JARS v42n2 - The Garden At Pallant's Hill

The Garden At Pallant's Hill
Felice Blake
Kallista, Victoria, Australia

A few miles away from where I live in the Dandenong Ranges about thirty miles east of Melbourne, lies the magical garden at Pallant's Hill in Sherbrooke. The garden nestles into a hillside close to Sherbrooke Forest and has that appealing air that one associates with a woodland garden. For woodland it is, enhanced in the older part of the garden by sixty year old scarlet oaks ( Quercus coccinea ), beeches ( Fagus sylvatica ), maples, and conifers. The lower part of the garden is dominated by a glorious stand of enormous native mountain ash ( Eucalyptus regnans ) stretching two hundred feet up towards the sky, through which the distant blue mountains form an entrancing backdrop to the garden.

This six acre garden is the creation of Ruth Tindale and her late husband, George, although many of the very mature trees owe their planting to earlier owners. The garden is at an elevation of about 400 metres and is blessed with deep, well drained volcanic soil which together with an equable climate provides conditions almost unrivalled for growing an assemblage of desirable plants.

The Tindales gardened here for many years, forming the design, planting hundreds upon hundreds of rhododendrons, magnolias, camellias and azaleas together with companion plantings, creating open green spaces of lawns which so effectively show off the gardens, forming the network of paths which continually open up new vistas. Great care was taken in planning to ensure that plants and flowers of immense variety and interest would be featured throughout the year.

After George's death, Ruth decided to give the property - house and garden - to the Victorian Conservation Trust so it could be maintained for the enjoyment of all the people of Victoria, and naturally for all visitors from other parts of Australia and overseas. It had been George's wish that all should be able to share in the joy of this garden, now known as "The George Tindale Memorial Garden". Ruth still lives here spending most of her time working in the garden and planning future development, much to the pleasure of the many visitors who come here.

Garden scene, Pallant's Hill
Garden scene, Pallant's Hill
Photo by Ruth Tindale

When one enters Pallant's Hill, it is difficult to envisage just what lies in store. One is greeted by a large more-or-less rectangular front lawn bordered with azaleas, rhododendrons and hydrangeas, which is home to some magnificent scarlet oaks and several large conifers including the eye-catching Monkey Puzzle Tree ( Araucaria araucana ). Close by is a smaller round west lawn surrounding a scarlet oak. In this area there is a foretaste of things to come. The larger part of this garden is criss-crossed by a network of wide paths with interconnecting narrow paths. Maps help the visitor find the way. Although I have visited this garden on numerous occasions, each visit is made fascinating by a new perspective around the next bend along whichever path I have chosen to follow.

The call of spring comes early to Pallant's Hill. Winter is usually quite mild, as snow is an infrequent visitor, and the seasons meld almost imperceptibly one into another. Winter has already produced such delights as the exquisite pink of Luculia gratissima , the various Hamamelis , the spicy aroma of Chimonanthus fragrans , the long tasseled Garrya elliptica , many early camellias, the purity of snowdrops ( Galanthus sp. ) and the charm of the little Cyclamen coum .

Spring ushers in the glory of the rhododendrons and azaleas. In this garden, or more precisely, in the rock garden - one part of the garden which is not woodland - spring brings extra delight with a myriad of small bulbs. Dwarf narcissus which are quite a feature, include some entrancing N. cyclamineus hybrids which were bred here.

Beyond the rock garden, one's attention is drawn to the delectable pink haze of the lovely Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel' beckoning further exploration. The garden is rich in magnolias. They make a special feature of early spring in September. This is one of the loveliest times of the garden year. Apart from the delicacy of 'Leonard Messel', one must not overlook the magnificent Magnolia campbelliae with its glorious rose pink flowers, 'Charles Raffill', M. denudata , the historic Yulan magnolia cultivated in China for more than two thousand years, M. dawsoniana , M. sargentiana robusta , a host of x soulangiana hybrids, and other species and hybrids too numerous to detail here. Also grown is magnolia's near relative, the outstanding Michelia doltsopa .

Is September the loveliest time in the garden? Perhaps it is, perhaps not, October sees hundreds of rhododendrons and azaleas at their peak. Many of the curving paths are lined with banks of large, old azaleas, mainly Kurumes, including many of Wilson's Fifty, which create a memorable sight with their brilliant colours. These are followed by a galaxy of deciduous azaleas - species, Mollis, Exbury and Knaphill. This is one of the most popular times of the year for visitors.

Both species and hybrid rhododendrons are well represented, including many not generally seen in our gardens, ranging from the big-leafed aristocrats to the fascinating, often exasperating, wildlings from the high Himalayas. As we all know, the rhododendron blooming season is spread over many months. However, rhododendrons are not grown here only for their flowers, important as they are, but also most importantly for their architectural appeal, their foliage, their bark and their indumentum, all of which contribute so much to year round interest.

