Broughton Hall Garden Testimonial

When David Musker speaks of the garden he has created with partner Phillip Hunter, he speaks of the passion, the joy and an elusive ‘little bit of magic’ that has brought it all together.

“We are very lucky to have this garden, but it is not just luck there is a little bit of magic. You feel that when you walk through it. It is more than me designing and Phillip and I planting there is something more to it,” said David.

Set within formal lines the garden at Broughton Hall in Jindivick is a romantic garden arranged with hedging and swathes of lawn containing lush heavily planted garden beds extending over three acres.

The couple purchased the property 15 years ago and the creation of a large garden was high on the list of priorities. They moved from the Dandenong Ranges and from a very different style of garden – a 50 year old garden with a heavy canopy, no lawns and meandering garden paths and thousands of steps.

“It was a beautiful garden but it is amazing the contrast with this garden because you can see the sky,” said David.

“Before we bought it we were looking at the old house that is on the property and when we walked over to the paddock I remember thinking this is where a house has got to go. You could just see it. We were looking for a site that had the right rain fall and soil type. I wanted a large garden and to design my own garden. ”

‘The paddock’ David refers to overlooks the entirety of the Tarago reservoir, the ranges in the distance and the big sky horizon that frames the garden. A series of terraces descend from the house, connected by a central gravel walkway acting as a spine. The site of the house and garden is just a few hundred metres from the original cottage. The house was built in a classic neo-georgian style based around symmetry to harmonise with the formal nature of the garden.

“I love formal design and the control it brings. That goes for the house and everything around it. You should start the design from the house so it and the garden interact. For example the view from our front door goes through the lounge, via a window out to the garden and beyond to the mountains.”

Architectural elements such as a strategically placed pot, an impressive loggia and columned walkway feature in the garden. At the time of purchasing the land David was an art teacher and his skill with scale, colour and texture and inspiration from some of the great European gardens fuelled the design process at Broughton Hall.

“I guess it is a designers garden the whole thing is to have enough dramatic pieces but not too much, because is not about that it is about the garden and those things can add to the garden. If you have too many it becomes like disneyland and a bit gimmicky,” said David.

“I wanted a garden that had strong architectural form to it, strong design and then a feeling of abundance and over planting in a way. The hedging and the lawn control the heavy and lush planting of the beds, and to a great degree it has worked.”

It is an intensely interesting garden and combines old and new roses, strong foliage to introduce many different shapes and textures, deciduous trees and a number of rare plants the couple have gathered along the way.

After purchasing the land and settling on a site for the house the first job was to plant out the two acre, Silver Birch (Betula pendula) forest straddling the driveway.

The Cherry Tree walk with dozens of trees in a parklike setting were also planted and in the first year the top embankment closest to the house was excavated. Over the coming years more excavation work was undertaken to establish the series of terraces.

“To do the house we had to do an excavation, and the moment we had the driveway in I planted the birch forest. We planted the Cherry Walk along the side of the house. Then I took long service leave in the first year we moved in so I could work on the first level of the garden. During the first year I cleaned up and planted the first bank and then began the long process of planting out the rest of the garden. The garden you could say has evolved over the years.”
Whether it be a large garden or a small the challenges are similar.

“We didn’t realise how exposed the site was, it faces north and also gets the west sun as well, we get the wind and especially with the dry of the last few years it has been tough. Even though we did a lot of mulching and we watered a lot in the first few years we still lost some things. It is beautiful soil but it does dry out because of the exposure. The hedging is architecturally important but also the garden wouldn’t survive without it.”

In the early years the couple spent most weekends visiting nurseries and working in the garden.

“I suppose it was my design and my idea and my dream, but I couldn’t do it on my own, so it has got to be a shared dream.”

When asked what he sees when he goes out in the garden his quick answer is “Weeds… things that have to be done, moved or things that need to be deadheaded. Its funny because everyday when you go out in to the garden you see that -the things that need to be done, but every now and again maybe once a month you get a 15 minute window of opportunity and you can go Wow! And it doesn’t matter if it is full of weeds or not, it is just your headspace and you can go into the garden and enjoy it. Phillip says to me that I need to let go and enjoy it more but if you don’t have the discipline and the critical eye all the time you can’t get it to where you want it.

“It is not really work though it is about creation. I don’t think painters for instance see their art as work necessarily. We have been incredibly lucky to have found this site and to have been able to create a garden like this.”
For David a favourite part of the garden is the dramatic foliage planting on two banks at the bottom of the garden. Here there is also a series of high columns that create a striking avenue.

The columns are an architectural theme throughout the garden with different sized columns placed according to the scale and setting. The columns first appear on the portico to the home to connect it with the garden.

In April the gardens will be open to the public as part of Australia’s open garden scheme and preparations began two years ago.

“We’ve been redoing walls, small paths, replacing steps and we’ve more recently this year been mulching and gravelling, all on top of the ongoing pruning, planting, weeding and replanting. Eight weeks before we will cut back the roses to give them time to regenerate to bud and flower. A month or so before the opening we will stop all of that and let the garden settle. To give everything a bit of age to it.”

Autumn is also David’s favourite season in the garden.

“The roses are at their best in Autumn. The autumn light is weaker so the scent of the roses is stronger and the roses are better formed.”

As to what visitors can expect to see during the open garden David said,
“We will be in the lap of the gods. Really it is going to depend on the season. But, if the weather is right, they will see all the old roses with the rose hips colouring up. The David Austins and hybrid teas will be doing a flush of flowers. There will be bright green new growth of the hedges and the colour starting in the Cherries and the birches. Hopefully we will have had a bit of rain before then.”

As a nurseryman specialising in rare plants it is only right that David’s own garden exhibit a number of unusual offerings. Dotted throughout are examples of Sonchus arcaulis, Sonchus arboreus, Sambucus nigra black lace, Ulmus parvifolia Frosty, Euphorbia griffithii fire glow, Pittosporum, tenuifolium Tom Thumb, Euphorbia mellifera.

Despite the garden’s formal lines, it is not uptight or overly constrained and sits beautifully within the farmland setting overlooking the verdant view. It is also a well used garden and David plans to open it more for special functions and events.

“A big garden is hard to justify if you don’t use it. It is the joy of sharing it that is the important bit, that is what opening the garden is all about – the joy.”

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