Here’s a reality check for those of us who have been whinging about the blast from hell which is a westerly wind in spring. How would you manage a garden in outback Queensland? With no rain? Libby Cameron met the resilient bunch of gardeners who make it happen.
“The gardens of outback Queensland look very dry and informal after all those well-kept European and American gardens (Het Loo and Longwood) we’ve been seeing on Postcards recently, but we were all incredibly impressed. A peaceful, shady garden can make all the difference in these harsh conditions. It hasn’t rained out the back of Queensland for some time, and drought again has a hold on the vast Mitchell grass plains. Many graziers have sold off their stock, waiting for better times, and water is precious. You can easily imagine the joy of returning to a pleasant cool oasis at the end of a long day out in the hot, dry paddocks.
We got a real sense of that joy when we visited Dariveen, home of Jan and Tony Hetherington. A bridge over a pond leads into the homestead garden – the look and sound of the water is cool and inviting and a wonderful welcome. Beyond the bridge double pergolas of bougainvillea lead you into the garden.
There is lawn around the house which is like a rich green moat or lake, but beyond that Jan has brought in red soil that has been compacted to be a no-water replacement for lawn. Jan makes great use of bougainvillea throughout the garden. There is magnificent hedge of white bougainvillaea (just finishing its flush when we visited), while the hot pink-purple flowers climb over pergolas and arches and spill from hanging baskets.
Here a bougainvillea clambers over the gate to the tennis court. You’ll notice there are lights on the court – it’s too hot to play in the day!
At Kyneton, Jos and John Chandler are lucky to have all the water they need, courtesy of a bore which pumps up sweet water that is good enough to drink, as well as to water the garden and swim in. You can see the swimming pool in the background of this shot as well as more bougainvillea, and lovely Melaleuca leucadendra ‘Snowstorm’, with its hanging foliage like a lacy curtain. Jos started the garden from scratch and grows fabulous roses, as well as perennials like statice and gaillardia which don’t mind the heat, and ifafa lilies donated from her mum’s garden.
Here’s the pond again, complete with deck and poolside chairs! It can get a bit too cold to swim in the winter, but once spring comes, the Chandlers can warm the pool with water direct from the bore, which comes out hot enough to make tea! A complicated pumping system is required to cool the water down enough to use on the garden.
At Dumfries the challenges are immense: rains are a distant memory, the bore is salty, and kangaroos and emus are invading the garden to munch on the shrubs. Yet the garden is still lovely. Lindy Hardie has created a structured space of different ‘rooms’, using hedges as walls. Here you can see past the murraya hedges to a background hedge of white oleander – the gaps are courtesy of the kangaroos!
Lindy has experimented with plants that will shrug off the difficulties of the salted bore water and found that the blue annual salvia does really well. Larkspurs too, are managing the conditions, though Lindy’s beloved bearded iris didn’t flower this spring.
We sat out under the trees at Dumfries and enjoyed a feast cooked by the Italian backpackers who are working on the property: an outback version of vitello tonnato, roasted eggplant and zucchini, pasta with vegetables, a delicious potato cake, and the wine we brought with us. It was a fabulous night under the stars and we felt really privileged to have been given a glimpse into a way of life so different from what us cityfolk are used to. So we say thanks, and offer our hopes for rain. Soon.
Photos: Libby Cameron
Libby will lead a tour to the gardens of outback Queensland again next spring. Keep an eye on the website for the release of the new itinerary, or put your name on the waiting list.