Garden Renovations at Meroogal

Meroogal house surrounded by purple jacarandas

View of Meroogal and the Jacarandas from the street Photo Steven Halliday © Sydney Living Museums

Located in the south coast town of Nowra, Meroogal was once home to four generations of women from the Mackenzie and Thorburn family. It is the outermost property that the Gardens Team maintains in the SLM portfolio. Read more about the fascinating story of Meroogal’s history and conservation.

Meroogal is one of the properties I wish we visited more often as it has a fantastic suburban garden surrounding a beautiful house; however the distance becomes our biggest barrier. Fortunately we have local a garden team staff member who lives nearby and tends to its garden and lawns weekly.

During November 2016 we visited Meroogal for two days to undertake a much-needed garden renovation. On the morning of our arrival we were greeted by the fantastic and iconic purple glow of the flowering jacarandas that frame the property. The aim of our visit was to renovate the tired and overgrown garden beds that lie just behind the front white picket fence. Since they were replanted in the early 1980s the beds had become far too busy, with the bulbs especially becoming overcrowded and herbaceous plants needing thinning out. This clean-out will encourage new growth and improve soil conditions by providing more space and incorporating new organic matter. 

5 people stand in the garden at Meroogal talking about their plans

The garden team discuss the plans for the garden. Photo Steven Halliday © Sydney Living Museums.

The garden beds were becoming over-run by Montbretia (Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora) and Dutch clover (Trifolium sp), both beautiful flowering plants, which easily spread and become weeds. The orange-flowered Montbretia grows from an underground corm (they look like flattened bulbs) and the clover has tiny bulbs that require careful removal to ensure they do not return.

Our first job was to decide which areas could be left alone, what needed to be removed, and what needed thinning out and re-planting. With the established shrubs and trees such as the roses, we followed the ‘3-Ds’ rule, which is to remove Dead, Damaged or Diseased limbs, branches and foliage. The six of us then got started along the garden beds, focusing on a metre or so at a time digging up the dense clumps of Iris, Acanthus, Hellebores, bulbs and various other plants. The clumps were then separated,  and the roots and foliage trimmed and grouped for replanting.

I began on a patch filled with Oyster plant (Acanthus mollis) and bearded Iris, carefully digging up the plants whilst also removing the unwanted weed bulbs and corms mentioned before. After everything was replanted it looked quite bare – even alarmingly so, but I have faith that the evergreen plants will spring back quite quickly and the perennials will flower even more generously.

Most of the plant varieties we deal with in historic gardens are very hardy (some had to be to survive this long!) and can take the sometimes harsh treatment Sydney's climate and we give them - in fact many of them even thrive on it!

I always wonder why a lot of the plants we care for have fallen out of fashion in the plant world, as they are some of the easiest plants to grow. 

Garden staff are working in the garden beds before the planned renovations
The overgrown garden beds before the planned renovations. Photo Steven Halliday © Sydney Living Museums
A shot of the garden after the renovation with the replanted plants.
The garden bed after the renovations. Photo Steven Halliday © Sydney Living Museums

About the author

Photograph of a man standing beside a garden shed

Steve Halliday


Steven is one of the horticulturists who takes care of Sydney Living Museums’ green spaces and gardens.