Garden Visit November 2023

We visited  the beautiful garden belonging to club members Anthony Hillin and Colin Bisset :

Anthony and Colin wrote:

We bought Cloverdale in 2002 but it has only been our home for the last two and a half years. Our plan had always been to retire here and in the intervening years we spent occasional holidays and hectic weekends planting trees and attempting to tame the weeds.

The property had been in the original dairy farming family for five generations but there wasn’t much by way of a garden, just a fenced area around the house with little more than a few shrubs, the rest of the ten acres being grazed. We were drawn to the characterful old farmhouse and its perfect position overlooking the valley.  The land slopes down gently to the valley floor and is north facing. The house overlooks most of the property and has views to the Nightcap Ranges. The lower five acres had been planted with pecans that were less than 2m tall. Half a dozen rainforest trees remained and, of course, there were numerous large camphor laurels. Most of the camphors were culled in the year after purchase but left in place and quickly covered with Virginia creeper and Boston ivy. Their towering silhouettes lent a rather Gothic air to the property during our absent years and of course, vivid autumn tones.

We’d originally envisaged a subtropical garden and early projects included planting the long driveway with poinciana trees and establishing jacarandas along the roadside. Most of these trees succumbed to frost in the first winter so the following years were spent experimenting with various forms of protection (and railing against Jack Frost). More successful was the planting of a sheltering arc of rainforest in the 1.5 acre paddock behind the house, many of the trees now 10m+ tall.

Gradually the urge for a subtropical garden morphed into a desire for the cool climate plantings we’d loved from our many years living in the UK. We began researching and experimenting and found that the microclimate of the valley, with its surprisingly cold nights, supported a wide range of our favourites. The result is a more typically cool, or temperate, climate garden with a Northern Rivers twist.

Features include two 80m borders of 200 roses with perennials woven through. The borders are themed loosely into hot, warm and cool toned areas. The roses are primarily heritage varieties, or modern roses with an old fashioned, full petalled look.  Old Tea, China, Noisette, Bourbon and Polyantha roses generally cope well with warm, humid climates and they’re certainly thriving at Cloverdale. They were selected with the criteria of disease resistance, fragrance and floriferousness in mind. Fourteen climbing roses festoon pillars in the borders and others climb trees. We were delighted to find that some Clematis do well and now a dozen varieties scramble through the climbing roses. Perhaps not surprisingly, the good performers include those that are generally more heat tolerant – Florida, Italian and Texensis varieties, including C. Florida ‘Sieboldii’ and ‘Flore-pleno’; C. Viticella ‘Negritjanka’ and ‘Huldine’; and C. Texensis ‘Duchess of Albany’.  More surprising is that some Jackmanii hybrids are also flowering well including, C. Jackmanii ‘Ernest Markham’ and ‘Henryii’

Perennials include numerous varieties of salvia, cranesbill, phlox, aster, kniphofia, nepeta, rudbeckia, echinacea, crocosmia and sedum. Some sections of the borders are currently in trial garden mode with just single specimens of different perennials planted together. The plan is to then propagate the varieties that perform well and plant in larger drifts. An edging of Nepeta ‘Walkers Low’ ties each border together

There are long avenues of Cupressus sempervirens, magnolia and wisteria contrasting with circular plantings of Cibotium schiedei (Mexican Tree Fern) and Eucalyptus Citriodora. A Crepe Myrtle wood has been established as a backdrop to one of the long border and to add further seasonal colour. Dozens of deciduous trees have been planted for autumn colour and spring blossom, including crab apples, pears, oaks, liquidambars, maples, cotinus and additional crepe myrtles. All are doing well.

Two thousand jonquil bulbs were planted under the nepeta border edgings, magnolias and dahlias for winter interest and scent. They have proved to be soundly perennial and are gradually multiplying, rather than fading away, as can happen in some warm climates.

Future projects include landscaping around the house, which was left until the renovations and the new septic system have been completed. Further maple, cherry and birch plantings are also envisaged.

One lesson learned (and a tip to others) is that established plants are more vulnerable to death by wet roots than drought, especially in our climate. During the wet years of 2021 and 2022 some perennials and dahlias rotted away even though our soil is well drained and on a slope. We now plant anything that hates having wet feet on small mounds so that the crown is 5 -20cm above the surrounding soil. So far no losses but the test will be during our next La Niña.

You can follow the progress of Cloverdale on our Instagram accounts: @anth_hillin @colinbisset88

Posted in Gardens 2023.