Monastery Garden

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In the Southern Highlands of NSW lies a garden hidden behind tall stone walls. Faces watch your every move as you walk through this monastery garden at Sutton Forest.

This 25 x 8m (82.5 x 26′) walled garden is a part of a larger garden belonging to Red Cow Farm on the Illawarra Highway, just 90 minutes drive south of Sydney. The owners, Wayne Morrissey and Ali Mentesh, began this garden in December 1996 after admiring the many monastery gardens they had seen overseas. They have successfully incorporated the walled monastery garden within their home garden.

Clean lines

The clean lines of this garden give it a formal symmetry and structural appeal, which are important features for this type of garden. This monastery style is formal in structure yet informal in its look, using a simple design which can be reproduced in an ordinary sized garden. Focal points and the axes created by the paths draw the eye along and through the garden, making it relaxing to look at as well as visit.

The lines are reflected in the garden edging which is a mixture of bluestone, sand and cement. Parallel to this edging is the formal line of box hedging which indents to form an enclosure for each statue. There is a good colour balance within this garden, which is not a replica of an existing garden but was inspired by the effects from European monastery gardens.

Saintly statues

Angels, gargoyles and statues of saints on plinths watch as you pass through the paths laid out in a celtic cross pattern. A large stone wishing well with intricately carved sides dominates the centre of the cross. Outside the stone arch entrance to the garden is a large Gothic baptismal font. Wayne explains that this follows the tradition of people being baptised outside the churches. The pair are planning to connect this to a water supply and use it as a water feature.

The saints featured in the garden include St Fiacre, St Jude, St Joseph, St Anthony and St Francis. All were imported from Canada except for St Francis, who came from Mexico, and St Fiacre who was a commissioned work by an Australian artist.

Feature plantings

Ali says he has not specifically focussed on monastic-style plantings but has aimed for colour throughout the year as he likes to feel that there is something always happening in the garden. Plantings in the garden include:

English box hedging (Buxus sempervirens)

Maltese cross (Lychnis chalcedonica)

Cascade penstemon (Penstemon serrulatus)

Delphinium ‘Black Knight’

Geranium x riversleaianum ‘Russell Prichard’

There are also roses filling the garden with flower colour and fragrance including Rosa ‘Reine des Violettes’, R. ‘Pax’ and R. ‘Felicia’.

Monastery garden history

These enclosed gardens were originally used for food and medicine production or as a burial place for the dead. The monks’ feeling for nature was nurtured by their belief of the biblical Garden of Eden and that tending these gardens provided food for both the body and the soul. Monastic and cloister gardens were also used as a place for recreation, study and contemplation.


The octagonal jardiniere (baptismal font) at the entrance to the garden came from The Old Pot Factory, Hume Highway, Braemar (5 km north of Mittagong), NSW, 2575. Phone: (02) 4871 1567.

Religious garden statuary varies in price depending on statue size, subject and statue material. These are available through the following companies:

Florentine Figures P/L
Lot 5 Windsor Road
Box Hill NSW 2765

Paul A. Sarks & Sons (Pellegrini)
Phone: (02) 9747 3586

Gaffney Trading
Phone: (03) 9627 4743/(03) 9882 3563. Fax: (03) 9882 9379

Open Garden

Red Cow Farm is open to the public each Monday and Tuesday from the end of October to the end of April. Admission is $4. The garden will also open through Australia’s Open Garden Scheme on 25-26 April 1998, from 10am-6pm and again in spring, 21-22 November 1998 from 10am-6pm. For further information about Red Cow Farm or other gardens to visit in the area consult the AOGS Handbook or phone the Information Service on 1900 155 064.

Red Cow Farm
Illawarra Highway, Sutton Forest, NSW, 2577.

Did you know?

St Fiacre is the patron saint of gardeners and taxi drivers. French Taxi cabs are known as Fiacres.