Home in the Highlands

 

LIFE AT ‘WHITE GABLES’

 

Autumn

 

Autumn tree square

 

After a long, dry summer, I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of autumn, but as March merged into April, the record heat wave continued unabated. Finally, at the end of April, temperatures began to drop and we even had some rain. Great, I thought to myself, autumn is here at last.

But where were the autumn colours? And why were my fruit trees still green and leafy when only a kilometre away in the main street, the deciduous trees lining the footpaths were boasting glorious autumnal hues? Had autumn decided to bypass White Gables altogether?

I happened to mention my conundrum to a gardening friend who lives nearby, and her explanation was so obvious I couldn’t believe I hadn't thought of it myself. White Gables is sheltered by a ridge on the coastal side of town – that means the temperature is a degree or two warmer and consequently autumn arrives a few weeks late.

 

WG autumn 080518

 

When the much-anticipated season finally reached White Gables, it didn’t just sneak in like a tardy guest ashamed of arriving late. Instead, autumn made a grand entrance, transforming the garden into a mass of colour almost overnight. Suddenly the trees glowed yellow and orange. Rose bushes burst into flower after months of inactivity. Sasanqua camellias, inconspicuous during the summer, now produced a myriad of blooms. Even the poor rhododendrons, which had barely survived months of heat and drought, started to make flowers. Fortunately, they came to their senses and realised it was autumn not spring, and they had better stop flowering and conserve their energy, or they might not make it through the winter. 

 

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Pink carpet roses are repeat-flowering - just trim off dead roses but beware of the thorns!

 

WG Molly autumnMolly guarding the back door in the shade of the cherry tree.

 

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Autumn is bulb planting time.  I bought 100 daffodil bulbs from a lovely elderly gentleman at the local markets,
who was almost giving them away. 
After planting the bulbs under the pear trees
I began to regret I hadn't bought bluebell and hyacinth bulbs as well. Perhaps next year . . .

 

In the lavender garden the fragrant flower-heads turned a deep blue-purple, attracting a swarm of fat little bees which buzzed from flower to flower with such joyful enthusiasm that they barely noticed WGH* setting up his tripod and photographing them close-up.

 

WG Bee and Lavender

 

 

WG Weeping cherry

Weeping cherry and lavender bushes at the kitchen door.

 

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Above and below:  Lavender and rose bouquets from the autumn garden at White Gables.

 

Lavender bouquets

 

 

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The quintessential autumn rose in close-up. Pic: WGH

 

In less than two weeks it will offically be winter. Although I'll miss the 'mellow fruitfulness' of autumn, the prospect of bare branches silhouetted against a cloudless sky, and early bulbs sprouting from the rich basalt soil makes me suspect that wintertime will produce its own particular magic.

 

WG Mist small

Keats called autumn the 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' - he was right!

 

*WGH = World’s Greatest Husband – it says so on his coffee mug.

 

Deborah O’Brien

17 May 2018

 

Read more about White Gables in my Home in the Highlands Blog below. Just scroll down for:

    Finding the Dream House

    The Secret Garden

    A Tale of Two Chandeliers


 

 

Home in the Highlands

 

 

LIFE AT ‘WHITE GABLES’

 

A Tale of Two Chandeliers

 

All my life I’ve had a fondness for chandeliers – as a child I even had a miniature one in my dolls’ house! So, last spring, when I spotted the ad for White Gables online and read the description of the living room with a “vaulted ceiling showcasing an impressive glass chandelier to its best advantage”, my heart soared.

Then I browsed the images on the screen and couldn’t believe my eyes. The chandelier certainly made an impression, but not a positive one. If truth be told, it resembled a piñata exploding over a light fitting.

 

WG Old Chandelier square 

 

But apart from the chandelier, the house looked great – the quintessential Highlands home complete with wide verandahs and tall gables. I knew I just had to see the place for myself.

Fast forward to the inspection day . . .

By the time I had climbed the front steps to the wraparound verandah, I was already in love. At the door I gave the real estate agent my particulars and was ushered into the foyer. From there I entered the spacious living room where the aforesaid chandelier was hanging from the 18-foot (5.5 metres) ceiling.

