Home in the Highlands



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.

Molly in the Secret Garden square cropped sm

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


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