Most of us choose to garden where we live; Dominic Wong chose to live where he wanted to garden.
Dominic’s great desire was to grow the peonies he had loved since childhood in an English-style flower garden.
So 17 years ago he left Sydney’s inner west for a paddock in Mittagong and the project that has become Chinoiserie. The hot summers and cold winters of the Southern Highlands replicate the climatic conditions of those in China, so the peonies are perfectly at home and produce beautiful and generous blooms.
Welcome to Chinoiserie. Photo - Robin Powell
The name of the property references Dominic’s own mix of influences. Close to the pretty, white gabled house, Dominic has created a wonderful flower garden of herbaceous borders, arbours and little garden rooms. Dividing the long block in two is a man-made creek that ripples over stones to a pond. Iris and cherry blossom overhang the creek and a willow trails its fingers in the water of the pond beside a Chinese-inspired tea pavilion.
Meet Dominic Wong, Chinoiserie gardener. Photo - Robin Powell
I’m protecting the peonies
Dominic has 120 different varieties of herbaceous peonies in the garden. The peonies are in peak bloom in October and to keep the blooms lovely for as long as possible Dominic protects them from the sun with umbrellas. The brollies are primarily big canvas market umbrellas, supported by star picket posts that are buried a metre or so deep and are permanent parts of the peony beds. A few more delicate Chinese umbrellas add their own style and colour. Once the flowers have finished, the umbrellas come down. Peonies set the buds for the following year’s flowers in November, so Dominic gives them a supplementary feed of blood and bone, potash and rose food on Melbourne Cup Day. The plants are dormant in January through the hottest time of the year, but in autumn as the soil starts to cool, the small feeder roots start growing again, so Dominic gives them another dose of his special supplementary feed mix on Anzac Day to power the growth of spring.
Dominic keeps an easy-to-remember schedule - the whole garden is fertilised with Organic Life and Dynamic Lifter on September 1. Photo - Robin Powell
I’m opening the garden
Chinoiserie is open from mid-September until mid-November, and then again for a few weeks in late summer when the sedum, grasses and dahlias are at their best, and the repeat-flowering roses are giving another show. It’s an especially busy time for Dominic who works in the garden every day. “It’s my gym,” he jokes. “Sometimes I have to go to Sydney for a day just to tear myself away from the garden.” The work is mostly clipping and planting and tidying. The garden is organic, and Dominic uses no sprays, not even organic ones. It’s not only that he can’t be bothered spraying, but also that he is trying to establish a balanced ecosystem. He leaves the aphids on the roses for the ladybirds to eat, and deals with black spot by assiduously collecting any affected leaves to stop the spread of the fungus. The garden demands most of his time, but he also likes to be free to talk to garden visitors when the garden is open, and sells plants form his small nursery
Trim the wisteria after it flowers to keep that new whippy growth under control. Photo - Robin Powell
I’m taking tea
After visiting China and experiencing the serenity of the traditional gardens Dominic decided he needed to souvenir a slice of that peace to reference his Chinese ancestry. In Suzhou, which is famous for its gardens, he loved the tea houses perched on the lake, and took the opportunity while there to buy some carved panels. To the bemusement of his handyman, these are now incorporated into an ornate tea pavilion sited on the edge of the pond. Fringed lanterns hang from the ceiling, and the seats are positioned to view the iris reflected in the water and the willow shivering in the breeze. A wisteria clambers along a low fence on the far side of the pond, and behind the pavilion a clump of bamboo completes the set of traditional Chinese plants. On tables alongside the pavilion sit Dominic’s collection of penjing. “I like to sit here with a cup of tea,” he says. “It really is very serene.”
Peonies at Chinoiserie. Photo - Robin Powell
I’m admiring the colours
As soon as the new mail order catalogues come out Dominic scours them for plants he’d like to try, envisaging new combinations of colour and texture for the flowerbeds. His primary sources are Lambley Nursery for perennials, and Tesselaar for the ranunculus, anemones and tulips that provide early spring colour in the garden. He looks to mix complementary colours in some areas, and contrast opposing colours in others. He also likes to see where plants put themselves, so doesn’t mulch the garden to allow plants to self-seed. Some get left where they are, others are moved, and the rest are pulled and fed to the chooks or composted.
Time to dead-head finished roses and peonies. Photo - Robin Powell
Chinoiserie is open as a garden and a B&B. In fact the garden’s axes are centred on the dining table where Dominic envisaged his guests admiring the garden over breakfast when he designed the house and garden. And yes, he also cooks a fine breakfast! www.chinoiserie.com.au