When Bill and Jan Hewett bought their Warrnambool property in 1977, the garden was at odds with the beauty of the circa 1880's house. Vacant at the time, parsley trees had been left to run wild and the back of the half-acre block was like a jungle.
The couple spent between 10-15 years redeveloping the front and back yards, planting a variety of flora, such as roses, pencil pines and a peppercorn tree - because all comfy houses have peppercorn trees, reasoned Bill at the time.
Decades passed and the effort required to maintain the gardens grew demanding. "I love being in the garden, but now the mind is willing but the body sort of gives up," laughs Jan. "You still want to live in the garden, but you don't want to have to maintain it seven days a week," says Bill. "So about five years ago we decided we needed to reduce it to a state where it could be easily maintained."
And so began a landscaping project that has finally finished in time for the Hewetts to enjoy their new garden this summer.
The initial brief was for a simple garden that could be easily cared for and be in keeping with the house, which is on Warrnambool's historical register. Positioned close to the beach, it sits in the middle of a sloping block and both these factors also had to be considered.
After "a few false starts" they finally connected with Carlisle River landscape designer Lisa Stafford, who produced a design that reflected their needs. Michael from MJ Walsh Landscapes was then employed to bring Lisa's design to life and after a COVID lockdown-induced pause, work finally began this year in April.
The backyard design was slightly tweaked (incorporating Jan's request for fewer steps in the backyard), but Lisa's design was largely retained for the front of the property. "The house was at the top of the hill that no one had seen for 30-40 years," says Michael. "We've opened it up ... and tried to make the house the feature and show its beauty."
A clean slate was needed in order to create the traditional English-style garden and so heavy machinery was rolled in. Arborists cleared all the trees - not even Bill's beloved peppercorn survived the chop (by now its root system was interfering with the plumbing). "The destruction of everything was an engineering feat in itself," says Bill. "Once it got going it was somewhat fun to see."
Bill praises Michael's approach, which made the process less daunting. "Michael destroyed the place and then worked quickly to get it to a point where we could see where it was going, rather than leave us with a tip site for months," Bill says. "He rapidly rolled out the lawns (kikuyu turf), even though most people probably would have done that last. In retrospect, once that was there we could start to see what the whole thing was going to look like."
The front garden is now quite formal; straight lines and sweeping lawn, with the pencil pines and a weeping cherry replanted. New plants were sourced from Warrnambool's Pearson's Nursery, with Phoebe Clements suggesting a number of varieties which were easier to source and better suited to the environment.
The asphalt turning circle at the front of the house lacked character and was replaced with bluestone paving. The pavers and driveway cobbles were sourced from Bamstone in Port Fairy, while the bluestone pitchers were sourced from Portland.
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Capital pears and Magnolia Teddy Bears line the length of the driveway and continue past the house into the backyard. A box hedge sits in front of the verandah, while smaller plants act as borders and ground cover. Jan admits the boulders that adorn both the front and back yards took some getting used to. "I can't imagine anything else there now,'' she smiles.
Sourced from a local quarry, Michael used the boulders decoratively and to create retaining walls, an alternative approach that embraces natural materials. The backyard has also been revived with lilly pillies, pittosporum, lavender, star jasmine and citrus trees.
The final piece of the puzzle is the stately sandstone wall, built in line with Heritage Victoria requirements. One of Michael's favourite aspects of the design, any sandstone onsite was ulitised, with additional pieces sourced from other Warrnambool buildings, including an old hotel.
The transformation has been remarkable, not only for Bill and Jan, but locals who've watched the new garden take shape. "Every time I'm out the front somebody will poke their head in the front of the gate and say they're amazed at the difference it's made and how wonderful it looks," says Jan.