SUMMER 23/24

DAHLIAS AND OTHER DELIGHTS
A lovely heritage cottage in the old precinct of Catherine Hill Bay screamed out for a garden to complement its heritage feel.

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The person to match this cottage with its garden was Linda Ross. Linda and her husband, Dan Wheatley, have lived in the area for 15 years. They raised two children in Catherine Hill Bay, a village with a rich history of mining, rail and shipping, and a lively, close-knit community strongly attached to its simple workers’ cottages and industrial legacy. 

The garden around Linda’s cottage, ‘Frog Hollow’, has had many incarnations. Now, the rationale for the design is organic and nature-based, focusing on a mix of flowers for nectar and seed. 

‘Now it’s about creating a habitat for small, nectar-loving birds, their calls, their habits, and their nesting,’ Linda says. ‘Throughout the garden, blue wrens and spinebills nest in the strobilanthes and Eremophila nivea year after year.’ 

The garden proper starts at the back of the block with a large bed of dahlias, a recent passion of Linda’s, flowing through to a wide winding grass path. Linda planted two significant trees in the garden that have become tokens of family life. For her 15-year-old daughter Melaleuca, known as Luca, there’s a large Melaleuca quinquenervia in the reserve beyond the boundary, and for 11-year-old Flinders, Australian teak or Flindersia australis commemorates his birth. 

In between is Linda’s design and art studio (also the family music room). Looking like a genuine old country cottage, the rustic posts are festooned with stephanotis and sandpaper vine. Beds of soft perennials surround and embrace it. 

THE FLORAL EFFECT

The flower beds are filled with an eclectic mix of soft perennials and low native shrubs, using soft greys and silver foliage colours with the odd lime highlight. Iris sibirica forms dense strappy clumps and are more reliable than bearded irises here. The flowers, too, are colour coordinated in moody pastel shades of mauve, dusky pink, blue and purple, with the odd creamy leavening of the loose and lax butterfly flower, gaura. The overall effect is peaceful, calm and composed. 

For an added moody vibe, Linda included the sultry tones of the almost black sweet potato, shadowy New Zealand flax with olive green to dark purple strappy leaves, bronze carex and the odd copper-toned succulent..

Linda’s other favourites are agapanthus, including the deep Amethyst, Margaret Olley and two cultivars with large flower heads, Guilfoyle and pale blue and white Queen Mum. 

Salvias feature strongly. Salvia Amistad, has rich purple flowers for most of the year, while Mystic Spires is shorter with intense blue flowers. Phyllis Fancy has myriad flower spikes in blue and white, not dramatic, but an excellent source of nectar for honeyeaters

PLANTING WITH STYLE

Linda has been immersed in gardens all her life. Her parents are media and travel personalities, Graham and Sandra Ross, so her family background meant plants, horticulture and garden travel were part of the fabric of her life. It was no surprise she became a landscape architect and horticulturalist. In her professional design work, she focuses on flowers and nature, which is certainly true of her home garden. Linda is also convenor of the Collectors’ Plant Fair, in Clarendon, NSW, every autumn. 

Catho, as locals call it, has seen new development in recent years, and Linda has been in demand to help soften the intensity of all this newness. But clients come from far and wide, from Bowral and Leura to Lake Macquarie and the Central Coast. The reason for this is her point of difference, her mantra of ‘flowing, fabulous, flowery and fragrant’.

Nestled amongst beautiful angophora forests and patches of rainforest, it’s easy to see why the birdlife at Linda’s is so abundant. Recent and future housing developments may change this, but for now wildlife finds a haven in Frog Hollow. 

For more information, see Linda’s website lindaross.com.au

WORDS PAUL URQUHART PHOTOS SHANNON SMITH

LINDA’S PLANTING ADVICE

Linda’s planting theme blends contrasting foliage colour with complementary flower colour. She shares key gardening advice to COAST readers:

  • When it comes to mixed planting, avoid a mish mash of different hues and forms
  • Stick to a unifying theme of flower or foliage colour
  • Avoid monotony with contrasting foliage shapes
  • Rounded or mounding plants call for upright strappy leaves or feathery foliage of plants like bronze fennel
  • Grasses are great for adding extra dimension as they wave in a light breeze

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