The first time I visited Stringybark Cottage I had an inkling that magic was in the air as I bumped along the driveway through bush thick with blackbutt, bloodwood, tallowwood and stringybark.
Suddenly something snagged my peripheral vision. Suspended in the trees was a giant disco ball of sticks. It looked like the explosion of a firework caught in the act and frozen in organic form. Shafts of light through the dense canopy of trees lit it up in sparks and shadow.
Photos - Robin Powell
Welcome to Stringybark Cottage
It was fitting premonition, for in the hills of the sunshine coast hinterland, horticulturist and garden designer Cheryl Boyd has carved a remarkable garden out of the stringybark forest. It’s a garden that casts a spell on visitors. When the 18th century poet Alexander Pope advised garden and landscape designers to ‘consult the genius of the place in all’ he laid the foundation for one of the agreed principles of making great places: adapt the design to the place it inhabits. Yet you rarely see genius loci expressed in such a profound and satisfying way as in Cheryl’s garden.
Blame it on the boogie; driftwood disco-ball
The house sits in a clearing of lawn, snuggling up to a strawberry-pink-flowered dombeya and a fringe of pretty white species camellia. Around the back a terrace looks across a lake of lawn. The lawn is a breathing space among the towering verticals of the rainforest trees and the ferns and palms that Cheryl has planted to add texture to the existing forest.
On one side of the lawn is the original cottage that Cheryl and husband Bob built from stringybark milled onsite. On the other side is the pool. The irregular shape is shallow-edged and lined in the same sandstone tone as the pool deck. Rocks demarcate a paddling pool for smaller swimmers and offer foot-dangling opportunities for older swimmers.The whole area is given privacy and a sense of enclosure by tall planting that melts into the bush. Dominating the backdrop are two bismarkia palms, their giant silvery-grey fan fronds a perfect colour match for the water and two bleached-wood poolside chairs.
Is this a mirage? Or is it the Stringybark Cottage Bismarckia Palm-fringed pool?
The lawn is backed by two wide beds filled with ferns and palms and shade-tolerant groundcovers. Bromeliads, alcanteras, anthuriums, orchids, gingers and cordylines dazzle when they catch the sun. A path, edged with curves of hedge, invite you out of this more-manicured area of the garden and into areas of discovery. Here Cheryl indulges her inner plant-hunter, experimenting and learning about rare and unusual plants, and playing with different design ideas. In each of these areas Cheryl’s eye for scale, texture, form and colour creates amazing spaces. Her planting focus is on foliage colour and texture, with flowers an occasional bonus. Dark-purple leaves contrast with the green, and variegated plants bring their patches of light and colour to the mix.
White bouganvillea above the grand old king of bromeliads, the Alcanterea rubra
Pilea hiding in the sub-tropical undergrowth
Perhaps my favourite space of all is the fire pit. In a clearing beneath the trees is a conversational grouping of bleached chairs made decades ago by a friend using the Boyd’s home-milled timber.Junk shop treasure wirework stools act as side tables, and a mossy fallen log provides extra seating. While the whole area looks natural, it has been subtly gardened with Cheryl’s trademark attention to foliage textures. There are fat-leafed cycads, fine ferns, exploding cordylines, and plenty of orchids snuck into bits of log. It’s the perfect spot for a summer evening drink with family and friends. You could even light a candle in an iron lantern that hangs from a tree on an iron a spiral that appears, like a magic trick, to go all the way through the tree.
Cycads over antheriums
The garden is full of intriguing sculpture, as promised by the mad bird’s nest off the driveway. An abandoned windmill has found a new home, cut in half, with both halves attached to different sides of the same tree, and not lined up. Elsewhere there is a cairn of stones on a tree trunk plinth, an arabesque of dry stone wall, a cable entwined around a tree like a mythical serpent and archways of untrimmed saplings hung with vibrant climbers.
The garden is full of intriguing sculpture
Cheryl’s creativity and subtlety make Stringybark Cottage a garden unlike any I have seen before: deeply personal, and brilliant expressive of its own place.
The original Stringybark Cottage is available for rent on Air BnB, for $120 a night. It’s a great spot from which to explore the markets of Eumundi, the historic villages of the Blackall ranges, and the beaches for the Sunshine coast, just half an hour away.