The gardens of Picardy in Neerim South have a transformational quality. To get there you travel through the bulging West Gippsland hills around Neerim South and then up a long driveway where you are transported to another place, seemingly to France. Owners Bryce and Marian Somes have created a romantic garden surrounding two French provincial style buildings that appear to have always been there. But, when the couple purchased the 26 acre block in 1992 it was a bare paddock and the transformation began.
The couple have travelled several times to France and the French influence shows, with hints of Monet’s garden and the humble rammed earth home with symmetrical French doors and casement windows. Inside the home is decorated in a French farmhouse style with a large timber kitchen table, terracotta tiles on the ground floor and many windows and french doors to bring in the garden and farmland views.
Most people, said Marian assume that the mud brick building was built first given its aged look. Recycled timbers used for the large barn doors, the open lime washed interior timber beams and the clever planting around the building has given it a quaint maturity.
The mud brick barn is used to accommodate family and friends and it is an expansive space with a full hearth fireplace as the centre piece and two upper level loft style bedrooms.
But the couple had their rammed earth home built first with earth sourced from nearby Shady Creek. The couple’s bedroom is on the upper level and from here, through the many windows, is a birds eye view of the garden. You can see how the garden has spread and developed south.
The garden itself is about six acres and is sectioned into a variety of individual garden areas. The balance of the farmlet is leased to a local farmer. “We made up our minds that we are not farmers,” said Bryce who has become chief pruner and clipper of the many hedges that divide the garden. The hedges form an important structural element to shelter the garden beds and to provide visual delineations.
Close to the house, on the south side is the colourful perennial bed interwoven with gravel paths. Further beyond is the woodland garden accessed via a Crab Apple walk and an entry through a pergola laden with Albertine Rose. The north side of the garden is more open and an acre or so of grape vines produces bottles of wine for the family table.
Picardy has been more than 15 years in the making but only recently have the couple moved full time to Picardy. They previously juggled raising a family and dividing their time between the family home in Richmond and Neerim South.The block of land was discovered by chance when travelling back to Melbourne after a visit to Mt Baw Baw. Marian described how she was taken by the green and lush environment. Picardy is a stark contrast to the harsh environment of the Western Australian wheat belt where Marian grew up and this garden has allowed her to indulge in her love of growing flowers. “We wanted structure in the garden, but we wanted the garden to be bursting, romantic and full, with no earth showing. And also, if it is not pretty take it out.”
Over time the garden has developed path by path, and garden room by garden room, to today where it is a wonderful sensory experience. The inspiration for the structure of some of the garden beds was taken directly from Monet’s garden in Giverny which the couple had visited.
Hundreds of roses either cling to an arbour or burst tall through a garden bed full with perennials and flowering bulbs. And, the rustic walls of buildings provide a wonderful backdrop to climbing roses and an ornamental grape that shades the north side of the house.
During spring the gardens explode with colour. “Spring is a miracle every year and it now looks like I had imagined it,” said Marian.
Flowers spill over the granite pathways and plump roses dot the scene throughout the various garden rooms. Through Autumn the many Oak trees will be changing tone and the dozens of heritage apple trees and quince will be in fruit.
The lower section of the garden is devoted to a woodland and a long hedge divides the upper and lower garden. Dozens of Robinias are under planted with about 1000 blue bells in the woodland garden. Hedging is also used to give a more formal feel to the garden beds, which are home to self-seeding varieties of foxgloves and many other perennials.
Marian has a keen eye for setting scenes in her garden. A well placed chair here, or a splash of yellow in a darker corner of the garden make visiting Picardy a visual delight. “I enjoy being creative. To me (gardening) is like painting to create a picture.”
Marian completed a certificate course in horticulture at Burnley College in Melbourne which assisted with planning and creating the garden. “A lot of it was a series of happy accidents. We don’t obsess about weeds because it is a country garden. We are not plants people as such. I can’t remember most of the names of the plants in the garden.”
Of course the exceptional views of the neighbouring farmland are a real feature and on this day the big blue open sky is the perfect backdrop to the garden.
The garden is now well established and the couple spend their time refining and consolidating the garden.
From a modest start Picardy has bloomed into a delightful garden that exemplifies its owners talent for colour, texture and the setting of scenes to become its own work of art.