Is it possible to have a favourite garden that you've never actually visited? Because I do.
It's called Wychwood. It's tucked in an out-of-the-way part of Tasmania, and it's a garden that I honestly find myself dreaming about. One day I would love to wander through it, but for now I regularly spend hours with my nose in the stunning Wychwood book, which depicts the property in all its glory. The book fuels my dreams and has led to much researching of rare plants (which ended in success last year when I got my hands on some true crimson glory vine cuttings!!!... which didn't survive the fire... plant hunting: to be continued).
The thing I find most inspiring about Wychwood is that the garden started from nothing - just a paddock. What Karen Hall and Peter Cooper created out of that empty space is seriously mind blowing. Granted, the paddock happens to be in an area of good rainfall and excellent growing conditions, but still, the transformation is awe-inspiring and motivating. So I'm thrilled to share today's post with you all, the fifth in a series of in-depth conversations with people who have grown their gardens from scratch.
I am so grateful to Karen and Peter for sharing their photos and wisdom with The Tree Diaries and I sincerely apologise that it has taken me over a year (what?!?!?) to publish this interview. Karen and Peter sold the property last year, and it looks to be under excellent new stewardship. Perhaps one day I will actually get to see it in person. Until then, enjoy this insight to its creation.
The Tree Diaries: What triggered your move from Queensland to Tasmania, and to Mole Creek in particular? What did you dream of for your life there and the garden that you wanted to create?
Karen Hall: We were desperate to leave the big city and the heat of Queensland. We dreamt of far greener pastures, a simple rural existence and a perhaps a plot of land alongside a new home. We drove around Tasmania searching for properties and loved the Meander Valley. We had no intention of creating a garden, our initial dream was to live a self-sufficient life - grow our own food, and keep a few chickens and animals.
TTD: What did your garden look like when you first arrived? How far was the reality away from the dream?
KH: There was very little existing garden. Our home sat on 2 1/2 acres but the vast majority of this was pasture, except for a small plot around the house where a few shrubs grew. Because at that stage we didn’t intend on creating a large ornamental garden the clean slate was perfect for our plans of a self-sufficient lifestyle.
TTD: What were the priorities when you were trying to make a start with the garden? Were you paralysed in the face of the “to-do list” or did you just dig in?
KH: We just dug in, bit by bit. There was never a grand plan, we just extended the gardens borders as our confidence grew. We didn’t make lists, and as there was no plan, we didn’t feel daunted. We just did it all our our own pace.
TTD: You have recently sold Wychwood - was it difficult to leave the garden that you had created there?
KH: No. After 25 years there, the time was right to move on. We had eventually fulfilled everything we had intended and so it was time for someone else to realise their dream. We had gained far more out of the property than we ever imagined we would.
TTD: Are you creating a new garden from scratch these days, or will you be avoiding such a huge undertaking again?
KH: Our new home in central Launceston is an old home on 1/4 acre. There is an established garden but we are making it our own. We have removed a lot of plants and have put in a vegetable garden, new beds, and a chook run. Our time is limited so the smaller size is perfect and yet there is enough scope for changes and additions to keep us excited.
TTD: What advice would you give to your younger selves back in the early 90s, the ones who had just bought Wychwood and were facing a blank garden canvas to work with? Are there any mistakes you made, or regrets that you have from your years creating a garden there?
KH: We believe in following your intuition. It rarely fails you. Make life easier by growing plants that are suited to the conditions and climate that you have - a little bit of research goes a long way. Don’t overcomplicate gardening - it is a simple process and doesn’t need a set of rules. We don’t believe in regrets - if we have any we don’t like thinking about them.
TTD: Who inspires you in gardening? Are there any gardens or gardeners in particular you admire, or any books you return to again and again for inspiration?
KH: We love the work of Piet Oudolf, Arne Maynard and other designers who use a more relaxed, gentle style of gardening without harsh edges or too much formality. Beth Chatto was and remains our inspiration for her knowledge of plants. Her books are amazing and we still refer to them now. On the home front, my parents are great gardeners and even today (whilst in their 80s) they are creating a new garden.
Thanks so much to Karen and Peter for sharing so much inspiration with The Tree Dairies.