A Pleasing Prospect: Gayle and Dennis Scott have created a showpiece garden in Victoria

Appearances can be deceptive, so you’d never know from the lush oasis Gayle and Dennis Scott have built around their home that they’ve literally carved it out of a rocky paddock.


Gayle and Dennis Scott have created a showpiece garden in Victoria. “The site was bare except for a few box trees,” Dennis says as he surveys the sprawling garden that includes parkland expanses, shaded beds, a vegie garden, iris pond, tennis court, loads of rock features, a small vineyard and a large dam with a viewing platform for enjoying rare moments of downtime. “We needed a crowbar and a pick to plant every tree. But, gradually, we’ve built up the soil and now there’s 18 inches [45cm] of it in most parts.”

Appearances can be deceptive, so you’d never know from the lush oasis Gayle and Dennis Scott have built around their home that they’ve literally carved it out of a rocky paddock.

Gayle and Dennis knew each other as children growing up in the Gippsland region. Dennis studied teaching, while Gayle pursued a career in banking. They headed north as newlyweds in 1971, when Dennis accepted a post at the one-teacher Tatong school. “We joined the tennis and football clubs the first week we were here,” Gayle says. “The people we met are still our friends today. It’s such a good community that now a lot of our children’s friends are coming back to take over their parents’ farms. Both our daughters have moved back to the district to raise their families.”

After three years, the Scotts returned to Melbourne, but during a year off for extended travel, they decided they wanted to return to the country. They bought a 42-acre block from friends of friends in 1976 and called it Prospect Hill for the landmark range that looms over the property. One of their first improvements was to put in a dam that waters the garden and provides a focal point for summer entertaining. With the confidence of inexperience, Dennis registered as an owner-builder, and he candidly admits it was “seven or eight years before we got our certificate of occupancy”.

Gayle and Dennis Scott have created a showpiece garden in Victoria

When Dennis moved on from teaching, he and Gayle owned the Tatong tavern for a while and later they ran a supermarket in Benalla. In spite of the long hours, the garden remained a priority and welcome respite from their public-facing roles. Dennis says the present iteration is a far cry from what they initially envisaged. “At first, we planted natives because we didn’t even consider growing deciduous trees as we didn’t think the soil was good enough,” he explains. “Most of the topsoil had been scraped off the block during a resurfacing of the main road.”

But, gradually, through the addition of countless loads of river silt and an equivalent amount of chipped bark to ensure rain doesn’t just run away, the Scotts have regenerated their land. “One of our advantages of being on this site is nothing gets waterlogged,” Dennis says. Trees for shade were another early priority as the summers can be fierce. “We experience the four seasons,” Gayle adds. “We have three months of winter, two months of autumn and spring and five months of summer, when everything dries off.” In spite of the long summers, Gayle and Dennis say they don’t have to water much, though they do have about 20 pop-up sprinklers dotted throughout the garden to keep things ticking along during the hottest months.

Appearances can be deceptive, so you’d never know from the lush oasis Gayle and Dennis Scott have built around their home that they’ve literally carved it out of a rocky paddock.

The dam is more of an insurance policy against the ever-present threats of drought and bushfire, and hardy kikuyu lawns keep an even, green cover when the surrounding paddocks have turned to brown. “At the same time, we didn’t want the garden to look like a blob of green in the middle of the landscape,” Gayle says. “So we’ve tried to integrate it by planting oaks and other deciduous trees in the paddocks. We’ve also got lots of varieties of ornamental pears — Manchurian, Capitals and Bradfords — lining the driveway.”

Visits to gardens overseas and locally have inspired other features, while Dennis’s sister, who had a farmhouse in Cumbria in England, introduced him to the art of the dry-stone wall. “I had a few disasters before I found success,” he says. “But I got better at it with practice and now I only choose rocks I know I can lay.” There’s no shortage of building materials as the surrounding country and nearby Strathbogie Ranges deliver endless granitic rocks. A bridge over the iris garden is a particularly beautiful feature and there are numerous other installations dotted throughout.

Gayle and Dennis Scott have created a showpiece garden in Victoria

Fortunately, Gayle is as enthusiastic about weeding as Dennis is for creative projects, so they complement each other well. They both enjoy opening the garden for community fundraisers and have hosted many events, including both daughters’ weddings, in the grounds. “When you’ve got a big garden, it’s nice to share it,” Gayle says. “People enjoy being here and that’s a good feeling.

Photography by Ken Brass

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