Category Archives: New South Wales Gardens

Hillandale: a garden for the Impressionists

This is a flashback to November 2017, to my absolute favourite garden of the year…. spring time at a country property called Hillandale in Yetholme, near Bathurst, New South Wales.

This farm and garden , set in bucolic fields and distant hills, is a credit to the owners, Sarah and Andrew Ryan.

In 1999, they purchased the property from the Wilmott family who were responsible for planting most of the mature trees, rhododendrons, (as tall as trees)  azaleas, hydrangeas and maples.

A turf-covered stone bridge leads over a little creek, and into the slopes down to rolling hills below.

There is a lush, green almost English feel as we walk through the first part of this diverse garden.


The spring-fed water winds down to the lake, and opens out into a wonderful country property.

The garden has many parts to it, but we started with  Sarah’s herbaceous perennial border. It is 120 metres (390 feet) long and designed to walk through and enjoy…”to delight the senses”

This border is on the sunny northern side of the garden. (Unfortunately by the time I took these photos it was midday on a very bright day, so some of the photos are a little hazy..)

Sarah became interested in perennials about twenty years ago, influenced by the naturalistic planting style pioneered by the Dutch and was also inspired by wonderful herbaceous borders in the British Isles.

She has experimented with many different plants over the years, and now has 300 different species. They all help to create movement, structure, texture, which is Sarah’s aim.

These soft golden coloured grasses were waving in the morning sunshine… and I’ve never seen Love-in-the-Mist planted so well between other groups of plants..

The winding path changes perspective every time you walk along it…..

and we walked up and down quite a few times, finding more interesting surprise plantings every time.

With the slightly steamy sunshine look, (and my slightly hazy photos) this perennial border starts to look like an impressionist painting doesn’t it?

Sarah has also planted to attract birds and insects to the garden…

….and yes, she even manages to work around the Cockatoos, and several other birds …..all part of the rich  tapestry of country living. I’m sure she could tell us many stories about all the birds that visit this garden…for a later post perhaps…

Incidentally we saw this Australian King parrot in the car park of a nursery not too far from Hillandale..

You almost need your sunglasses on to see him on this bright sunny day…

This area has rich soil and a good rainfall (most of the time) so would be the envy of most gardeners I know…

The vegetable patch is also flourishing, but I think Sarah and Andrew make everything look easy..

This glasshouse was a present to Sarah from Andrew, he reassembled it piece by piece from a property where it was no longer wanted.

It is full of plants like geraniums and succulents that need to be protected from the cold,……

It is hard to believe on this warm spring day, but  Yetholme is one of the coldest regions in Australia, at about 1150 metres above sea level, and has regular snow in winter.

We spent a long time in this garden and chatting to Sarah. She encourages people to stay as long as they like, have picnic, or just enjoy a coffee and look through photos of the garden through all seasons.

In fact, we spent so long talking that I forgot to take a photo of Sarah, this knowledgeable, and talented plants-woman. Gardeners are such nice people aren’t they?

But we will be back to see this extraordinary garden, hopefully through all the seasons.

We found out about this garden when we were browsing through a book shop in Melbourne. I picked up a beautiful book called Dreamscapes which features gardens from all around the world….. Australia, NZ, USA, UK, Europe and Asia.  All of them are glorious. There was only one in New South Wales (our region) and it is Hillandale.

Paul then went back to the book shop and bought the book as a surprise for our wedding anniversary.

Dreamscapes by photographer Claire Takacs

So now we can go on a trail of glorious gardens forever!

Hillandale is open on the last weekend of each month until March 2018… and I’m sure will be open again next spring.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.








































Retford Park, from homestead to country estate..

This grand house and parkland is tucked away on the outskirts of Bowral in the Southern Highlands, New South Wales.

The property dates back to 1821 when Governor Macquarie granted Edward Riley two parcels of land. It was originally called Bloomfield.

This Jane Austen-like driveway takes us back to the 1880s, when Samuel Hordern bought the property.

Fortunately for future generations, his son, Sir Samuel Hordern and his wife, Charlotte, were keen gardeners. They were responsible for the first of the large trees and camellias, and a park full of rare and unusual oaks.

Retford Park was bought by James Fairfax in 1964, and it was his country home until he died early in 2017.

James inherited his fortune from the Fairfax Publishing company founded by his forebears, and is a well known philanthropist and art patron.

When he died, he showed further generosity and foresight by gifting  Retford Park to the National Trust for all to enjoy.

The Southern Highlands has a temperate climate, and for new settlers arriving in Australia, it was a chance to grow colourful shrubs, like camellias, rhododendrons, and azaleas…the gardens were exploding with blossoms and colours..

When James Fairfax bought the property he turned it from an agricultural property to a country house for family and friends.

Under his care, landscape designers have blended old with the new. There has been extensive re-planting of the park, with various species, notably, chestnut, gingko, nyssa and many oaks…this is my favourite part of the property.

The Cypress Lawn, includes an older Redwood, and newly planted weeping Japanese maples, and a bamboo grove…

The Redwood tree has increased in height since a huge old Monterey Cypress was cut down after extensive damage by the cockatoos during the last drought….

The remnants of a Monterey Cypress, after being ringbarked by cockatoos during the last drought

as I have mentioned in many posts, cockatoos are great characters but tough to live with in the country and/or on a farm….(everywhere really)

A cockatoo busily stripping some bark from an apple tree nearby

The pool pavilion was designed in 1968 by the late architect, Guilford Bell. It provides panoramic views across the paddocks.

Not very far away from this slick and modern pool is part of the original garden, and here we can see the Rolls Royce of all chicken coups… electric fences to keep out the foxes..

It was customary for large estates to keep exotic birds and animals, and these days, all that remain are some emus. They  have an equally generous garden, also surrounded by electric fences…possibly to keep them in!

Emus, usually living in dry precarious bushland, probably think they have died and gone to heaven here!

Along the Emu walk are trees called Tilia cordifolia “Rubra”. Also known as Lime or Linden trees.

The older aviaries are being taken over by impressive vegetable gardens.

Near the garage was the Peony walk, unfortunately nearly the end of flowering time for these gorgeous flowers, but we managed to find a couple still blooming….Paul took an lovely shot of the pink one..

The Knot garden, closer to the house is planted with  English and Japanese box and Mop-top Robinias, designed by David Wilkinson, architect and landscape gardener.

The black and white tulips were very striking..

The Knot garden takes us full circle to the front of the grand house, and this is called the Grey Garden, and is planted with white agapanthus and clipped slivery grey shrubs.

Looking down through the Grey Garden you can see the lovely parkland beyond..

These ancient trees are drawing the visitor in…..what could be better on a warm spring day..

….than lunch under the blossoming trees near the coach house…. and cottages, in the original pastoral property

There is an overwhelming feeling of shade and peace at Retford Park, which only well cared parks and gardens can give…



Copyright: Geraldine Mackey All Rights Reserved