This most welcome book about gardens in the Margaret River region of south-west Western Australia will surprise and delight all those who read it. The reason for this is that the region, so well-known and highly regarded for its wine production, is now revealed as a centre of creative and imaginative garden making.
Julie Kinney, a long-time resident of the area, was a garden selector for the Open Gardens Scheme for many years before it closed down in 2015. Indeed, Julie is actively trying to revive the tradition in Margaret River, so her background knowledge of gardens in the region is intimate and comprehensive. To this curriculum vitae can be added her own skills as a discerning gardener and garden maker, and her experience as a travel guide specialising in garden visitation in Europe and the UK.
Broadly speaking the capes of the south-west are regarded as enjoying a Mediterranean type climate – cool, wet winters, hot dry summers with rainfall almost exclusively occurring during winter. The soils of the area are very varied but tend towards being sandy and ground-water supplies are usually sweet and available. The countryside is a mixed landscape of natural bush, some ancient forests, numerous vineyards, remnant mixed farms and dairies, and growing urban areas. Into this, in-comers have injected a vibrant artistic community life which ensures that gardens are diverse, dynamic and exploratory in nature.
Julie has chosen 20 gardens to illustrate the garden wealth of her district. The surrounding bush and forest that encloses many of the gardens shown here provides shelter, privacy and a splendid backdrop for each site. More than that, this setting in the landscape means that many of the gardens are unknown, in effect ‘secret gardens’; few can be seen before they are revealed deep within their curtilages.
Five gardens stand to represent the diversity of gardens written about by Ms Kinney as she wanders the countryside looking at gardens. These are: Merribrook, Downsouth, Birnamwood, Morella and Fraser Gallop gardens. Each offers a distinct insight into the diversity of gardens that find expression within the cultural and environmental sphere of the Margaret River region. Merribrook is a pastoral bushland lightly touched by the gardener’s improving hand, Downsouth is an exposed coastal garden that responds to the powerful south-westerlies and sandy soils, Birnamwood establishes the presence of an appreciative and artistic eye that seeks simply to enhance the bush with a touch of magic and whimsy, Morella represents the cosy sensibility of a do-and-make-do cottage garden writ large with a great diversity of hardy flowering plants and charming displays made from found objects, and Fraser Gallop offers the example of placing a very formal house and garden within a vineyard and cellar door setting. Each is unique, each is irresponsive to its setting and each is excellent for its type.
Julie Kinney writes with subtle authority and charming insight. Her choice of gardens strikes just the right balance between styles, settings and purpose and she gives her readers the gift of memory; the memory she can recall after watching many of the gardens grow and change over 20 years or longer. I can think of no finer way to introduce gardeners around the world to this relatively new destination for travellerswith gardening foremost in their minds.
Review by Trevor Nottle - South Australia Mediterranean Garden Society