Bronte House: A five year journey

In March 2017, Waverley Council awarded the Horticulture Team at Pepo the contract to maintain the gardens at Bronte House. We were thrilled to be given the responsibility of caring for, and developing, a garden with such a rich history and horticultural significance.

We had often referred to Leo Schofield’s book, The Garden at Bronte, for plant combination ideas and inspiration. For many years, the property has benefited from Leo’s passion for developing a garden that was abundant with plant diversity and design ideas bespoke to Sydney’s climate and the costal location.

Leo invested greatly in the garden, not only financially but with his time – and with this commitment came learning, travel and a meeting of minds among various horticulturalists who assisted in the garden’s development. These horticulturists included a young Myles Baldwin, who now designs gardens from Tasmania to Port Douglas, and garden designer Michael McCoy, who hosts ABC’s wonderful Dream Gardens program.

To be awarded the contract to manage this garden was an honour, but also a huge undertaking. We were allocated a day and a half per week for two people, and additional time in the winter for soil improvement and pruning. We knew from the start that a program of weekly, seasonal and annual tasks would be essential. With time, and the careful management of Gianmarco Vetrugno, our former Head Horticulturalist (now an educator in horticulture) and Joao Galiardi Silva, we managed to wrangle this beautiful beast of a garden into some kind of control.

The green waste from such a large site was monumental so one of the first things we did was ensure that the compost bins were functional. On our request, Council purchased a chipper, enabling us to turn the huge masses of green waste into fine pieces that would easily mulch down. With the compost bins humming along, we have been able to keep all green waste on site and improve the soil with limited imported material.

Over our time at Bronte House, we have also enjoyed introducing our preferred contractors to the garden, which has inspired many fruitful collaborations. We’d like to thank them for their support.

When we arrived, the irrigation was in need of repairs. As a first step, we encouraged Council to invest in a survey of the property, which showed us where the irrigation lines were located, as well as property boundaries, site levels and built structures. By marking the irrigation repairs on the survey, we were able to document the works and mark exactly where they took place as a record for the future. Thank you to Irrigation Dynamics for your wisdom and problem solving.

The lawns at Bronte House are located in two different areas of the garden and incorporate a few different varieties, so being able to call on Lawn Green and their expertise to assist us along the way has been wonderful.

Bronte House contains many established trees, including the large Lilly Pilly hedge and beautiful Magnolias along the Bronte Road boundary, as well as many other beautiful species of trees, palms and Strelitzias. Some of these trees are just out of reach for us so it has been great to have the assistance of arborist Alan Ryan and his crew throughout our time.

Preparing for the four Open Day events each year was new to us and soon became the driving focus of our work on site. I would often visit six weeks before an Open Day and think, “How are the team going to have it ready in time?” I was always amazed, though, when the day arrived and everything came together.

With the next Open Day this weekend, I called in last week to see our current horticulturists caring for the garden, Nick Hall and Matthew Goodier. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing, once again, that the garden is going to look its seasonal best for the upcoming Open Days. This is horticultural skill at another level.

The team have fertilised, mulched, pruned and tip pruned so that the plants have grown to their optimum position, with flowers and leaves filling spaces, complementing their neighbours, and looking so balanced it looked effortless. I understand this is never effortless – knowing specific plants, when they are to be pruned or cut back hard, when to focus on specific areas of the garden and how to manage time day-by-day and as a whole was something that can only be learnt by being in the garden and working in sync with the plants. I am incredibly proud of our team as a whole and especially the work everyone has put into this beautiful garden over the past five years.

As we know, all good things come to an end and it is with sadness that Pepo says farewell to the garden at Bronte House. As we prepare for the Open Days on Saturday 12 November and Sunday 20 November, we know these will be our last.

We wish the new contractors all the best and hope they enjoy this iconic garden as much as we have. We look forward to having more time to create and care for our clients’ gardens and will always remember the time spent at Bronte House as a formative, learning and bonding experience.

To farewell the garden, many of us from Pepo will be at the Open Day on Saturday 12 November. We hope to see you there.

Nicola Cameron
Director, Pepo Botanic Design

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