The season starts early with some of the beautiful species and hybrids in subsections Grandia and Falconera. A lovely pale form of 'Fortune' ( falconeri x sinogrande ) demands attention, so too R. grande , praestans and sinogrande with their magnificent foliage.

The early free-flowering R. mucronulatum is welcome in all gardens, as is the lovely 'Emasculum' ( ciliatum x dauricum ). Another early flowering hybrid is the widely grown 'Seta' ( moupinense x spinuliferum ) with its bright pink flowers. It is a good looking shrub throughout the year. Rhododendron moupinense itself is delightful too.

Prominent along one of the azalea lined paths is a fine plant of 'Sir Charles Lemon' with its magnificent white trusses, set against its dark green leaves backed with cinnamon indumentum. This rhododendron was at one time considered to be a true species, a form of R. arboreum , but is now generally accepted as a hybrid. Several forms of R. arboreum are also grown as well as R. arboreum ssp. campbelliae with its early rose pink flowers, ssp. delavayi , the late flowering R. niveum with its unusual smoky-purple blooms and lovely indumentum, and the scarlet ssp. zeylanicum .

R. facetum R. yunnanense
R. facetum
Photo by Ruth Tindale
R. yunnanense
Photo by Ruth Tindale

That marvelous rhododendron known as 'Noyo Chief, sometimes thought to be a form of ssp. zeylanicum , but now usually classified as a hybrid, with its deep green shining leaves and glowing bright red flowers is arresting in its splendour. A number of other R. arboreum hybrids are grown too, including many old favourites such as 'Duke of Cornwall', 'Altaclarense', 'Nobleanum', 'Ernest Gill', 'Gill's Triumph', 'Choremia', 'Cornubia' and 'Boddaertianum'.

Subsection Triflora provides many species matchless in grace and beauty. These are planted throughout the garden and add much to the spring scene, from the early primrose yellow R. lutescens , a particular favourite with me, to the wonderful blue of the several forms of R. augustinii . The locally raised R. augustinii hybrid, 'Florence Mann', a particularly good blue of undeniable charm, commands attention in various parts of the garden and is a joy in spring. The visitor must also stop to admire large bushes of the pure pink R. davidsonianum F.C.C. form, and the pale pink cloud of R. yunnanense . Rhododendron oreotrephes with its glaucous foliage and entrancing lilac flowers is everyone's favourite, and not to be missed. R. triflorum itself and the pale yellow R. ambiguum , together with R. tatsienense , R. polylepis and R. keiskei are also grown.

Prominent among the most desirable rhododendrons are the species and hybrids within subsection Cinnabarina, with their bell-like flowers of irresistible appeal. Along with R. cinnabarinum var. roylei and the lovely yellow ssp. x anthocodon , a number of hybrids are grown including 'Lady Berry' with its salmon bells, the striking orange 'Lady Chamberlain', the golden form of 'Royal Flush', the brightly hued 'Sirius', and the enchanting warm, creamy white 'Cinncrass'. All these add an air of distinctive elegance to the garden.

R. 'Lady Berry'
'Lady Berry'
Photo by Ruth Tindale

As we all know many of the cinnabarinum hybrids claim maddenias in their parentage. Numerous species in subsection Maddenia are grown here, one of the most outstanding would be the magnificent R. nuttallii with its huge yellow-throated trumpets, and the smaller var. stellatum . Close to this in magnificence (but with less outstanding foliage) must surely be the superbly scented R. lindleyi . The charming R. ciliicalyx in its many forms (some probably hybrids), appeals to all gardeners, with its slightly perfumed rose-tinged white flowers, yellow flushed throat, and very free flowering habit. A most beautiful hybrid of this species is the delectable 'Else Frye'. This one occupies a prominent position to show off its glory at the edge of the Braeside Lawn, looking down from the rock garden. The delicious 'Fragrantissimum' asserts her loveliness in various parts of the garden. So too the 'Countess of Haddington' and the 'Countess of Sefton' also delight us. Other maddenias include the little bright yellow R. valentinianum with its bronzy, hairy foliage, the late flowering perfumed R. crassum , R. maddenii , R. johnstoneanum , R. carneum and others.

An early flowering species with interesting indumentum is the lavender-blue R. campanulatum 'Prince of Wales'. The clone 'Knaphill' is also grown. Indumentum is always a sought after attribute in rhododendrons and makes the new growth particularly fascinating. Species noted for indumentum of course include the wonderful R. yakushimanum , a goodly specimen which always attracts attention. Among others grown are R. bureavii , japonicum var. japonicum (formerly metternichii ), japonicum var. pentamerum (formerly degronianum ), adenogynum , fulvum , griersonianum , and roxieanum and the striking hybrid 'Tally Ho' with its late scarlet flowers.

