Sunday, 26 May 2013

Mayfield - an Australian cool climate garden

While there are many fine gardens in the Sydney area they become thin on the ground when you move west of the Blue Mountains. One notable exception is Mayfield, located near the exotically named town of Oberon in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales. Mayfield is quite an unassuming name for this park-like landscape garden, and while the owners claim to be influenced by English gardens such as Cliveden and Chatsworth, Mayfield is much more in the style of grand-gesture French gardens inspired by Versailles. Therefore the grounds are filled with fountains, water features and formal clipped hedges. A dominant design feature of the garden is the mass use of locally sourced basalt rock which is used throughout the garden for the construction of retaining walls and steps.

This stone bridge is one of the highlights of Mayfield garden

With an elevation of over 1,000 metres Mayfield can rightly claim to be a cool climate garden, and because of this the owner grows many plants and trees not normally seen in Australian gardens. The visitors brochure declares the garden as a 'botanical wonderland'. This is a big claim as I found the palette of plants rather uninspiring being largely dominated by standard landscaping favourites. Despite this, the garden includes some interesting mass plantings of maples, hydrangeas, iris and bulbs. With the exception of the well maintained rose garden most of the plants in the garden were labelled. I particularly liked the choice of plant tags which were made of small rectangular pieces of slate. These labels harmonised well with the stone and the slate roofs of many of the buildings.

Stone retaining walls is a dominant design theme in this garden

Despite being such a large garden there was surprisingly little sculpture. One of the few exceptions was the recently installed water-dripping copper tree which was sourced from the Chelsea Flower Show in London. Every good garden needs something to lure the visitor back, and while the grounds at Mayfield were well laid out they lacked personality, a problem often found in recently established landscapes. I'm sure that in time the shrubs and trees will grow giving the garden a distinctive presence, but as the garden is young (established in 1999) the owners should find something that will entice the visitor to return, such as a museum, art gallery, sculpture park or musical performances.

The copper tree fountain
Despite some reservations I take my hat off to the owner and his team of gardeners and stonemasons for their hardwork and foresight. They are creating a distinctive garden in an area lacking in fine parks and gardens.

Mayfield is open to the public for only 6 weekends a year in Spring and Autumn (check their website for future opening times) Be warned the garden admission charges are exorbitantly high ($25 cash only, in 2013), and the grounds are not suitable for the frail and those in wheelchairs. A moderate level of fitness (and a hat) is needed to enjoy the garden.
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