In the unforgiving landscape between St George and Cunnamulla in Western Queensland, Susie MacKinnon has woven her magic to create a truly inspirational garden and lovely family oasis.

Despite enduring some of the toughest gardening conditions imaginable, Susie MacKinnon has transformed what was once a bare and almost non-existent garden into an oasis in a little more than three years. Susie and her husband, Angus, live at Boanbirra, a sheep and cattle grazing property 80 kilometres south west of Bollon. When the MacKinnons moved to the district from Moree, Susie despaired at the rundown homestead and the dusty dry surrounds. But with a green thumb touch and sheer determination, she now has the makings of a grand garden.

Creative by nature and somewhat of a visionary, Susie had a clear idea of the garden design. The landscape includes a series of lagoons and ponds that create a cool refuge from the Summer heat. The developing garden has some of these water features already and the next stage will include a jetty and a fire pit that will be the heart centre of family gatherings. The couple’s children, Carly Kate (23) and Harry (19), have left home but try to return as often as they can. “Nothing gives us more pleasure than to spend time together and I can already see us sitting around the fire sharing a laugh and drink or two,” Susie says with a twinkle in her eye.

The first job to tackle was to improve the soil and watering systems. The property uses bore water from the Artesian Basin which is naturally heated at 55 degrees celsius. After several failed attempts to develop the lawn at Boanbirra, Susie went back to nature to select her grass by digging up couch runners from the bore drains on the property. Truckloads of gypsum and cow and sheep manure were added to improve the soil. Once the foundations were laid, Susie turned her attention to plant selection and design. “Gardening is a lot of trial and error,” she says. “Really the main thing I did was just to get in and give it a go – I didn’t heed advice that it couldn’t be done.”

Affectionately known to some as the ‘Rose Queen’, Susie is successfully growing more than 50 rose plants with varieties that suit the conditions. Susie brought cuttings of old world roses from her grandmother’s garden in Tenterfield and they are growing happily along the fence. Planting trees and shrubs in clusters, Susie used the ‘survival of the fittest’ theory for plant selection. “Trees encourage trees,” says Susie. “They act like friends to each other. I culled the non-performers, keeping the ‘yummy’ stuff.”

In some areas the garden evolved around the lifestyle and working nature of the property. One case was how Susie designed an arbour that now provides shade and seating. It serves as a favourite place to relax with a drink at the end of the day. Like many other country women, Susie MacKinnon has proved that battles against our harsh and enduring climate can sometimes be won.

Words by Kerryn Suttor  |  Images by Dana Gluzde