Of all the design disciplines, Landscape design is perhaps the one most easily able to be swept into the mists of time.  Aside from the planting of large, long lived trees, a garden can, in just a matter of a few years, be overtaken by neglect with the death of plants and overgrowth of others rendering a design invisible and not as the Landscape designer originally intended.

This year is a celebration of the 300 years since English landscaper Capability Brown's birth. He is often decried as a wrecker of gardens by some purists, as he was known for obliterating the elaborate knot gardens and parterres favoured in the period immediately before him and replacing them with cleverly constructed naturalistic landscapes of parkland, trees, lakes and vistas. He was also quite prolific, designing over 250 gardens in his lifetime. The fact that many of his designs survive completely intact is perhaps due to two things: large areas are left to do their own thing in the parkland style (no tedious pruning and fussy flower planting to maintain), and that his planting schemes relied on long lived trees for their Architectural structure - there is no loss of small plants gradually over a few decades to obliterate the entirety of the design.

But perhaps the best way of to take a snapshot of a moment in time in a garden is by recording it with a garden map. Anyone having a plan done for their garden today is familiar with receiving a full planting scheme on plan laid out appropriately scaled from their landscape designer. While these are purely utilitarian, they are a beginning record of a gardens planting, and the subsequent evolution thereafter. However, not all gardens were started this way, and many have no plan to refer back to.

Mid last year, I was reading Australian "Country Style" magazine, and came across an article about a Garden Map maker, Catherine O'Neill. Catherine now lives in rural Victoria, but is originally from England and studied Landscape Design at The Inchbald School of Design in London (my Alma Mater for my Interiors education).  She has now stopped the landscape side of her work and instead developed a business recording other people's gardens - completely accurately, but coloured with watercolours giving a decorative style more reminiscent of the Garden maps produced in the 18th Century than those produced by designers nowadays.

Map by Catherine O'Neill

I contacted Catherine to see if she might be available to make a map of my Father's Garden for his 70th Birthday gift. Little did I realise the Pandora's Box I was opening! I have published photographs of my Dad's garden in the past on the blog, and they make up the bulk of this post, but for those unfamiliar, it is an approximately 20 acre garden created around 1890, largely still completely intact. Most of the garden is treed (there is a large Pinetum, which has specimen trees in it, and is not a heavily cultivated style of garden), and there is a large collection of unusual Cypress, Pine, Rhododendron and Camellias.

The original Garden owners travelled extensively around the world hunting down exotic plants, bringing seeds and cuttings back from Asia, Europe, and America, as well as swapping plant seed and cuttings with other keen Garden owners at that time across Australia. Of course, if you're DIYing your garden, you don't necessarily make a map of where you're planting things - rather you most likely walk around and just set things out where you'd like them to be. For this reason there has never been a completely accurate map of the garden, and certainly no proper inventory of the trees (there are in excess of 1000 of them). The question of where to stop in terms of detail was something we had lengthy discussions about as Catherine commenced the project.

The starting point was, fortunately, an accurately surveyed map (above) with the Victorian- era circuitous paths and drives laid out on it that my Father already had. From there, satellite maps that provided further detail of canopy spread were helpful, but much of the work Catherine has done has involved mapping each garden bed, laboriously numbering each tree and larger scale understory plant, and setting them all out on her larger garden plan. My Father has spent a lot of time over the past 10 years identifying each un-labelled tree (with some help from the Adelaide and Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens, visiting Botanists and Garden History experts, and Catherine herself), and has in the process discovered plants that originate in Nepal, Mongolia, China, and very unusual Cypress not thought to be grown elsewhere in Australia. It's been quite a fascinating process.

Unfortunately, the map is not yet finished (likely early next year), so you can see it's really been quite a process.  I'm not able to post the end result in this blog post... however I thought I'd post the video Catherine has on her website showing the process of the making of one of her beautiful watercolour maps.

