Plant / Life: Glenmore House

I’ve seen many gardens in my time – huge estates, tiny courtyards, modernist masterpieces and humble veggie patches. One quality I keep coming back to is connection. It doesn’t matter how grand or modest the garden, how much or little money is spent on it, or how beautifully designed it is or isn’t, the most important thing to me is the connection between it, the landscape it inhabits, and its owner. That’s what makes a great garden.

Mickey and Larry Robertson’s garden at Glenmore House is a great example of the power of connection, formed through many years of hard work, passion, and experimentation. The garden is SUCH a pleasure to spend time in. It’s impossible to describe fully, but visiting Glenmore House is like going to another (extremely beautiful, peaceful, and bucolic) planet. I want to move in!

The Robertsons bought the property in 1988,  and have lived here since the early 1990’s, with their two daughters Clementine and Bonnie. When they bought it the property consisted of a collection of ramshackle farm buildings dating from the mid 1800’s. The Victorian sandstone house, soon to be their home, was inhabited by a ragtag bunch of local wildlife, and the crumbling farm buildings including a dairy, barn, hayshed, stables and other outbuildings were in a near derelict state.

Many years were spent cleaning, clearing, building, and restoring the buildings one by one. The garden evolved alongside the buildings – once the house was restored, Mickey started on the garden surrounding it. As other buildings were worked on, the gardens around them grew as well.

Glenmore is a very romantic garden. While on the surface it appears quite structured, its evolution was very organic, growing over the years to embrace all of the restored buildings on the property, connecting them with a series of walkways, borders overflowing with loose, perennial plants, and hedges concealing and then revealing rural vistas. Mickey had no overarching plan for it, but rather responded to the site and the context, to create different spaces and connect the buildings to each other.

As well as providing a link between the various buildings at Glenmore House, the gardens have been carefully designed around the interior views from the home. Mickey says, ‘Coming from an interior design background, it’s very important to me that the interior links with the exterior. A lot of this garden has been organised from inside looking out. There is a great view from every single window in the house. That is very important to me.’

It’s clear that the garden is Mickey’s passion, albeit a rather unexpected one. She had always wanted a garden, but when she first moved here, she had very little gardening experience, and very different ideas of what the garden here might look like.

‘It would have been really easy if we just put a picket fence around the house and that would be that’ says Mickey. ‘I could have planted sunflowers, and I would have been perfectly content to have drawn the line there. But the property wouldn’t let us do that. We restored the buildings, and then they needed to be linked, and so the garden grew and grew.’

Though is has been a much greater challenge than perhaps originally anticipated, the end result is an exceptionally rich and beautiful garden overflowing with life, joy and passion. And as the garden has grown, so has Mickey.  ‘The things I turned my nose up at in my twenties have grown to become my greatest passion, and it continues to expand’ Mickey says. ‘Gardening is such a lovely journey. All plants now are riveting to me!’

Mickey’s garden is very much a part of her. The way she talks about it, and the intimate knowledge she has of each and every plant is testament to her intimate connection with this space.  ‘When you become part of the garden, it becomes a part of you’ she explains, philosophically. ‘It’s in the garden, and in the process of nurturing it, that you get back everything the garden has got to give. That’s what creates contentment.’

Glenmore House is truly an idyllic garden and such a pleasure to visit. It’s open occasionally, and Mickey also runs kitchen gardening and seasonal cooking workshops – check out the Glenmore House website for more info.

This story first appeared on The Design Files in January 2015. It was part of Georgina Reid’s monthly garden column on The Design Files.