Home in the Highlands


LIFE AT ‘WHITE GABLES’


Autumn

 

Autumn tree square

 

After a long, dry summer in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of autumn. But as March merged into April, the record heat wave continued unabated. Finally, at the end of April, temperatures began to drop and we even had some rain. Great, I thought to myself, autumn is here at last.

But at White Gables it didn't look like a cool-climate autumn at all. Why were my fruit trees still green and leafy when only a kilometre away in the main street of our village, the deciduous trees lining the footpaths were boasting glorious autumnal hues? Had autumn decided to bypass White Gables altogether?

I happened to mention my conundrum to a gardening friend who lives nearby, and her explanation was so obvious I couldn’t believe I hadn't thought of it myself. White Gables is sheltered by a ridge on the coastal side of town – that means the temperature is a degree or two warmer than elsewhere and consequently autumn arrives a few weeks later.


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The first tree to realise it was autumn was the Japanese maple on the left. 


When the much-anticipated season finally reached White Gables, it didn’t just sneak in like an embarrassed guest ashamed of arriving late. Instead, it made a grand entrance, transforming the garden into a mass of colour almost overnight. Suddenly the fruit trees glowed yellow and orange, and the rose bushes burst into flower after months of inactivity.


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Pink carpet roses are repeat-flowering - just trim off the dead roses but beware of the thorns!


Sasanqua camellias, inconspicuous during the summer, now produced a myriad of blooms. Even the poor rhododendrons, which had barely survived months of heat and drought, started to make flowers. Fortunately, they came to their senses and realised it was autumn, not spring, and they'd better stop flowering and conserve their energy, or they might not make it through the winter.  

Among the fruit trees, the pears were the first to turn golden and lose their leaves, followed by the weeping cherries whose canopies thinned out as their yellow leaves drifted lazily to the ground, forming a rich carpet of mulch on the ground. After that, it was a competition between the apples, apricots, peaches, plums and figs to see which of them would shed all their leaves first.

 

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Molly guarding the back door in the shade of the cherry tree.

 

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Autumn is bulb planting time.  I bought 100 daffodil bulbs from a lovely elderly gentleman at the local markets,
who was almost giving them away. 
After planting the bulbs under the pear trees
I began to regret I hadn't bought bluebell and hyacinth bulbs as well. Perhaps next year . . .


In the lavender garden the fragrant flower-heads turned a deep blue-purple, attracting a swarm of fat little bees which buzzed from flower to flower with such joyful enthusiasm that they barely noticed WGH* setting up his tripod and photographing them in close-up.


WG Bee and Lavender

 

WG Weeping cherry

Weeping cherry and lavender bushes at the kitchen door.

 

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Above and below:  Lavender and rose bouquets from the autumn garden at White Gables.

 

Lavender bouquets

 

 

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The quintessential autumn rose. Pic: WGH


In less than two weeks it will officially be winter. And if autumn came late to White Gables, winter will no doubt do the same. The preponderance of French lavender in the garden suggests winter might be considerably milder here than the more exposed parts of the district. Although I'll miss the 'mellow fruitfulness' of autumn, I'm looking forward to bare branches silhouetted against a cloudless sky, and early bulbs sprouting from the rich basalt soil. 


WG Mist small

Keats called autumn the 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' - he was right!


*WGH = World’s Greatest Husband – it says so on his coffee mug.


Deborah O’Brien

17 May 2018

Read more about White Gables in my Home in the Highlands Blog below.
Just scroll down for:

    Finding the Dream House

    The Secret Garden

    A Tale of Two Chandeliers



Home in the Highlands



LIFE AT ‘WHITE GABLES’


A Tale of Two Chandeliers


All my life I’ve been fond of chandeliers – as a child I even had a miniature one in my dolls’ house! So, last spring, when I spotted the listing for White Gables online and read the description of the living room with a “vaulted ceiling showcasing an impressive glass chandelier to its best advantage”, my heart soared.

