Glowing golden globes float above soft silvery foliage, glistening yellow and white everlasting daisies, felty flannel flowers and the occasional surprise of Christmas bells. This vision of shimmering, dancing summertime is part of the border of the exciting new Eastern Terrace garden of NSW Government House.
Landscape architect Jane Irwin has brought heritage up-to-the-minute in a redesign of the garden that reconnects the house to views of the harbour and connects the colonial-era fascination for Australian flora with our contemporary interest in biodiversity, sustainability and native wildflowers.
The new planting is set off by relaid stone and a restored fountain, but it’s the plants that thrill. The three pairs of beds are loosely colour-themed, with primarily yellow and silver close to the house, blues at the bottom, and pinks and reds in the rondel beds that encircle the fountain. It’s not all natives – some plants remain from the previous iteration; others, such as the soft silver artemisias, are acting as place-holders while the slower-growing natives get going, and some get a spot because they work so well, including gauzy blue Perovskia and dark-blue Eryngium.
The herbaceous flower border is a staple of English-inspired gardens, but doing it with predominantly Australian wildflowers is unusual, especially in a public garden. “I have to say it’s a brave thing to do,” says Irwin, who sought advice, and plants, from Dave Rose at Heathcote’s Sydney Wildflower Nursery. “I was holding my breath for the first three months to see how things would work. But Government House has got behind the idea and really understood that the gardens need to reflect current tastes and cultural shifts.”