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In the perennial garden, a Victorian cast iron fountain from the UK is footed with catmint and bergenia. In the foreground is a mass of Salvia involucrata ‘Joan’. Cupressocyparis leylandii hedge was existing before the current garden was created. Photo - Myles Baldwin

In the misty hills of Robertson in the Southern Highlands of NSW, Myles Baldwin designed a modern rendition of a walled perennial garden, with a twist. 

He tells the story in his new book, ‘Rural Australian Gardens’. 

My first meeting to view the site revealed a levelled grassy rectangular paddock running north-south, a bit larger than a championship tennis court. The usual solution for creating a garden in a rectangular space is to run with some sort of symmetry. The great perennial gardener Gertrude Jekyll approached almost all her gardens in this manner, with squares and rectangles dominant features in virtually all her work. So when I presented my symmetrical garden idea to John Alexander I was taken aback when it was rejected.

John’s dream was to have a relaxed garden of roses and perennials with narrow paths surround by different textures, smell and colours. Inspiration shifted from the works of Jekyll to that of Monet, Oehme van Sweden and Piet Oudolf, all of whom have created settings bound by formality yet displaying perennials in their wild form.


John Alexander like dark purple grasses, so later introduced Pennisetum advena ‘Rubrum’ into the scheme. Photo - Myles Baldwin


The garden was now to be bordered by dry stone walls. Within the walls a swirling pattern of paths would direct visitors towards the centre, but allow them to meander off, passing though various colour schemes and features. I wanted to make the movement through the garden a journey, so concentrated strong pinks, purples and dark blues at the southern end, and used all the white and yellows to the north. Throughout the centre, blue, soft pink and foliage contrasts such as those found between ornamental grasses and echium were used. It was experimental. Heliotropes, I found, worked well beside Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’, and bergenia and dark-leaved heuchera made for a very masculine heavy feeling.

Roses, for which John’s wife Alice, has a passion, were matched with various plants of complementary colours. One of my favourite roses, the David Austin ‘William Shakespeare’ I planted adjacent to a mass of Salvia ‘Joan’. The almost chocolate red of the David Austin contrasted perfectly with the pink in ‘Joan’.


Antique table and chairs in the perennial garden, with Salvia ‘Joan’ at left and Salvia ‘Waverley’ at right. Photo - Myles Baldwin


Horticulturally, growing roses in a climate like Robertson’s can be tricky, so four obelisks were built to elevate much of the collection, improving air movement and reducing the risk of fungal growth. It allowed us to grow ‘Princess Margaret’ and ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ without swamping all other plants in the garden.

Before setting out on the perennial garden, it had occurred to me that the design might become a jumble of textures without a common thread, and with everything cut down in winter would merely be a wasteland. A solution was to plant an evergreen constant in the garden, a plant that would be inoffensive and not detract from the seasonal colour. For this I used stands of Japanese buxus balls, some more than a metre round, to grow together like huge green rocks.

Three years on the garden is an immense display of texture and colour. The dynamic garden grows from a winter nothing to, in some areas, over two metres tall with a display that run for 10 months of the year. 

Words and images from Rural Australian Gardens by Myles Baldwin, published by Murdoch Books RRP $89.95

Myles Baldwin

In his introduction to ‘Rural Australian Gardens’, Sydney-based landscape designer Myles Baldwin admits that a country garden has long been a dream of his. And for most of us, the lack of constraint offered by a place in the country is immensely appealing: a space where decisions don’t involve the neighbours’ hatred of trees, or the need to hide their two-storey renovation; where a garden can be given the time its need to develop a personality.


In his new book, Myles Baldwin explores our need to garden and create beauty in our landscape. Photo - Myles Baldwin


For those of us harbouring the country garden fantasy, Baldwin’s new book offers plenty of inspiration, as he meanders from ‘country lite’ gardens in the pretty rolling hills not far from the city and ‘real country’ where environmental challenge is an intrinsic part of every view.

Baldwin trained at Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens and when he left took on a role as head gardener at Bronte House in Sydney, when it was owned by Leo Schofield. He then launched Myles Baldwin Design and Designer Gardens, a design studio and landscaping compony which produces gardens for both period and contemporary architecture. He’s a knowledgeable and entertaining guide to some of our loveliest country gardens.


Text: Myles Baldwin 

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Author: Myles Baldwin