Rick Shepherd is head gardener at Retford Park, Bowral, a jewel in the National Trust’s crown, bequeathed by late media mogul James Fairfax. Fairfax, who bought the property in 1964 and lived there until his death January 2017, always believed his beloved home should be preserved for the enjoyment and benefit of future generations, especially locals. Rick believes his former employer’s gift to the nation is significant “because it is a rare example of an intact agricultural village. The mansion, workers’ cottages, stables, even a school house all within the curtilage of manicured gardens and cattle pastures,“ he says. “The magnificent gardens consist of century old trees, hedged gardens and a beautiful pool and pool house by Guilford Bell, but my favourite thing has to be The Green Room. This formal hedged space, designed by David Wilkinson, has the magnificent sculpture Euphoric Angels by Inge King as the centrepiece. I love to linger there at the end of a working day.” The property is also site of Ngunungulla, the emerging Southern Highlands Regional Gallery, which is taking shape in the old dairy. Retford Park is open to the public on the first weekend of every month for strolls around the garden and tours of the historic Italianate mansion from 10am to 4pm. Bookings essential. nationaltrust.org.au @rick_shepherd
My name is … Rick Shepherd.
My life in five words is ….family, friends, food, fun, outdoors.
We moved to the Southern Highlands in … 2011 when I came to work for James Fairfax as head gardener at Retford Park.
I love the Highlands because … it takes me back to my rural upbringing.
My favourite thing to do here is … bushwalking with my wife, Louise.
Followers of my Instagram see … piccies of the Retford Park garden and all of the stories it holds from old trees, to foggy mornings, beautiful flowers, friendly birds, heritage buildings and mossy paths.
The most precious piece of gardening advice I ever received was … be patient.
I started gardening …when I was a child growing up on a farm in Western Australia. Dad had a veggie garden and I was soon hooked.
The first thing I always say to people who tell me they want a life in horticulture is ….you probably won’t get rich, but you will be happy.
When it comes to being a gardener, the thing that has always driven me is… always trying to be eco-friendlier, building life into the soil and promoting biodiversity.
Being head gardener here allows me to …. show visitors that a large and beautiful garden can be managed without the use of harmful chemicals.
The work I am most proud of here is ….The Blobbery. My reworking of the Fountain Walk Grey Garden, designed by John Codrington, has become an iconic feature of Retford Park.
The things I hope our gardens give visitors are …. joy, solace and inspiration.
Away from Retford Park, I love to … swim in the ocean, especially if there is a swell!
Other gardens not to miss in the Southern Highlands include …..Harpers Mansion, Berrima and Red Cow Farm, Sutton Forest.
The one garden in the world I would most love to visit is …. Cruden Farm in Victoria. The curving driveway of gums has been photographed and written about endlessly but every time I am in Melbourne it has been closed!
And finally, please finish this sentence ..head gardeners never die, they just..…… nap under a shady tree.