Growing in dry shade

How to create a garden in dry shade


Life & Style
Making a garden in dry shade crowded with big trees is challenging but Christine Le Fevre shows how to do it at Bishops Court, Bathurst.

Making a garden in dry shade crowded with big trees is challenging but Christine Le Fevre shows how to do it at Bishops Court, Bathurst.

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Fiona Ogilvie gives tips on how to create a garden in a small space crowded with big trees.

Aa

Of all the gardens to take on, a small space crowded with big trees is one of the most challenging. 

This is what Christine Le Fevre inherited when she bought Bishop’s Court (www.bishopscourtestate.com.au/) at Bathurst.

Having, as she happily admits, fallen in love with the glorious 19th century house that the trees surrounded.

Christine grew up in the small northern NSW village of Somerton, later moving to Tumut with her parents and brother.

She took a Fine Arts Degree at Sydney University but longed to be a designer.

So after teaching for six years she embarked on a second career designing for the hospitality industry: one of her best-known projects is the iconic Sails in the Desert at Uluru.

Her love of the outback and her admiration of the wonderful architecture she saw while travelling on Europe inspired her with the idea of buying an old house in rural NSW to convert into a boutique hotel and function centre. 

She acquired Bishop’s Court by a convoluted route in 2000.

Built for Bishop Samuel Marsden in 1870 and a private residence since 1960, the two storey house had been empty for six months and its desolate one acre garden overrun by privet, periwinkle and ivy. 

However, Christine loved the hilltop location and recognised the value of the late 19th century trees including among others Cedars, Blue Sprucc, Cypresses, variegated Box Elder Maple and a massive, spreading Claret Ash.

She longed to enhance this woodland setting to do justice to the house and make a calm, inviting retreat for the guests she hoped to welcome to her new home.

Christine likes to say she loves gardens but isn’t a gardener. I see it the other way around: if you love your garden you’re a gardener. Her inner artist could imagine the site and the two storey house in terms of masses and voids.

She envisioned a structural garden with interesting forms and textures but muted colours, with white to brighten the shade and touches of ecclesiastical purple.

It was hard going – the thin granite soil was seriously undernourished and rhododendrons and azaleas brought from her Tumut home hated the dry Bathurst summers. The large lawn struggled despite her father’s help. 

Eventually Christine took a deep breath and realised she had to start again.

Out went the rhododendrons and azaleas, together with 75 tonnes of old soil, in came new soil for a smaller lawn, and the remaining space was levelled and gravelled to create an open centre.

This lovely garden is now an inspiring example of what can be done with dry shade - but be prepared to get the soil right and also the plants.

Surrounding beds are filled with hellebores, foxgloves, silvery variegated Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, heucheras and creeping campanulas, all suited to dry shade.

Large mirrors placed near boundary walls increase the garden’s size and reflect light into its shady corners. Movement from ornamental mobiles deters birds from flying into their reflections.

This lovely garden is now an inspiring example of what can be done with dry shade - but be prepared to get the soil right and also the plants. 

Aa

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