Monday, March 10, 2014


The photographs in this piece have been included in the sequence they were taken, in order to better illustrate the experience of the stroll through the garden.

The tiny notice was read in The Australian under the title ABC Open Gardens. In the list for the coming weekend, a garden at Comboyne was scheduled to be open on both the Saturday and Sunday. We were away from home at North Haven in New South Wales, a pretty little coastal retreat south of Port Macquarie, and remembered the name Comboyne from an earlier trip when we had travelled to the Ellenbourough Falls. This journey took us through Taree and into the wonderful hinterland of this region. We had observed that the other northern route to these marvellous falls passed through Comboyne. This village was in the vicinity, just a short drive west through Kew. So we decided to visit the garden on the Sunday. The Open Garden notice had been seen before, but rarely was there an open garden so close. Comboyne must be only a half an hour away from North Haven, on the road south of the town of Wauchope - pronounced ‘war-hope.’ The name has nothing to do with either war or hope - see below.#

Sunday came. By 9:30am we were all ready to leave. The advice we received was that the road through Kew that led to Comboyne was named Comboyne Road, the road on which the garden was located. All we had to do was look for the number :2308. The drive took us through some very pretty, picturesque, hilly country that became steeper and denser as we progressed. The way climbed slowly to progressively open up vistas of ever more distant hills. We passed neat properties and progressed into forest areas that became steeper. We wondered how a classic, planned garden might fit into such a place. We started looking for numbers: ah, 2048. Oh, so we must be getting closer; but the forest grew denser, darker and rougher. We passed number 3201. Gosh, did we really miss the garden. Surely there could be no garden in such a bushy area as this that we could not have noticed? We decided to put our fate into the lap of the GPS-navigator gods, and tapped in the details. The electronic advice with an Australian accent was to continue travelling along this dirt track for 3.8 km and then turn right. So on we went on blindly, full of hope, heading for Wauchope. Where was Comboyne?

The turn right was marked with a sign saying ‘Comboyne Road,’ with a left arrow to Comboyne and a right-pointing arrow indicating the route to Wauchope. Gosh, do we really go to Wauchope and not Comboyne? The gadget had told us to turn right with a knowing inflection. We hoped we were going to get somewhere soon. We drove along a high twisting mountain road into open countryside bordered by the interplay of distant blue hills. The navigator indicated that we had about 5 km to travel to ‘reach our destination’ as the programmed voice goes. On the left we passed a neat hedge that suggested a garden, and the comment was made that we were in country that was more conducive to the type of formal, structured garden that the ABC promoted. We checked numbers as we drove: 3357. What, we have passed it! The navigator must be wrong. We turned back and arrived at the hedge frontage and saw the sign Open Garden Parking in crude, bold letters on a rough board nailed to a stake in the ground. We were there. We puzzled about the GPS location for only a few seconds, but asked no more questions. Just arriving without too many detours gave us sufficient satisfaction.

The hedge was backed with tall trees that surrounded the home. On one side of the field that was open to the car parking area, there was another freehand sign: 'EGGS 4.00 DOZ.' Was this the entry, or did one enter the garden from the street frontage, through the hedge gates? We decided to meander along the road and go through the frontage defined by the hedge. This seemed more appropriate than using what looked like the informal side entry. The garden must be structured to anticipate such an approach. The old gate declared the number: 2308. So the GPS navigator was wrong?

These images raise the question: were Alvar Aalto's glass vases inspired by cut trunks rather than the lakes of Finland?

The gate was pretty, a romantic relic that suggested the feel of the rest of this place. The ambitions seemed to be classic English, almost cottage garden but more, even in this open Australian countryside. We entered through the smaller gate and followed the path that led to the owners standing next to a temporary table spread with information pamphlets and country wares: jams, spreads and chutneys. After a pleasant greeting, we paid and were given a quick introduction to the property. We were encouraged to stroll through the garden – anywhere; everywhere. So we headed off across an open lawn to the gap in the trees that suggested the presence of a pretty, shady grove.

