A freelance writer living and loving in the northern beaches of Sydney...travelling, writing, outdoor activities, gardens, and Pilates are a few of my favourite things. Visit me www.potpourritravels.wordpress.com or www.facebook.com/potpourritravels/
Published September 4th 2017
Artistic, stylish, quirky Everglades House & Gardens, Leura
entrance pathway of Everglades invites you in to a garden wonderland
It's an easy two hour drive from Sydney up the M4 motorway. I visit in the first week of September and on a weekday morning, the place is tranquil and uncrowded. The friendly staff at the entrance gate arm me with a map and information about the best direction to go, to get the best views and cover the sprawling design. I don't want to miss anything, even though I'm two weeks early - the main Spring Gardens weekend is on 30 September - 8 October, 2017. There's still plenty that catches my eye from the entrance gate.
I trace the top tier pathway, the Bluebell Walk, through a drift of towering trees, and there's immediately a lovely alpine feel to the place. The bluebells have their heads pushing through the winter layer of leaf mulch, but their cheery blue faces are not quite on full display. The cobblestone pathway meanders down the escarpment, past drifts of azaleas and a stand of handsome dogwood trees overlook the narrow watercourse. We've had a dry winter but there's still a decent flow of water down the slope.
The path is easy to follow and well-marked, and I wind around a massive stony outcrop and drop down another level to the Grotto pool. A purpose-built reticulation system keeps the water running all year round, but the cleverness of design and landscaping of tree-ferns and native grasses make it look like a natural occurrence.
Stepping back up the south and western side of the escarpment, the path leads me to a formal look-out and, anyone who has been to the Blue Mountains knows, no matter how long you gaze over the valley or how many times you've seen it, the Jamison Valley with its endless vista of hazy blue mountain ridges, is mesmerising. There are a couple of seats provided, so I sit and breathe in the cool, clean mountain air.
A short walk further along the lower terrace leads to the main house. It's taken me about 45 minutes to get here and I'm definitely ready for a cuppa. A simple tea-room, encased in old-worlde charm take up the middle floor. Huge picture windows capture the gardens outside, and a side-table is laden with home-made cakes, scones, muffins and tarts. I choose a seat in the corner where I can gaze at the corridor of cherry blossom that borders the long lawn. A curving staircase leads upstairs to the main bathroom and bedroom. Both are in pristine original condition and a fascinating window into the past.
The 1930's house is built into the terraced gardens
The quirky and unusual home, built in 1923, was originally owned by Georgina Stonier. As there are no swamps or alligators, no one quite knows why she christened her home after the namesake in Florida. Subsequent owner, Belgian-born Henri Van de Velde, kept the name and set about improving the gardens. The land surrounding the house was an overgrown orchard, so he commissioned Danish gardener, Paul Sorensen to create a series of terraced gardens, stone walls, and winding paths to capture the mountain vistas and combine the raw Aussie bush with European romanticism.
The two men, and plenty of Depression labour, moved thousands of tons of earth and rock to build a work of art. Sorensen became famous for the curved rock walls and formal gardens where exotic plants and trees from around the world were integrated with native flora.The National Trust acquired the property in 1962 after Van de Velde's death in 1947. Temporarily leased out and slowly declining, the Trust re-acquired the property in 1996 and today, after years of major renovations, dedicated volunteers help maintain its charm and elegance.
The terraced gardens between the house and the main entrance include cherry blossom, lilacs, tulips, a Roman-style fountain, pond, and stone statues. An outer building, originally a squash court, is now utilised as a gallery and event venue. The highlight for me today was the avenue of cherry blossom and rhododendrons in full bloom. Over the next few weeks, as Spring continues, an ongoing changing landscape of flowers will be equally stunning. Walking past the hellebores and conifers back to the main entrance and my car, I'm so thankful to have moments when it's possible to walk back in time.
Open Every Day: 10am-4pm Autumn, Winter 10am-5pm Spring, Summer Tea-Rooms:
Open Mon - Fri 11am to 2.30pm. Weekends 11am to 3pm
NOTE: The paths are steep in sections and cobblestoned, so could be slippery in wet weather.
From Leura train station, you can walk to Everglades in about 20 minutes. Follow Railway Parade east, then take the fourth right into Victoria Street. Cross Megalong Street, continue to Craigend Street. Turn left then right into Everglades Avenue. Mountain Link Trolley Buses and Fantastic Aussie Tours both run buses that stop at Everglades.