April 11, 2024
People & Places

Step inside Bird in Hand sanctuary

Susie and Andrew Nugent, owners of Bird in Hand winery, have created an oasis of privacy, art and nature at their spectacular family home just metres from their Adelaide Hills winery and cellar door.

Susie and Andrew, pictured with dog Arthur, have spent more than 25 years creating their beautiful family home next to their Bird in Hand winery.

When your home is just metres from your work, it’s important to create some clear definition between the two areas of life.

Susie and Andrew Nugent, who own boutique winery Bird in Hand, have not only achieved this definition, they have created a private sanctuary which sits right on the doorstep of their world-renowned winery at Woodside in the Adelaide Hills.

Visitors sipping Bird in Hand wines on the terraces of the spectacular cellar door would never know that just beyond the VIP tasting room, past the chook shed and across a gravel driveway is a beautiful family home that has been 25 years in the making.

Through clever use of hedging, plantings and other rustic elements, the Nugents have created a cocooned oasis where they have raised their children, Lalla, now 22, Ted, 20 and Oscar, 17.

To enter Susie and Andrew’s home is to discover the same country-meets-cutting-edge style that is synonymous with the Bird in Hand winery, where quirky and rare artworks are dotted around the cellar door and sprawling landscaped grounds.

The farm house itself has been a work in progress for the couple who bought this property in 1996, when they planted their first vines.

The gravel garden which sits at the end of the patio.

Money was tight during the early days and Susie and Andrew lived in a caravan on the land for 18 months as they began early works on the home.

“We couldn’t afford the render at the time, so I covered the house in ficus,” Susie says. “So, I can’t let that ficus die because there are two different colours now.”

A major renovation took place in 2004, under the guidance of designer Chris Norris, which had more of a country feel.

But the most recent renovation in 2017, when an extension was added to the rear, has transformed this 1920s home into a contemporary, stylish, light-filled space.

Susie designed this latest reconfiguration herself and worked with Enoki’s Susanna Bilardo to create the warm, rustic interiors.

“I just wanted to bring in a lot more light,” Susie says. “It was such an old house with little rooms in the middle so I wanted to open everything up.

A view from the wisteria patio area looking back into the open plan living area, where dog Horrie takes a stroll.

“I also wanted doors you could pull right back to create that big, open inside-outside area.

“I wanted the garden to be the hero so that’s why I designed black-framed doors so that you can look out to the garden. I didn’t want to have this garden and then not be able to see it, that’s an important element for me.”

And there is no doubt the garden is the hero here, a garden that has been a labour of love for Susie, who is a professional garden designer running her own business Susie Nugent Garden Design for the past 15 years.

The beautiful layers of garden and greenery that Susie has designed and planted around her own home is even more astounding given this was flat, empty land when the couple purchased the 80-acre property.

The land was a dairy farm back then and the garden consisted of a couple of rows of radiata pines, some lilly pilly hedges, two large palm trees, a couple of maples, a liquidambar, a crab apple tree and some old shrubs and roses.

“We removed the pines and suddenly all we had was barren wasteland,” Susie says. “All the grass died and we started
from scratch.”

A selection of Susie and Andrew’s expansive art collection, hung near the stairs which lead from the living area down into the sunken lounge room.

One of the first things they planted was an olive hedge encasing the entire property. There is also an olive hedge between the house and the business which took eight years to become a full screen.

“In 2001 many of the larger trees were planted such as pin oaks, English oaks and a variety of trees, many of which didn’t survive as we hand-watered, and the winds of the exposed site took their toll,” Susie says.

“In the following years a David Austin rose garden as well as the stone walls were built near the house. A perennial garden was put in with a crab apple walk and a wisteria pergola.

“I tried to make things look a bit interesting and different. When I was doing a lot of the gardens in town for people there was often the lawn, the hedge and pear trees down the driveway, that sort of design, everybody was doing the same thing. So, I thought we’ve got to do more than that.”

Susie says she was particularly proud of her English garden with the David Austin roses until a friend from Broken Hill came to visit.

“She called me after she left and said, ‘I’ve been really thinking about your garden and something wasn’t right’,” Susie says. “She said, ‘I couldn’t put my finger on it and then I realised what it was. There are no birds’.

The master bedroom features the Fandango light, high ceilings and an original marble fireplace.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God’, and I went outside and listened and that was a triggering thing for me. So, now I plant things that will bring the birds, like these agastache bought the Eastern spinebill to my garden.

“Now I’m really into bird watching. We went to Africa and I remember just loving it and watching all these animals and they kept talking about the birds and I thought ‘we’ve got much better birds in Australia’.

