The Mount Wilson garden of Libby and Keith Rainers is a treasure trove of miniature gems in an inspiring setting. Home again after another stunning NSW spring tour Sandra Ross sets the scene in this Blue Mountain garden paradise.
Merry Garth is one of the famous gardens on the top of Mount Wilson in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. Mount Wilson’s elevation of 1008m means lovely cool summers and frosty winters, and because the mountain was once a volcano the soil is deep and rich. Consequently, fine gardens have flourished here since the late-1800s when wealthy Sydneysiders first built hill estates in which to escape the summer heat of the coast.
Libby and Keith Raines moved to Mt Wilson more than 36 years ago. They built their house and proceeded to plant a garden that has had the luxury of developing over time. The softly curving lines shadowed by mature trees shape a garden of knowledgeable planting.
I have visited many times over the past 20 years and each time Libby has graciously escorted me and my travel companions around the garden to explain the nuances of the planting scheme. Each time I learn something new about the cool climate beauties she so dearly loves. So passionate is she, and so lovely are her little treasures, that I have often been tempted by the many plants in her little specialist cool-climate nursery. Last time I was seduced by the deep pink flowering oxalis!
Over time Merry Garth has developed a serene maturity that sits well in its mountain location. It’s a much larger garden than it at first appears, and there are 2.5 hectares of beautiful garden spaces. Sweeping lawns and gravel paths give the garden breathing space and allow us to absorb the impact of the big picture. The garden is surrounded by temperate rainforest with huge ancient remnant tree ferns giving a hint of its origins. When you lift your eyes to the horizon you see the garden open to the distance with big, ever-changing views to the mountains and deep valleys of the Blue Mountains National Park. This borrowed landscape gives the garden depth and character.
There are large trees, including Himalayan magnolias, maples, camellias and rare species. These are underplanted with a fine collection of rhododendron hybrids and species. These beauties may be deliciously fragrant, bell-shaped, pendulous or pastel and they are the joy of this garden in early November. At the same time the Japanese maples in the rock garden are bursting with fresh spring growth alongside elegant conifers. On the front lawn a weeping cherry with the palest of pink blossom is under-planted with white alpine phlox.
While the garden is impressive at the grand scale, with its great horizons and inspiring trees, there is also an emotional response to the garden at the most intimate level. At your feet, grow little spring treasures that you must stoop to see. The snake’s-head fritillaria (Fritillaria meleagris) is one such treasure. Its maroon-chequered flowers grow to 20 cm and hang their heads in the way of all fritillarias. You need a cool moist mountain climate to grow these intriguing bulbs.
You also need to bend low to discover the dainty erythroniums or trout lilies. These love cool, moist growing conditions with well-drained, humus-rich soil. Their fly-away pagoda-like flowers appear on 40 cm stems for a brief period then disappear underground until next year.
Among the significant collection of spring-flowering bulbs are galanthus, which are the true snowdrop and lovely crocus. I am also a fan of the curious trilliums. These bulbs, (rhizomes actually), don’t produce any above-ground leaves. Instead the three fleshy green leaf-like arrangements are a trio of bracts that the surround the single flower, which is itself composed of three petals and three sepals. A perfect trinity!
All these plants grow only in cool climate gardens. It’s exciting to see them at their best and is a testament to her skill that Libby grows such a fine collection.
Come with us
We’ll visit Merrygarth again on our NSW Spring Festivals tour in 2016. Join Sandra for a tour that takes in spring as it blooms in the Southern Highlands, Canberra, Cowra, and the Blue Mountains. For details and bookings go to www.rosstours.com or call 1300 233 200.