If you’re driving to Sydney from the west during the holidays, take the main road through Katoomba over the Blue Mountains and visit Everglades at Leura.
Have a snack in the courtyard adjoining the Art Deco house tea rooms and take an hour (more if you’re a gardener) to explore the fascinating garden. Even on the hottest day it’s cooler in Leura.
It’s familiar to many from the much-photographed classical stone-pillared porch, relocated from the London Chartered Bank of Australia’s building in Sydney to adorn the sweeping theatre lawn, but there’s infinitely more to it than that.
Everglades was established from 1933 by Danish landscape designer Paul Sorensen for the rich and successful Belgian born industrialist Henri Van de Velde, owner of Feltex Carpets.
After qualifying as a horticulturalist and working in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, Sorensen was accepted for assisted passage emigration to Australia in 1914.
Despite limited opportunities here for work as a landscaper, he managed to get a job designing and building the garden for the Carrington Hotel in Katoomba. This led to garden design commissions from nearby guesthouses and eventually he was able to buy land at Leura for his home, design business and nursery
The site included a spring: Sorensen is famous for saying, ‘In Australia don’t buy land, buy water’. The chance to design Everglades was Sorensen’s first venture into large-scale landscape design.
His combination of an innate grand vision, practical skills and love of local materials were ideal for the project. It’s difficult seeing the garden now to grasp the immense scale of the earthworks Sorensen undertook to create it.
Lacking today’s massive earth moving equipment, the work was all done by hand, but Henri Van de Velde was a philanthropic employer and saw the garden as an ideal way to provide work for the Depression-era unemployed living in the Blue Mountains.
Unusually for a Leura garden, Everglades has extremely poor soil, sandy and thin, formed from ironstone and softer eroded sandstone. Sorensen took advantage of this failing, however, hand-digging the entire cultivated area to depths of 600-900 millimetres, removing the ironstone and stockpiling it according to colour and quality for paths and walls.
Terraced lawns, shrub borders, formal pools and courtyards now surround the house and blend into a natural bush garden where winding paths lead through small glades to a secret pond and waterfall and a lookout built into a sheer cliff above Gordon Falls valley.
After Van de Velde’s death in 1947 the garden slowly declined but in 1996 the National Trust undertook an extensive renovation and it has been largely restored to its former beauty. Many rare trees and shrubs survive, and although most colourful in spring and autumn, the garden is lovely all year thanks to its interesting design.
The garden is lovely all year thanks to its interesting design.
Heads Up: Everglades (www.nationaltrust.org.au/), 37 Everglades Avenue, Leura 2790 is open every day except Christmas and Boxing Day, 10am-6pm (4pm March-September), Tea Rooms open 11am-2.30pm. Admission $13, concession $8, National Trust members free. Phone 02 4784 1938.
Last chance: Re-pot early summer tip cuttings that have rooted. Add slow release liquid fertiliser and keep damp and shaded.