“So, when I got back, I thought: ‘I’m going to start bird watching’, and it’s the best thing I ever did. It’s so relaxing.

“We’ve got silvereyes in the garden which I never thought we’d do and someone said to me that’s because we’ve got a few fig trees and they love fig.”

Susie spends one full day a week in the garden and also has a couple of gardeners who help with ongoing maintenance.

On the day before SALife visits, the incredible garden was part of the Nature Fest 2023 open garden scheme with hundreds of visitors wandering around all the different zones of this serene destination.

A rustic gate, to the right of the photo, leads into the beautiful gravel garden with its layers of green and colour and rustic stone walls.

The wisteria patio at the rear of the home leads to the Mediterranean “gravel garden” directly behind, where stone walls break up the greenery and colour of the garden.

Plants here include westringia, olive, buxus, teucrium spheres, smoke bush, lagerstroemia (crepe myrtle) trees, prostrate rosemary, verbena bonariensis, lavender, beschonaria and euphorbia martini.

To the left of the house is the “crab apple walk” where an ethereal sculpture of a little girl, by artist Liz Williams, draws visitors down the gravel path where hellebores, ajuga, philodelphus, daphne, cotinus, bergenia and windflowers sit under malus ioensis trees.

The pool zone, which was built in 2013, sits above the crab apple walk and leads to the rear of the garden, an area Susie calls the “perennial walk”.

This walk showcases mass plantings of sedum, salvia nemorosa, geranium with grasses poa, calamagrostis, heucria, miscanthus, clary safe, ceanothus, echium, geum, with acer negundo trees.

Winding gravel paths lead from one section to the next, past the old chook shed and veggie patch which Susie says was popular with the children when they were young – Lalla now lives and works in Sydney, while the two boys are still living at home.

The kitchen boasts a six-metre marble island bench with plenty of space for this family of five.

The wisteria pergola adds softness and shade to the home, and gives a peaceful outlook from the large kitchen/dining area.

This open plan zone has been the heart of the home for this busy family of five, showcasing layers of textural charm, including polished concrete floors, a six-metre marble island bench, marble splash back and three Enoki “wool lights” which hang over the rustic dining table.

A large custom-made book shelf (with ladder) contains photo albums, cookbooks, vases, family photos and other knick-knacks and loved treasures.

Off the kitchen is a butler’s pantry/office area and beyond that is a mud room with hooks for jackets, room for rubber boots, and an entire wall of storage.

This living area then steps down into a spacious sunken lounge room, a cosy nook particularly for winter nights, and the two zones are connected by a slow combustion fireplace, a warming focal point of the home.

But what really brings this home to life is Andrew and Susie’s expansive and eclectic art collection which adorns every wall.

This relaxing lounge area makes the most of the huge fireplace and sits
in front of the bespoke bookshelf full of loved artefacts, books
and photos.

Andrew in particular is an avid collector and the house showcases rare and valuable works by artists such as Richard Lewer, Sam Gould, Jenna Gribbon, Lucas Grogan and photographer Trent Parke.

“I like humour in art,” Susie says as she walks past a hand-knitted piece which reads “Keep UR Rosaries Off My Ovaries”, by artist Kate Just.

“Andrew has been going pretty hard for the last few years, he got addicted to it, but he’s slowed down recently.”

Susie tells the story of how Andrew called to say he’d purchased a piece by sculptor Lisa Roet, who is acclaimed for her enormous ape sculptures.

“I thought: ‘I know her, a friend has one of her pieces on a bookshelf’,” Susie says. “Then Andrew said, ‘you need to think about where to put this one’. I was thinking near a bush somewhere and then literally the crane arrived.”

The huge ape sculpture now takes pride of place in the Bird in Hand grounds and is a signature drawcard of the boutique winery.

One of her favourite things is the softness of the lawn surrounding the pool

“I love it now, that’s the funny thing about good art, you do get attached and invested in the messages that are real and true. Roet talks about human elements and how we have the same genetic makeup as the apes.”

This entire property is a glorious conglomeration of art, culture, wine, food and family. Susie and Andrew love to entertain here although, given much of their life is spent at the winery wining and dining, they see their home as more of a sanctuary for down time with family.

When they first met in the mid-1990s, Susie was studying tourism and then took a job in Sydney as a travel writer.

Andrew, who studied agricultural science and wine making, was growing olives in the Riverland when the idea of moving to the Adelaide Hills and starting a winery first surfaced.

“I remember he rang me and said, ‘I’d like you to come up and help me start a vineyard’, but there was never any talk about having a brand,” Susie says.

Susie, relaxing with dog Arthur, designed the rear extension herself and, as a professional garden designer, has also created the incredible garden from scratch, staring with a flat barren land.

