About Keran Barrett

Editor, The Gardening Magazine | www.keranbarrett.com.au |

This is the home of Caroline and Patrick Quinn who kindly opened their garden for part of ‘Hidden 2016’. All the pictures were taken on that Autumn day, and this is their story of the beginnings of a garden, and the changes made and remade over the years.

“Wongaburra” (meaning ‘Our Home’) was built in 1907. It was initially a citrus orchard and then a dairy farm on over 100 acres spreading out to the north, east, and west of the property. The house still retains its original living room, dining room, sitting room and the study; the barn was the milking shed.

Wongaburra 2a

Caroline QuinnWe came to “Wongaburra” in 1992 having been forced out of our home in Turramurra after the great storm ripped through the North Shore, taking our privacy with it. Pat’s family roots were in Karrajong, and we had always intended to retire up here. But on this particular March day of 1992, we came for a picnic retreat with our 4 children (youngest of who was just 10 days old), and I told Pat I just wanted to check out properties in the area for the future. Having told the real estate agent I was looking for a rambling old farmhouse, he immediately took us to “Wongaburra”.

Seeing the view of the property as I walked through the gate was enough for me. The house needed work and was too small, but that was easily fixed. The garden consisted of some very large camellias and old azaleas in the front, a couple of citrus trees down the back, an uninspiring pool area, and a huge empty paddock.

I was completely smitten, but there were obstacles – our older children aged 13 and 11 were at the beginning of high school, and Pat would still have to commute to the city. It was a thought provoking time over our picnic. The children were keen to take the plunge and we spent the drive home focussing on the positives, while Pat tried to keep the balance by poining out the obvious drawbacks.

Taking the plunge

We put our house on the market and it sold to the first person who saw it, and finally on July 4th 1992, we arrived armed with potted bits and pieces from our Turramurra garden and lots of dreams.

The play equipment had to be sited, so we chose the shady area near the Jacaranda which became our picnic spot in the glade along with all the potted bits we had brought with us – predominantly tea roses – so the back garden was formed.


However its been Pat’s wish to add a touch of formality to the garden as so it’s now become his parterre.


Because I had visions of the children picking their own fruit, I had to have an orchard. So in went two apple, two pear, plum, peach and nectarine trees, along with a vegetable/herb garden and strawberry patch. Pat built the cubby as the children’s playroom close-by for easy nibbling. Our eldest son built the sandpit for his younger brothers and is now used as a play area for his own son.

Cubby Wongaburra

Cubby collage Wongaburra

Bed of Roses

My initial aim for the front garden was to capture the era of when the house was built, by planting bourbon and hybrid perpetual roses bred prior to 1900. So with the help of our two older children, Mark and Amy, the beds were duly dug. However, this was overly successful and it took me some time to realize the problems were arising from the huge conifers and highly acidic soil. I now lime this garden every year and things have improved, but I’ve also added more modern David Austin roses and some Alistair Clark roses, but really these plants are ideal here.

Wongaburra 4


The pool was here when we arrived but the garden surrounding it had to have a complete change. As I set out my ideas, I remember the look of complete horror on Pat’s face when he realized what I was intending. But the dear man took it on, with some major landscaping and paving.

By this time, we had the valuable help of Peter who is a whizz at rock walls and stonework, as well as trimming hedges. He’s also moved the many plants I have made mistakes with and done all the major work I physically can’t.

Meanwhile the paddock was a vast empty expanse of garden waiting to be made. At that stage there were no houses so privacy wasn’t an issue but it was a golden opportunity to plant spring blossom trees down the eastern boundary, and autumn colouring trees on the western.

Woodland walk

Down the bottom I wanted a woodland walk hidden from the rest of the garden.  And in amongst everything – roses; species, ramblers and climbers, many taken from cuttings, to blend in with the open spaces beyond.

However with the arrival of houses, all these roses have had to be taken off the fences and privacy has become an issue so plantings of evergreens have now gone in.

Arch walk Wongaburra

‘New Dawn’ Rose Arch Walk

The arch walk was initially dug by Mark our eldest son. I had visions of fragrant roses overhead. Pat designed the arches, had them made, and then erected them. The New Dawn roses were taken from cuttings from a rose we’d brought with us, and gradually either side was planted with perennials taken from the rest of the garden.

Also at this time the house was undergoing major structural change with an upstairs being added, and as I was making all the soft furnishings as well as looking after the two little ones – the garden had to take its turn.

House Wongaburra 1 House Wongaburra

We were also plagued by rabbits and possums, let alone experiencing the worst drought in living memory. As we are on taken water there was just none to spare for the garden – particularly as we frequently ran out for the house; so the garden doesn’t get watered and what survives, survives.

misc plantings Wongaburra Salvia

More changes

Chair and pond

The little courtyard on the southward side of the house started life as the real ugly duckling with a leaky old water tank that served no purpose, surrounded by enormous weeds and wandering jew. It is now a lovely place to sit on a hot day and listening to the sound of the fountain.

The newest area on the western side of the paddock has evolved since January 2010 when our eldest son was married. Their wedding vows were exchanged at the bottom of the New Dawn Arch Walk, and they wanted to plant a tree to commemorate their special event. A Purple Leaf Maple was duly chosen and a garden area has since been designed to incorporate it. Now with our first grandchild having arrived, the garden will once again play host to children’s games.

Over the years plantings have had to change in many instances, and the two younger boys, Andrew and Jonno, have put in their worth with garden ponds for tadpoles, cricket pitches and go-cart runs down the arch walk.

I have had to adapt to what would grow with my limited time and water. I created rooms and secret places. Over time, fences to the paddock have been taken down and the areas are no longer secret but with the addition of a lovely old cast iron fountain, the Secret Garden has become a special place of peace and tranquility.

Despite all these changes, the garden design continues to reflect my love affair with romance, fragrance and abundance.