Then I browsed the images and couldn’t believe my eyes. The glass chandelier certainly made an impression, but not a positive one. If truth be told, it resembled a piñata exploding over a light fitting.


WG Old Chandelier square 


But apart from the chandelier, the house looked great – a quintessential Highlands home complete with wide verandahs and tall gables. I knew I just had to see the place for myself.

Fast forward to the inspection day . . .

By the time I had climbed the front steps to the wraparound verandah, I was already in love. At the door I gave the real estate agent my particulars and was ushered into the foyer. From there I entered the spacious living room where the aforesaid chandelier was hanging from the 18-foot (5.5 metres) ceiling.

‘What do you think of it?’ the agent asked conspiratorially when she caught me staring at the colourful light-fitting.

As I tried to come up with an answer that wouldn’t offend her, she continued:

‘If this was my house, it would be the first thing I’d replace.’

She was right, of course. On December 1, settlement day, we rang the local electrician but he couldn’t come till after New Year. For the next four weeks, whenever I walked past the chandelier I lowered my gaze. At Christmas I convinced myself it looked festive. But when I took pictures I lowered the camera so that the light-fitting wasn’t in the shot.

I was at pains to explain to guests that the chandelier had come with the house. If anyone expressed the slightest interest in it, I would ask whether they’d like to have it. As a gift. But nobody wanted it. ‘It wouldn’t suit my house,’ they said diplomatically. Or: ‘It’s too big for my place.’

In the same way that I’d scoured the internet looking for the right house, I now sought the perfect chandelier. In the process I didn’t come across anything that looked like ours.

However, we did eventually find a vintage chandelier which was both simple and elegant, with just the right proportions for the room and at a very acceptable price. When the electrician turned up to install it, I offered him the old one for nothing, but he politely declined. I wasn’t really surprised.


WG Chandelier square closeup

The replacement chandelier at White Gables.

What I like about the new chandelier is its subtlety. It doesn’t grab your attention – it just fits comfortably in the room, like a trusted friend.

What happened to the old chandelier? Well, it’s packed in a crate in the garage, awaiting a trip to the recycling centre, where I’m hoping someone will take pity on it and give it a good home.

 

Deborah O’Brien

24 April 2018


Home in the Highlands

 

LIFE AT 'WHITE GABLES'

 

The Secret Garden

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When I was a little girl, I read Frances Hodgson Burnett's 'The Secret Garden' and dreamed of having one of my own. In December of 2017, that dream came true. Much like the garden in the classic children's book, my secret garden is hidden away behind a stone wall and overgrown after years of neglect. 


Molly in the Secret Garden square cropped sm

Molly ponders the secrets lurking in the undergrowth. 


I can’t tell you how excited I was about the prospect of restoring this garden, but I was daunted too. What intimidated me most were the blackberry vines which had taken over like triffids, smothering plants and tearing at my skin whenever I ventured beyond the perimeter. Although garden gloves helped a little, what I really needed were those elbow-length leather gauntlets worn by falconers. Suffice it to say that removing the blackberries was a long and thorny process involving a lot of Betadine.

The many briar roses proved to be as dangerous as the blackberry vines. Even though it was summer, I took to them with secateurs and administered a heavy pruning to the old woody branches. All the while, I begged them, ‘Stop stabbing me – I’m only trying to help you.’ 

Once the blackberries were eradicated, there were other pests to deal with – rampant wisteria and jasmine, both of which had been allowed to grow out of control. After cutting everything back as far as I could, I poured boiling water over the remaining shoots. (I don’t use chemicals.) In the months since then, new wisteria and jasmine shoots have appeared and I’ve hit them once again with boiling water. Although they wilted and turned brown, I suspect it will take many more applications to eliminate them for good. 


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St Francis guarding the creatures living in the Secret Garden

 

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 Wormwood and French lavender line the pathway to the Secret Garden.

One day, I was peering into the shrubbery and spotted something terracotta perched high among the branches. In order to get a closer look, I started cutting wood away until I could see a large terracotta saucer on top of a wooden post. It was a bird feeder! And twining around the post was a Cécile Bruner rose.