A gravelled drive was crossed and more tiny spaces opened up. In the short distance, a small structure could be seen. It was like a quaint Japanese tea house, such was its compact identity and considered detail. Bamboo had been used for screens and gates, along with old corrugated iron sheeting for wall cladding. The roof was a steep pyramidal form; corrugated iron. What was this place? Then the chooks appeared. It was a hen house, a very exquisite hen house surrounded with a wire fence enclosing a small open yard. Indeed, the text had spoken about the importance of the fowls for the garden. They were certainly being accommodated in style. All aspects of this corner of the garden were dominated by this attractive home for the birds. It gave a sense of contentment to the place, and character.

We meandered on through the trees until we reached the boundary fence. Here the reality of the neighbour’s different, more practical farming approach to landscape was made clear. The fields were left open, fenced for base convenience. Horses require something other than a planned garden. Moving back from this glaring difference, indifference, we reached the gravel road again and walked on. Another small building, all old corrugated iron, appeared. This was the 'Flammable Liquid Store.' A large old tree trunk loomed in the lawn as we moved on around the house. The distant hills appeared, rolling gently with their rich green. There was no drought in this high country. Smaller bushes gathered in this area that opened up to a private deck and some large pots. This was the place for the sundowner - gin and tonics after five, in full view of the beauty of the setting sun and the approaching cool of the evening.

Walking on through low garden planting, yet another pretty shed appeared. Again, this was tin and bamboo, all architecturally detailed with style and precision. It was another hen house, but this time the hen run was a clever perimeter zone fenced around a cottage garden full of herbs and vegetables. While not as idyllic as the first little building, this one was just as carefully considered: more stylised and self-confident. It was complete as an idea with a small skillion roof and sculptured recesses shaping the walls and their junctions. It was a little gem.

Looking up towards the road, we saw the ‘EGGS 4.00 DOZ’ sign and the side gate. We had completed the stroll around the property and were close to where we had started. There was some disappointment that the garden has been circumnavigated and the stroll had nearly been completed. One wanted the experience to continue, such was its pleasantness. We moved back into the entry garden space, all open and bordered with huge trees, designed garden beds and manicured lawns. It did look a picture. A quick thank you and goodbye saw us move out, past others who had just parked and were moving in. It was good to see some interest in the garden that was indeed worthy of a visit. It was modest but still wonderful in a genuine way. The precinct was not grand or boastful, or overdone. It held an informality in its structure that carefully managed an impressive balance. At times the garden felt ordinary, but then a little detail would appear to highlight the gentle, thoughtful sensitivity of its placement, creating a new ambience beyond the bland, without ever reaching the bold or brazen declaration of self-interest. It was indeed a good place for hens that played such an important role in this place. It was this love for the birds that permeated this place.

It was a modest garden, touching on the grand idea of things historic in the open country Comboyne hills. The location held the garden in its place, in ordinary countryside that was extraordinary. On leaving the garden and returning to the car park, one could see the origin of the bamboo. Groves of tall grass lined the roadside opposite and shaped the space of this place - or is it the place of this space? We drove off, detouring back to have a look at Comboyne, the village. It was a very relaxed place, just like the garden, but more informal. The Sunday afternoon had its sleepy grip on this little village that was enfolded in the twists of hills and streams. The only activity was around the little shop. Driving around took us past the school and the local hall, offering tantalising glimpses of ad hoc and experimental housing. It was an interesting little place.

We drove off, taking the road to Wauchope, hoping to pass a little café or restaurant for lunch. We did pass one place, but it seemed a little too formal, pretentious, so we pressed on and found a more modest place in Wauchope. Our journey ended here. The familiarity of the town and the short route back to North Haven made this stop the end of our unknown journey - our journey into the unknown that had started on the road from Kew earlier that day. It was as though we had travelled a thread that held a jewel: the road from Kew to the wonderful garden, and then on to Wauchope. The garden will remain a loved memory. It was a place of quiet, a place for hens. The garden held a duality that contrasted farm activity with formal garden ambitions. It was a quaint mix that presented the hen farming aspect of the place with a grandeur that was adorable - the hen houses. This was really henhouse place: joli indeed; a jolly good garden – Le Joli Jardin of Comboyne.

