A hidden gem

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The garden at Government House, Sydney

In April this year, I paid my first-ever visit to Sydney's Government House, situated in the Royal Botanic Garden. I don't know why I had never been there before, but it was a delightful outing. The building itself, designed by Edward Blore, architect to King William IV, and completed in 1845, is a grand example of Gothic Revival architecture, almost resembling a miniature castle, made of locally quarried sandstone. The interior of the building, which has been much altered over the years in accordance with the changes in fashion and the differing tastes of its occupants, gives a fascinating insight into the history of Sydney's governance as well as the operation of a vibrant working building. It is the venue for a range of vice-regal events, as well as cultural and community activities throughout the year, and it is a treat to be able to peek into its impressive dining room and wonderful ballroom.

The garden at Government House, Sydney

I thoroughly enjoyed the tour of the house, but what left me completely gobsmacked was the surrounding garden. Sweeping lawns surround the house, but extending from a long colonnade there are flower-filled borders and a fountain, built in the 19th century, leading down towards Sydney Harbour. I don't know what the original plantings were like, but the borders in this current garden are like the ideal I strive towards. Practically every plant that I have ever eulogised over in this blog, plus many more, have been gathered together into exuberant plantings within the formal structure of the garden borders. It reminded me of some of the borders in some of the big English gardens I visited in the 1980s, with an expert eye for colour, form and texture - but in this case using mainly semi-tropical plants eminently suited to our Sydney climate.

Ceratostigma species at Government House, Sydney

I just loved the fact that this very Sydney garden style had been created for our Government House! I wandered along the wide garden paths in sheer delight, admiring the planting combinations and the high standard of horticultural maintenance. Ancient fig trees, frangipani, palms and pines provide the background structure around the garden; within the borders themselves are many warm-climate shrubs and shrubby perennials, including Salvia, Ceratostigma (pictured above), Dahlia hybrids, Pentas, Cestrum species, Coreopsis, Lobelia laxiflora, Buddleja, Canna, Strelitzia, Plectranthus - and many of the Acanthaceae family, including Pachystachys lutea, Ruellia elegans, Dicliptera sericea and Thunbergia natalensis. Ruellia dipteracanthus, a low-growing species (20 cm) that can grow rather too enthusiastically at times, is clipped to form a very effective edging to one of the borders.

The garden at Government House, Sydney

Foliage is used cleverly to provide bold contrast of form as well as colour echoes to the flowers, and I spotted Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' , fancy-leafed Pelargonium, Phormium, coleus, tall Cordyline specimens, Alternanthera dentata and Iresine herbstii amongst the plantings. Tall wooden teepee-like frames are wreathed in climbers, and are a great way to bring extra height into borders, an idea I took note of for my garden.

The garden at Government House, Sydney

The colour scheme of the main borders includes chiefly hot hues mixed in with lots of blue and purple. In shadier side borders, there are pink and blue Hydrangea, pink windflowers, calla lilies, Acanthus mollis, Alocasia, Colcasia, Aspidistra and bromeliads of various shapes and sizes. The gardens are cared for by staff from the Royal Botanic Garden. A glasshouse in the gardens is used to nurture plants for use indoors for various occasions: when we peeked in its windows, we saw some wonderful specimens awaiting their turn in the spotlight!

The garden at Government House, Sydney

The Governor of NSW will soon be returning to live at Government House (a tradition which was halted in 1996) but the house and garden will remain open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (except when official functions require it to be closed). Probably the best time to see the garden would be in summer and autumn, but I plan to return whenever I can to see the garden through the seasons. I think this garden is one of the hidden gems of Sydney and I encourage all gardeners to pay a visit there some day. Admission to the house and garden is absolutely free! For more information, visit this site.

Reader Comments

  • By Lyn 2565 Monday, 14 May 2012

    Thanks for the info on when Government House is open to the publc. I go into Botanic Gardens/Domain at least once a week and am always peering through the fence to look at the gardens. So a visit armed with camera is now on my Bucket List! Thanks, Lyn. Hope you enjoy it. The house is great to visit, too. Deirdre

  • By Rae 2119 Monday, 14 May 2012

    Loved Catherine"s review of your garden! And thanks for the govt house tip - will put it on my list. I didn"t know that the governor was moving back in. Thanks, Rae. It is a good outing! Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 Monday, 14 May 2012

    Thanks for the reminder of this wonderful garden in a perfect setting - must visit again when I have a spare moment in Sydney! Also enjoyed reading about your garden and the slide show was great. Thanks Thanks, Anne. I appreciate your feedback. Deirdre

  • By Carole 2230 Monday, 14 May 2012

    Lovely thank you Deidre, years since I was there. Another hidden gem is McKell Park on Darling Point. I remember that was where I saw a native frangipanni (hymenosporum flavum) for the first time in 1990. Thanks, Carol - I will check it out. Deirdre

  • By Gillian 2073 Monday, 14 May 2012

    I remember being "blown away" by this garden some years ago when the American glass artist Dale Chihuly had some of his beautiful sculptural glass exhibited in amongst the plantings. It was spectacular! Thanks, Gillian, it sounds wonderful. I know that the Botanic Garden has an annual Artisans in the Garden event, which I would love to attend this year. Deirdre

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