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Historic Gem

What is not to love about South Australia? It’s now 20 years since I led my first tour there, and I have become increasingly fond of this unique part of our vast country, especially of its natural landscapes and gardens. It boasts deserts, rolling hills, glorious forests, and a unique colonial history.


South Australia is hot and dry in summer, and it can be so very cold in winter; yet gardens thrive, and roses are at their best! In 1839, only a few years after Adelaide was surveyed, Frederick Dutton began to build the homestead at Anlaby. A ‘survival’ garden was set up mainly to provide food for those that worked there, as fresh food supplies were virtually nonexistent. The family began planting trees, many of them deciduous oaks, to provide shade for the sheep, and as part of the gardens. The property now boasts over 600 trees listed on the National Register of Significant Trees, the most of any garden in Australia.
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Sheep came overland from New South Wales, with 5000 of them to Anlaby with Alexander Buchanan, who became the station manager. Over time the sheep multiplied, the wool cheque grew, and successive generations of the Dutton family expanded the garden to the point where they employed 14 gardeners. The family owned a steamer, and would take the head gardener on expeditions to collect plants in far off places such as Japan. Emily Dutton, who lived there with her husband, Henry, loved the garden and was responsible for many ornamental changes in the 1920s, including planting many native trees and shrubs. Present owners, Andrew Morphett and Peter Hayward, were looking for a project within cooee of their home in Sydney to keep them occupied on weekends. They came across Anlaby and couldn’t get the idea of owning it out of their heads. So, the deal was sealed, and they eventually gave up Sydney and moved to the property, to fully focus on its future.

The task of restoration is quite enormous, and Peter and Andrew have taken it on with gusto – each time I visit, there is more to see. The previously overgrown Victorian-style rockery is once again superb, landscaped with a selection of tough plants, many of them succulents, that flower in the gaudy bright colours that Victorian gardeners adored. The picking gardens and peacocks in their ‘run’ are flourishing.

I’m really envious of their glorious hedge of purple native hibiscus, Alogyne hueglii, which is so hard to grow in humid Sydney! They’re diligently returning to use the dilapidated shade houses, stove house, and glasshouse where rare exotica, orchids, fruit, and vegetables were grown. Last year, the gorgeous, timber-slatted Camellia House was rebuilt. I’m sure the Victorian fern grotto will soon be on the agenda.

Fortunately, Andrew and Peter have had input from previous owners, along with photographs to help with their plans. The newly built rose arbour is a copy of the one that once sat, festooned with perfumed beauties, and the ‘Seven Sisters’, a maypole-like structure, is again hung with roses. On our South Australian tour in November, we’ll walk through the garden, under the rare, ancient Scotch elm and the golden deodar, stopping for a look at the Apple House, a small, ingeniously designed ‘cool store’ and the imposing three-storey water tower. Later, we’ll marvel at their achievements inside the homestead, and then be treated to a homecooked lunch in the spacious Clydesdale stables!



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Author: Words: Libby Cameron | Images: Neil Hendry