Many rhododendrons attract notice with their beautiful foliage, including those in subsections Fortunea, Thomsonia and Williamsiana. Rhododendron orbiculare with its rounded glaucous backed leaves and deep rose-pink bells, R. thomsonii with its deep red bells, R. wardii , primrose flowered, and R. williamsianum with its new bronze rounded foliage and pink bells, are amongst those grown.

Dwarf species and hybrid rhododendrons are grown both in the rock garden and other parts of the garden. These include the early flowering and very floriferous R. pemakoense , the little purple R. impeditum , always a favourite, the small leafed early mauve R. websterianum , the prostrate little R. calostrotum ssp. keleticum Radicans Group, and the fascinating tiny leafed R. trichostomum with its minute trusses of pink flowers and pale peeling bark.

Slightly bigger are the beautiful early yellow R. luteiflorum and others in subsection Glauca. One small growing hybrid which particularly appeals is 'Lemon Mist' ( R. xanthostephanum x R. leucaspis ) with its bright flowers. There are many other dwarf and small growing rhododendrons. The acquisition of a truly representative collection is under way.

R. 'Pink Delight'
'Pink Delight'
Photo by Ruth Tindale

Both new and older hybrids are well represented, early, mid-season and late season flowerings are all included. One, not often seen, which always attracts visitors is the charmingly named 'Mrs. W.T. Thistleton-Dyer' (a R. fortunei hybrid). It casts a pink glow in the far end of the garden looking down Van deVen Avenue. Incidentally this lady was the daughter of the Sir Joseph Hooker, the famous plant explorer.

I feel I have merely touched on the variety of rhododendrons grown in this engrossing garden, but it is not possible or appropriate to list all those grown. There are many surprises!

Interest in the garden does not finish with the end of the rhododendron season. Lilies begin flowering in late spring, first the Asiatics, followed by the Trumpets, then the gorgeous Orientals lasting until autumn. What wonderful companion plants they are! The garden is rich in South African plants including proteas, leucodendrons and leucospermums which always prove fascinating to the visitor. So too our Australian natives, in particular the eye-catching waratahs, Telopea species and hybrids in spring, and later the unusual kangaroo paws, Anigozanthus species and many of the new hybrids, attract the visitor.

Summer colour is also provided by a grand collection of hydrangeas including a number of named varieties and unusual species in all shades of blue and purple, pure white, and some reds which naturally keep their colour in this acid soil. An important summer feature is the big gathering of fuchsias in a great diversity of colour and size. These range from the small ones such as 'Loeky', a single red and lilac of graceful form, 'New England', a beautiful pink, 'Flying Cloud', a lovely white, to the larger ones including the gorgeous 'Snow Burner'. Summer too brings the delectable Chilean Bell Flower, Lapageria rosea , in shades of pink, red and pure white growing in various parts of the garden on specially designed stands of treated pine.

Wilton's Walk, 'Red Robin' in 
Wilton's Walk, 'Red Robin' in foreground
Photo by Ruth Tindale

Autumn brings a feast of colour with a cosmopolitan throng of trees, shrubs and bulbs - the brilliance of the scarlet oaks, the pure light gold of the maidenhair trees, (Ginkgo biloba ), the deep gold of the fastigate tulip tree, ( Liriodendron tulipifera 'Fastigiatum'), the many tints of the maples, beeches, birches, cherries and Enkianthus . South African bulbs come to the fore with long borders of exotic nerines, flamboyant vallottas and dainty Schizostylus beckoning to the observer.

In a quiet part of the garden, named Hazel's Haven, autumn brings a new dimension with a sea of Cyclamen hederifolium . Thousands of blooms like butterflies in white and all hues of pink, beneath the shading trees, delight the eye. Many visitors come at this time of year just to enjoy this tranquil scene, the very epitome of charm and grace.

Although the great majority of visitors come to the garden from spring to autumn, there is not one week in the year without some plants attracting special interest. This is truly a garden for all seasons. As a "friend" of the garden I assist showing parties of visitors around. Every time I walk through it I am surprised by some change in the garden. It never remains static. The overseas visitors here include many Americans and Canadians, mostly in tour parties. I would strongly recommend this garden be included in itineraries of members of our Society who intend to visit Australia, there is a wealth of plants to interest them.

Felice Blake, a regular contributor to the ARS Journal, shares her impressions of one of Australia's fine gardens.