Sunday, October 9, 2011

Garden Visit: Government House

Last week, I had an Elvish Rest Day. Tolkien's elves, you may remember, did not sleep, but rested their minds by thinking of beautiful things. That is what I set out to do.

Government House, in Sydney, is the official residence* of the Governor of NSW. The grounds are open to the public, or so they tell you, but in fact you can only view about half the gardens unless you wish to risk official wrath. I visited with my iPhone last week, so the photo quality is somewhat lower than usual.

Like the gates?

Construction of Government House began in 1836. Due to economic problems, the building was not completed until 1845, though it was in use beforehand. There have been many additions and alterations since; the porte-cochere dates from 1872.

I love the curve in this gate:

Part of a covered way from the House to The Chalet.The Chalet is Federation-era and I suspect the covered walk is too.

On the far side of the covered way was this beautiful border. Very much Sydney in late spring: irises, osteospermums, shasta daisies, sages, anemones and wisteria. The Harbour Bridge is visible in the background.

I also had a good view of the gubernatorial Hills' hoists*.

This glorious verandah on the eastern side is also a late addition, from 1879. The residents at the time found the sun too bright and hot in the eastern rooms. The verandah opens on to a formal terrace with flagged walks and a central fountain.

The terrace, alas, is closed to the public. I would love to have been able to see the plantings.

And what can you see from the terrace? Practically to South Head; the ship is moored at Garden Island Naval Base. Note the change in paving; I'd say this crazy-paving dates from the 1920s. Two Norfolk Island pines flank the path. These majestic trees were used to mark great estates all across Sydney.

This low wall surrounds the terrace. The pots contain venerable Agave victoria-reginae specimens (at least I think that's what they are) -- appropriate for a residence built in Victoria's reign. More Norfolk island pines define another axial view.

Details from a sunny tapestry bed of alyssum, lobelia, red ranunculus, primulas, and perennials not yet in flower. The gardener is a genius!

At one corner of Government House is this scene, common to older Sydney gardens: a Moreton Bay fig (these were preferred to the local Port Jackson Fig, which doesn't have such vast buttress-roots nor such large, deep green leaves), with underplanting of Bird's-nest ferns (Asplenium species) and cliveas. There's an elkhorn up in the fig, too. Cliveas are still the plant of choice here for dry shade.

The western facade: all Gothic Revival. No castles in the colonies! Were they pining for them?

Gothic Revival style was used on Government House because of the building below. These stables for the future Government House were designed by Francis Greenway for Governor Macquarie in 1816, but the Home Office put the brakes on Macquarie's ambitious public works programme before he could commission the main building.

The stables became surplus to the Governor's requirements in 1916 and it has housed the Sydney Conservatorium of Music ever since. The shrubbery above, in the Royal Botanical Gardens, is actually a green roof over some classrooms. It has a beautiful view too.

Front of 'the Con'. The tall cabbage-tree palms (Livistona australis) are endemic to the area. They are often found standing naked around older buildings like this, but naturally grow in mixed wet coastal forests. I am not sure what the shorter palms are -- they seem too slender to be Phoenix palms (Phoenix canariensis) which were widely planted here a century or so ago.

It was lovely to spend a day by myself looking at beautiful things!

* Government House has not been used as a residence for 15 years, though it is used as the venue for Vice-Regal functions; this meant it could be used for many more community events as well. The State Government announced a few days after my visit that Government House would become the official residence once more, in part because it is expected that the next Governor will be a person from country NSW. I hope that means that we will see the Vice-Regal undies flapping on the Hill's hoists again.


Rock rose said...

I think the photos you took were very good and it has given me the idea that we may visit there when we come to Sydney next year. I must be looking up gardens to visit. Any suggestions?

brad said...

Just wondering who did you use to concrete your driveway?