy pruning. All the while, I begged them, ‘Stop stabbing me – I’m only trying to help you.’

Once the spiky vines were eradicated, there were other pests – rampant wisteria and jasmine, both of which had been allowed to grow out of control. After cutting everything back as far as I could, I poured boiling water over the remaining shoots. (I don’t use chemicals.) In the months since then, new wisteria and jasmine shoots have appeared and I’ve hit them again and again with the boiling water. I’m not sure whether I’ve won the battle yet. I’ll know next spring.

 

WG St Francis in the Secret Garden square

St Francis guarding creatures living in the Secret Garden

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WG Easter Lavender square cropped

 

One day, I was peering into the shrubbery and saw something terracotta perched high among the branches. In order to get a closer look, I started cutting wood away until I could see a large terracotta saucer on top of a wooden post. It was a bird feeder! And twining around the post was a Cécile Bruner rose.

 

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More discoveries awaited. A stone water feature. An old swinging garden chair (now moved to the safety of the front verandah). A collection of wonderful plants and shrubs: escallonia, rhododendrons, rondeletia, azaleas, camellias, roses and innumerable lavender bushes, the latter desperately in need of a trim. Released from the burden of blackberries and other vines, they are all thriving in their freedom.

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We discovered this old jarrah swinging seat abandoned in the garden, covered in moss and lichen. So far it's been gurneyed and moved to a safer place where it now awaits restoration. I couldn't help dressing it up with scatter cushions!

 

This autumn, something very special happened in the Secret Garden. Sweet little forget-me-nots began to pop up everywhere. A gardening friend warned that the seeds would stick to my dogs’ fur and I should remove the plants ASAP. ‘The forget-me-nots are staying,’ I replied. 'The dogs will cope.'

I’m certain there will be surprises ahead. Already, bulbs are pushing their way out of the ground. At this stage I can only guess what they might be. Daffodils? Jonquils? Hyacinths? Snowdrops? I’ll just have to wait and see!

 

 

Deborah O’Brien 19 April, 2018

 

NEXT TIME: Home in the Highlands:

A Tale of Two Chandeliers


LIFE AT WHITE GABLES

Finding the Dream Home 

 

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Illustration: Deborah O'Brien 

 

For years I’ve dreamt about living in the Southern Highlands of NSW, but I never actually believed the dream would come true. It was just a fantasy, fed by rest-stops in Bowral and Berrima on trips back and forth to our country cottage in the Tablelands. Then I discovered High Life magazine with its glossy real estate ads depicting grand mansions and enchanting country cottages. As I leafed through the pages, I would allow myself the guilty pleasure of imagining what it might be like to live in this magical world of English hedgerows, ridiculously green fields and quaint little villages. But it’s a long way between imagining and reality. 

Last winter we were driving back to Sydney from the Tablelands when WGH* made a comment about looking for a place closer to home. Somewhere about an hour and a half from Sydney. A place our friends and family could easily visit in a day.

That night I started up my laptop and began exploring the Highlands online. Very soon, I was searching the real estate listings every day - Bowral, Mittagong, Moss Vale, Exeter, Bundanoon, Burrawang and Robertson.

It was weeks before we started looking in person, and it quickly became a regular Saturday excursion down the Hume Highway. Over the winter we inspected many properties, accumulating a pile of glossy brochures to prove it. For me, there were two essentials: a wraparound verandah and a rambling cottage garden, or the potential to create one. For WGH, the ‘must-have’ feature was a barn where he could do his woodworking, or the space to build one.

But we never seemed to find all of those elements in the one property and at the right price. As time passed, I began to wonder whether we would ever find our perfect match.

They say that true love happens when you least expect it. In our case, it presented itself one weekday morning when I was on the point of giving up the search. Out of habit I opened Domain and browsed through the listings. All of a sudden, there it was on the screen – the Dream House, complete with a wraparound verandah and almost an acre of grounds. It was perfect, except for the word ‘Auction’ below the photo.

My experience of auctions has been traumatic, to say the least. Two auctions, two disasters. The first involved our house being passed in a hundred thousand dollars below the reserve. The second, which took place more than a decade later, was equally bad in that only one bidder turned up. After that, I made a vow never to be involved in an auction again, either as a vendor or a purchaser.

Despite my vow, I convinced myself it wouldn’t hurt to turn up at the next ‘open for inspection’. Out of curiosity. Not as a serious prospect. Just as a comparable. That Saturday we arrived at the allotted time and parked outside. I knew the minute I walked through the gates and up the white gravel drive. 

After we’d looked around for a while, the real estate agent appeared with her clipboard and asked me what I thought of the property.

‘I love it!’ I replied like a besotted teenager.

‘So we’ll see you at the auction then,’ she said with a smile.

‘I don’t do auctions,’ was my reply. ‘Too stressful. Not for you perhaps, but for the buyers and sellers.’

‘Oh, auctions can be stressful for us too,’ she said. ‘If they happen to go pear-shaped.’

‘Well, I’m sorry, but I won’t be there,’ I said with a sad sense of finality.

And I was true to my word.

On the Monday morning after the auction, I couldn't help checking to see what price the house had sold for. Instead of the words ‘SOLD’, I saw:

'FOR SALE BY PRIVATE TREATY'

OMG, the auction had gone pear-shaped. The house had been passed in and here it was back up for sale!

In the interests of not appearing too eager, we waited a few days. Then we made an offer which was duly accepted. Eight weeks later we moved into White Gables and the dream became a reality.

 

WG Roses in bloom Medium

*WGH = World’s Greatest Husband – it says so on his coffee mug.

 

Deborah O'Brien, February 24, 2018