Before the sun shoots its first rays of golden morning light across the crest of the Blackall Ranges, Sally Herniman is quietly slipping on her gardening clogs and padding out the pale pink front door of her cottage to enjoy a sunrise ritual among her beloved beds of blooms. She’s worked hard to establish a whimsically rambling and colourful display of flowers and shrubs not easily reared in her neck of the woods and first light is when they’re at their most glorious. “Every morning just before sunrise, I go to my garden and spend an hour there before breakfast,” she says. “I bring baskets of roses and hollyhocks or foxgloves inside to plonk into jugs, then often bake an organic lemon and poppyseed cake for morning tea using lemons from my own tree.” It’s Sally’s idea of heaven, and she’s created it all herself.
Reeling from a divorce, and the loss of her family home on the outskirts of Brisbane, Sally was drawn to Maleny on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. It’s a verdant landscape dotted with dairy farms and full of artistic and welcoming locals. “I rented by the amazing Sunshine Coast beaches and looked at houses on tiny blocks in developing estates, but I just couldn’t see myself squeezed into such suburbia,” Sally recalls. “There was no room for a garden, no trees, no privacy. It just wasn’t my style.” She kept returning to Maleny in search of inspiration and finally found it in this little cottage on the edge of town. “I had previously looked at this cottage for sale and could see the potential,” Sally says. “I fell in love with it at first sight, but it was taken off the market. Then one day, a year later, I found the cottage was on the market again! This was my opportunity to make a swift move to purchase it, but when I took my two daughters to see it, they didn’t approve as it needed so much work. But I knew it was just the colours and that could be changed. I could imagine how beautiful it would look after a bit of work.”
Sally had spent her career as a creative, working in the costume department for the ABC on series including Come In Spinner. She knew a thing or two about transformation and her only limit was her imagination. “Before I moved in, all the carpets were replaced and I painted every single internal wall, removed wallpaper from every room with the help of my daughters and painted the walls in blues [Taubmans Grey Dawn] and whites to make it light and open up the space,” she says. “There was a tiny shed at the back that was unfinished and I turned it into my ‘she shed’, lining the internal walls with shiplap and painting the outside in Taubmans Mojo.” The cute-as-a-button shed is now Sally’s creative space, used as a design studio for the gowns she crafts from antique lace.
“I became a collector of lace, which was handed down to me from generations of lace-keepers before me,” she says. “I really felt like I was a custodian of the lace and I needed to find a way to repurpose these special pieces of history.” Sally now works with her daughter, Jaz, designing and selling their hand-stitched bespoke wedding gowns all over the world via their Etsy shop: lacekeeperbridal.etsy.com. “Jaz has inherited my love for all things old and beautiful,” Sally observes. “The Lace Keeper captures the historic journey of precious lace, where every dress has a story and each is unique. As an artist and dress designer, it was only natural for me to pass on the family tradition of creating, making and being artistic.”
No doubt Sally is also passing on a quiet tenacity that has propelled her into this new chapter of life, where her hands and heart have toiled away to build something beautiful from the ground up. Her cottage is filled with the spoils of her creativity, each piece carefully chosen and transformed. “I love the character of old wares and the buzz of finding something that is unwanted, then reclaiming it and having a vision to turn it into something lovely,” she says. “All of my furniture has been unwanted by others or come from garages sales or Gumtree and has been restored and painted.”
The gleaming white walls are the perfect backdrop for the armfuls of colour she carries back inside after her morning visit to the garden. “Roses are my first love,” she says. “Particularly old-world-style heritage and David Austins.” She’s managed to grow them to perfection in every pastel hue imaginable. “The garden is forever changing from season to season, but spring is my favourite,” Sally adds. “There’s always a new flower to look forward to and the weather in Maleny is so much cooler than in Brisbane, which allows me to grow so many different kinds of cottage plants. I love pretty cottage perennials such as foxgloves, delphiniums, cosmos, forget-me-nots and alyssum. I just grew my first hollyhocks here and they were over 2.5 metres high.”
Sundown in Sally’s garden is also a bounty of beauty. She meanders down the pebble path she built herself, tending to the flowers as the bees busily take advantage of all her planted offerings. Pooches Luca and Mini-May faithfully trot along behind her, and daughters Jaz and Lilia are never far away. Safe to say, Sally has found her happy place.
The complete story was originally published in Australian Country issue 22.2. Click here to subscribe to our magazine
Words Tamara Simoneau
Photography Jessica Howard