January 20, 2023

A garden fit for Gladys

A chance viewing and some years of passionate care have created a garden that is enjoyed every day and filled with memories.

Sally Blackwood with her Bernese mountain dog Winnie, who also enjoys the beautiful garden.

At first glance, this Highgate property may seem like any other eastern suburbs Adelaide home.

However, behind the brush fence is another world; a garden that provides its owners with infinite joy.

Stepping through the gate, the gravel driveway leading to the charming character home is lined with an avenue of Manchurian pears, low hedges of lilly pilly “Bush Christmas” and clipped balls of teucrium.

The wraparound verandah is enveloped in a Japanese wisteria, which puts on a magnificent display of graceful purple flowers in spring, provides shade in the summer and ends its flowering in long dangling seed pods well into winter. These seed pods have been known to explode unexpectantly, shooting their seeds far and wide.

Japanese wisteria engulfs the home’s wraparound verandah in purple blooms during spring.

The 122-year-old property has known only three owners. The second owners purchased it in 2005 from a 97-year-old woman who was born there and lived in the home alongside her sister for their entire lives.

When the second owners purchased the home, it was a very small house with nothing but chicken sheds and a densely overgrown garden. As the home was expanded, garden designer Virginia Kennett was brought in to landscape the surrounding generously-sized block.

The current owners, Sally and Simon Blackwood, took over custodianship in 2014 and have lovingly tended to the property ever since, dubbing it “Gladys’ Garden” in honour of the first owner.

“When we got here, all the trees were still quite juvenile, so it was more of a sun garden,” Sally says.

“I just sat back and watched the garden, but didn’t really do too much and waited a year. Then, I started dividing everything up, buying things and putting them in.

“Now the trees are bigger, there is a lot of shade so I have had lots of work to do. I have introduced all of the undergrowth.”

Sally keeps the balls
of teucrium perfectly pruned.

A self-taught gardener, Sally attributes her passion for gardening to her grandmother.

“She was a really keen gardener. The gerberas were my grandma’s and when she sold her house in her late ’90s, I dug them up and planted them here.” Sally says.

Tucked into every nook and cranny of this vibrant garden is a memory in plant form. Over the years, Sally has inherited plants from family and friends who have passed away, keeping a part of their legacy in the garden.

“Everything that pops up reminds me of family. When my grandma’s daffodils pop up it is like she’s saying hello to me,” Sally says.

Family gatherings are often held in Gladys’s Garden, so a fire pit is a must.

A garden bed sits comfortably beneath pleached olive trees and overflows with inherited herbs such as Sally’s father’s lemongrass, her grandmother’s parsley and her father-in-law’s rhubarb.

Opposite the herb garden, sandstone from the existing home has been utilised to build a retaining wall surrounding a towering palm. The garden bed it creates is filled with succulents, agapanthus and tightly clipped rosemary balls. Standing tall above all elseis a magnificent cactus planted by Sally’s eldest son, Digby.

“He is a plumber and during one of his first jobs this old man gave him a little cactus. He asked if he could plant it here and it’s just gone crazy,” says Sally.

“It’s like Digby; it’s very loud.”

Nearby, a Japanese box hedge spirals a path to the original pomegranate tree, replicating its gnarly, twisted trunk.

The twisted trunk of the pomegranate tree is echoed by a spiral hedge of Japanese box.

In the wide back yard behind the home, a manicured lawn is framed by dense plantings. Olive, plum, a struggling old almond, Chinese elm, quince, apricot and Manchurian pear all shelter the garden with its hedge of viburnum and star jasmine, creating a sanctuary. The beds are underplanted with drought-tolerant varieties that are repeated throughout the garden including salvias, succulents, lamb ears, sedums, New Zealand rock lily, catmint and euphorbias.

“The lamb’s ears planted here came from our first home and I have taken them to each house we have lived in and just replanted them,” Sally says.

A stone wall curves around the trunk of an old persimmon tree that still produces a bountiful crop each season. Another stone wall creating forms the back pergola, with wisteria cascading over its sides.

“The stone wall came from the back of the old part of the house. When the extensions were put in, they repurposed some of the old stone to create it,” Sally says.

One of Sally’s most cherished plants is her Japanese maple, which was the final selling point when she purchased the home.

Once she begins gardening, Sally will spend at least two or three hours at a time in the yard.

“We weren’t actually looking to buy when we discovered the home,” Sally says.

“I knew the agent who had it for sale and Simon was at work one day, so I thought I would come past and have a drink. The next weekend, I suggested to Simon that we go and have another look at it. So, we did, but he didn’t really say anything and had to go off on a business trip.  However, when he came back, he said he’d been thinking about it and we should put in an offer.

“I said to the agent that the house has everything we wanted, apart from having a Japanese maple. He said if we bought the house, he would buy me a Japanese maple.

“So, we did and the real estate agent got me a tree, but it was a Chinese elm!”

Years later, Simon ripped up a small patch of the garden and claimed it for himself. He planted some lush, hard fescue and a new tree: a Japanese maple.

“If I come out into the garden, I am out here for two or three hours. No matter what, you just get carried away. But it’s enjoyable; it’s good for the soul,” says Sally.

“Having lived here for eight years now, we feel we have made this our own; put our own stamp on it.

“Having such a brilliant foundation to work from we hope we have grown the garden into something that can be shared and enjoyed.”

Gleditsa create a roof-like canopy with cycads and a carob hedge forming walls.
Goldfish glisten in the pond below the fountain, teasing local kookaburras.
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