Late last year, Country Style magazine wrote an article about this particular garden, Glenmore (image below), so you can see how she not only accurately captures the plant locations and types, but also the overall feel of the garden, something that is not so easily conveyed in a modern, purely functional style of plan.

 Glenmore, via Country Style magazine

The feel of a garden is something we have discussed quite a bit about my Dad's and how to capture it on the map. The week that she spent here earlier this year mapping the garden not only gave her accurate plant locations, but also an understanding of the atmosphere of the garden, and it was interesting hearing her describe it in much the same way that everyone else does. It really gets under your skin and is a very special place, with an undertone of history, tranquility and a sort of quiet grandeur created by the towering trees. The tonal colours to be used for the map were also evident to her from her week spent in the garden - deep, lush green in all its verdant shades.

Three Copper Beech, planted to celebrate the birth of the three grand-children of the original garden owner

A garden can disappear in just a few years - something I was reflecting on when reading a book about The Lost Gardens of Helligan earlier this year. It's a special thing when a garden can last beyond the vision of the first creator. Perhaps trees are largely the key to this. They certainly outlive us, and the ones in my Father's garden provide a memorial of sorts to the people who laid out, tended and loved the garden 120 years before us. Recording a snapshot of the garden at this point for posterity seems like the perfect way to honour the special place they created and the legacy they left behind.


  1. Your father's garden is stunning Heidi, I always enjoy when you post pictures of it. The map for his 70th birthday is a great idea. My husband is a land surveyor, so I have a soft spot for anything map or plan related. In breaking news, I have finished almost 60 percent of my six month course in just under 4 weeks. I have an phone interview with my facilitator tomorrow to present my findings. I think I will have a short break before commencing part two. I have decided it is amazing how much studying one can achieve if they give up television and reading short term!! A G&T helps too ... some of my best work has occurred after that!! Hope everyone is well and your children enjoy their holiday break. Jo xx

    1. Hello Jo! Like your husband I think if you work in a field where you look at them a lot you do love a map ... and it did seem like a complete tick on all fronts when I read the article and thought of this for his birthday! Although that was last year, so it's taken a little longer than I had anticipated when I started the ball rolling on the project.
      Well done on the amazing progress on your studies! Amazing indeed what you can achieve when cutting out tv, internet and reading.... so much free time in your life to use productively! As for school hols, hopefully the rain will stop and we can get out and about a bit. But I am enjoying not having the time sap of the school run twice a day, and the morning rush too xx

  2. What a beautiful gift for your father, and I am stunned at the size of this garden! The trees are so beautiful. The three Copper Beech planted together... just gorgeous.
    We have a hand-drawn and coloured map of our property done by our friend Christopher when he first designed our garden in 2007, then another when we added stone steps and more plants in 2015. He's our good friend so he keeps an eye on the garden and suggests replacements when plants and small shrubs die off (which here in Canada tends to happen on a regular basis). Our garden is so special to us, it's grown up so much and is our relaxing place, we've loved to watch it evolve.
    In fact Christopher texted last night to make sure we were watering, we're having a drought here just now, so he's a bit bossy too!
    Just love that you're doing this, what an amazing gift and what an educating process. XOX

    1. Those Copper Beech are so pretty Dani, and I so wish I could grow one in my garden, but the climate is so different just 20 minutes from Dad's that I can't - too hot here!
      That is just so special that you have beautiful watercolour maps of your garden from Christopher, it's definitely not the norm these days. I too have loved watching my garden grow and evolve over the last few years - one of life's great pleasures.
      Drought? THat's terrible. I guess you're probably not set up for watering like we are (irrigation lines everywhere, the whole garden is on automatic watering or it would die in Summer or I'd be permanently attached to a hose hand watering). We had a 3-5 year drought her in Oz around 2005 and it was awful. Water restrictions were in place, everyone had dead lawn (not allowed to water), street trees were dying, fountains were switched off for years. Our council in Melbourne handed out buckets to each household to catch water in the showers to put on the street trees! Hope it's just a short term thing, sounds like the weather has made up for all that snow you get! xx

