Gardening: A magical garden in the Barossa Valley

I picked a bad time to see the garden at Anlaby, a historic property on the edge of the Barossa Valley in South Australia. After a long, dry summer and late-April days well over 30 degrees, wind storms had coated everything with a fine, rust-coloured dust. Andrew Morphett, who with his partner Peter Hayward has owned the property for 15 years, was dismayed. “You couldn't have picked a worse day,” he assured me. Gardeners are always telling me I should have been here last week, or next week, but he was right, even the aloes and agaves looked battered.

Yet despite its range of brown tones and flowers crisp as dehydrated strawberries the garden had a magical quality. It wasn’t hard to imagine it in the freshness of spring: irises lining the driveway, roses fragrant in the formal beds and climbing over the archway, pale pink petal confetti in the crabapple walk, and the lily pond reflecting a blue sky that is friendly rather than fearsome.

Despite the dryness and the dust, the garden captivated.Credit:Robin Powell

Anlaby is South Australia’s oldest merino stud and celebrates its 180th anniversary this year. Most of the garden dates from the improvements made by Henry Dutton, nephew of the founding Dutton. Henry created an exemplary Victorian gentleman's country residence, both pleasurable and productive. There are vegetable gardens; an apple house for storing fruit in airy, cool darkness; a stone-walled mushroom house; and a dedicated cucumber house, whose tessellated tile floor and trellising are still in great condition.

Built on the sheep’s back, Anlaby is a famous merino property.Credit:Robin Powell

For pleasure and show there are rose walks, wisteria arbours, ferns and begonias in the shade house, dry climate plants in the grotto and the rockery, and an aviary hosting noisy peacocks. In front of the house there’s a circular lawn, a rose-edged fountain and the massive spreading shade of an ancient Chinese elm on one side and a feathery peppercorn on the other, just two of the many trees on the property listed on the National Trust’s significant tree register.

Morphett’s favourite part of the garden is the tower folly overlooking the tennis court, restored to its original grandeur at what felt like never-ending expense. In the property's heyday, he explains, there was a piano on the ground floor, allowing granny to keep herself amused while she kept an eye on the children playing in the garden.

Anlaby’s owners have a flexible approach to the garden’s restoration.Credit:Robin Powell

Morphett and Hayward have learned to be flexible in their approach to restoring and revitalising the garden. The lily pond has been full only once since it was restored. A knot garden planted last spring didn't survive the killer summer, and will have to be replanted. The long border on the edge of the garden is nothing but hay and sheep manure waiting for rain. But come spring, all will be freshness and celebration. “Come and see it then,” urges Morphett.

Anlaby is open October 19 and 20. It’s also possible to see the garden by staying in its bed and breakfast rooms.

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