A Cosmic Whale Garden!

Words by
Georgina Reid
Images by
Daniel Shipp
| February 24, 2016

There’s a garden in Leura, in the Blue Mountains of NSW, with its very own whale. It’s a unique species, with a rectangular form, a lumpy texture and no water-spout.

This whale is a seasonal creature, emerging from the depths of winter each year with a bang. A single eye and a row of well-rounded teeth mark its arrival. Without such indicators, the distinctive green mountain whale would look like any other lumpy cypress hedge.

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But what a difference an eye makes. All of a sudden there’s life, humour, and fun injected into the aforementioned foliage. It’s eating the photinia for breakfast! Behind the whale façade hides a garden that can be called nothing other than riotous, one of my favourite adjectives. Riotous bulbs, riotous rhododendrons, riotous colours. Owner Bryan Hardy sure knows how to fill a suburban block with foliage, form and flamboyance.

When he bought the land in 1972 Bryan was a novice gardener. ‘I’d never planted a thing in my life until I started this garden’, he says. ‘The first spring I owned the house I went to the Leura Gardens Festival. It was spectacular, and of course I thought “I have to start a garden”’.

Bryan started digging and planting and digging and planting and soon enough he had a garden on his hands. ‘I got carried away’, he says. ‘When I moved up here I started playing golf, but that soon ended. The garden took over.’ Now, after over 40 years, the garden is full. The front yard consists of a lawn flanked by camellias, azaleas, tulips, pansys, jonquils and of course, the whale. The rear garden is a series of winding pathways, made narrow by the overflowing forms of clipped azaleas, Japanese maples, and rhododendrons.

But the whale, lets get back to the whale.

‘It was a mistake’, says Bryan. ‘It should never have been planted. It’s a golden cypress and they grow to 30 meters or more!’

Bryan planted five, then realised what he’d done. So he pruned and pruned and pruned. The whale became a whale when some tourists were getting their photo taken in front of it. ‘They were calling it the whale hedge’, Bryan says. ‘I didn’t know what they were talking about, but took another look and saw it!’

In spring the following year he cheekily put the eye and teeth on it, and has done so every year for the last 15 years. The additions are an indication of when the garden is open – from the first weekend of September until the last weekend of October.

Now that he’s retired, Bryan spends most of his time in the garden. In fact, when I call, Bryan has just returned to earth after being eight meters up a ladder, pruning the pear tree! He tells me he’s getting to old for it, but I’ve got a feeling he’ll be gardening for a long while yet.

Bryan’s garden ‘Glenhaven’ is open every year from the first weekend of September until the last weekend of October. Entry fees are donated to Guide Dogs Australia. Put a spring trip to Leura in your diary NOW!

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