‘What do you think of it?’ the agent asked conspiratorially when she caught me staring at the colourful light-fitting.

As I tried to come up with an answer that wouldn’t offend her, she continued:

‘If this was my house, it would be the first thing I’d replace.’

She was right, of course. On December 1, settlement day, we rang the local electrician but he couldn’t come till after New Year. For the next four weeks, whenever I walked past the chandelier I lowered my gaze. At Christmas I convinced myself it looked festive. But when I took pictures I lowered the camera so that it wasn’t in the shot.

I was at pains to explain to guests that the chandelier had come with the house. If anyone expressed the slightest interest in it, I would ask whether they’d like to have it.  As a gift. But nobody wanted it. ‘It wouldn’t suit my house,’ they said diplomatically. Or: ‘It’s too big for my place.’

In the same way that I’d scoured the internet looking for the right house, I now sought the perfect chandelier. In the process I didn’t come across anything that remotely looked like ours. However, we did find ourselves an antique chandelier which was both simple and elegant, with just the right proportions for the room. When the electrician turned up to install it, I offered him the old one for nothing, but he politely declined. I wasn’t really surprised.

WG Chandelier square closeup

 

What I like about the new chandelier is its subtlety. It doesn’t grab your attention – it just fits comfortably in the room like a good friend.

What happened to the old chandelier? Well, it’s inside a crate in the garage, awaiting a trip to the recycling centre, where I’m hoping someone will take pity on it and give it a good home.

Deborah O’Brien

24 April 2018


 

Home in the Highlands

 

LIFE AT WHITE GABLES

The Secret Garden

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 When I was a little girl, I read Frances Hodgson Burnett's 'The Secret Garden' and dreamed of having one of my own. In December of 2017, that dream came true  in the Southern Highlands of NSW. Much like the garden in the book, my secret garden was hidden away behind a stone wall and overgrown after years of neglect.

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Molly ponders the secrets lurking in the undergrowth. 

 

I can’t tell you how excited I was about restoring this garden. But I was daunted too. What intimidated me most were the blackberry vines which had taken over like triffids and tore at my skin whenever I ventured beyond the perimeter. Although garden gloves helped a little, what I really needed were those elbow-length leather gauntlets worn by falconers. Suffice it to say that removing the blackberries was a long and thorny process involving lots of Betadine. The old roses with their large thorns and gnarled wood also proved to be dangerous. I took to them with secateurs and even though it was summer, administered a heavy pruning. All the while, I begged them, ‘Stop stabbing me – I’m only trying to help you.’

Once the spiky vines were eradicated, there were other pests – rampant wisteria and jasmine, both of which had been allowed to grow out of control. After cutting everything back as far as I could, I poured boiling water over the remaining shoots. (I don’t use chemicals.) In the months since then, new wisteria and jasmine shoots have appeared and I’ve hit them again and again with the boiling water. I’m not sure whether I’ve won the battle yet. I’ll know next spring.

 

WG St Francis in the Secret Garden square

St Francis guarding creatures living in the Secret Garden

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WG Easter Lavender square cropped

 

One day, I was peering into the shrubbery and saw something terracotta perched high among the branches. In order to get a closer look, I started cutting wood away until I could see a large terracotta saucer on top of a wooden post. It was a bird feeder! And twining around the post was a Cécile Bruner rose.

 

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More discoveries awaited. A stone water feature. An old swinging garden chair (now moved to the safety of the front verandah). A collection of wonderful plants and shrubs: escallonia, rhododendrons, rondeletia, azaleas, camellias, roses and innumerable lavender bushes, the latter desperately in need of a trim. Released from the burden of blackberries and other vines, they are all thriving in their freedom.

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We discovered this old jarrah swinging seat abandoned in the garden, covered in moss and lichen. So far it's been gurneyed and moved to a safer place where it now awaits restoration. I couldn't help dressing it up with scatter cushions!