 

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More discoveries awaited. A stone water feature. An old swinging garden chair (now moved to the safety of the front verandah). A collection of wonderful plants and shrubs: escallonia, rhododendrons, rondeletia, azaleas, camellias, geraniums, roses and innumerable lavender bushes, the latter desperately in need of a trim. Released from the burden of blackberries and other vines, they are thriving in their newfound freedom.

 

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We discovered this old jarrah swinging seat abandoned in the garden, covered in moss and lichen. It's now been gurneyed and moved to a safer place (the covered verandah) where it awaits restoration. In the meantime, I couldn't help dressing it up with a few scatter cushions!

 

This autumn, something very special happened in the Secret Garden. Sweet little forget-me-nots began to pop up everywhere. A gardening friend warned me that the seeds would stick to my dogs’ fur and I should remove the plants ASAP. ‘Thanks for the heads-up,' I replied, 'but the forget-me-nots are staying.'


I’m certain there will be surprises ahead. Already, bulbs are pushing their way out of the ground. At this stage I can only guess what they might be. Daffodils? Jonquils? Hyacinths? Snowdrops? I’ll just have to wait and see!


 

Deborah O’Brien 19 April, 2018


Read more about Life at White Gables - Finding the Dream Home 

http://www.deborahobrien.com.au/index.php/12-blog/231-home-in-the-highlands-blog


 

 

Home in the Highlands

 

LIFE AT WHITE GABLES


Finding the Dream Home


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Illustration: Deborah O'Brien 


For years I’ve dreamt about living in the Southern Highlands of NSW, but I never actually believed the dream would come true. It was just a fantasy, fed by rest-stops in Bowral and Berrima on trips back and forth to our country hideaway in the Tablelands. Then I discovered 'Highlife' magazine with its glossy real estate ads depicting grand mansions and enchanting country cottages. As I leafed through the pages, I would allow myself the guilty pleasure of imagining what it might be like to live in this magical world of English hedgerows, ridiculously green fields and quaint little villages. But it’s a long way between imagining and reality. 

Last winter we were driving back to Sydney from the Tablelands when WGH* made a comment about looking for a place closer to home. Somewhere about an hour and a half from Sydney. A place our friends and family could easily visit in a day.

That night I started up my laptop and began exploring the Highlands online. Very soon, I was searching the real estate listings every day - Bowral, Mittagong, Moss Vale, Exeter, Bundanoon, Burrawang and Robertson.

It was weeks before we started looking in person, and it quickly became a regular Saturday excursion down the Hume Highway. Over the winter we inspected many properties, accumulating a pile of glossy brochures to prove it. For me, there were two essentials: a wraparound verandah and a rambling cottage garden, or the potential to create one. For WGH, the ‘must-have’ feature was a barn where he could do his woodworking, or the space to build one.

But we never seemed to find all of those elements in the one property and at the right price. As time passed, I began to wonder whether we would ever find our perfect match.

They say that true love happens when you least expect it. In our case, it presented itself one weekday morning when I was on the point of giving up the search. Out of habit I opened Domain and browsed through the listings. All of a sudden, there it was on the screen – the Dream House, complete with wide verandahs and almost an acre of grounds. It was perfect, except for the word ‘Auction’ below the photo.

My experience of auctions has been traumatic, to say the least. Two auctions, two disasters. The first involved our house being passed in a hundred thousand dollars below the reserve. The second, which took place more than a decade later, was equally bad in that only one bidder turned up. After that, I made a vow never to be involved in an auction again, either as a vendor or a purchaser.

Despite my vow, I convinced myself it wouldn’t hurt to turn up at the next ‘open for inspection’. Out of curiosity. Not as a serious prospect. Just as a comparable. That Saturday we arrived at the allotted time and parked outside. I knew the minute I walked through the gates and up the white gravel drive. 

After we’d looked around for a while, the real estate agent appeared with her clipboard and asked me what I thought of the property.

‘I love it!’ I replied like a besotted teenager.

