Thank you to the readers who have taken the time to contact me about my blogs. I am happy that so many of you write and comment, and I am sure you can tell that I really enjoy sharing my topics and stories based on past and present experiences. For me, the past is a vast subject and both Helen and I are always discovering things about our families and various events in so many ways that have fashioned our lives. As I get older, the past seems to have more meaning and I do find the way the pieces fit together amazing and surprising.
Speaking of families, we recently decided to celebrate Mother’s Day at Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens – it was a great idea, but it was such beautiful day that lots more families had the same idea. Helen and I arrived early and could see it was packed so we changed our mind and chose a different venue. We all met at the nearby gardens in front of the Stirling Library. Stirling is such a pretty town, and I love the abundance of beautiful trees and lush vegetation. I think it is a most stunning part of the Adelaide Hills. And by the way, I do hope that all mothers enjoyed Mothers Day as much as Helen did.
Gardens have always meant a lot to me and my early appreciation probably began with trips that my sister and I took with our grandparents, Katie and Eric Willington. We were both under 10 and would catch the bus from Oakbank to Adelaide where Katie and Eric would meet us at Victoria Square. We would walk down to North Terrace, buying an Amscol icecream on the way. We loved all the walkways and especially the one along the lake where we fed the ducks. Katie always packed some scones with jam and cream and a Thermos of tea, and we always looked forward to the times spent with them. Sitting on a rug on the grass on a sunny day was mesmerizing, so much beauty.
Newly married, the rented, single-fronted villa at Parkside changed in appearance once Helen and I got stuck into the old garden. Years later, having built our first family home at Greenhill, the landscaping there gave us a challenge. There was no mains water and the hard clay soil with plenty of rocks meant everything we grew had to be planted with the help of a post-hole digger. Helen created an oasis of camellias and azaleas by physically carting bags and bags of leaf mulch to the site to improve the soil and nurtured them by siphoning grey water from the laundry and bathroom.
We also watered by hand with rain water from our tank. Very beautiful! It was weekends of hard work getting the levels right and I think we moved a large pile of paving bricks three times before they found their final resting place. People would often ask what had we done on the weekend, and we would comment ‘Oh, we gardened all weekend’ often to a response of ‘you poor things!’ We would reply ‘no we loved it’ and we really did. There is nothing like planning and planting and then watching the things develop to maturity. It takes vision and hard physical work to achieve your goal, but it is well worth it.
My grandmother Olga Pike lived at Oakbank from the time she was married until her 90th year, and when she died Helen and I decided to purchase the property. It held many childhood memories for me, and Helen was ready for a new garden challenge on a bigger scale. A lot of the original garden was arranged as small garden beds surrounded with stones and there were 11 large blue gums, two huge ghost gums, an enormous cypress hedge, some diseased pine trees, a prunus tree and a very tired orchard.
Gradually the old made way for the new and the last thing to go was the very dominant hedge. It had taken poor Helen years to convince me to remove it. I was so angry when it was flattened because I felt our privacy had been taken away, but I was wrong. In retrospect, I think I was holding on to the memory of my grandmother and I should have agreed to the changes sooner. Its removal totally changed the space allowing for a better planting layout, and more attractive vistas. Using the plan that landscaper Geoff Heppner of Accent Landscaping drew up for us, the boundary was planted with an avenue of ornamental pear trees to restore our seclusion.
Also shrub groupings and formal hedging created a grid of ‘garden rooms’ which meant traveling through them always led to another surprise.
His golden rules were mass plantings of the same species and adding points of interest in the distance to increase the feeling of space and balance. Also, the block of land was on a hill so Helen suggested creating flat levels which meant installing steps, stone walling and terraces which added variation to the terrain.
The old stone house was built in the 1920s and needed increasing in size so we doubled the size of it adding a kitchen, bathroom, laundry and living room and later added timber decks, a gazebo, a conservatory and replaced all the hopper windows with French doors.
Sitting out on one of the decks having breakfast and overlooking the garden became our weekend ritual, and we used to comment that we lived in a private oasis.
Helen proved a garden is never finished and wasn’t afraid to change things if she could think of a better plan. She proved it over and over again and over the twenty years we lived there we created a tranquil and beautiful haven enjoyed by us in particular as well as our family and friends.
In 2009, I surprised Helen with a book which I had printed showcasing the photography of Simon Casson, a friend of ours. He was asked to capture some of the magic of our garden for Country Style magazine and he certainly did.
I added emphasis to the photos by using some quotes by famous gardeners and wrote some sentiments myself. Two dedications are very meaningful and are from our children and they read:
…for a remarkable woman…these photos reflect your tenacity, determination and vision and, most importantly the beautiful way you nurture. Lou.
…along with your partner in love and life, what an amazing space you have created for us to escape the worries of life and just be – a creation by an amazing artist, wife, mother and grandmother for all of us to cherish Matthew.
I love these words from Lou and Matthew.
Over many years I have used flora as the inspiration for jewellery. I find plant and foliage forms easy to portray in real and stylized form. There is something very pleasing and rewarding about natural forms and the way I can adapt them.
Most of the famous jewellery houses of Europe are creating floral designs at the moment and the execution of them using gold, coloured stones and diamonds is so clever (see some of them here). Floral motifs were also used extensively in the Art Noveau period incorporating pearls, semi-precious gems and enamels. If ever I am stuck for inspiration I just turn to nature, the possibilities are limitless. I have also used plant forms in a lot of my paintings.
I hope you enjoy the photos and happy gardening! I’ll be back in July.
Lots of love Nicholas.