Thirty years ago the man I would marry showed me an old peasy house he had bought along with a small holding of three hundred acres, tiny in those parts of New South Wales where the average farm is three-five thousand acres. We both fell in love with the old house and wrapped many wine-infused dreams around it on starry nights when you could hear eternity sighing and far-flung dreams seemed a heartbeat away.
The old house had been built over a century earlier and had stood empty for decades. It needed a lot of love and I remember the first thing that greeted us when we opened the door was a disgruntled goat who had enjoyed sole occupation of the premises for some time. The goat followed us as we explored the empty rooms whose ghosts no doubt watched us curiously as we planned the renovation and our lives.
The garden had once been landscaped by the famous Edna Walling who took her inspiration from British Landscape designer, Gertrude Jekyll, and it still bore the marks of a once-great beauty. Walling’s signature curves could still be seen in the crumbling sandstone walls and perfectly-placed cypress pines and claret ash. I longed to resurrect the garden and add my own flavour, a walled garden of delphiniums and hollyhocks and a copse of my favourite trees, liquidambar and English plane. To marry the landscape to the garden I decided to plant out the creek and the soak, a damp section of the meadowland, with cottonwood poplars and willows, trees whose lush minty green would enliven the Australian palette of olive and fawn.
The old house nestled in established cypress, plane and liquidambar.
Even though I longed for distant mountains and European colour I had to content myself with the intermediate view and to that end I planted dozens of willow and cottonwood sticks. I didn’t strike them, just stuck them in the creek bed and soak and left them to it.
When I arrived at Campsie Park there was nothing but gum trees as far as the eye could see, which was to the near horizon of gently rising, largely barren, brown hills.
Last week I went back after thirty years, to finally close that chapter of my life, unsealed by the divorce and the years of single life and to my delight I saw that my trees had grown to green perfection, creating a minty foreground view, pulling the eye and the imagination towards a verdant little kingdom of exquisite proportions and ebullience.
The cottonwoods in the soak.
The willows along the creek bed.
As much as the land shapes us so we shape the land. Australia has a burnished majesty in its sweeping ochre planes and gnarled ancient gums that survive the harshest conditions and need the tempering of fire to propagate.
But we bring our imagination and taste to our plantings and every tree we plant is an investment in the future and the health of our glorious planet.
In my own small way I have made a mark in history, a symphony in green that will inspire and linger long after I have moved on to the next part of my journey.