Garden Fair at Glenmore House
Words and images by Robin Powell. First published www.robinpowell.com.au October 8 2016
Mickey Robertson opens Glenmore House garden for her Spring Garden Fair next weekend, October 15 and 16. I’m a big fan of the garden, which is elegant and domestic at the same time, and which communicates a wonderful sense of well being. Honestly, you feel that all is right with your world while you walk around the gardens or lounge in a chair in the shade of one of the repurposed outbuildings.
I’m also a fan of Mickey’s strategy for making the garden pay its way. Rather than just charging to come have a look, Mickey has made Glenmore the location for a range of interesting events. We came to dinner, for instance, for Kinfolk’s first Australian event, and sat here one gorgeous summer evening:
There are also workshops – I did one with India Flint and learned how to make a bag out of a scarf and use native plants as dyes (more on that some other time). And each season, vegetable garden guru Linda Ross holds a Kitchen Garden day, sharing her experience on growing your own, matched with lunch from Mickey’s very impressive kitchen garden.
Mickey has always opened the garden in spring and the open day has now morphed into a full-on Fair. So next weekend there will be plants and stylish garden things to buy, Martin Boetz is making lunch, and there’ll be cake and tea and various entertainments. Mickey’s just-released book, The House and Garden at Glenmore (here’s a review of the book by gardener, writer, artist, Silas Clifford-Smith, who blogs as The Reflective Gardener) will be for sale in the Barn, where Mickey also sells the linen dress that is her uniform, and other hard-to-resist bits and pieces. It will be a beautiful day out in the country, whatever the weather.
I wrote about the garden for the Sydney Morning Herald, but today as a flashback I thought I’d include a bit from a story I wrote a few years ago for Your Garden magazine, Australia’s longest-running garden magazine, launched in 1947, and killed off just this year by Pacific Publishing.
Mickey Roberston traces her dream of a country house life filled with flower gardens, orchards and a vegetable patch to childhood bedtime stories. “Blame it on Beatrix Potter and those nursery rhymes,” she says, “…Mary Mary Quite Contrary.” In 1989 when Mickey and husband Larry found Glenmore House, in the rural hills south-west of Sydney, there were no pretty maids all in a row. On the contrary, the house was derelict, the garden overrun, yet Mickey’s childhood dream began to take shape.
The house, a rough-hewn sandstone cottage, Georgian in style and dating from the 1830s, had been alternately rented and vacant for some 35 years, so “when we would come from the city on a Saturday morning and put the key in the lock we would hear the scuttling behind the door,” remembers Mickey. The couple worked weekends for 18 months before they could spend a vermin-free night in the cottage and wake to the view over hills and a winding creek towards the Razorback Ranges.
Blackberry and lantana had swallowed the garden and its outbuildings, though persimmons and peppercorns were visible through the mess. “I started planning and making little drawings on pieces of paper,” explains Mickey, whose career as an interior designer is apparent in the garden as well as the house. She rejected the curved organic shapes of a typical country garden, for something more room-like. “I like straight lines, compartments, a certain amount of orderliness.”
She also likes structures and one of the charms of the gardens is the use of the original outbuildings – a hayshed, barn, dairy and stables. These formerly rundown constructions have been restored and given fresh purpose. They also offer points with which to frame the axes of the garden.
Mickey’s early planting ideas were heavily influenced by English country gardens, but, ensconced at Glenmore House, she gradually developed a sense of history about the garden. “I was hugely influenced by what Leo Schofield did at Bronte House,” she explains. “That garden is just such a thrill! And about the same time I was working at Brownlow Hill, an early-19th century property close by and saw the agaves, aloes, yuccas, and the Chinese elms and bamboo forests there. That was when the wisteria and the roses I’d planted out the front came out and I became really interested in garden history.”
The front of the symmetrical stone cottage, grey dormer windows like eyebrows, a bullnose verandah shading the lower rooms, now has a garden that suits its no-nonsense lines: a forecourt of pale grey gravel, a round pond and two great clumps of silver-blue Agave Americana.
Now, says Mickey nothing is planted purely for its good looks. “There has to be some historical or romantic reason for planting it.” As an example she points out the olive and almond trees, both early sentimental plantings that link her to memories of times spent in the south of Spain with her late parents-in-law.
The almond and olives form part of an orchard planting that includes citrus, black and white figs, apples and crabapples. The adjacent garden of perennial borders gives Mickey opportunity to practice her talent for developing horticultural pictures. The two facing borders are wide enough and long enough for the development and repetition of tone and texture. The structure is supported by plantings of bronze flax, Phormium tenax, and through the seasons different plants take starring roles. In autumn apricot cannas, burgundy heads of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, bright red hips of the rugosa rose ‘Frau Dagmar Hastrup’ and bleached blonde, fairy-floss heads of ‘Miscanthus sinensis’ draw the eye.
The borders are let go all through winter, the dried heads of the flowers and grasses hanging on against the frost. And then, in mid-August, everything but the flax is cut down, the whole lot covered with compost and manure, so that it springs into lush new growth.
Glenmore House is about an hour south of Sydney on Moore’s Way at Glenmore, and is open 10-4.30pm next Saturday and Sunday, October 15 and 16. Entry $10. Mickey will take tours of her Kitchen Garden at 11am and 2pm.