It is interesting to reflect on the qualities of this little place and ask about its character: how did it become what it is; how does a garden become what a garden is? What is a garden? The images suggest an ordering idea. The owners tell how they removed many mature trees to make this garden what it is today, to let the light in, to create the spaces and places that make it live. Gardens are made, cared for. They include elements such as paths, gates, bowers, fences, screens, objects, buildings, and plants - their forms, colours and textures that provide a collage of variations, differences in one context: in concert. Everything plays its role in the whole, but there is more: there is an understanding of people; of feeling.

That there is such empathy and thought for the place establishes a ground for a certain sensitivity to grow. Here the hens work the garden too: they scratch and weed; they lay eggs. They inhabit a place for people to share in, complete with vistas, glimpses, depth, enclosure, and openness. A garden is a complex piece of design with nature. It is more than ‘landscape architecture' that promotes something heroic, special. Gardeners do more than design and manage. A gardener loves, cares; works intimately with all aspects of place-making, fully engaged with the tiny matters that all matter. There is anti-intellectual quality in this involvement that all good design needs: something emotional. Good gardeners work for the garden not for their own glory; that is why this place is impressive. It reveals ordinary work; good work (c.f. Schumacher). Its values are valued in the garden experience. Categorizing this interest simply as things 'green' is demeaning. It is life and living caring for life and living; sharing worlds and experiences - enhancing and enriching them. This is design at its best.

Le Joli Jardin
Set like a green jewel in the beautiful rolling hills of the Comboyne Plateau, this lush garden features strong structural elements, including hedging and mass plantings of oyster plants and agapanthus.
Interlocking paths wind beneath mature exotic trees underplanted with flowering clivias, gingers and other shade-lovers.
Star jasmine fills the late spring air with its heady perfume, while magnolias, buddlejas and other flowering shrubs provide soft colour.
Opening their garden for the first time, owners Susie Barry and Alex Woodgate say that they are delighted to be able to share their garden with others.
“I’ve always found a stroll around any garden that is loved to be a great tonic for both the body and the soul,” says Susie.
“We love being outdoors, growing and nurturing plants, seeing the seasons come and go and watching things change. We hope visitors to our garden will feel a sense of peace and inspiration as they wander around.”
The garden features a well-designed veggie patch and a delightful chook house.

Garden address            2308 Comboyne Road, Comboyne
Opening                      16 & 17 November 2013, 10am to 4.30pm
Admission                   $7 (under 18 free)

# Wauchope – the name comes from the surname of one of the first settlers of this area. The origins of this surname are given on-line:

This unusual name is of early medieval Scottish and English origin and is a locational surname from the district called 'Wauchopedale' in the parish of Langholm, Dumfriesshire, or from the area in and around Wanchope Forest next to the Cheviot Hills on the border with Northumberland. The name means 'the valley of the foreigner(s)', derived from the Old English pre 7th Century word 'walh', foreign(er), usually referring variously to pockets of Scotsmen, Welshmen or Bretons, or English in Scotland, with the Old English 'hop', Middle English 'hope', a small, enclosed valley. The Scottish family settled in Roxburghshire early on, as Vassals of a Baron, in English feudal law a 'Vavasour'. In 1247, Robert de Waluchop received from Alexander 11 a grant of lands in Aberdeenshire. John Wauchope married Isabella Ker in Edinburgh, on the November 25th 1659. In 1681, Captain Wauchope, an officer in the Dutch Scottish regiments, was dismissed for falling in love with Elizabeth Villiers, the mistress of William 111 of Orange, later joint Monarch of England with his wife Mary (1689 - 1702). The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Ada de Walenhope (Charter witness), which was dated circa 1200, Records of St. Marys, Melrose, during the reign of King William, 'The Lion of Scotland', 1165 - 1214. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to “develop” often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

Comboyne – it has a less complicated origin:

Aboriginal in origin: meaning 'female kangaroo'. Originally 'Komboin' meaning 'kangaroo'. (Oceania; vol.XXXIV, no.4, p.292; June, 1964). Also: 'female (Aboriginal, Kangaroo)’ (McCarthy, 1963)

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