As part of Killabakh Garden Club’s 25th Anniversary celebrations, the Club is opening six of its members’ gardens to the public on Sunday 29 April 2012. Varying greatly in size, style and character, the gardens each share the common setting of the picturesque Killabakh Valley. Club President and garden aficionado, George Hoad, tells us about the open day …
In 2001 you moved back to the Manning Valley to a 13 acre property at Killabakh, which you named Winchelsea, after a village in England where your forebears are from … What drew you back to the area?
After 20 years of living in Sydney, I tired of the rat race of city life and being a country boy at heart, decided it was time to make a ‘tree change’ and put down my roots, as it were.
I started looking for a property to purchase in the Manning area in the 1990s and after a few fruitless years searching in the Upper Manning where my family forebears had settled 150 years ago, I stumbled across the Killabakh Valley and immediately fell in love with it. To my delight, a property was on the market that met my criteria of about 10 acres, a creek, a house and the potential to establish a large country garden.
I was also to discover that what makes Killabakh such a special place is not only its natural beauty, but the warm, inviting community that imbues the valley with its unique character. From day one, I threw myself into a long list of local activities, including the popular ‘Day in the Country’, Fire Brigade Cabaret Nights (making a number of memorable appearances), Christmas Concerts, and I joined the garden club.
In 2004 I was elected President, and I enjoy the role enormously, organising and participating in numerous outings, trips and currently our 25th anniversary celebrations.
Winchelsea’s garden currently stretches across four acres, with the layout influenced again by your love of English garden design with, as you say, “hints of whimsy” from your background in theatre … sounds intriguing.
After leaving school, I headed off to the bright lights of Sydney, enrolled in Drama School and upon graduation, spent the next 20 years as a singer, actor, entertainer, theatre administrator, producer and general dogsbody.
When I started to get serious about laying out and designing the garden, about 7 years ago, I drew upon my experience in set design, staging and ‘creating a sense of drama’ and applied this to the garden.
I also have a lifelong passion for collecting antiques and old wares, which now includes anything to do with gardening. I can often be found on a Saturday morning rummaging through local garage sales looking for all manner of odds and sods, from old tools to discarded bicycles, to enhance the garden in my own particular whimsical style. I have a great belief that a garden should embody the character of its owner.
You’ve created distinct areas in the garden which each have their own personality, some of which include an Italian border, a native garden, an Islamic inspired pool garden and a large cast iron fountain flanked by a pair of Greek statues … you’ve talked about your English influences, but where does the influence come from for these disparate settings?
English garden design evolved and developed over the centuries, influenced by the ideas of many cultures, including Italian, French, Chinese and Japanese, and this blending of styles is still evident today in the great English gardens.
In the early 20th Century, iconic gardens such as Hidcote and Sissinghurst influenced generations of gardeners with their use of garden rooms or defined areas, which offer a different mood, style or stimulation as you pass through.
My own garden has been heavily influenced by this particular style and evolved over the years after visiting and studying many of these great English gardens and gardens in other European countries.
For example, the Islamic inspired Pool Garden came about after a trip to Turkey and Spain in 2006, with the purchase in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar of some beautiful tiles titled Paradise Plants, a stay at the Alhambra Palace in Granada and the desperate need to do something about my overgrown, underutilized swimming pool area.
After the removal of numerous inappropriate plantings, such as 6 mature Cocos Palms, enlargement of the area, installing paving and decking and going wild with midnight passion, the purple paint, the area is now inviting and functional all year round.
The Italianate Border pays homage to my many visits to Italy and the Eternal City over the years and was created to give a home to the 4 musical Cupids and to complete the wind break on the western side of the garden.
The Oriental Garden was inspired not by a trip to Asia, but from visiting many of the great English gardens, such as Biddulph Grange, that fell under the spell of the Far East in the 19th Century. Started in 2009 and taking advantage of a secluded corner for quiet contemplation, I recently enlarged this area, and it now features a unique boundary wall – some original 1920 stump foundations from nearby Marlee Hall.
Lake St George, the Bog Garden and the Woodland Walk were started in late 2011 and are still evolving, all inspired from ideas picked up on my garden trip to the UK last year: the Greek Temple, Stumpery and Fernery from Prince Charles’ Highgrove; Beth Chatto’s Water and Woodland Gardens; the Hydrangea Walk at High Tidebrook Manor; and the Azalea, Camellia and flowering shrub walks that wind through many beautiful English gardens.
Provide us with a brief background of the other five Killabakh Garden Club members’ gardens which will be open to the public on the day …
Chris and Carol Saul’s predominately native garden has developed over the last 30 years and evolved into more of a habitat, enticing an array of birds, lizards, snakes, bandicoots, echidnas and wallabies to enjoy its sanctuary. A large Bromeliad collection and productive orchard also take pride of place.
Allan and Lola Mitchell bought Killabakh’s St. Saviours Church 8 years ago and converted it into a lovely home, transforming the once grassed block of ground into a garden of exotic and native plants. The garden is shaded by mature Tallowoods, Grey Gums and Stringybarks.
Mavis Bailey moved to Killabakh in 2001, attracted to the beauty of the location and the 70 year old house surrounded by a garden full of old world country charm.
Of special interest are the many original plantings, including a magnificent old Frangipani. Mavis has further enhanced the garden with her unique artist’s perspective.
Ken and Wendy Boyd’s garden has been developed according to the natural lay of the land, with their home on the upper level, screened from the road with a mixed border planted for seasonal interest. The courtyard has been designed as a quiet retreat for relaxation or a cuppa.
To the north, extensive lawns have been planted with both deciduous and evergreen trees, with a natural creek meandering through creating an appealing park-like setting.
Mark and Wendy Vaile’s spacious Australian garden has been designed to complement the family homestead, with romantic garden rooms creating an intimate atmosphere that continues as you meander around the gravel pathways, with a feature being the extensive use of sandstone steps and edging.
Wendy now relishes the time away from the demanding world of politics to fulfill a lifelong dream of creating and nurturing a large rural retreat, overlooking the surrounding farmland.
Where do profits from the day go to:
The profits from the day will be donated to Ronald McDonald House Newcastle, a charity which provides comfort, care and accommodation to seriously ill or injured children and their families from the across the Mid North Coast.
Thank you George.
Interview by Karen Farrell.