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A garden for all seasons

In 2009, Les and Elaine Musgrave relocated from their much-loved garden, Fernbrook at Kurrajong Heights, to Wildes Meadows in the NSW Southern Highlands. They downsized from 5ha to 2ha but delighted in the challenge of reworking a garden. The design philosophy for The Kaya was inspired by its meaning, ‘a peaceful place’. “I imagined a garden that felt spacious and graceful, with cultivated gardens as well as open spaces.” Like art, the open areas are designed to give eyes a place to rest, “giving room for the mind to unwind.”


The garden is designed as a series of spaces. One such space is the gravel garden, along the front terrace. Once a lawn, it’s now a low-water gravel garden, featuring informal groups of plantings, punctuated with tightly clipped choisyas and sculptural terracotta balls. “It enjoys full sun and good soil. I have had great success growing iris, day lilies, small-leaved acorus, and black-leaved mondo grass”.

This flows into the parterre, designed by landscape architect, Chris Webb for the original owners. It was filled with roses, but Les gave them all away to transform the space into a ‘no green’ garden. Arches of Acer platanoides ‘Crimson Sentry’ frame the entrance and beautifully complement the red decomposed granite pathways. Grey teucrium hedges give the parterre structure, and help highlight the burgundy, silvery-green and silver-leaved perennials. “The part of the garden changes so much from spring, summer to autumn, we can see it from the house, so it gives us a great deal of pleasure.” While the garden is ever-changing,

Les cleverly uses clipped plants and hedges to unify the landscape and see it through the seasons. “Hedging plants in cool climate gardens are essential – they maintain the contours when deciduous trees lose their foliage and perennials die back.” Les uses a mix of hedges, columns, mounds, and spheres, which he keeps tightly clipped. The teucrium parterre is so dense you could use it as a coffee table.
Les also relies on trees to give the garden a sense of permanency. “My favourite tree is the gingko, which I tip prune every winter to keep compact and maintain the height.” While beautiful, they’re practical too. “Summer belongs to the trees with their cool shade and the gorgeous variety of greens in their leaves – there are oaks, claret ash, crab apples, and Chinese elms.” Their loose shapes wonderfully complement the pockets of Calamagrostis and miscanthus grasses, which all provide a satisfying contrast to the miles of topiary and stands of flax.
Lawns also feature, particularly as part of the open space Les sought to create. They form pathways for visitors to meander and eventually arrive at the dams at the bottom of the garden. To keep things interesting, Les scatters white daisy seeds in the lightly mown areas. “When I leave off mowing that height, they continue to appear from September to November.” While it would be easy to plant whole wildflower meadow, Les decided against it. “Wildflower meadows are unsuitable because long grass is a fire hazard in Australia and grasses tend to outcompete flower seeds anyway.”

About the owners 
Les has spent a lifetime creating gardens across all of Sydney, honing his skills and displaying his creativity and flair at their previous garden, Fernbrook, and now, at The Kaya. Alongside him, Elaine, a celebrated botanical artist uses the garden as inspiration. She painted a series of dendrobium orchids that Les grew; these artworks were exhibited in the Australian Florilegium Exhibition at the Royal Horticultural Society, Kew, UK in 2017. Elaine’s painting of D. speciosum featured in the book, The Florilegium: The Royal Botanic Gardens of Sydney Celebrating 200 years.
They are treasures of Australian horticulture, both outstanding in their own unique ways.

About this article

Author: Words: Sandra Ross & Carolyn Dwyer | Images: Les and Elaine Musgrave