Meroogal garden bed with ceramic edging tiles. Photo © John Storey for Sydney Living Museums MER87_0095

A 1920s garden revisited

 
The garden at Meroogal, dating from 1886 was a source of pride for the Thorburn and Macgregor families.

Mrs June Wallace, great-niece of the four Thorburn sisters for whom Meroogal was built recalls, 'It had a nice natural look, despite the geometrical layout of the garden, and that was because there was such a mixture of flowers ...' Planted throughout the beds were Iarkspurs, pentstemons, columbines, gerberas, ixias, primulas, violets, cornflowers, asters, polyanthus and jonquils. 

In 1985, when the HHT purchased the  property, the garden was overgrown and in need of restoration. It was decided to preserve and stabilise the remnants surviving from the late 1920s and restore the garden to its appearance at that time. Much of the evidence for this re-creation has come from historical photographs and the detailed recollections of June Wallace, who was the last owner of Meroogal. As a young child June spent a great  deal of time with her Aunt Kate in the garden at Meroogal.  

Graphic that says Insites - published in insites magazine
This article was written by former SLM gardener Cheryl Scowen and originally published in the Winter 2008 issue of Insites.
 
Watercolour of house.
Meroogal in 1903 by John Samuel Browning, 1903. Browning (1831-1909), a retired civil servant and one time Commissioner of Crown Lands and Chief Surveyor in Nelson, New Zealand, was a friend of the Thorburn family. Photo © Jenni Carter for Sydney Living Museums
 
 

The garden today is simple and practical, with continuous beds alongside the fences and paths. These beds are edged with glazed terracotta tiles and planted out with roses, perennials, annuals and bulbs, so that at any time of the year something is flowering and can be picked for the vases in the house. Winter and spring beget a lovely display of snowdrops, jonquils (double and single) and freesias. The self-sown perennials and bulbs give the garden an air of contained informality.

It is the trees, however, that are the dominant feature of the Meroogal garden. Not only do they frame the house and create microclimates below them, but they also establish a palpable link to the past and the people who planted them.

One of the oldest remaining on the property is an apple tree. The family called this cooking  apple a Californian Crown. It is believed to have been propagated from a seed brought back from America by Robert Thorburn around 1894. Today, of course, the tree is much reduced with the trunk now completely hollow. But it still produces flowers and apples and is a graceful addition to the back garden. 

 
Woman in long white dress and hat standing in garden in front of Meroogal verandah.
Kate Thorburn in the garden at Meroogal, c1900-1930. Private Collection
 

Another beautiful tree on the southern  side of the house is Syzygium panfculaium recognisable to us as a lilly pilly but once referred to as a myrtle berry tree. This tree was a gift to June Wallace on her wedding  day in 1944.

It was a present from the Gibsons, who lived on the neighbouring farm to June’s  grandfather, Alec Macgregor, in the foothills of Cambewarra Mountain. It arrived in a jam tin  as a seedling and today stands taller than the house itself.

At the front of the garden, fringing the fence line, are the stately jacarandas. According to the oral history of the family, the largest of these trees (planted in about 1910) was grown from a seed taken from one of the first jacarandas in the colony. The tree grew at Windsor, in the garden of the Dicks, who  were friends of the Thorburns. The other two jacarandas on the garden border were planted later as seedlings that came from the original tree. Although, to our eyes, these Brazilian natives are not so exotic as they seemed in earlier times, they still provide a stunning display each November.

As a young child June spent a great deal of time with her Aunt Kate in the garden at Meroogal ...
 
Exterior view of Meroogal, a two story green house. The sun is shining and the gardens look plush. There is a picket fence in the foreground.
Meroogal on a sunny winter's day. Photo © John Storey for Sydney Living Museums