    2. That drought was so terrible. We have only the tiniest pocket handkerchief space - yet nearly all the few small trees there were and the shrubs died. (We couldn't have irrigation lines because our naughty dog kept digging and chewing them up.) Just using bucket water from showers and hours of hand watering at permitted days/times wasn't enough to save them. Particularly in summers with so many hot days - and winds. We now have a dripper system (dear old Buddy has gone to dog heaven) and have scrappily replanted - but we kind of lost heart after so many years of drought and lost plants. Mostly now I just admire others' gardens. Also traveling so much it's hard to care for a garden properly. Even though we have a young architecture student minding the place - she's not a gardener.
      Like FF, I loved your Dad's garden. Particularly love copper beeches, there were some truly beautiful ones in Cambridge along the river - you might remember. Also loved his Japanese bridge and the Torii (correct word?). I remember it was really cold at the start of that day - even though it had been hot only days before. Luckily the threatening rain didn't happen - and it was totally a delight and privilege when your Dad walked us through such a heavenly place. Pammie xx

    3. Oh my I definitely shouldn't use the word drought, even though people here do, they know not what they speak of... it's just a dry summer which is very typical for us these last several years. During the year we do seem to get plenty of precipitation but for whatever reason our summers now are very dry, for weeks at a stretch. We had lots of rain this spring which was lovely but now it is hot and sometimes cloudy but rarely rains.
      Our water table gets low though so we are restricted from watering, we're not allowed to water the grass for example so that dies off, but we can take the garden hose around and give the plants and small trees a drink, which we do every day.
      Can't imagine a real 3-5 year drought, with trees dying, that would be terrible!

    4. Well, it's all relative Dani! We complain of cold and it's not exactly a Canadian Winter style comparison! Also, it tends to be what you're set up for. I remember the "Heat Wave" in London when I lived there when temperatures were 28C for a week. No air-conditioning anywhere did make it feel hot, and elderly people died of heat exhaustion. But here, that's just a nice Summer's day. Similarly when all that snow fell in the UK and Europe a few years ago and everything ground to a halt as no snow clearing equipment. So interesting that your water is from the Aquifer underground... here ours is quite salty and not suitable for drinking (and wouldn't support the number using it), and our water is from reservoirs.... which can get quite low in Summer.

      Pammie - that was such a lovely day, and yes it was cold! Dogs can really make a mess of irrigation lines with the chewing. The drip ones make a high pitched noise that seems to attract them too. I remember getting a puppy and every watering night you'd open the back door to find him sopping wet having gone crazy under the sprinklers on the lawn at dawn!

    5. Yes, it was. So sad to lose trees and other plants you've loved. One was a beautiful big silver birch. It also had a major impact on garden supply businesses. Most people stopped buying garden plants because so difficult to keep them alive, let alone growing well, and so soul destroying to see them die. So garden centres changed to selling cut flowers and houseplants and gifts. Ultimately a lot of formerly flourishing businesses closed down altogether. Very sad.
      Yes, watering grass with mains water supply was completely forbidden. Our houses looked dreadful with brown grass - so lots changed their landscaping - to paving and tough desert plants. Anyone who had green grass liable to near lynching (well, not quite) - because people became v passionate about water conservation. Also, many sales of water tanks to capture any rain from house gutters. Canberra also suffered dreadful bushfires - over 400 houses lost and large areas of natural bush and pine forests destroyed - so looked v sad for a long time. Since constructed a new dam so hopefully we'll have more of a buffer in future. But those who were here through drought years still tend to be quite frugal with water - and restrictions have never been entirely lifted.

