Foxglove Spires

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Many of Australia’s great gardens are now reaching quite an age. However there are some younger ones coming along and one of the newest additions to the list of great gardens is Foxglove Spires. In the dairying village of Tilba Tilba in New South Wales, about a five hour drive from Sydney, Sue and Peter Southam have transformed three acres of paddocks (around 1.3 hectares) into a woodland garden with walks, archways, hedges and masses of flowers. The garden has what Don described as a ‘feminine’ style because nature has been given a free reign with plants encouraged to ramble and self seed, creating an atmosphere of ‘romantic abandonment’.

History of the garden

Sue Southam’s passion for gardening began when she moved to the Tilba Tilba property in 1984. The Southams had no previous gardening experience so with their new found enthusiasm they planted every tree, shrub or flower they came across without thinking of the plant’s colour or eventual size. At first Sue’s only thought was to fill up three acres of land but after reading many gardening magazines and books she realised that good gardens need to be designed, and colour and structure considered. Over the next two years Sue’s devoted husband dug and moved hundreds of trees and shrubs, some of which were quite large.

Slowly the garden developed a delightful mix of woodlands, walks, hedges and flower borders. In 1987 the Southams erected an arbour and covered it with rambling roses and wisteria. This was the first of a series of arches which link different parts of the garden, giving strength to the overall design. The style and era of the house, the cool climate and the heavy clay soils influenced the choice of garden plants.

Main garden features

More than 2500 foxgloves raise their spires in the garden in late October.
Leading to the house is a grand 55m (165′) long arbour of espaliered Manchurian pears. The arch has been generously designed in terms of height and width (4m or 14ft high by 5.5m or 18ft at the widest point). It is a spectacular feature all year round, with beautiful bare tracery during winter and a carpet of red and yellow leaves in autumn. It provides a cool, shady summer retreat. The structure was designed and built by Peter Southam, who is a welder by trade.
Two 100 year old Norfolk Island Pines stand sentinel to the original cottage.
A natural low spot which tended to fill with water after heavy rain has now been transformed into a permanent water feature. Although not very deep, the pond is home to ducks and is surrounded by shade trees, lilies and iris.
The ‘Abbey Ruin’ looks ancient, but it is a modern fake. Water pipes leak moisture through the artfully ruined walls so moss will grow.
Other features include a crabapple walkway, a citrus walk of oranges and lemons, a walk edged with ‘Thomas Bouche’ espaliered apples, stands of oaks, washes of bluebells and daffodils (best in early spring) and a vegetable garden.

Further information

Foxglove Spires is at Corkhill Drive, Tilba Tilba, NSW 2546. Phone: (02) 4473 7375. The garden is open every day of the week. Entry fees: adults $5, concession $4, and children under 12 free.

Further reading

An article on Foxglove Spires is featured in the October 1999 edition of the Burke’s Backyard Magazine.