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Winterwood: One Man's Wonderland

Bushfire, snow, and wild weather hasn’t deterred this plantsman from creating a botanical masterpiece.

 

Plantsmen are rare today. They are living treasures with encyclopaedic plant knowledge. One such ‘living treasure’ is Don Schofield, who for 40 years, has battled life-threatening bushfires to craft his garden ‘Winterwood’. It sits on Mount Tomah, 1,000m above sea level, surrounded by the World Heritage Listed Blue Mountains National Park.

Don has survived two out of control wildfires, once calmly accepting “I may die here” when the last fire of 2019 threatened his home and garden. Acknowledged as the largest bushfire event in Australia’s history, 444,000 hectares of bushland, farms, properties, and homes were destroyed. Fire travelled from the NSW Central Coast hinterland, north to the Hunter Valley then south to the Hawkesbury region and finally the Bells Line of Road, Bilpin, directly into Don’s path. Fortunately, Don survived to tell the tale and to share his glorious garden with us today. He observed firsthand what ornamental plants endured the catastrophe.

We have been colleagues and friends since the 1970s, when we both worked at the Ryde School of Horticulture. Our paths diverged in 1980 when Don bought his property on Mount Tomah and turned the first soil on Winterwood.

 

My visit to Winterwood confirmed my expectations of this amazing plantsman, who had found a grand home for his collection of rare, endangered, and frankly, long-lost plant cultivars. Single-handedly, Don created his ‘vision of paradise’. A two-hectare masterpiece built on a steep hillside that descends 60 metres to the valley floor. It is breathtaking.

Within weeks of his purchase, a bushfire scorched the ancient forest of endemic tree ferns and brown barrell gums (Eucalyptus fastigiata ) on his property, leaving a landscape of blackened tree fern stumps and gum trees. Undeterred, Don put his masterplan into place, noting the wind and fire corridors.

Don says that Winterwood grew like topsy. As he sourced local stone, he handcrafted and edged pathways and built retaining walls that follow the contours, ultimately downhill.

His collection includes a rare weeping flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata), purchased from the long-gone Smarts Nursery who imported it from Holland in the 1950s. Don purchased firs (Abies) from legendary nurseryman Claude Crowe: Abies procera ‘Glauca’ from USA, A. nordmanniana from the Caucasus Mountains, A. pinsapo ‘Glauca’ from Spain, and many more rare and endangered conifers. Spring- flowering rhododendrons were planted by the hundreds – many precious cultivars have since disappeared from plant nurseries.

Rock gardens are high on Don’s agenda as they provide planting spots for carpets of alpine phlox, precious bulbs, and perennials. Flat stones give access for planting and weeding.

This passionate plantsman cannot find enough minutes in every day. His large collection of old and new hydrangeas, some from Japan, continues to grow as Don assesses new hybrids. His collection of rare and commercially endangered plants, his trials of new shrubs, bulbs and perennials, his trials of imported new seeds from overseas and interstate give his life its purpose.

Don is busy, engaged with his eyes on the future, as well as the past. His conservation of rare plants, preservation of heritage varieties and hybridisation of new cultivars, make up his never-ending focus.
 

Come with us

Come with us on our next Ross Garden tour ‘Inside NSW’ where we visit Winterwood along with other glorious gardens in March 2023. For details call Ross Garden Tours 1300 233 200 or visit www.rosstours.com


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Author: WORDS AND IMAGES: GRAHAM ROSS