      Dripper irrigation systems are very effective though and do help prevent waste - so perhaps it might be worth considering installing one in your garden. It does avoid the need to stand for hours during summer evenings, hose in hand. In what later proved futile effort, I used to move around garden with the hose for two hours every second evening during watering window. It even affected social lives because sometimes we wouldn't go out after a v hot day as we couldn't miss opportunity to give poor plants a drink. But sadly even this wasn't enough to save trees which need more than it was possible to give in these conditions. Good luck with your garden Dani. Best wishes, Pammie

  3. What a perfect present for your father, Heidi! He must be really thrilled. It's so wonderful that you have this garden love in common - and the shared interest in mapping and classification of all the wonderful varieties of trees. Your mother would have loved it too. It's a beautiful heritage for the future as well, your children and even grandchildren.
    We loved the Capability Brown gardens we saw in England. Initially I was snowed by the Capability style and his eradication of knot gardens and more controlled and detailed styles - but over the years have come to love those as well. Though acknowledging they do involve more labour and may disappear without trace in some cases. One mid-summer long weekend we watched "A Mid-Summer Night's Dream" performed on the lake shore of one of CB's gardens (sadly can't remember name) - not far from Longleat. A magical performance in such a stunning setting, not at all spoiled by a family of white swans emerging from the lake and wandering out into the action. Pammie xx

    1. Just remembered, the garden was at Stourhead! Very beautiful - and it was one of those truly magical evenings that shine in memory (even if memory doesn't immediately serve up the name!). P

    2. He's really enjoyed the process Pammie, and it seems almost unbelievable that there is no master list of the plants in the garden before now. Catherine said she does a lot of maps for people leaving their big gardens as they get older - when you've poured so much love into a garden over your lifetime leaving it would be so hard I think.
      I do love the Capability Brown gardens - he was an absolute genius, with a knack for knowing exactly how to sculpt the land to suit his vision. Amazing too what they achieved with rudimentary engineering and equipment - entire lakes, rivers, hills... stunning really.
      That sounds like a wonderful night seeing theatre in a beautiful setting. I can imagine a CB garden would be the perfect spot. Have been reading a lot about him as they're doing so many events to celebrate his gardens, Country Life mag in the UK in particular has done many profiles of his gardens. xx

  4. Heidi, you have inspired me to try a modest mapping project on my humble Canberra suburban garden. I already keep a garden diary in which I list planting dates, scientific names, and loations etc. So a map seems like a logical extension. I will even dust off my watercolour set. Thank you for such a delightful post. Judith

    1. Judith I think that is the best idea! What a wonderful project to do during these bleak winter months. I too have a garden diary, although so much has been planted since I started it that I think I'm very behind in recording things in it!! x

  5. I absolutely loved your Dad's garden and feel very honoured to have had a good old nosy poke through it. I love that tree that shoots off the branches everywhere, and the bridge and the statues and the hedges. It is so beautiful. The map is such a clever idea.


    1. Map was a bit of a Eureka moment - I'd been scratching around trying to think of something meaningful to give a 70 year old who claims he wants no gifts.
      Loved showing you around that day. Remember you distinctly with double layers of wool on, despite it being late October and the day before 38C in town!! xx

  6. A lovely gift for your Dad Heidi. I remember reading the articles in Country Style and thinking what a wonderful idea.

    1. Well it was a bit of a Eureka moment when I read that article Karen! Funnily enough Catherine wasn't that happy with the article (thought it misrepresented what she did to some extent), but I pointed out it had brought her my commission so it obviously worked somewhat!

  7. A map of the garden is a brilliant idea and I am sure it will be treasured for many years to come! My first thought when looking at Catherine O'Neill's painting was that it reminded me of 18th century landscaping plans that I remember seeing at Versaille. Your father's garden is so beautiful and I can't think of a better way to make a record of it. Thanks for sharing all these incredible photos.

    1. That's exactly right about Versailles Louise - it did the same to me too. And I think that suits the history of the house so much more than a modern computer generated plan would, so it does seem quite the perfect gift.


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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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