In April 1939, Jean Galbraith wrote; The garden “is always changing and always growing… It is never finished: there is always a dream of something more to do, and we would not have it otherwise. In spite of failures and mistakes and imperfections its airs are sweet, its flowers love to bloom and we are happy in it”.
Jean spent most of her life living at Tyers in Gippsland. Tini and Murray Cook have also spent their life in Gippsland, within the Trafalgar and Yarragon area and their love of a garden is displayed through their “six or perhaps seven acre” landscaped garden which has views out over the valley to the Baw Baw Ranges. According to Murray, he is into “the 27th year of his 15 year plan” to create their garden. He does the framework and Tini fills in the colour. It’s difficult to imagine this garden being a bare paddock when they first built on the site almost 30 years ago.
Tini and Murray have worked alongside for their horticultural journey. Murray deals with the grand scale – structures and trees, whereas Tini does “the flim-flam”, the flowers, herbs and vegetables. Tini insists her part is a “survival of the fittest garden” because her other interests limit how much time she has to work in the garden.
It doesn’t seem as though a green-field site presented a daunting challenge because, according to Murray, three large majestic eucalypts which create an imaginary triangular frame around their house were a good starting point.
“These three trees – as large as they are – told me the soil would grow trees,’ Murray says. “What to plant became an intriguing journey, but it was a perfect site to integrate trees and garden beds in harmony with each other.”
A silver birch forest has over 300 trees through which about 150 maples co-mingle. Light and breezy underneath, a veil of silence descends as one walks through this forest that allows an occasional peek at a wider garden out there. It is a beautiful space in every season.
Scattered throughout the property there are many more birches – canoe, snake-bark,cut-leaf and silver, oaks (six different types), various types of maples, prunus, dog-woods, ginkgo (male and female), hawthorns, tulip trees, plane trees, chestnuts, loquat and mulberry trees, Nyssa (sylvatica), a weeping linden, fruit trees, walnut trees, a couple of bottle trees, an Illawarra flame tree, a bunya pine, Brazilian peppercorn, Judas tree, Chines Parasol, Persian witch hazel, medlar, swamp cypress, weeping lilly pilly, “silk” trees (Albizia Julibissin), clusters of crepe myrtles and many more including pink wisteria trees which line the driveway, from which the petals in Spring fall like confetti covering the path. Sasanqua camellias form hedges along the boundaries.
There is a large oak tree that was propagated from an acorn from an old oak in Trafalgar’s Balfour Park where the old Trafalgar primary School stood – and where my mother and later, I, were once students Murray explained.
While justifiably proud of their garden, and as he escorts visitors among the nooks and crannies, across the vast lawn areas, Murray points out a tall palm tree. “We saved that from a building site in Trafalgar,” he proudly explains. “It was almost 100 years old and weighed 19 tonnes, requiring an enormous crane to transport it. It looked like a huge pineapple travelling along the highway. The move was a shock to its system so we had to nurture it along but it loves its new home now.”
“I plant trees that are interesting in shape, colour, form, flowers or fruit,” Murray said. “Sometimes I make a mistake; perhaps it’s too large, wrong shape or simply does not like its position. But we have here allows us to enjoy each of the four seasons.”
The leaves produce vibrant autumn colours, spring gives beautiful blossoms and fresh new sheens, winter brings wonderful skeletal structures often shrouded in fogs and summer offers shady canopies. There are four dams feeding into each other which are naturally filled and from which water is pumped throughout the garden.
A few years ago Murray decided to convert the front terrace lawn into more garden; to save mowing. Tini had her doubts that a garden would be easier to maintain, but now loves this north facing, “rising-sun” layout which is perfect for growing herbs and vegetables with easy access from the kitchen.
“I can’t imagine living without a garden. Nature supplies us with so much awesome beauty. I always like to have fresh flowers inside. It brings life into your house,” says Tini for whom having flowers for picking all year round is important.
Tini likes to create artwork and often her garden is the source for inspiration.
“I always want to try and capture the beauty around me – the surrounding views, my garden and the changing seasons. Nature does it so well, we can never be so clever, but you just want to try and capture a moment that stops you in your tracks as you pass by,” Tini says.
She used many different mediums – painting, print making, collage and textile art. Nature’s beauty is not her only inspiration, but no doubt the garden will be a source for developing unique textures, colours and form.
Tini’s expanded array of artistic talent lead her to open Yarragon’s Town & Country Gallery in 1989. This provided a perfect outlet with which to share her love of art in all its forms, showcasing the work of artists and craftspeople from all over Australia, however, it allowed her little time to create her own work. After 15 years of running the business, Tini got itchy fingers to create again and sold the gallery.
Tini’s work rooms at home are a cornucopia of art. Each window from the house frames “garden rooms” which thread out to sweeping lawns dotted with a wide variety of trees; images she has often captured with needle, thread and fabric or paint.
Tini and Murray have both always been actively involved in community affairs. When the highway through Yarragon was redeveloped in 1992-94, and community input was sought, they, along with others worked to ensure Yarragon was beautified and again had trees lining the highway. Tini grew up in Yarragon and tells how in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, the town had been razed with highway duplication and straightening of “S” bends at either end. All the trees, shops and houses on the north side of the highway were destroyed; the town, more or less became a “shadow of its former self”.
Murray’s gardening interests extended to tree plantings alongside the road from his garden leading into Yarragon’s southern entry. A stretch of crimson king maples now stand tall but other plantings did not fare so well. Murray has always thought it would be wonderful to line the roads with autumn foliage trees, just like at Bright. Tini also added that while she was in Holland recently (her country of birth); she was impressed to learn that it is mandatory there that every street is planted with trees.
As we walk past a walled garden embracing white pebbles, hedging and orange and red flowers waving, one is struck by the considerable imaginative prowess of Tini and Murray. As some-one once said, “a garden generally constitutes who we imagine ourselves to be.” This certainly resonates with Tini and Murray in the sense of their beautiful garden being a cohesive focal point in their life.
Words by Leo Billington