Then Andrew decided they weren’t just going to grow grapes in the Adelaide Hills, they were going to create their own Bird in Hand brand.

“I said, ‘What do we know about having a wine brand?’,” Susie says with a laugh. “But working in tourism meant I had a good idea of what people might be interested in and just having that marketing mind also helped I think.”

Things began slowly – when the business was in its infancy and money was tight, Andrew and his friends built some retaining walls themselves near the winery.

“They used hay bales and chicken wire, then grew a climber over the top,” Susie says. “We set up the cellar door in the old building and we would sit there and wait for people to come and then someone would drive up and we would all tussle for who would talk and what we would say about our two wines. Then they’d drive up and say, ‘Oh, we’re just looking for Lobethal’, and we’d say, ‘Would you like a taste anyway?’, then they’d sit on hay bales and sip the wine.”

It’s clear that Susie and Andrew have poured years of hard work and love into creating their home and business here, and today, the cellar door is one of South Australia’s most popular food and wine destinations.

But there have been tough times, too. Everything the couple has created here was almost lost when the Cudlee Creek bushfires hit in 2019.

The large doors to the rear and side of the renovation pull back to fully reveal the garden, the hero of the home, Susie says.

Much of the front garden was destroyed and the fire got close enough to lick at the home’s front door during that terrifying day.

“It got so close that the wisteria was burnt off the front of the house,” Susie says. “When I heard the fire was at Fox Creek, where the kids used to ride their bikes, I thought I’m out of here. Andrew stayed and tried to protect the house.

“I’ve always been pretty relaxed about fires, I grew up in Stirling, but I was worried. I got the kids and the dog and went to Burnside Village, such a ridiculous random place to go, but I thought they won’t let Burnside Village burn down, and all my family and friends live in the Hills.

“It was so scary – then a friend called and said ‘for God’s sake, come to my place’.

“So, we had a big Leighton hedge and a big garden out the front and the huge Leighton green just blew up. That olive hedge we planted all those years ago was great, though, because it was so tight, it actually stopped the fire, even though you think an olive hedge would be combustible.

“We lost all the plane trees out the front except for two and there were so many trees that just went up. It was terrible because we could have lost everything we owned, work and home, everything we’d built.”

These doors were salvaged from other areas of the home and repurposed in the renovation.

Resilience has been a necessary ingredient for Susie and Andrew and their family as they have carved a life out here on the land.

Not only have they had to deal with bushfires, but their livelihood and lifestyle was again threatened when a company called Terramin applied to reactivate a nearby gold mine, which used to operate in the 1880s.

The drawn-out, high-profile public process has had a stressful impact on Susie and Andrew, who have lived in limbo not knowing if the mine would get the go-ahead.

Then, in May this year, Energy and Mining Minister Tom Koutsantonis intervened, banning any reactivation of the site.

“It was so stressful because everything we’ve built here is about making it beautiful,” Susie says. “We are a tourist destination and it would have destroyed our business, ruining the ground water, covering everything in dust. It was so stressful having the threat of that over our heads for so long.”

The threat of losing their business was even more devastating given Andrew and Susie have invested millions of dollars into developing a new Bird in Hand restaurant, due to open this month.

The sitting room at the front of the house also features more of the couple’s art collection and is a quiet retreat from the open plan living area.

Former Restaurant Botanic head chef, the award-winning Jacob Davey, has come on board and has been hands-on in the creation of all aspects of the new high-end eatery.

“It’s all very bespoke including handmade crockery made by a local potter,” Susie says. “It’s got an open kitchen and everything will be handmade on site.”

A former carpark for the winery has been converted into an enormous vegetable garden to service the new restaurant which will seat 50 diners.

Susie has been busy overseeing the progress on the development, as well as maintaining her other roles including being on the foundation board of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens and Carrick Hill.

She and Andrew have also created the Bird in Hand Foundation which supports numerous charities including gender and Indigenous equality through education and the arts.

Susie also continues to design high-end gardens around Adelaide as well as tending her own garden, taking the time to enjoy the surrounds that she and Andrew have created here in this much-loved slice of South Australia.

The beautiful garden at the front of the home has been brought back to life after being almost entirely destroyed in the 2019 Cudlee Creek fires.

“I couldn’t live in the ‘burbs now, I have grown to really love Woodside,” Susie says. “Over the years we have come to love the community up here, there is such a sense of a country town here, I think the bushfires brought us even closer together. Our neighbours were amazing during that time, as were the local CFS.

“Having kids go to school up here locally, too, was really important, and getting to know all the families, we have really embraced everything about living here. We just love it. This is home.”



This article first appeared in the December 2023 issue of SALIFE magazine.

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