Home Australia | OceaniaAustralia Garden that transcends geography and imagination – a great southern land

Garden that transcends geography and imagination – a great southern land

by Diana Streak

There’s plenty to marvel at in Mayfield Garden near Oberon in NSW, not least the ‘white firs’ which are strikingly blue and purple.

It’s not often you stand awestruck by a plant but the Abies concolor (white fir) stops me in my tracks. What is it?” I quiz head gardener Alicia Clarke.

We are at Mayfield Garden, an extraordinary slice of land in central NSW near Bathurst and the quaint town of Oberon, remarkable in its ambition and strangely impressive in its execution. Mayfield is one of those hard to explain follies where determined gardeners battling tricky soil and a technically cool climate have prevailed.

Reclusive millionaire Garrick Hawkins, who established Mayfield in 1984 initially as a sheep farm, has a luxury home on the estate, visits occasionally and keeps an eagle eye on his patch in Australia from afar. A wedge-tailed eagle soaring over the verdant 65-hectare spread has a view we earthbound visitors can only dream of but, rest assured, a leisurely walk through the various themed gardens will more than make up for it.

It’s not just the blue colour or the smell of the Abies concolor needles crushed between your fingers. It’s the cones themselves, exquisite perfectly formed shapes that hang heavy in your hand. They may seem from another world in the northern hemisphere but here they are reaching up to the antipodean blue sky and I can almost hear Iva Davies crooning in my ear as I survey a version of a Great Southern Land emulating grand gardens and terrains from around the globe.

But wait, I am about to have a lesson in horticultural nomenclature. These ‘white firs” are actually blue and purple, Alicia explains, as only someone who adores her profession can. “It’s quite old fashioned but in horticulture some colours are not necessarily true to their name. Blue colours are called purples, purples can be called blue, grays can be called white.”

Due to the area’s rich clay soil, both high in nutrients and water holding capacity, conifers thrive. This led to a huge paper and timber industry and is also why Abies concolor specimens can flaunt their rich purples and blues at Mayfield while their cousins in steamy Sydney need what Alicia calls more “pedantic watering practices”.

Secret garden

A Wollemi Pine at Mayfield Garden.

A rare Wollemi Pine (centre) amid the ferns.

I may be stretching it, but another distant relation, talking time not distance, nestles not far from our blue beauty among a flair of ferns kept moist and healthy by underground irrigation and a spritz of water. Until 1994 the mysterious Wollemi Pine was considered extinct, trampled underfoot by dying dinosaurs and known only through fossil records. Wollemia nobilis is one of the world’s oldest and rarest plants and with fewer than 100 adult trees known to exist in the wild, there is a widespread effort to propagate them to safeguard their survival.

It is joyous to see the baby trees being nurtured 200km away from their original closely guarded location in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, in the largest privately owned garden in the Southern Hemisphere where visitors can marvel at a Jurassic throwback.

A peach of a pleach

An aerial view of Mayfiled Garden near Oberon, NSW, Australia.

Neat lines … Mayfield Garden has an impressive maze.

One of the most impressive features for me is the sweeping pleached hedge which follows the curve of the driveway to the homestead and nearby maze. Alicia explains that this horticultural style – a “hedge on stilts’- is traditionally found in a manor house country garden and is a way for gardeners to display their skill. The Mayfield pleached hedge is composed of carefully trimmed hornbeam trees with an underlay of buxus hedge.

“This specific design shows the sway and curve that flows with the driveway,” says Alicia. “There is about a 1.2 metre negative space that flows between the two hedges, almost like the hornbeam is floating above the buxus. It is executed beautifully at Mayfield. There is a lot of measuring done during maintenance to preserve the line. It takes the team three to four days to trim the hedges three times a year.”

The obelisk and ponds at Mayfield Garden in NSW.

The perfect setting for a stroll.

Alicia, who previously worked at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, says a visit to Mayfield a few years ago changed her view of what could be achieved in Australian landscape design. “In Sydney we don’t have the size and scope to do such extravagance of design. Mayfield really made me reorient my perspective on what we could do in horticulture.”

Hawkins may have been inspired by the grand gardens of Europe but Mayfield has a solid Australian feel to it, surrounded by working farms and rugged landscapes. As a former city slicker, Alicia is tickled each time she spots neighbouring farmers mustering their stock across parts of the garden as lawn mowers. “I still get a kick out of seeing cattle and sheep everywhere knowing that they are helping us.”

What’s next?

Mayfield’s grand vision is almost done. The final big project is a dramatic area of herbaceous borders designed by Australian gardening genius Paul Bangay“Herbaceous borders are usually done on a smaller scale but this is going to be huge and will be a real drawcard when it’s on display in spring and summer 2021,” says Alicia.

When to visit

The garden is divided into two parts: Mayfield (16 hectares) and the Hawkins’ Family Garden (49 hectares. The former is open all year round except December 25 and 26. The latter is open to the public during four seasonal festivals.  TTW

Photos © Zora Regulic, Diana Streak and Mayfield Garden. Diana Streak was a guest of Bathurst Regional Council and travelled with assistance from NSW Central West. More at Mayfield Garden, Visit Central NSW and Bathurst Region.

See also

Bathurst: a city of British Earls, Burmese cats and French tarts

You may also like

Leave a Comment