Tasmania smells different. I noticed it the instant I stepped out of the plane: fresh, sweet air that reminded me of newly washed linen; a scent I breathed deeply.
The smell of Tasmania should not have come as a surprise.
With nothing but ocean between Tassie and the southern tip of Argentina, the island is bathed in the world’s cleanest air. It felt like I had landed in paradise. I arrived in Hobart (for a weeklong visit) at the tail end of wet Spring and it was clear upon hitting the road that the landscape could not be any more lush. Pastures were tall and iridescent green. Forests blushed with new foliage. Waterways were brimming.
And the gardens, the reason I had made the trek 2000 kilometres south, were in peak condition.
First I visited Prospect Villa, a magnificent property overlooking the village of Hamilton, about an hour west of Hobart. Owner Helen Poynder has created a generous garden overflowing with perennials and roses, and on the hot, western side of her sandstone house, a formal Renaissance-style garden inspired by visits to Italy. It sounds incongruous, a slice of Tuscany in the rolling hills of Tasmania, but Prospect Villa is carried off so beautifully the effect is mesmerising.
Crawleighwood, at Nicholls Rivulet in the Huon Valley, was a vivid contrast. Penny Wells and Pavel Rusicka have used a vastly different plant palette dominated by rhododendrons, Japanese maples, woodland perennials and an exceptional collection of plants native to Tassie. Crawleighwood contains at least one specimen of each Tasmanian conifer, including the iconic Huon pine, which was much sought after as a boat building timber in the 19th Century.
Northern Tasmania has a sweeping landscape spectacularly defined by hawthorn hedges in the foreground, backed by shimmering blue mountains including the Great Western Tiers and Ben Lomond. Two highlights were Wychwood Garden and Nursery, and Old Wesleydale, both in the picture postcard Meander Valley west of Deloraine. Again they were quite different gardens. Old Wesleydale is a 200 acre farm at the forefront of a fascinating revival in traditional rural crafts. Owners Scott and Deb Wilson espalier, pleach, coppice, lay hedges, construct dry stone walls and find time to run beautiful B&B accommodation, whilst preserving and inspiring others with pre-industrial gardening techniques.
My personal favourite of the trip was Wychwood. Peter Cooper and Karen Hall moved to Tasmania in the 1990s, purchased a small farm cottage set within a 2.5 acre paddock and set about creating a cool climate garden and nursery on a shoestring budget and with limited experience. Fast forward 20 years and the resulting garden is internationally renowned and leaves visitors entranced. Wychwood is intensely seasonal, and has a mystical quality that I found utterly bewitching.
Gardening visitors are spoiled for choice in Tasmania. The unique combination of climate, soil and skill has resulted in an island that is blessed with an abundance of outstanding gardens begging to be explored.
Words and Images by Justin Russell