A flash of brilliant blue, and a magnificent butterfly whizzes by, colouring the solid green backdrop of plant life with a dizzying display of frenetic flight.
It alights at eye level and begins to feed. Robyn and John Herbert, mildly observing this somewhat astounding exhibition from the comfort of their deck, are not especially moved. Wildlife on the wing is a common sight in their garden at Glenorie Court, Highfields.
Almost immediately a couple of tree creepers noisily announce their arrival for their midday splash in the hanging birdbath strategically set up amongst shrubbery. Tucked under a massive brush box, it provides them — and their ilk of the genus ‘small bird’ — with a safe haven. “They sing in the bath,” says John wryly.
John is the anointed hands-on gardener in this most delightful of informal wildlife sanctuaries balanced on the edge of the Toowoomba range, looking out over virgin bush. Robyn is the botanist, wildlife identifier and landscape planner. No living creature passes unnoticed here, not even the tiny eastern sedge frogs that proliferate amongst the flax leaves.
Together the Herberts work as a team creating and deriving enjoyment from the lovely garden they have created in just 10 years. They — and their friends and family — also derive a goodly amount of their fruit and vegetables from it. All their herbs, a plethora of vegetables, avocadoes, citrus trees, olives, finger limes, tamarillos, macadamias — even a curry tree thrive in a delightful, carefully crafted wilderness of flourishing vegetation.
“My method is to plant a thicket — then thin it,” says Robyn. The process goes on and on, with salvia in all its variations providing the first cover in the thoroughly mulched beds as the slower plants come through. The result is a delightful mix of productive permaculture incorporating a respect for native bush, a mix of flowering exotics, a flourishing seasonal vegetable garden and a comprehensive orchard.
Water for the garden is sourced from stormwater while rainwater provides for household needs — and is recycled for the garden as well. Compost from a very scientific-looking series of bins provides nourishment for soil that was badly depleted over years of intensive dairy farming. A worm farm provides liquid nutrients for the pot plants and worms for the compost while a quaint small greenhouse acts as a decorative plant nursery.
Interspersed amongst this evidence of organised industry are artistic surprises. A terracotta cat peeps out from the herb garden; a life-sized stainless steel brolga nods his spring-loaded head in the breeze. Perhaps the most evocative indication of the Herberts’ agrarian origins is the brand tree made by John himself; he collected the various stock brands belonging to Glenorie farm before it was sub-divided and attached them to a post. Now they provide cold support for a flowering petrea.
Much larger than originally envisaged, Robyn and John Herbert’s garden is a source of pure joy for its owners and many visitors and succour for its native wildlife inhabitants.
Words by Jane Grieve | Janine Waters