A GARDEN is thought to have been cultivated at ‘Wallasey-Beaumaris’ from the early 1860s when American brothers James and Patrick Ring took up a small parcel of land south of Beechworth and sought their fortune on the Ovens goldfield. Shrubs of simple-petal sweetbriar roses still flower in a row a short distance from where stands what was once a miner’s cottage – now much extended. These old arching canes mark the edge of a track that miners, horses, carts and cattle began to make about 160 years ago. Three Mile Creek, just below the garden, was Beechworth’s last major gold find and worked until 1930.
The garden extends across about one hectare at the foot of a hill that rises 560 metres above sea level. The hill has a southerly aspect and features spectacular but senescent examples of narrow-leaf peppermint Eucalyptus radiata and grey box E. microcarpa. There are stands of naturally-occurring Blakely’s red gum E. blakelyi and a diversity of planted oaks, including red oak Quercus rubra, sawtooth oak Q. acutissima and pinoak Q. palustris, Acer species, tulip tree Liriodendron tulipifera and Spanish chestnut Castagna. A copse of locust tree or false acacia Robinia pseudoacacia, pink horse chestnut Aesculus x carne and common hazel Corylus avellana also grow in the paddock. Temperatures range from -5º centigrade in winter to as high as 45º at the peak of summer.
In the lane grows a pair of Quercus acutissima Himalayan or sawtooth oak, Acer, a pair of purple-flowering crab apple Malus x purpurea ‘Eleyii’ – spectacular when in flower in spring – and Chinese crab or flowering apple M. spectabilis, known by its Chinese name as hai tang hua for its flowering beauty. Alternating Liquidamabar styraciflua and Chinese or lacebark elm Ulmus parvifolia also grow here.
The garden was variously cultivated and then neglected for long stretches before it was refurbished and extended from the late 1970s. It had long been known as ‘Beaumaris’ – a Norman French name for the ‘marsh’ vista that remains below the garden drive. It was featured in the second year of Victoria’s Gardens Scheme in 1988–89 and was previewed in that season’s guidebook by John Patrick. Helen Gordon and Neil Smooker, Beechworth school teachers, began to renew the derelict garden from 1977 despite what Helen described at the time as persistent “bullrushes, blackberries, dock and other tenacious weeds, especially those that thrived on poorly-drained clay soil”. She set about planting native species but later replanted with exotics “when I finally realised that the house and garden should show some historical (and) aesthetic affinity”. She found that an addition had been made to the cottage front in 1890, with a bullnose verandah and timber fretwork that established its style – a design that has been maintained. She realigned the picket-paling front gate with the front door, straightened the entry path and used cuttings of English box Buxus sempervirens to delineate the garden’s principal axes and boundaries of the terrace on which the house stands.
Berberis thunbergii ‘Fireglow’ and B. thunbergii var. atropurpurea – forms of Japanese barberry – were also planted and have become spectacular harbingers of winter, adding to what are thought to be the garden’s original assets: an old French perry pear, a towering specimen of Photinia beauverdiana var. notabilis – brought into cultivation from China by famed late nineteenth century plant hunter Ernest Wilson, and venerable loquat Eriobotrya japonica and mulberry Morus nigra. These, and later planting of a pair of Cyrilla racemiflora – the swamp titi or he-huckleberry, the sole species of a genus endemic in Louisiana and the Carolinas – are among the garden’s unusual trees and shrubs.
The planting also includes numerous camellia species and varieties, which do so well in the Indigo hills, an alley of Manchurian pear Pyrus ussuriensis, weeping cherry, acer, amelanchier, berberis, birch, arbutus, clematis, mahonia, magnolia, roses and a grand example of cherry laurel Prunus laurocerasus – which often grows in country turned for gold.
Almost four decades since Helen Gordon’s reforming work, and the stewardship of Yvonne and Peter Wilkinson between 2005 and 2013, a pair of Camellia sasanqua ‘Mine-no-yuki’ has reached six metres to brush its flushed white flowers against the bull-nosed verandah of the house – proof of a match between the Indigo hills’ cool climate and the mudstone soils in which camellia prospers. A hedge of C. sasanqua of the same variety extends for six metres and is clipped to a height of two metres, its deep, polished leaves a particular foil for the ragged, irregular-form flowers. Nearby is a Chinese beautyberry Callicarpa dichotoma and Viburnum carlesii which, in mid-summer, are surrounded by a profusion of Matilija tree poppy Romneya coulteri.
Since 2013 new owners Peter Kenyon and Jamie Kronborg have worked to protect and maintain the garden’s heritage and aid its development. The main east-west axis below the house has been widened to align its delineating box hedging with the Manchurian pear alley to the west. Large garden beds above the house terrace, faced with Beechworth granite, have been replanted and a new kitchen garden established beyond a swimming pool, where high, rendered walls are clothed in Boston ivy Parthenocissus tricuspidata – an arresting sight in autumn.
A new orchard of about 40 heritage and newer varieties of apple, quince, pear, peach, cherry and citrus has been planted on the hillside north-east of the garden since 2014 and a simple maze cut in the mixed native grasses and introduced pasture of the paddock.