The gardens are the heart and soul of Kingbilli. Filled with life on the wing, in the trees and even underground (wombats love digging that nice, cultivated soil!) … they are a haven for human and animal alike.
No matter how much effort is put into restoring bush habitats around the property for our wildlife or cultivating delicious pastures for our stock… in seems the gardens are the place everyone would rather be. The horses know how to open the gates, the possums prefer roses to gum leaves and the llamas, well, they just pop in whenever the mood takes them, and nobody knows how.
Established over thirty years ago, Kingbilli’s gardens are extensive, meandering in magical fashion over seven or eight landscaped acres. Every year, it seems they spread a little further … indeed, despite forever professing a preference for animals over plants, even I have found myself spontaneously extending parts of garden where there formerly were none, and hence, whilst Mum and Dad can convert barren earth to botanical wonderland at a glance (only once did I make the mistake of agreeing to give them half a paddock for the veggie patch – within a week, the whole paddock was gone!)… it seems there is no hope, one day the possums and roses (or vegetables) will surely takeover!
Cultivated on clay-based river flats, the gardens comprise a predominance of native plants from all around Australia, interspersed with a small, but carefully chosen selection of exotics, ensuring birds and possums alike have a veritable smorgasbord of food supplied to them all year round, not to mention ample nesting sites. Designed to flow gently outwards from the buildings, they were inspired by the gentle shapes, curious twists and come-hither turns of Edna Walling, with whom my mother had the good fortune to be neighbours when she was a small child.
The canopy consists of an assortment of eucalypts: candlebarks, mahoganies, willow peppermints, swamp mallets, lemon-scented and victorian blue gums, to name but a few; alongside casuarinas, silky oaks, blackwoods and a sprinkling of claret and golden ash, sycamore, liquidambar, scarlet oak and silver birch to bring forth the glories of autumn.
The middle story, dominated by acacias, banksias, callistemon, grevilleas, hakeas, leptospermums, melaleucas and prostantheras creates a riot of colour throughout spring and summer, whilst additional bird-pleasing blossoms are provided by a selection of camellia, cytisus, ceanothus, correa, eriostemon, mollis, rhododendron, homalanthus, prunus, rowan, syringa, virgilea, weigela … the list is endless! Likewise, the bird-list at this level, with Wattle Birds, Wrens, Honeyeaters, Treecreepers, Thornbills and Robins galore.
At ground level, wild-flowers, azaleas, forget-me-nots, indigenous ground-covers and creepers provide essential cover for possibly the world’s fattest native pigeons, including Wongas, Bronzewing and Crested, who waddle about at unexpected intervals, in-between Thrushes, Bower Birds, Whipbirds and mischievous Mudlarks.
Around the cottages, the gardens merge seamlessly into the surrounding bushland, and Bandicoots mosey in every night to feast on earth-dwelling bugs, fungi and delectable plant shoots. Whilst at the Homestead, the gardens are fringed by the beginning of the wetlands, welcoming a whole new variety of birdlife.
With every generation, the Swamphens, Moorhens, Coots, Ducks, Teals and Rails seem to spend less time by the water and more in the gardens, relishing the wealth of food available. The Spoonbills, Cormorants and Herons are more circumspect – if anything, they seem to prefer to commune with the donkeys on the far side of the pond, but the Black Swans are the kings of the water, arriving every year with great pomp and ceremony to produce yet another brood of 5-6 brawny chicks, and demanding their tidbits at the jetty twice daily.
Then there was the day the Chihuahua came face to face with a big Swamp Harrier on the verandah… somewhat awkward.
The next great excitement on the garden front is the addition of a small but efficient glasshouse to take place in 2015. Then, like gardening enthusiasts the world over, my folks will venture forth, propagating and collecting and nurturing seeds to bring yet more vibrance and vitality to the whole of the garden.
Meanwhile I’ll stick to fixing the fences where the llamas got in……