‘So we’ll see you at the auction then,’ she said with a smile.

‘I don’t do auctions,’ was my reply. ‘Too stressful. Not for you perhaps, but for the buyers and sellers.’

‘Oh, auctions can be stressful for us too,’ she said. ‘If they happen to go pear-shaped.’

‘Well, I’m sorry, but I won’t be there,’ I said with a sad sense of finality.

And I was true to my word.

On the Monday morning after the auction, I couldn't help checking to see what price the house had sold for. Instead of the words ‘SOLD’, I saw:

'FOR SALE BY PRIVATE TREATY'

OMG, the auction had gone pear-shaped. The house had been passed in and here it was back up for sale!

In the interests of not appearing too eager, we waited a few days. Then we made an offer which was duly accepted. Eight weeks later we moved into White Gables and the dream became a reality.

 

WG Roses in bloom Medium

 

*WGH = World’s Greatest Husband – it says so on his coffee mug.


Deborah O'Brien, February 24, 2018


Read more about Life at White Gables here:

Home in the Highlands: The Secret Garden 

http://www.deborahobrien.com.au/index.php/12-blog/232-home-in-the-highlands-the-secret-garden

Book Review: ‘Lake Hill’
by Margareta Osborn


Lake Hill 


When Margareta Osborn’s new novel, ‘Lake Hill’ arrived in the post, I was busy planning a family wedding and finishing a manuscript of my own. Reluctantly I put the book aside, awaiting a time when I could read it at my leisure. Last weekend, with the wedding successfully over and my own book safely in my agent’s hands, I gleefully hunkered down by the fire, ready to escape into Margareta’s latest rural romance.

The beguiling cover sets the mood, while the vivid descriptions of glistening lakes, lush pastures and big skies will transport you to Gippsland, a place so lovingly described in all of Margareta’s novels that it verges on being a character in its own right rather than a mere backdrop.

But there’s much more to ‘Lake Hill’ than the scenery – this is a novel that straddles genres, encompassing romantic elements but also some seriously dark issues as well as a good dose of mystery and suspense.

Two decades ago, teenagers, Julia Gunn and Rick Halloran, went their separate ways after a fleeting summer romance. Now in her thirties and recently widowed, Julia has decided to start a new life running a café at Lakes Entrance. On her way to the coast, a rockslide damages her car and she finds herself marooned in the mountain village of Lake Grace. After hitching a lift into town, she has no option but to stay at the local pub until the car is fixed. And guess who owns the pub? None other than Rick Halloran, who’s now a celebrity, thanks to his famous mother and his own success as a sculptor.

Reunion stories offer unique possibilities for creating dramatic tension. That’s because the two protagonists will bring a heap of emotional baggage to the reunion – their shared back story and the lives they’ve led independently in the time they’ve been apart. And if one or both has been carrying a torch for the other, well, that makes the reunion even more poignant and emotionally charged.

When Rick walks into the bar of the Lake Grace pub, Julia recognises him right away, and old memories come flooding back. For his part, Rick takes a considerable time to realise that the attractive woman with the fancy (albeit damaged) car is actually the shy bookish girl from his past. And when he does work it out, he’s not exactly happy to see her. In fact, he’s just plain surly.

What really happened all those years ago? Why did they go their separate ways? What has happened to each of them in the intervening time? And will the spark they felt as teenagers still be simmering twenty years later? The answers to those questions make for a meaty page-turner.

The dialogue is snappy, the characters nuanced, and the descriptive passages evocative. But what really grabbed me were the ‘knock-you-for-six’ twists. I can usually sense a plot twist coming chapters away, but not this time.

In a nutshell, ‘Lake Hill’ brings us a gripping and bittersweet story of second chances and lost opportunities. And if you’re the kind of reader who enjoys a blend of romance and mystery set against a bucolic backdrop, this novel could be the perfect addition to your reading list this winter.

 

Margareta’s website: http://margaretaosborn.com.au/

Buying details: https://penguin.com.au/authors/49-margareta-osborn


Deborah O’Brien

26 June, 2017