Nestled in the Yarra Valley, north of the town of Yarra Glen, is a delightful garden spread over 2.8 hectares named ‘Alowyn’.
Autumn is a special time in Victoria. The red and golden leaves of deciduous leaves rustle gently in a breeze tinged with crispness. The transition from the blisteringly hot summer to the frigid frosty winter can be felt, indeed seen, in the plants and in the gardens of the various towns and districts across Victoria. One great place to witness the change in season is at Alowyn Gardens in Yarra Glen.
I have been spending some time in the Yarra Valley for work recently. Last week, I entered a local shop in Yarra Glen and saw a brochure for Alowyn Gardens which alerted me to its existence. The garden looked interesting and so I convinced my wife that we should visit this weekend. After all, the colours of the grapevines in the district have been lovely, so I was optimistic that I’d see some decent autumnal colours at Alowyn.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t too good; it has rained on-and-off all day. As we approached the property on the Melba Highway, I recognised it immediately. I’d been past it on previous occasions and had always been curious to know what lay behind that hedge. Fortunately it didn’t rain for the whole time that we were in the gardens so we were able to explore it thoroughly.
The entrance to the gardens is marked by a large pergola extending from a shop that seems to double as a cafeteria. Suspended from the pergola (which is covered in vines) are gourds and lanterns which provides a great effect. Clearly this is not a horticulturist’s garden but an artist’s one as well. This space opens up into the maple courtyard which is filled with beautiful Autumn Blaze® maples Acer ×freemanii ‘Jeffersred’. Had the weather been nicer, I am sure this space would have been filled with people but the cold and wet weather put an end to that.
From the courtyard, the direction changed and we could see a fancy fountain in the far distance under a wisteria arch. The fountain would continue to feature throughout our tour of the garden because the landscape has been designed in such a way that there are many vantage points that draw the eye back to that fountain.
Walking down the central path, one is invited to walk into the various ‘rooms’ on either side. The first, and by far the smallest, is a collection of shade-loving plants that are housed under green shade cloth. There was an interesting selection of items in there and it’s clearly someone’s precious collection – it just has that personal feel about it which is nice, actually.
Next is the perennial border. For all my previous statements about how lovely Autumn is in Victoria, it’s not the best for herbaceous perennial border displays. Many of the plants in this garden were finishing for the year and starting to die-down. That said, I was impressed with some of the salvias on show, especially S. ‘Waverly’ and the garden still had some charm. I noticed that there was quite a bit of repetition of the plantings in this part of the garden but given that this is designed to be a water-efficient low-maintenance garden, this makes sense. I think a return visit in Summer would better do this garden justice.
One of the more impressive parts of Alowyn is the parterre garden. Clearly inspired by the 15th century garden at Château de Versailles, the parterre garden consists of thousands of English Box (Buxus sempervirens) trimmed into tiny hedges that form beautiful patterns. Although familiar with the concept, I don’t recall ever seeing a significant example of this style in Australia and I have to say that I was most impressed.
The ‘edible’ garden at Alowyn was nicely laid-out and planted with a wide range of fruit trees, herbs and vegetables. Some of the trees were ornamental – such as the crab apples – but the majority of plants were edible. After the parterre garden, this section is the most formal in layout with paths radiating from a central point like the spokes of a wheel. Each spoke featured a particular type of tree, be that quinces, apples, limes or olives.
Beside the edible garden was a ‘cage’ of sorts that one could walk into. This was planted with gourds and curcurbits and as a concept, worked well.
The furthest end of the garden (and the one closest to the highway) appears to be a relatively new extension. Featuring a series of ponds and fountains, a path leads down to large fields of amaranth and sunflower. Of course, being so late in the season, the fields were empty for us but I am sure that they look good in summer. I found this part of the garden to be noisy despite attempts to dull the sound of motor traffic with a mound-wall of dirt.
The last noteworthy portion of Alowyn is the forest filled with birches (Betula spp.) and casuarinas. The birches has developed colour and dropped some of their leaves, thus opening this space up. Between the trees was a lovely display of Cotyledon and Nandina domestica ‘Nana’.
Alowyn Gardens have a nursery attached. To be honest, it wasn’t all that impressive. Some of the stock was overgrown although there was a reasonable range of plants available at fair prices. There’s also a café, but we didn’t sample the coffee or buy any food (we’d have been the only ones if we had on account of the weather).
Aside from the plants, there are a number of art installations of varying quality throughout the propery. Some of them are bold and others are more subtle. Obviously the plants have been turned into objets d’art in the parterre garden, but various other topiarised plants are on display in the garden too. Keep an eye out for them when strolling about.
I quite enjoyed the day at Alowyn. There was a calmness in the Autumn garden. Tiny droplets of water remained on the edges of leaves and on wire fencing but these added to the ambiance. It was cool but not cold and none of that really mattered because the garden was sufficiently interesting and varied.
I was impressed to see prostrate rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’) used as a formal border which I had not seen before. I was also impressed with a stone table that was surrounded by a ring of second-hand power poles (my wife believed it looked like the sort of place that facilitates cult worship!). Most of all, I was impressed with the landscaping brilliance – a clever use of plants and ‘rooms’ – consistently referencing that central fountain and ensuring that despite the diverse spaces, the design was coherent.
This garden is definitely worth a visit.
I am reliably informed that Alowyn hosts wedding receptions. For those interested in an outdoor ceremony or reception, it may be the sort of place worth considering at this time of the year although with weather like today’s, a contingency may be required. The garden certainly has some lovely aspects.
I think that I shall return to Alowyn Gardens in the late spring or summer. I believe that I may get to see a different side to this brilliant garden and appreciate some of its virtues not apparent in late April.
Alowyn Gardens is open from 10am until 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays and most public holidays. The gardens are located at 1210 Melba Highway, Yarra Glen.