Everglades Garden, in the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains
This 1930s garden is twelve and a half acres of open watercourse, bluebell woodland, terraces with statuary, ponds, a swimming pool,a grotto with the Australian bush ever-present and spectacular views over the Jamison Valley and Mount Solitary.
We learn from poets like Ovid that the ideal classical Garden was an ideal landscape of shady trees, running water, birdsong and blooms.
Henri Van de Velde was born in Brussels, but spent much of his childhood in Australia – his father was a diplomat. He came back to live here and during World War 1 supplied woollen blankets to the army, becoming wealthy as his company became a carpet manufacturer.Van de Velde loved the new Modernism, the interiors of the house include striking red bathrooms and Sorensen ensured the garden designs were detailed and sensitive to the site.
Saturday, Dec 5th, we were let in early and had the place to ourselves for forty minutes. It was Leura open garden festival and they were expecting crowds. The daffodils and Cherry blossom had finished, but everything else was blooming. We have never seen it look so good.
The garden was designed by the Danish landscape designer, Paul Sorensen a prestigious gardener who had the eye for details and for the landscape.
After a government grant, the house and grounds have been refurbished and refurnished.
Milton’s Eden is an English Arcadia in the classical tradition with flowery banks, shaded bowers and ‘‘pleasant walks’’ under magnificent trees and yet this garden remains wild.
A Wilderness of sweets; for Nature here
Wanton’d as in her prime, and play’d at will
Her Virgin Fancies, pouring forth more sweet,
Wild above Rule or Art, enormous bliss. (Paradise Lost. 5.294–97)
In this sense Everglades is a classical garden.
John Dixon Hunt believed that in ‘Paradise Lost’ Milton was recalling the Italian Renaissance gardens he had visited with their variety and mixing of the formal with the informal and the boschetti (wild woods). Everglades has wild woods and borrows the vast scenery of a world heritage natural environment. Shakkei refers to the technique small Chinese gardens used of borrowing scenery from outside their walls. The old character for garden in Chinese (yuan) is a pictograph of a walled garden. Gardens were refuges from danger, from labour, politics and social demands, and a luxury of uncultivated land. Everglades has plenty of walled gardens but is at such a large scale that it always feels open.
The garden mixes native and foreign.
Over a generation ago, the garden writer Edna Walling wrote: “There is little doubt that as we advance in the designing of our garden in Australia, we shall derive more and more inspiration from the old gardens of Italy […]. The chief elements of the Italian garden – stone, water and trees – are most appropriate to the conditions governing the construction of gardens in Australia.”
These elements feature strongly in the Everglades, and while it is a fantastic garden, it is one that looks back- to look forward (if not necessarily advance) we need to look at promoting local biodiversity and conserving local fauna and flora. Two years ago I visited the magnificent Villa d’Este and heard or saw only two species of birds. It is a very formal garden, the world’s pre-eminent water garden and a marvellous visual experience, but one that lacks the variety that Milton celebrated and that our flora and fauna need to survive.
Ross Macleay writes, “True garden lovers love the narrative and sweat of their labour and the contemplation of its being succeeded by nature’s labour. Yet this beauty is in the bush too, and the fruits of labour in the bush of nature’s and of ours still always outdo the contrivances of the garden.” Ross loves the bush, he lives surrounded by bush near Bellingen, and his little time for gardens.
I think gardens are important, they certainly are for the gardeners of the world. They are how most people get into contact with natural environments, how they watch things grow and die. They fit our need for use of creativity, work and techne, “Garden appreciation somehow fuses, or factors out into, art and nature appreciation.”David Cooper (A Philosophy of Gardens, OUP, 1996).
And if the idea of natural gardens, free of pesticides, and with local plants grown for local insects and animals catches on, gardens will become an important part of the natural landscape of ecosystems.
Gardening is a dirty sweaty business you forget in this garden, that is one aspect of the magic of gardens, much is hidden. An army of volunteers help both combat nature and nurture nature; even the tool shed is spick and span in the Everglades.