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In My Backyard / Southern Highlands

Ali Mentesh and Wayne Morrissey fell in love with Red Cow Farm at Sutton Forest when it was a rundown cottage surrounded by a few bare paddocks. Now, 27 years on, they speak to ESH about their magic Highlands country garden that attracts visitors from around the globe.

‘We moved here from Bronte in Sydney looking for somewhere to escape the city life,’ remembers Wayne Morrissey, owner with his partner of 32 years, landscape gardener Ali Mentesh.

‘We wanted to make a permanent move but we weren’t sure what we wanted in that move and where we would go. We just happened to be travelling round here one day, and there was this little derelict cottage, which had been built around the 1820s, saying please do something with me!

‘Of course we never thought of having a garden on this scale, that sort of just happened. After we had moved in and spent a bit of money on the poor old cottage, we decided to plant different things around the front of it, and they just took.

‘It sort of evolved from there into the six acres of different gardens we have today. Every winter we’d build another wall, or part thereof, and extend the garden, and once we really got into it we knew we had to form areas, or garden rooms, so to speak. Today we have 20 rooms, which include the monastery garden and the abbess’s garden.

‘We didn’t really take inspiration from any garden designers. It was just very organic, divine madness I guess you’d say, because turning a cow paddock into what we always thought we wanted, an English country garden, was incredibly hard work. I guess, if anything, it’s a lesson for younger generations about what you can achieve with hard work.

‘The cool climate of the Highlands lends itself beautifully to what we wanted to plan. We mostly have perennials, many rare and unusual plants, hundreds of roses, and lovely old plants like forget-me-nots, lovelies waiting and bleeding hearts. Romantic flowers.

‘We also have a beech walk, hedges, woodlands, an orchard with heritage apples, pears and cherries, and a lake with a bridge. We’ve been told that bit looks a bit like Monet’s garden and although I knew he was an artist, I’d never read much about his garden beforehand.

‘As I say, we don’t really buy gardening books because it’s your soul, really, that should tell you what to do and what to plant. When we started off, we did have a little formality, but I don’t think you can have a garden that is too controlled. I think we’ve enjoyed what it’s become … controlled chaos in a very deceiving space. It doesn’t look like a lot from the road but then you come inside and you’ll see it’s full of nooks and crannies.

‘We have Sebastian who helps us one day a week but apart from that, Ali and I do it all. And of course we have our border collies Pascale, Renard and Paris, and they are generally a big hit with the visitors.

‘We get many repeat visitors who seem to come then return with friends, and also lots of people from overseas. So for the moment we keep on going, planting and working in the garden. It’s our home and it’s been a great love of ours. It’s also been bliss making that change here from the city.’

10am to 4pm daily until late May. Closed Christmas Day. Adults $10pp, seniors $8pp and children $4pp. No dogs please.

7480 Illawarra Highway, Sutton Forest


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