Some gardens are like Disneyland – tricked up and busy with too many ideas crammed into the one space. Others, such as Dunmore near Dalby, are restrained and relaxed, and often the better for it.

The garden surrounding Dunmore Homestead, an historic property located near Dalby on the northern Downs, is an elegant example of the common phrase ‘more is less’. When owners Margaret Fay and Terry Hartman purchased Dunmore as a run-down house block in 2001, the century-old garden was badly overgrown with the weedy cats claw creeper.

Despite this, the block had sweeping views across rich cropping land to the Bunya Mountains and a collection of magnificent shade trees that effectively anchor the garden in what is a vast landscape. The property had obvious potential but only hard work could turn dreams into reality. The couple set about clearing the weeds, improving the gravelly soil with horse manure and planting dozens of roses and herbaceous perennials. The result was an informal country garden of approximately two acres that feels about as comfortable as a much loved Akubra on a sunny day.

There are no themed garden rooms; no designer tricks or fancy construction materials; just a garden that beautifully complements the old Queenslander-style homestead and offers some respite from the hot summers for which Dalby is famous. Mature celtis trees cast a wonderful cooling shade thanks to their spreading branches and soft green foliage. To the west of the house, a pair of bottle trees stand sentry, while to the north, an impressive banksia rose covers an old timber arbour that once formed the entry to the garden. Margaret has taken to collecting old roses, which would have been popular with Downs gardeners when the house was built circa 1900. Varieties such as lady hillingdon and mutabilis are scattered in beds throughout the garden, and are planted with a range of old-fashioned perennials such as irises, pelargoniums, salvias and daisies. Self-seeding poppies add to the informal charm of the garden, while some impressive pot plants create coolness in the shade of the trees and on the homestead’s verandah. Though Dunmore is a large and rambling garden, Margaret and Terry maintain it themselves, alongside running a business in Dalby. When people ask how they manage to stay on top of things, Margaret dryly suggests, “You just get up earlier and finish later”.

This kind of dedication is not as common as you might think among the owners of large gardens. Gardens are too often judged by how they appear, but some believe that the truest measure of success is how well a garden reflects the personality and passion of its owners. Based on this, Dunmore Homestead is a wonderful garden of which its owners, Margaret and Terry, should be very proud.

Dunmore Homestead is open to the public on March 16 and 17, 2013 as part of Open Gardens Australia. Check the guidebook or visit www.opengarden.org.au for details.

Words & images by Justin Russell