 

This autumn, something very special happened in the Secret Garden. Sweet little forget-me-nots began to pop up everywhere. A gardening friend warned that the seeds would stick to my dogs’ fur and I should remove the plants ASAP. ‘The forget-me-nots are staying,’ I replied. 'The dogs will cope.'

I’m certain there will be surprises ahead. Already, bulbs are pushing their way out of the ground. At this stage I can only guess what they might be. Daffodils? Jonquils? Hyacinths? Snowdrops? I’ll just have to wait and see!

 

 

Deborah O’Brien 19 April, 2018

 

Home in the Highlands

 

 

LIFE AT WHITE GABLES

Finding the Dream Home 

 

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Illustration: Deborah O'Brien 

 

For years I’ve dreamt about living in the Southern Highlands of NSW, but I never actually believed the dream would come true. It was just a fantasy, fed by rest-stops in Bowral and Berrima on trips back and forth to our country cottage in the Tablelands. Then I discovered High Life magazine with its glossy real estate ads depicting grand mansions and enchanting country cottages. As I leafed through the pages, I would allow myself the guilty pleasure of imagining what it might be like to live in this magical world of English hedgerows, ridiculously green fields and quaint little villages. But it’s a long way between imagining and reality. 

Last winter we were driving back to Sydney from the Tablelands when WGH* made a comment about looking for a place closer to home. Somewhere about an hour and a half from Sydney. A place our friends and family could easily visit in a day.

That night I started up my laptop and began exploring the Highlands online. Very soon, I was searching the real estate listings every day - Bowral, Mittagong, Moss Vale, Exeter, Bundanoon, Burrawang and Robertson.

It was weeks before we started looking in person, and it quickly became a regular Saturday excursion down the Hume Highway. Over the winter we inspected many properties, accumulating a pile of glossy brochures to prove it. For me, there were two essentials: a wraparound verandah and a rambling cottage garden, or the potential to create one. For WGH, the ‘must-have’ feature was a barn where he could do his woodworking, or the space to build one.

But we never seemed to find all of those elements in the one property and at the right price. As time passed, I began to wonder whether we would ever find our perfect match.

They say that true love happens when you least expect it. In our case, it presented itself one weekday morning when I was on the point of giving up the search. Out of habit I opened Domain and browsed through the listings. All of a sudden, there it was on the screen – the Dream House, complete with a wraparound verandah and almost an acre of grounds. It was perfect, except for the word ‘Auction’ below the photo.

My experience of auctions has been traumatic, to say the least. Two auctions, two disasters. The first involved our house being passed in a hundred thousand dollars below the reserve. The second, which took place more than a decade later, was equally bad in that only one bidder turned up. After that, I made a vow never to be involved in an auction again, either as a vendor or a purchaser.

Despite my vow, I convinced myself it wouldn’t hurt to turn up at the next ‘open for inspection’. Out of curiosity. Not as a serious prospect. Just as a comparable. That Saturday we arrived at the allotted time and parked outside. I knew the minute I walked through the gates and up the white gravel drive. 

After we’d looked around for a while, the real estate agent appeared with her clipboard and asked me what I thought of the property.

‘I love it!’ I replied like a besotted teenager.

‘So we’ll see you at the auction then,’ she said with a smile.

‘I don’t do auctions,’ was my reply. ‘Too stressful. Not for you perhaps, but for the buyers and sellers.’

‘Oh, auctions can be stressful for us too,’ she said. ‘If they happen to go pear-shaped.’

‘Well, I’m sorry, but I won’t be there,’ I said with a sad sense of finality.

And I was true to my word.

On the Monday morning after the auction, I couldn't help checking to see what price the house had sold for. Instead of the words ‘SOLD’, I saw:

'FOR SALE BY PRIVATE TREATY'

OMG, the auction had gone pear-shaped. The house had been passed in and here it was back up for sale!

In the interests of not appearing too eager, we waited a few days. Then we made an offer which was duly accepted. Eight weeks later we moved into White Gables and the dream became a reality.

 

WG Roses in bloom Medium

*WGH = World’s Greatest Husband – it says so on his coffee mug.

 

Deborah O'Brien, February 24, 2018