Visit: Highfields - The garden of Clover Hills David Kennedy and Andrew Dunshea

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7 Jun 2021

In November 2014 David Kennedy and Andrew Dunshea, creators of Katoomba’s wonderful Clover Hill, embarked on a new garden over the mountain in Little Hartley. In this extract from Claire Takacs’ new book, ‘Australian Dreamscapes’, David tells what happened next.


Words: David Kennedy 

Image: Claire Takacs 


My partner Andrew and I made a start on the garden before we even settled on the property.  We thought we’d get stuck into the top boundary but, to our shock and horror, the ground was like concrete. While hacking away with a crowbar we wondered what on earth we had done.  I realised that we would never be able to do it by hand, so we called in the big machines to rip up the ground and grade all the paths at the same time. Hundreds of metres of rock walling followed. We now have something like 1.5 hectares under cultivation, although it is a bit hard to tell because I just keep planting.  


Prairie to Barry Manilow 

Now that I’ve finally got the room, we’ve created themed areas, each with its own identity. The newest areas are monochromatic borders inspired by the first gardening book I ever bought, on Hadspen House and its garden in Somerset, England. I’m also experimenting with foliage colour in planting. 


The Dry Garden is a fairly decent size - about 2000 square metres over three terraces. Plant selection is especially important here. I’ve found that some things classified as being ‘drought tolerant’ are not when it comes to suffering the dry. What has worked well in the garden is phlomis, most of the verbascum, lavender, many of the Mediterranean plants and salvias. Grasses like miscanthus do well, although they are a bit of work to maintain. 


Further down the hill where it is less rocky and the soil seems to hold moisture better, is the prairie garden. I like some of the self-seeding annuals to go through it to give it a bit of its own life and also provide movement. I’m trying to avoid bright colours here, so the effect is more muted, more naturally influenced. I still use grasses and agastache that are commonly used in prairie gardens, but overall it is more low-key. 


The birch grove, rock garden and water garden lead on to the Barry Manilow garden, which is as you would expect: tropical and very bright, with every colour known under the sun. Copacabana all the way! Andrew used to be a fashion designer so has a good understanding of colour, but he did not understand what I was doing with that part of the garden. When he and I went to visit Great Dixter in England he wasn’t looking forward to it. He thought the colours would look garish. But when we got there his whole perspective was changed; the Barry Manilow garden is now his favourite part of Highfields.  


Planting choices 

For a long time I’ve been influenced by the naturalist planting of Piet Oudolf and the New Perennial movement. I like perennials and new grasses, and when they became fashionable I just took it on board. Again, it’s been a case of trial and error. Maybe it’s the harshness of our sun, or the difference in the daylight hours, but often things won’t grow in Australia the way they do in the Northern Hemisphere. 


I like things to be aesthetically pleasing, and I find that comes back to colour. I always like to work with colour. I like mixing colours together, even if they aren’t strictly correct. The prairie garden is muted, but colours will probably creep in there and get a bit brighter as we go along.  I love the combination of yellow and purple that features in the dry garden in the top border.  As you go down the hill, the colours change to shock colours like pinks with reds or yellows. I also like the combination of yellow foliage plants with blue flowers; it gives vibrance. 


The big chop-down comes almost at the end of winter. Generally I’ll try and use it all as mulch if I can, recycling during the downtime before all the bulbs start coming up to kick off the season again. I especially like winter because I have such a big galanthus and hellebore collection. I like seeing the bare bones of the grasses and skeletal perennials and shrubs, which the birds love for the seeds they provide. 


Our inspiration is simple: to make a nice garden for people to visit and relax in. 



Find David at Clover Hills Rare Plants, Stall 9 at Collectors' Plant Fair, Hawkesbury Race Club, Clarendon. Buy tickets at


Story first published in Garden Clinic Magazine Autumn Issue 53.