Helen Wells from Roma says she lays in bed at night, waiting for daylight so she can start creating in her backyard again.
The two hectare garden that blooms on the side of a rocky outcrop east of the capital of Maranoa is not only Helen’s color palette but an outlet for the imagination of her husband Peter and a fabulous land of play for their grandchildren.
Complete with a wool press, a miner’s wheelbarrow, the ubiquitous “donkey” water heater, a railroad track and many other heritage items saved from oblivion, the couple created not only a garden, but an adventure. that visitors can experience.
It might not look like it now, but it has been a case of trial and error, in which many plants have come to an untimely end.
When Helen and Peter arrived in 1991, they brought their gardening knowledge with them to Warwick and Toowoomba for 12 years.
“I quickly learned what the extremes of the climate here can do to gardens and gardeners in the west,” said Helen.
“The growing conditions were the biggest challenge and it was a great learning experience.
In Toowoomba it rained all the time and the ground was beautiful. In Rome the cracks in the ground were so big, I waited for the oil to spurt out
Their land was a bare block on a sloping hill and when they arrived a few scattered cactus plants were the main feature.
Helen admits that her mistake, made by many since the First Fleet landed at Botany Bay, was trying to recreate what she knew.
Beautiful plants were purchased, others were transplanted, and all died in the extremes of summer heat and freezing winter, and thanks to the plot’s alkaline soil.
After creating a pretty palm garden with a bridge over a pond, which is always a feature at the front of the house, Helen turned her attention to the recreation of the rose garden from her old home.
“I plowed the ground to finally have a nice display of roses, but after the disease forced the problem of being able to care for only a very small part of the garden, the roses succumbed to the rigors of drought and drought. neglect, ”she said.
Stop water runoff
Due to the rocky nature of the ground, most of the garden had to be built.
After a while, Helen and Peter wisely decided to swap the wheelbarrow for a bobcat and now say they don’t know how they got by without it.
At the same time, they were struggling with sloping terrain, which meant that the water runoff was often damaging during big storms.
During heavy rains, water from the rear of the block will rush into the gardens, washing away gravel, earth and much more in its wake.
Although many years have been dry in recent years, the problem has surfaced in the fine rain of 2020 and Peter, a retired plasterer who now has a little more time to address it, has embarked on the job. creation of deflections so that the water flows.
Rather than scarring the landscape of them, they were incorporated into the design of the garden, particularly the dried up creek bed with a reservoir of water dripping into a pond at its head, surrounded by cannas and herbs.
Water itself is not a scarce commodity for this garden – they have access to a large dam that they can pump, and all runoff from the large roof of the house as well as a nearby shed is captured and stored.
A few times the dam was pumped dry, but luckily the wells were able to use borehole water to supplement the supply.
Although very salty, it has sometimes been a savior.
The garden also benefits from their location near the Roma Saleyards, which provides an abundant source of manure.
Five acres to play
Peter contributes as much as Hélène to the magnificent stroll offered by the garden.
“He often says, thank goodness we only have five acres – imagine what we would do with 10,” laughs Helen.
Working in tandem, Peter collects the larger objects, many of which are of historical interest, and Helen adds her artistic touch.
“He takes care of all the earthworks and I take care of all the decoration,” she explained.
Their love of saving history is evident from the moment one walks or leads down the alley framed by Roma’s distinctive bottle trees.
On the left is a salvaged German wagon with a wool press, a miner’s wheelbarrow and an old “donkey” water heater, all under concrete cover for protection, surrounded by a salt plantation.
A working drinking water fountain has also been installed here for the thirsty work of hiking through the facilities.
Further on is an old sheep feeder, mule cradle and, of course, the obligatory “crumpled sheep” decoration adding to the early history of the region’s woolen industry.
A bird feeder made of plow disks is comfortably set with a nest of barbed wire and concrete eggs nearby.
Heritage finds a home
The garden also contains the Weraki Siding, a very pretty outhouse, a building called the Pot Hole and the Cream Shed, all of which have their stories documented on plaques on the walls.
A horse chariot dubbed Radis was salvaged from a local enclosure, which Peter turned into a greenhouse complete with shelves, a sink, and a faucet for easy access.
Most coast vacations are made in the Wells’ ute, as they look forward to picking up pieces along the way, to add to the garden art when they get home.
Helen wisely says that people should buy things they like, which in turn gives them a foundation from which to build.
Her vision began with three arches she found, sparking an expansion in the paddock in 2005, turning the arches into a ‘secret garden’ and succulent garden, and even a tennis umpire seat and net.
The secret garden is entered through arches of snail liana and Mexican rose, opening onto oleander, Durantas and potato bushes, with a ground cover of dichondra and sedum as well as pots of color, seats, nesting boxes and cages, doors and other original objects strewn throughout.
One of the doors is made of wood from the nearest sawmill.
The private back section of the garden, Hyacintah’s Haven has been Helen’s recent focus and where she has planted beautiful pale pink vines along the side of the path to complete a separate dwelling painted in soft green and white.
This then leads to the wonderful sound of a water fountain leading to a gazebo.
The gardens are a continuous progression of “light bulb” moments, says Helen, pointing to the Geisha Girls who have featured in the back of the house for many years.
“About two and a half years ago, I took them out and planted the bougainvillea which found their happiness,” she said. “They bloomed and blossomed, putting on an incredible show, especially every fall.”
A few cattle have occasionally roamed the garden over the years without doing too much damage, but Helen describes possums as the bane of her existence, often eating the soft young plants she has just tended.
“I try to move them but without much success,” she said.
Helen and Peter cultivate fruit trees – lemon, tangerine, orange and lemonade – but a vegetable patch is not a feature.
“Vegetables aren’t fun, they’re not pretty,” said Helen. “I can always buy my lettuce in a supermarket.”
She says that when it comes to maintenance, most of her attention is to making sure weeds don’t become established.
“It took a few years to get established, but it’s easier now,” she said.
One of the greatest pleasures Helen and Peter have now is seeing how much their grandchildren love to play and explore in the garden.
She vividly passes her love of gardening on to future generations, with at least one grandchild by her side to help her out.
It seems that his creative outlet has many other avenues to explore, thanks to his children, three who live there and three who live outside.
“My kids always ask me what should I plant here,” she said.
“I like them asking me and wanting my advice.”
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