Flowing from formal plantings to the farm, the revitalised ‘Darriwill’ property on the Moorabool River offers a lesson in considered design— and patience.

By HELEN HAWKES

IT WAS THE artist Francis Bacon who wrote that a garden is the purest of human pleasures. It’s a pleasure well known to the interior designer Sasha, whose 400-hectare property is one of four private Western Victorian gardens that will feature in the NGVWA Virtual Garden Day 2021 (runs until February 28, 2022).

Previously based in the United Kingdom, Sasha and her husband were lured back to Australian shores in 2014 after they purchased “Darriwill”, a picturesque property on the Moorabool River, north of Geelong. “We were so lucky to inherit a garden full of a variety of substantial European and Australian trees, well-structured garden beds and a lovely enclosed vegetable garden,” she says of the property, previously owned by Dougal and Nellie Ramsay.

Sasha has always been a keen gardener and her vision for “Darriwill”, with its immense proportions, was inspired by stately properties she toured in Europe. She enlisted the help of renowned Melbourne-based landscape architect Sam Barber, whose team specialises in human-centred design and restoration work. His aesthetic, evident in properties across Portsea, Toorak and East Melbourne, is defined by a commitment to cohesion, connection with nature and a respect for provenance.

“We seek to deeply understand the original fabric of a site, as well as the architectural built form,” says Barber. “From climate and topography to history and locality, this understanding informs and inspires a sensitive and creative response.” 

Crepe myrtles underplanted with English box.

These things take time, especially when it comes to understanding the rhythms of a garden and designing a plan that is sympathetic to both nature and the client’s needs. As such, the work Barber did at “Darriwill” was staged over five years.

His team collaborated with Sasha and builders to reimagine the entry courtyard and remodel the kitchen, living area and adjoining terrace. This work, he explains, turned a “disjointed arrival experience into one of balance, tranquillity and flow”. It’s an approach that extends to the rest of the property, with Barber designing fluid transitions from indoor to outdoor areas and from the formal gardens to the farm. 

The team used plantings to create moments of softness and greenery between the forecourt, dwelling and main terrace. The four established crepe myrtles that already punctuated the space were underplanted with English box of varied heights, which were left unmanicured to avoid harsh lines. 

The crepe myrtles are notable for their appealingly sculptural trunks and glossy green leaves that turn red, yellow and orange in autumn. Come spring, the trees burst into a stunning white blossom, providing another delightful reminder of the changing seasons for those enjoying sundowners on the terrace.

Come spring, the crepe myrtles burst into a white blossom, another delightful reminder of the changing seasons for those enjoying sundowners on the terrace.

The pergola, complete with crimson glory vine.

It was imperative that the Victorian bluestone walls, which dominate the scene on the approach to the homestead, were preserved. However, to modernise and elevate the look, Barber juxtaposed the bluestone with Chalford Limestone, which has a lighter colour and feel, installing the new material in areas adjoining the house, such as the courtyard and northern terrace. “The colours and movement within the limestone play up the silvered timberwork, existing bluestone and polished concrete inside,” he says. 

Pergola pillars with headers and footers that mirror the bluestone subtly connect the structures. Overhead, Barber has had twin ironbark beams installed and used tensioned stainless-steel cables to form a support for a crimson glory vine, a deciduous creeper with a big heart-shaped leaf. In the formal gardens, texture was enhanced by interspersing existing plantings with lilac and white butterfly bush, blue bugle, seaside daisy and smoke bush, plus native grasses such as swamp foxtail and reed grass.

In an exercise Sasha describes as daunting, several established trees were transplanted to less-populated areas. Among them was a cork oak, with elegant, twisted branches and distinctive deep, fissured bark, which was repositioned to help extend the homestead garden towards the stables. Mature olive trees were moved from an existing grove and replanted along the homestead drive. Tour the sprawling gardens and you’ll be struck by the majestic Italian stone pine that grows behind the vegetable garden. “It’s one of my favourites,” Sasha says of the tree, which can live for up to 300 years. Another highlight is the red flowering gum growing at the rear of the house, near the stables. 

On a summer afternoon, the smack of mallets against a ball echoes up to the homestead as chukkas are played and games are won and lost on a polo field that is much used by her husband, sons and guests. A gravel driveway has been constructed to accommodate the horses and vehicles, while a circular viewing platform, with built-in bench seating, has been added for spectators. 

Of the hard landscaping additions, the most eye-catching has to be the ha-ha wall Barber designed and had built by the drystone waller Bronte Payne. “We used it to create a subtle transition between the manicured garden and the farmland,” says Barber. 

The months and years of work have been a labour of love for Sasha, who is philosophical about her role in the ever-evolving landscape. “Garden owners are custodians for a short time in the creation and long legacy of a garden,” she says.

“My wish is that ‘Darriwill’ will continue to grow and flourish under our custodianship.”

Darriwill is one of the gardens featured in the NGVWA Virtual Garden Day 2021. Tickets are available until January 31, 2022, and include unlimited viewing until February 28, 2022. Go to ngv.vic.gov.au. Kay & Burton is the Principal Event Partner of the NGVWA, which supports the National Gallery of Victoria by funding art for gallery collections and travel scholarships for curators.