Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Winter in the Blue Mountains

Mid June in Leura, the chill and damp juxtaposed with gorgeous bright frosty mornings. The last remnants of the perennial borders, cut back, mulched with leaf litter and put to rest for the winter. Autumn’s chores finally completed and a gardener’s mind turns to catalogues and with them, the promise of what could be in Spring and Summer.

While the visitors huddle around the open fires and the warm hospitality of Leura’s interiors, the gardener’s spirit will always draw one outdoors. An expedition into the crisp winter air that will reward with the exquisite perfume of Daphne, Witchhazel, Woodbine, and Wintersweet. Camellias, with their sumptuous flowers and on closer inspection, nodding Hellebore flowers, with their multitude of subtle intricacies of form and colour. Clumps of snowdrops with their simple and almost pure form and bright yellow winter Aconites all combine to delight the senses of the gardener during this contemplative season.

So slip into those gumboots, don a warm coat, wrap on a scarf, step outside and wander, your effort will be rewarded.

A tribite to my friend Peter Fisk, Niwa-Shi. The Gardener of 'Rustlings'

In preparing to honour the life of my friend Peter Fisk two questions came to me which I would like to propose

What makes a garden?
And what type of person creates a garden?

While I know there is much recorded about Peter Fisk the celebrated Film and TV director, I would like to write about Peter the generous host and passionate gardener.

I first met Peter & Claudia Fisk in 2002 when my partner Ian and I moved from inner city Sydney to Leura. At the time Peter was in the late stages of a very successful and long career as a television & film Director. While I didn’t really know who Peter was, I certainly knew his work. Like a lot of Australians, and particularly mountain’s folk, Peter’s ‘Day of the Roses’ had a huge and lasting effect on me. This piece of work earned Peter an AFI award, the third of his career, and Claudia still laments the fact that one more and she would have had the makings of a rather smart coffee table.

During the time we have known Peter & Claudia I have heard a number of industry related anecdotes, however there are, no doubt, many people far better equipped, that can speak far more eloquently than I, about Peter the Director.

For my partner Ian, his move from a life in the city to the mountains was literally a baptism by fire. The summer of 2002 was a particularly bad year for bush fires in the Blue Mountains, and three days after moving to Leura, I found myself having to stay overnight in Sydney due to work commitments. It was the first night that Ian had been alone in his new home, whilst a substantial fire was burning in the Grose valley north of here. At some stage during the evening, the power went out, and the glow of the firefront was sufficient to light up our living room.

While I had a little more understanding of bushfires, having grown up in the country, Ian had none, and unfortunately for him, I was not around to help alleviate his fears.
Thankfully, soon after the power went out, Ian had a visit from what, at this point, was our virtually unknown next door neighbour, inviting him next door for company & to listen to radio broadcasts of the progress of the fire - this was Peter Fisk.

Over the years we have shared friends and many dinners - I remember one evening sitting around the dinner table of one of Woodford Street’s renowned dinner parties, turning to Peter’s mother-in-law Marion who was sitting next to me, and saying that no matter where I found myself placed around this table, I would have had no less of an evening. This was the community in which we had found ourselves - the community that Peter & Claudia Fisk were an integral part of.

The other thing I have shared with Peter Fisk over the past 8 years, apart from our passion for gardening, was the love of our dogs. 6 months after moving to Leura, 2 beautiful dogs came into our lives. They were like chalk & cheese, one a big black Labrador named Rhonda, so called because she reminded us of one of those strong, dependable, cake making CWA ladies, and the other a rather coquettish Maltese Shih Tzu called Gracie (we think the ones responsible for naming her were going for irony). Straight away these two stole our hearts, and soon after the hearts of Peter, Claudia & Marion, who immediately took the role of doting grandparents, or as they became known, Uncle Peter, Auntie Claudia & Auntie Marion. While there were rules and boundaries at home, at Rustlings there were none. Needless to say as soon as Uncle Peter and Auntie Claudia’s names were mentioned, Rhonda and Gracie were out the door and up the lane before we could complete the sentence.

Peter was especially fond of our Rhonda - my partner Ian vividly recalls finding Peter one night with Rhonda, who had clambered up onto the antique loveseat in Peter & Claudia’s bedroom & fallen asleep, tucking her in with a hand crocheted rug.

