In creating a garden, a dreamer sends a message to the future. In the careful selection of plants, cultivation of the earth and the nurturing of precious seeds and cuttings, the gardener commits something of herself, to make her dream real, and to make a gift of her dream to those who come after her.
There were dreams aplenty when the gold rush town of Hill End, in central western New South Wales, exploded into existence in the early 1850’s.
Hill End today
Fortunes were made. Substantial buildings were erected. Prospectors, miners and merchants built homes, shops, churches and banks on the fringes of the alluvial gold diggings. Later they sunk shafts into ridges to win the richer reef gold. Then, almost as quickly as they had appeared, Hill End faded into obscurity as the gold ran out.
When the thousands departed, in the 1870’s, they left behind substantial buildings of brick and stone, and more ephemeral buildings of iron, of timber, of wattle-and-daub.
St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Hill End
Catholic Church, Hill End
The dreamers also left their gardens. And while the buildings have slowly decayed, many plants from these gardens have proliferated, self- seeded, cloned and otherwise escaped the boundaries of their allotments. Over 150 years a new landscape has evolved, a picturesque yet unruly echo of the domestic flower gardens, commercial orchards, and grand avenues of majestic trees which the proud and optimistic pioneers created.
I love exploring the streets and open spaces of Hill End. In winter, standing out amongst the evergreens and native bush, bare, lichen- covered branches mark the presence of fruit trees and deciduous ornamental plants, descendants (and perhaps some of them even surviving originals) of those grown by the pioneers.
In autumn, some of these trees still bear fruit- including figs, pears and quince, which I pick to make quince jelly. I think of the men and women who cleared their allotments and planted these trees to provide good food for their families as they dreamed of a life of plenty.
Ornamentals which have proved to be particularly strong survivors from the original gardens include roses, lilacs, flowering quince, spring and summer bulbs and agaves. In the main, these would have been cultivated by those who had time and enough money to be able to devote some of their land to the luxury of flowers. They would have shared their seeds and cuttings with each other, and all would have dreamed, as I do, of having flowers in the garden all year around.
If you look closely, you may be able to make out the remnant garden features (pathways and garden beds) in some of the cottage gardens.
Daffodils and original stone garden bed border, Warry’s Cottage
Stone cottage with spring bulbs and remnant original circular garden bed
Agaves, great survivors
Agapanthus and Belladonna lilies proliferate throughout the town
Ornamental quince (japonica), a prolific survivor with joyful winter blossoms
Some also appear to have dreamed of solitary walks or lovers’ trysts under bowers, arbours and trellises, covered with grapes, roses or wisteria.
Cottage with a trellised pathway and wisteria
There were big dreamers as well- civic leaders who planted grand trees to create impressive streetscapes symbolising their municipal aspirations. Thanks to them there’s an abundance of pines, oaks, elms and other exotic trees along Beyers Avenue and spread out into the fringes where the town meets the bush.
Grand trees on Byers Avenue
Walking the roads and tracks of Hill End, I feel a connection with those long-dead garden dreamers. I would like to be able to tell them, “Your dreams are a reality, here with us today, shared and enjoyed by many.”