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Meet: Karen Hall, garden creator

Karen Hall and Peter Cooper in front of their beautiful birch trees at Wychwood, Tasmania. Photo - Peter Cooper

Wychwood is the magical garden created by Karen Hall and Peter Cooper. Though they are moving on, the magic of the garden has been captured in Karen’s words and Peter’s photographs, packaged in a handsome new book.

Wychwood has been a wonderful 22-year project. When did you start sharing it with other people?

In ’97 when we opened the nursery we let people wander through the garden but we weren't overly fussed on keeping it looking good. Then Open Garden Australia approached us. That shocked us a bit. We didn’t realise that people would want to come and see the garden – and that they'd pay to do it. After that being open became an integral part of our life. The kids grew up with people traipsing through the garden.

In all those visits the number one question was about the cut grass edges.

Yes, it’s ironic - we decided to have a grass edging so as to make it about the plants not about the edging; yet that’s what everyone wants to know about! So I go into great detail in the book. I used to do it with crutching shears and it would take days and days and by the time I’d finished it would be time to start all over again. Then Peter worked out how to do it with the brush-cutter. Joy!


The curving beds of the middle garden at Wychwood are planted with mauve and pink flowering perennials and shrubs. Photo - Peter Cooper

Your number one garden rule is to grow plants that suit the conditions. Did you never feel tempted to push the envelope on that rule?

Not really. It’s a lesson we learned from reading Beth Chatto and the further we got into it, the more we stuck to it. There are so many amazing plants to choose from, why would you choose anything that requires lots of effort!

How do you know when a garden is finished?

Well it never is, but for us, we got to a point where we felt that we’d done what we wanted to do. There will always be change and when someone else takes it on, they’ll make changes and make it their own.


Early Spring zing. Photo - Peter Cooper

Did making the book give you sense of Wychwood being a finished project?

Murdoch approached us at around the time we had decided to move on; it was very flattering. Legacy is too strong a word, but it is an endpoint of 22 years of work. And all those hours that Peter was out in the garden in all weather with his camera weren’t wasted! The publishers told us that it was unusual to be able to produce a book with such depth to the images: the garden in all seasons and all times, across years of development. I’m thrilled we got to the point that we could produce a book like that.


Wychwood is for sale, but is open to visitors. Check for details. 

'Wychwood’ is published by Murdoch, rrp $59.95


Interview: Robin Powell

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Author: Robin Powell