Peter’s spirituality was clearly evident through his connection with the soil at Rustlings. Casual passers by would often observe him tending his garden, and later describe the experience of watching Peter working his garden with a ‘monk like’ reverence. The way Peter worked his soil has given Rustlings a very strong sense of Spirit of Place. And Peter, true to form, even up to a couple of years ago deferred the garden’s soul to its original creator Thelma Charlesworth, though it was clearly evident the evolution of Rustlings was of Peter’s making. Peter the Gardener was a very humble man.

While still directing episodes of All Saints, Peter mused at how these episodes financed the major works such as the Teahouse, ponds and major planting schemes. These major works which, over the years have become the main structural elements and major drawcards of the garden, were carried out adeptly and with quite a degree of professional skill by Peter and his trusty side-kick John King. The paradox of this beauty being created with the proceeds of the work Peter produced was never lost on me - you see Peter was well-known though the industry as the man to turn to, to orchestrate disaster, misery& mayhem, and deliver it on time and within budget.

7 years ago Rustlings opened as one of the esteemed gardens opened to the public during the internationally renowned Leura Gardens Festival. I know this gave both Peter and Claudia, as indeed it did all of us, an enormous amount of pride because it recognised the amount of hard work and personal pride that Peter put into his piece of paradise, and the joy he had in sharing it with others. The skills Peter had acquired from years working in film and television were applied to the preparation and subsequent opening of ’Rustlings’ The displays were timed with the utmost precision and the daily ritual during the festival of blowing all the paths, personally carried out at 7.30am, so the garden always presented freshly.

In true theatrical form, Peter believed the experience of the last person through the garden on the last day should be no different to the first person on the first day.

Unlike Peter’s achievements captured on celluloid, where his name will live forever, his garden, like any living thing, is much more sensuous. It will live on in the hearts and memories of those who have lingered, smelt, tasted and imagined, as they have wandered Rustlings paths.

During the last couple of hours of my friend’s life I had the honour of being in the presence of Peter and his beloved Claudia. During this brief time I was able to witness the strength, courage, grace and dignity, but above all the love between these two incredible people. THIS was Peter, the gardener.

Gardens are created for a lot of reasons, the best ones are created to protect and nurture love.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Restoration of the Garden at 'Mullengeandra' November 2009


After a good month of procrastinating, wondering what to write before I send it (whatever 'it' is), after half a bottle of red I have finally plucked up enough courage to put pen to paper (so to speak).

The original thought line behind the construction of this blog was so that I could easily write down my thoughts, trials, successes and failures associated with the restoration, and subsequent celebration of a half acre piece of paradise in the beautiful village of Leura, located in the Blue Mountains 100km west of Sydney, Australia. Those of you who have found this blog via my company's website will have probably read my limited journal entries to date. Those of you who have come via an alternate route, if you wish to gain a little history or the story thus far, www.arcadianaspects.com.au is my website, and you will find it in the Journal page.

It is mid spring here in Leura and we are in the middle of an unseasonal (whatever that is these days) heatwave - it's 28'C on the back verandah today and expected to be hotter tomorrow. The spring borders are budded and just about to burst into bloom, though today most of the fresh spring growth as looking very forlorn in the heat. The new turf laid about six weeks ago, which up until 2 days ago was a rich emerald green, has taken up a more Australian tone of khaki.

On the plus side, I don't think the Kalmias have been more floriferous and the Iris laevigata at the edge of the pond are truely beautiful. The large Wisteria longissima, which over the years has built up a rather close rapport with the huge Deodar Cedar at the entrance to the garden, has flowered with racaemes stretching to around a metre. Recently, as an addition to the front entrance to the garden, at the top of the front steps and above the water tanks, I have constructed a simple Bellevdere pergola. This is located very close to the Wisteria, and about 10 days ago we cut one of the main Wisteria lianas from the Cedar and attached it to the pergola. Talk about instant gratification - Wisteria clad pergola without the 10 year wait for flowers!

Since writing my last journal entry, which I'm embarrassed to say was posted further back than I care to admit (way back in December '07), probably the most substantial improvement has been the construction of a rather impressive flight of sandstone steps, covering the rather steep and treacherous front drive. In the past it has not been unknown for friends and visitors to have close calls leaving after rather long luncheons/dinners. While I was always sure about setting a flight of steps over the original driveway, I was always a little unsure about how to realise the actual construction. So after a period of initial discussion/debate with my boys, construction began using sandstone flagging. The steps were completed within the week, and I have posted a couple of photographs to illustrate the scope & execution of the project. Our visitors can now leave 'Mullengandra' well fuelled without having to worry about their safety (at least till they're off our property).