“The devil got into us,” is how Doug Neale describes the series of events that led to him and his partner, John Jones, deciding to uproot themselves from their home and garden in central Victoria to move to Hamilton, an hour’s drive north-west of Hobart.
They’d developed three large gardens together in the past and shared a passion for colonial art and architecture. So, when a friend who had recently retired to Hobart told them that Prospect House, an 1820s and ’30s Georgian house, was on the market, they made the trek to have a look.
The convict-built, locally quarried stone house came with a one-and-a-half acre garden, which was well established thanks to the passion of its previous owners, Helen and John Poynder, who had bought it in the 1970s. Nonetheless, like all significant gardens it required work, and Doug and John decided they “had one more project” in them. They bought the property in 2015 and moved to Tasmania early the following year.
Prospect House dates back to the earliest days of Van Dieman’s Land as the first part of the homestead was built on land granted to James Triffett in 1824. It was then enlarged by Dr John Sharland, who became the Hamilton district surgeon in 1829. The history books record that his salary was boosted in 1842 when he was appointed as medical officer to the local convict probation party. To cater for all his patients Dr Sharland had a three-storey sandstone surgery built across the road from the house but unfortunately this building was later demolished. Long active in public life, Dr Sharland also became the Hamilton Council’s first warden in 1863 and he was also a trustee for the local roads. After he died in 1870, the property passed through several owners until it was bought by the Poynders almost a century later.
Helen Poynder, who lives in Launceston but travelled south frequently, enlisted the support of a local gardener, Carlene Triffett. Although a few fruit trees, including an ancient mulberry, pear and almond trees survived from the early days of the original farm, the rest was pretty much a blank canvas. Together they planned and planted the site, dividing the space into a series of English-style garden rooms, each distinctly different. At the rear of the house is the rose-clad long walk, which leads to the stone-wall enclosed secret garden at the back of several old farm buildings. Here camellia, clematis, climbing hydrangeas, roses and hostas create a restive space, while the spring walk to the left clamours for attention in a riot of colour.
The round garden is devoted to roses, some trellised, and David and John have made their own mark by adding numerous David Austins to the mix. The adjoining urn garden features four parterres, which frame views of the “great hedge of Hamilton”, a manicured cypress macrocarpa monolith that runs the length of the property. The adjoining herbaceous border garden is a cottagey mix of peonies, sweet peas, shasta daisies, roses and Queen Anne’s lace on either side of a lawn leading to a Lutyens seat. Next door is the white, or trellis garden, which brings the visitor to the front of the house. The Italian garden on the other side of the entrance is perhaps the grandest space, a final flourish added by Mrs P, as Doug and John affectionately call Helen, after she and Carlene enjoyed a garden tour of Italy and were particularly inspired by a garden in Lucca. Buxus hedging provides the framework for avenues of robinia and lemon trees, which lead to a stone temple, a peaceful spot for rest after a hard day’s pruning and weeding.
“I wouldn’t like to say we have made our mark on the garden,” Doug says, “because so much work had been done before we arrived. But it is a constant project, as this is quite a dry area of Tasmania, with an annual rainfall of about 20 inches (500mm) so keeping the water up is always a challenge.”
Along with the garden, John and Doug inherited several annual tour groups and they also open the garden, by appointment, from October through to March. “You learn a lot from visitors,” Doug observes. “When you take over an established garden you don’t always know what every plant is and visitors can often be very helpful identifying mystery plants. We ask for a donation, which goes towards the water bill, but really it is a pleasure to share the garden with anyone who is interested.”
Almost two years down the track Doug and John say they have made the transition to Tasmania with remarkable ease. “Our guest bedroom runs hot and we actually see more of our friends than we did in Victoria,” John says. “We might make a weekly trip to Hobart for a taste of the big smoke, but for the rest of the time, we’re very happily occupied looking after the garden and showing people around.”
For more information on Prospect House and garden, or to arrange a visit, email email@example.com or phone (03) 6286 3233
The complete story was originally published in Australian Country issue 21.2. Click here to subscribe to our magazine
Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Ken Brass