In the Garden: Highfields

Image 1
Image 2
Image 3
Image 4
22 Jan 2020

As spring melts into the first days of summer Highfields is filled with the fragrance of roses, masses of floral colour and the murmur of the waterfall tumbling into the ponds.

After 18 years at his garden Clover Hill in Katoomba, plantsman David Kennedy wanted sunshine and open space. He and partner Andrew Dunshea found what they were after in Little Hartley, a hamlet on the western slopes of the Blue Mountains with long hours of sunshine and plenty of room. They bought three acres of former cow paddock with views over pastoral land to the great blue ridges of the mountains and set about transforming it.

On the last weekend of October, after five years of hard work, the garden was opened for the first time. With the spring peak now starting to wane, the garden will take a breath before building to another peak of flower in late summer-early autumn.

At the same time that David and Andrew were laying out garden beds, putting in drainage, building dry stone walls and combating the weeds glorying in the newly turned soil, they have also been building. The long term plan is that the house taking shape facing the mountain views will be a B&B/boutique hotel of just five rooms. Guests will have what will become an increasingly beautiful garden to themselves. Meanwhile, keep an eye out for the autumn open days - this is a garden you’ll want to see more of.


The Dry Garden

This garden gets no supplementary water and its at its best in November and December. It’s full of Meditterranean plants that grab the moisture when they can, and then have a rest through the hottest part of the year. There are three terraces in all, the beds bordered by curving dry stone walls, using rock mostly from the property, but also from our neighbor’s paddocks. He’s very happy for us to go in and collect the rocks!

The planting is naturalistic, inspired partly by Piet Oudoph and Beth Chatto, but filtered through my own ideas. On the first level is a colour palette of yellows and purples, changing as you move down the slope to pinks and greys with a dash of pale lemon.

The super-reliable plants here are the phlomis, which I love - I have every one available in the country! - as well as catmint, thyme, lavenders and the grasses. There are quite a few salvias and I find some work better than others. The purple-flowered Salvia greggii ‘Christine Yeo’, is the toughest of all for me here. The euphorbia repeats throughout the top part of the garden. I don’t even know which one it is, but it’s all through the mountains. It’s a bit weedy, and if it’s going to encroach on something else I’ll pull it out, otherwise I let it go its own way.

Barry Manilow Border

This garden is a riot of colour, peaking in December. It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea - it’s very loud - but we love it. The gold-leafed elderflower and philadelphus, contrasting with the bronze foliage of cannas and fennel. The bronze foliage of ‘Forest Pansy’ is a great backdrop to the red roses. There are all kinds of cannas, here, everything I could lay my hands on basically.They haven't been popular for a while, but I think they are due for a resurgence, like dahlias. My dahlia supplier is Jenny Priest at Country Dahlias who has a huge number. I have also added some annuals, having been inspired by what Fergus Garrett does in the Long Border at Great Dixter. So I am adding dark-leafed snapdragons and some cosmos. I am extending the border, and the colours there will quiet down into pastel tones. This border also leads on to the single colour borders - peach, pink, burgundy, red, then with the white and yellow borders leading back up to the house.

Water Garden

My initial inspiration here was Japanese, but I just can't be that restrained!So now it’s more an Asiatic garden, in the sense that there are lots of plants from China and Japan. Water is collected across the garden into two channels which feed down into the dam, and then water is pumped up and fed through the waterfall and a series of six ponds back down into the dam. I’d like to add another big 200,000 litre tank as back-up and with that I think we would be drought-proof.

Around the waterfall pond is a curving planting of ‘Mount Fuji’ cherry, with kurume azaleas underneath. The kurumes are sun-hardy but I’ve found that the flowers on the white one burn in full sun here, whereas the pink ones, darker ‘Princess Maud’ and lighter ‘Kirin’, do really well. There are lots of peonies here in the spring. I think the Itoh peonies, which are a cross between tree and herbaceous peonies, are especially good, with foliage that looks good into summer, unlike other peonies. There are lots of conifers and maples here too providing a good foliage tapestry in summer.

The Prairie Garden

The perennials here look great in November and December but really reach their peak in February. Through the summer I’m weeding and deadheading, and assessing what's working and what isn’t. Now that I have finished the hard landscaping, I can really concentrate on making the planting work. Last year I really enjoyed the combinations of the Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Summer Dance’ and Sanguisorba ‘Blackthorn’. Both are wavy kinds of spire-like flowers, ‘Summer Dance’ with longer pink flowers, and ‘Blackthorn’ almost a cranberry colour.

Most of the plants here were grown from cuttings, that’s the only way I can afford to do it really. When I plant something in this garden I first I prepare the soil with compost, blood and bone and gypsum. (In the Dry Garden, I skip the gypsum and add wetting agent.) This garden is heavily mulched, and watered, but not overly. I believe that if you overwater you make the plants too weak. There are also a fair amount of bulbs through here - camassia, muscari, ixia, sparaxis, and I’m adding more.