Wonderfully eccentric, personal, witty and beautiful. The garden of sculptors, Fulko Cooper and Maureen Craig is both drawing board and artwork; a house, garden, studio and gallery space that inspires. Welcome to Oakwood.
Story and photos: Robin Powell
No, they're not steel magnolias! Photo - Robin Powell
I was already familiar with the sculptures of Folko Cooper and Maureen Craig. You probably are too. Perhaps you’ve visited Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show some time in the past 17 years and seen their work, and last year had a laugh at the flock of oversized cockatoos captured in corten steel that dominated the sculpture area at the show. You might have seen their glass, stone and bronze birdbaths in glossy magazines; and if you’ve travelled to Tasmania their Shadows of the Past series of steel sculptures capturing moments in midlands history would have shaken off the trance-like lethargy engendered by parts of the the Midlands Highway linking Launceston and Hobart.
So I did expect to see sculpture in their garden, and evidence of artists at work, but I didn’t expect such a wonderfully eccentric, personal, witty and beautiful space. I wanted to move straight in.
The best birdbath in town. Photo - Robin Powell
The garden acts as a showroom. Photo - Robin Powell
Oakwood, an 1830s Georgian home set on 32 acres among 60 mature oaks, is just half an hour outside Hobart. It is house, garden, studio and gallery,
so it is difficult to know which features are permanent, which are experiments and which are awaiting delivery. The massive corten steel eagles
in the paddock fall into the last category, while the little sandstone pigs with curly steel tales cavorting under the pines along the drive are
new, and already selling well. Racing across the front lawn as if startled by an unseen dog is a big family of corten ducks, also on the temporary
list. Away from all this activity, the entrance to the house is quite stark and simple, the front door looking over a globe on a plinth in a box-framed
bed to the hills opposite, past a terrace of pressed gravel where three giant urns hold the cobbles that formed the original carriageway.
A feast of foliage at the table today. Photo - Robin Powell
An arch over the gate with the Oakwood motif. Photo - Robin Powell
The restraint at the front gives way to mad exuberance around the back, where different features demand attention. Perhaps most striking is the vegetable ‘cathedral’ still awaiting its roof and spire, but already both fun and practical. Who knew it could be so handy to have a welder about the place! Folko has built the construction, with sliding corten-framed doors with the house motif of rust-coloured oakleaf clusters at every joint. There are decorative ideas in the way the vegetables are grown too, with tomatoes tied on to heavy string suspended from the rafters and weighed down by river stones; old garden forks, attached to a corten frame making stakes for climbing beans; and rusty bird cages pressed into service as bird protection for seedlings.
Beneath the vegetable garden the pool has been turned into a pond edged with walls of warm honey stone and bleached wooden decks. A fountain catches and reflect sunlight from the pond’s centre, and on one side a wide deck holds two bright yellow chairs. Water-loving plants like giant-leafed gunnera cling to the edges of the pond, while outside its borders perennials, grasses and roses make a rich mass of texture and colour.
The vegetable 'cathedral'. Photo - Robin Powell
Clever ideas everywhere you look. Unusual but wonderful. Photo - Robin Powell
Closer to the house, a terrace area is beautifully lit by the sunlight falling in slivered chunks through British Army snow camouflage slung overhead. Folko saw the effect in a magazine, and tracked down the material. He’s not sure how well it will last, but in the meantime, it marries the dappled effect of a lovely tree with the skin-flattering tones of a bridal marquee to make the perfect overhead shadecloth.
On the other side of the house there’s an orchard of heritage cider apples and pears. Folko, who trained as a chef, and whose early sculptures were in butter and margarine, makes his own cider from the apples grown here.
Hort couture! Photo - Robin Powell
Neatly trimmed with seaside daisy. Photo - Robin Powell
Everywhere you look there are fabulously creative details to marvel at: a display of succulents in matching little terracotta pots on an antique ironwork stand; tiny succulents potted into an old teapot and cups, set out under the trees; little flying pigs captured in birdcages and hung from the trees; or sempervivum rosettes adorning a corten pair of heels.
In this garden creativity meets a sense of humour and an impressive range of skills to inspire us to greater creative efforts in our own gardens. Come see it with me if you can.
Come with us
Robin Powell is hoping to convince Maureen to open Oakwood again this year for her Tastings:Tasmania tour in November. Register your interest on 1300 233 200.