Cold comforts - Wychwood in winter
After a frenetic season of growth through summer and spring, autumn brings an easing into the relaxation of winter. Wychwood’s Peter Cooper tells Robin Powell why he loves the garden in winter.
When winter nights are cold at Wychwood, a garden in central Tasmania, Peter Cooper and Karen Hall wake to a crisp frost holding each plant in a tight icy grip. It’s a sight Peter loves; not just for its intrinsic beauty, but also for what it represents: peace.
In autumn the garden takes on a rusty look, with the flattened heads of sedum echoing the autumn foliage in the paddocks beyond the garden. The perennials and grasses in this border are not pruned until late in winter so that the Coopers can enjoy their shapes even as their colour fades away. Photo - Peter Cooper.
The garden, and accompanying nursery, are open Thursday – Sunday, October – May so winter is an opportunity for the couple to have their garden all to themselves. At the same time the season demands less hands-on graft and allows time for relaxation, and reflection. And the beauty of the frosty garden, its structure outlined with a sharp and brittle clarity, is undeniable. “We leave a lot of seed heads and dried foliage in place if they are structurally sound and this valley really does have phenomenal frosts so it’s quite a dramatic sight,” says Peter.
Both Peter and Karen deliberately chose to live here, in the shadow of the Western Tiers and Gog Range, to experience the distinct seasons they lived with as children. “Karen came out here from England when she was three, and I came from Sweden when I was eight, but my memories of the northern winters are vivid, and significant,” explains Peter. “We lived in Queensland, but we always hankered for the four seasons.”
It was 1991 and the middle of a hot Brisbane summer when the couple packed up and drove south to find somewhere cool to live. Far south, in central Tasmania, they fortuitously came upon an empty house in acres of rich fertile land with a creek running through it. Since then the garden at Mole Creek that they have created has become renowned as one of Australia’s cool climate gems.
Views out over the patchwork of perennials to the Western Tiers. Photo - Peter Cooper
An avenue of silver birches welcomes you and then the garden opens out into wide curvaceous beds, intensely planted. The fluidity in the lines of the garden arises naturally from the contours of the land and from simply sitting in one space and imagining what might be possible in the next space. Peter designed it with his imagination and a sharp spade, cutting shapes out of the lawn so that they link and flow together.
Colours achieve the same flow, seeming to melt and merge into each other. Everything is meticulously planned to look effortless, and the result is that sleight of hand we recognise as elegance- the appearance of beauty without effort.
Birch tree shadows. Photo - Peter Cooper
Of course, a garden like this demands a massive amount of effort, however in the winter Peter and Karen really do take a break. “There’s a little bit of mowing but it is monthly rather than every three or four days,” says Peter. “We don’t tackle the dead and decaying foliage until the end of winter, that last fortnight in August.”
That leaves the garden to enjoy, and they do. “In this part of the country a good frost promises a good day, with a clarity to the light. Hobart can be a bit gloomy in the winter, but here the bright, cloud-free days are beautiful.” As well as the glistening white trunks of the silver birch that form a significant part of the garden’s plantings, Peter particularly enjoys the structure of the sedums and grasses as they dry off.
And of course it’s not all death and dying. Winter also brings tiny treasures to the garden – early primrose, cyclamen and frilly winter aconites - while witchhazel and wintersweet send their perfumes threading through the still garden.
“The garden is intense in the spring and summer, and there’s a gentle easing off in the autumn, and then the relaxation of winter, a nice time to pull back and relax.” Peter relishes the rhythm.
The kitchen garden. Photo - Peter Cooper