For Siobhan Forbes the 100-year-old gardens of Tara Rise are an idyllic habitat to raise her three boys and with partner Rohan Lever is the perfect remedy to a hectic corporate life. Eight years ago when Siobhan was heavily pregnant with the couple’s first son they bought Tara Rise at auction fulfilling a dream to move out of Bayside Melbourne and into the country. “We had initially looked at Queenscliffe, but one Sunday while reading the papers we saw an advertisement for Tara Rise. We came for a drive and it instantly took our hearts. It is an amazing place.” Tara Rise is a few minutes from Healesville and the grand main home and an original 100-year-old cottage sit within English Gardens over eight acres.A long gravel driveway passes through two sets of stone entrance gates. A protea garden flanks the driveway and further along is the orchard with numerous varieties of apple and pear. At this time of year the blossoms are flourishing and recent heavy rains have added an extra burst. At the turn of last century Mr and Mrs Wilkinson began the gardens, and also built the original cottage that today is run by Siobhan as guesthouse accommodation.The former director of the Royal Botanical Gardens Ferdinand Von Mueller is believed to have planted the great Californian Redwoods and Himalayan Cedars that provide a dramatic structure the English style gardens.The driveway ends at the grand main house built in 1936 by an English Shipbuilder who named the house ‘Strathewan”, and beside it is the quaint cottage that at one time was a busy tea house, hosting bus loads of visitors who frequented the gardens.Previous owners, the Lockwood’s established many of the garden rooms such as the formal Knot Garden and the Laburnum Walk and they created the lakes and performed lengthy restoration of the Rose Parterre. Before the house is an expanse of lawn peppered with deciduous trees, and the view from the elevated terrace of the main house stretches down to the lake where the rhythmic frog song fills the air. The trees are a significant and important part of the garden.
“We are conscious of constantly replenishing and every year we plant about ½ a dozen of the big specimen trees.” An assortment of children’s toys, a tyre swing, and a basketball ring are reminders that this is not a show garden it is a family environment. The pobble bonk of the frog song draws visitors to the lake that finally after years of drought is once again full. The past decade has been a challenging time in the garden but the recent spring rains have boosted growth and revealed many surprises. “We have seen things this year we hadn’t seen before. New berries and flowers on plants, it has been wonderful.” With her young boys aged 9,7 and 3 Siobhan and partner Rohan are in a holding pattern with the garden and are working hard with Chief gardener Gary, to maintain the integrity of the garden for generations to come.
“We have been doing our best to maintain the garden. When we first arrived I had a long list of things I wanted to do. I thought I could steam roll through the list – but it has been 8 years and we are only half way through it.”For Siobhan the garden is an escape from corporate life where she is Head of Strategy with the National Australia Bank. Many days she leaves home at 6.30am to commute into Melbourne. Tara Rise helps for her family to achieve balance to their busy lives.“I suppose I am aspirational, but like so many people I am constantly striving to get the right balance – to keep all the balls in the air.” In Healesville the family have found the sense of community they had hoped for. “It is such a rich community in Healesville. You just peel back the layers and it is an exceptional lifestyle. We have found some wonderful friends with great kids. We all play a role in looking after each other. I believe as an adult you have your childhood to fall back on. Maybe I am a bit old fashioned and a romantic, but here we don’t have to go far to picnic, and the boys can play in the mud in winter. It is wonderful to see the children picking fruit straight from the trees- it never loses its novelty.”
Siobhan’s favourite area of the garden is behind the main house, a wide stone pathway links the cottage to the rear garden and one of five 100-year old towering Sequia tree frames the colourful under story. This area of the garden is less formal and is arranged in a more relaxed style.“I love the back garden. It is the older part of the garden and it feels like a more normal garden. This is where I will come to lie down.” Siobhan’s preference is for a more whimsical garden over formal structure, which does seem at odds with her profession. But, “I do like at times to swim against the tide.”
From here is the Laburnum Walk that traverses the citrus grove. Alongside the walk is a row of Lilac bushes, and beyond is a vista into the natural bushland providing a stark contrast to the lush greenery of Tara Rise. Being at Tara Rise has strengthened Siobhan’s love for gardens and the process of gardening. “I do like the time to myself in the garden. I find the process of gardening restful and therapeutic.” The refurbishment of the cottage also was a diversion from Siobhan’s busy working life and it has enabled her to nurture her creative side. “The cottage was empty for the first year we were here and we really wanted to do something with it – so we stripped it back to a shell and gave it a complete overhaul.” It is furnished in a classic and elegant style. Leather couches surround an original fireplace and an eclectic arrangement of soft furnishings create a modern yet welcoming space.
Many of the decorative and textured fabrics were gathered at stores in Fitzroy in Melbourne and exemplify Siobhan’s desire for the cottage to reflect an unaffected and serene environment. “I’m not a fan of the decorated look, I love a house where there are surprises and there are interesting things to see. I didn’t want the cottage to be twee.” Vases with flowers picked from the garden sit elegantly on the tables in the largely white kitchen and through every window is an outlook to the gardens with a point of interest through all seasons. “A piece of me could happily work in the garden and decorate full time. But I do like the intellectual stimulation and achievement of being in the corporate world.” There is an end vision for each of the garden rooms and to establish a second guest cottage on the property, but the family are content, for the meantime to allow the garden to evolve and for their family to be part of that evolution. Future plans include making the gardens sustainable by planting more drought tolerant varieties around the lake and making use of the leaves and animal manure for compost, creating their own fertilisers and learning the art of companion planting.
“It took a lot of years for me to feel like it is our home. It really is a family home and garden. It is meant to be used, and shared. I enjoy seeing others enjoy the garden and we really are looking after it for the next generations.”