A romantic country garden is a popularly held dream by many, an escape to a simpler, more relaxed way of life. In reality, though, it is a far cry from a gentle, passive, easy lifestyle because a rural landscape is magnified and intense in every way. The environment of farm life, the sun, the wind, the temperature and the agricultural aspects combine to create tough conditions and sometimes a harsh landscape.
The allure of the isolation and serenity of a rural retreat away from hectic urbanity, calls for a balanced approach between nature and the dreams of the gardener. Idealistically, one may think we can tame nature but on a daily basis, it simply does not happen, in farming or in the garden. Nature has a habit of forcing you to go with the flow, despite any attempt at second-guessing the weather conditions. I’m often caught out in that game, but as Michael Pollan says in the title quote above, perhaps in the garden we can meet nature halfway.
A rural garden design needs to be realistic and manageable because the rural environment will always remain what it is. A particular year may bring drought or a plague of pests or a flood, but aside from these potential threats, growing a rural garden can at times be challenging. Accepting the inherent characteristics of where one lives and all that goes with it is essential. Rural gardens must first fit within the area’s agricultural framework a blend of practicalities and aesthetics.
Rural life is remote. I’ve learned that certain factors need to be considered to fit into the nature of rural living when designing a garden that can be a frustrating exercise. There are less opportunities to find the required resources needed for gardening and landscaping, plus any assistance you may want, is not only hard to find but expensive.
Fences are a must but are often unsightly because they need to be high enough to prevent mobs of huge kangaroos from jumping them. And they will, if there is no feed around elsewhere, as in a drought or dry spell. The rays of the sun are fierce, and the daily temperature can be extreme, so often, there is little protection for struggling plants. There are no next-door neighbours in a rural garden, so little shade is available from next doors fences, houses, or garage. Farm outbuildings and shearing sheds are traditionally away from the house area, as are huge trees. Similarly, there is nothing to buffer the wind that can be unrelenting across the entire garden, bringing with it all manner of seeds from weeds, grasses and pests possibly in huge proportions. Birdlife is prolific and although delightful, they can cause enormous damage to young plants or even established roses, as they love to pick off the new shoots and buds.
Gardens will have good and bad years, just like with farming. Some years the weather is overly hot, rain refuses to arrive, so the air is dry and the sun scorching. This creates a red, dry, dusty landscape accompanied by dust storms that no amount of watering will allow plants to survive. Although roses do love the heat and given air circulation and no humidity will generally be fine in our Australian rural gardens. Last year was so extremely dry that any roses that are still flourishing this year (2021) are certainly robust and hardy.
Other years can be particularly wet with persistent rain, bringing the risk of flooding, fungus and powdery mildew to the garden. Often weather is uncompromising and the changes from year to year bring unusual challenges we do not see in suburban gardens. There is a rawness and austerity to the landscape that impacts the choice of plants we grow. These need to be hardy, heat, frost and disease resistant or they will not survive.
On the other hand, a rural garden has its own natural beauty and appeal. There are often expansive views and vistas, boundless skies, an abundance of wildlife, especially birds. Oddly, the birdlife is unusually plentiful and noisy, yet simultaneously, an almost deafening silence pervades the air. The quiet is deeply calming, restful, and restorative.
The rural garden is a sanctuary for the gardener and farmers who work all day in the harshness of arid land to find peace at the end of the day within the confines of the house garden. Also, the gardener’s difficulties are eased by the prospect of a secluded area to enjoy solitude, deep silence, and open space, doing what they love, even if laborious. A place that calms the natural environment and takes the edge off rural or farm living.
The often disregarded beauty of a rural landscape is a far cry from tropical, seaside, suburban, or horticultural masterpieces we see in a stunning coffee table, garden book. Naturally, not all rural landscapes are harsh, hot, and dry in summer, but I refer to the area known as the central west area of NSW. The environment can swiftly change from arid to lush, verdant green dependant on one aspect-water! The best thing for plants is to water them effectively—advice from Treloars roses on watering.
Undeterred by the restrictions of rural gardening, there are multiple encouraging advantages to this lifestyle. The first being four distinct seasons. What a joy this is, having spent most of my life in a temperate semi-tropical climate? I celebrate each season now, even winter, except for the dreaded frost that will decimate plants indiscriminately. My favourite season is Autumn – a story for another day.
Secondly, the vast expanse of sky in rural life is boundless and magnificent. The clarity of light, both day and night, is truly magic. Living where there is more sky visible than land in a remote location impacts one’s own sense of place in the natural world and provides that coveted sense of freedom. Clear, eternal, terrestrial skies are food for the soul.
Another advantage of rural gardens is the generous sense of accomplishment they give the gardener that increases as the distinct challenges are met and triumphs achieved. It is not an easy road and requires discipline to return to the garden before the sun is up and do whatever is necessary to maintain some semblance of order amidst the chaos the season may bring. Rural gardens are beautiful because they contrast greatly with the land beyond the fences.
There is no doubt that rural living and hence gardening in this landscape is at times trying with many reasons to not bother or give up. But by accepting where you are and given a certain amount of time and patience these are easily overcome and may just be the catalyst that allows a gardener to be highly successful and more themselves than in a garden that is easy and unchallenging. No matter where one lives, what’s not to like about striving to bring harmony between the garden and the complexities of agricultural and natural landscapes ?
Although I love and admire the lushness of an English country garden where the natural landscape and the garden appear to be one, not all gardens need to be referred back to our English roots. But, I will always want to see beautiful rose blooms, ornamental trees, and shrubs growing, and I will always struggle to accept only growing drought tolerant plants like saltbush, sedums, switch grasses, and cactus. My aim is a balance that complements our Australian landscape and still fulfills my desire to grow a range of old fashioned English and French roses.
A fragrant, charming country garden has limitations and does require hard work and dedication. A rural garden will always be different from what was envisaged, regardless of the amount of time and effort spent building and maintaining it, because of the changing nature of gardening and rural life. The attitude that has helped me as the garden grows and takes shape is a sense of calm acceptance of what cannot be changed and an equal amount of tenacity and patience. I aim to create an ambience in the garden that suits the landscape and complements the early Australian farmhouse and provides pleasure for ourselves and those who visit.
Title quote by Michael Pollan
All content and images by Di Baker 2021 All rights reserved
With the exception of the unsplash images above as stated, and below from David Klein