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In my garden: Hillandale

Sarah Ryan’s garden reaches a peak in autumn when the perennial border is at luscious full volume and the mature trees that nestle up to the old farmhouse throw fiery reflections into the lake.

Here she tells us what she’s up to in this busy season.

Words and pictures: Sarah Ryan




Hillandale is an old garden situated at Yetholme in the Central Tablelands of NSW, about midway between Lithgow and Bathurst. We enjoy four distinct seasons and the garden is a cool climate one. The original part of the garden was planted more than a hundred years ago in the traditional English style, so it now boasts towering rhododendrons, majestic deciduous trees and massive conifers. My husband Andrew and I bought the property in 1999. We’ve added a 125m long herbaceous border, a bed for cut flowers, a small vegetable garden and three large shrubberies.

Autumn is a glorious crescendo to the end of our growing season but can sadly end quite early either with a frost or early snowfall.



[pix: autumn border and portrait]


I’m admiring autumn colour 120

At this time of the year the deciduous trees show off their glorious colours. Giant old pin oaks are clothed in deepest red; maples wear a blaze of red or yellow; and the liquidambars, the last to colour up, are a multi-coloured tapestry of yellow through to dark purple. Even the conifer, Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’, changes from bright green to coppery-red in the autumn. Under the trees, the shrubs too seem to be trying to out-colour one another everywhere you look, from the Euonymus to the Viburnums. My favourite place to view this stunning show is from the bottom of the garden, where I sit by the dam and see it all reflected back at me in the water.


[pic: Hillandale reflections]


I’m re-arranging the glasshouse

The glasshouse is a constant source of enjoyment no matter what the season. It came, as an unwanted orphan, from our local university. Andrew built the stone walls it now sits on, replacing its original red brick base. I have filled it with succulents and geraniums, as I have found that it’s too hot in summer for anything else. Last year we had a dry and sunny winter and the geraniums kept on flowering all year. I am curious to see how they go if we get our usual weeks of bleak and snowy weather this year! I’m using Seasol to strengthen them for their winter ordeal. Certainly I would not be able to grow these tender plants without the protection offered by the glasshouse. I also overwinter my lemon and cumquat here.


[pic: glasshouse]


I’m watching the windflowers

We have three different colours of windflowers (Anemone japonica) here at Hillandale - pale pink, pure white and double hot pink - and they put on a magnificent show in autumn. They especially like the conditions in our woodland areas - some grow up to 2ms tall here in the shade - though I’ve found they're not fussy and will literally grow out of concrete! They can become a bit of a pest, as they propagate both from roots and by seed. In the past I think I have pulled out a whole patch only to find them back bigger and better the next year. Trial and error has taught me that the best way to control them is by mulching heavily. So at this time of year I’m taking note of where I like them and where I think they need to be controlled.


[pic: hot pink windflower]


I’m loving the border 110

The herbaceous border, which is inspired by the designs of the New Perennial Movement, peaks as summer gives way to autumn. It’s designed as a garden to walk through, with a winding path that is narrow so that you brush past the plants as you walk up or down the slope. I like to walk down towards the morning sun, with the plants backlit, and up again in the afternoon as the sun gets low in the west. Hundreds of different species of perennials are in flower in autumn, including salvia, rudbeckia, eupatorium, dahlia, aconitum, phlox, canna and helianthus, (to name a few) plus many varieties of ornamental grasses. I love the grasses as a foil amongst the flowers and in the soft autumn light they give the border an ethereal feeling, especially in the early mornings or late afternoons. The air is alive with birds and insects, and as the gentle breezes blow in the grasses, the garden is a tapestry of colour, light, texture and movement. At the end of autumn it’s cut down, the prunings left in situ, except for the very woody ones, and covered with stable straw from the racehorses Andrew trains. It sleeps over winter and bursts into new growth in early spring.


[pic: sedum autumn joy]


It’s time to

Clean up the summer vegetables and get ready for planting the winter crops, such as broccolii, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

Rake up leaves. This is a huge job at Hillandale and we keep at it all through autumn and winter. We use the leaves as mulch in the shrubberies.

Deadhead to extend the flowering season of the perennials, especially the dahlias, which will keep flowering until the first frost.

Take notes on any changes to be made to the garden, such as moving plants that are not thriving or creating new planting combinations.

Prune Sasanqua camellias after flowering to maintain tight, compact growth. Keeping them smaller and more compact helps them cope with heavy snowfalls.

Cover prunings taken through the season with horse stable straw. Once composted we use this throughout the garden - we don’t use any commercial fertilisers.

Mulch mulch mulch - I don’t like seeing bare earth in the garden. The mulch keeps the weeds down, but also feeds the precious microorganisms in the soil which work so hard for me.


6 great plants for autumn

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Flamingo’

This large, well-structured grass has gorgeous, look-at-me, pink flowers in late summer. It colours up beautifully in autumn and holds its form all through winter. 2m.


[pic: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Flamingo’]


Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’

Attractive all season with bright green-grey, wavy-margined, succulent leaves and scarlet-pink flowers in early autumn on 60cm stems.


[pic: Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’- edit a bit of the pic to show the pink-flowered plant in the centre]


Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’

The dark bronze/purple pinnate leaves contrast beautifully with the red velvet, semi-double flowers. 1m


[pic: Dahlia bishop]


Aconitum napellus

Deep-purple, hooded flowers (hence the common name - monk’s hood) are the last to appear in the border on stiff glossy green stems and leaves. This beauty prefers part shade and moist soil.


[pic: Aconitum]


Eupatorium maculatum

Dusky pink domes of flowers appear on top of stiff stems that don’t need staking. The beautiful autumn foliage is a bonus. Prefers moist, well-composted soil. 2m


[pic: Eupatorium maculatum]


Helianthus ‘Sheila's Sunshine’

Narrow stems up to 3m tall carry miniature sunflowers of the softest lemon-yellow. Prefers moist, well-composted soil.


[pic: helianthus]


See more

Hillandale is open on March 24 and 25, closed from April through August, then open again on the last weekend of the month through spring. Check details at 287 Eusdale Road, Yetholme, NSW.

About this article

Author: Sarah Ryan