Plant / Life

Barry Byrne and Miguel Alvarez

Georgina Reid
Monday 15th August 2016

Barry Byrne is a man of vision. When he and his partner, Miguel Alvarez, moved to ‘Bebeah’, a five-hectare garden estate at Mount Wilson in the Blue Mountains of NSW, he says there was nothing except a few large trees. That was 30 years ago, and in the decades that have since passed, together this pair have re-established the property. The garden was originally built in 1880 by Edward Cox, and these days is once again open for the public to enjoy.

Our gardens columnist Georgina Reid recently spent a morning in the garden with Barry and Miguel.

‘When we moved up here 30 years ago there was absolutely nothing here, except for a few large trees. It was a shocking old place,’ says Barry Byrne, owner of Bebeah, a five-hectare garden estate at Mount Wilson, in the Blue Mountains of NSW.

We’re strolling around the garden with Barry on a cool autumn afternoon, attempting to imagine the place before he got his hands on it. Apparently cattle, horses, and blackberries reigned supreme and the house was a mess. Barry is a man with vision, and it wasn’t long after he and his partner Miguel Alvarez moved to the property, that Barry started on his ambitious garden making project.

While he has a background in interior decorating, Barry had no previous gardening experience before moving to Mount Wilson. He just got stuck into it, using his finely honed spatial design skills to craft the garden. ‘I started at the front gate and designed until the money ran out,’ he tells me.

The garden is grand. It’s comprised of a series of formal elements – a sweeping semi-circular azalea walk, avenues flanked with pine, oak, and elm trees, and plenty of hedges. It’s not, however, a typical formal garden in the sense of a contrived structure imposed on the landscape.

It’s more interesting than that. The garden meanders around the site, loosening as it gets further away from the house. The scale is impressive, as is Barry’s eye. Antique sculptures and garden elements frame vistas and provide focal points, enticing visitors to keep on exploring.

Like many designers, Barry uses plants in his garden for their aesthetic properties of form, shape, texture, colour. He’s not a plantsman, he tells me. Plants are massed on a grand scale, with Barry using large swathes of the same plant, rather than a patchwork of many. ‘I planted 7500 azaleas,’ he says, as we walk down an avenue flanked by the cloud pruned plants. ‘We only have around 5500 left after losing a few thousand in a drought.’ Clearly, Barry is not a man who does things by halves.

It’s autumn, so the thousands of azaleas are not blooming. The colours within the garden are subtle – layer upon layer of green, orange, and burnt out reds. Fallen leaves are scattered on the gravel pathways winding through the space, which all eventually end up at the lake at the centre of the garden, glimpses of which can be seen from many vantage points throughout the property.

Everything about the garden at Bebeah is expansive. The lawns, the trees, the hedges, the shrubs – there’s an abundance of everything, and it’s all beautifully maintained by Barry and his gardener, who works 24 hours per week. I ask Barry when he’s happiest in the garden. ‘When I have somebody working in it!’ he tells me.

Bebeah is open every day from 10am – 5pm. It’s a great garden, and well worth a day trip from Sydney. Entry is $8.00.

The 1880’s built Victorian house at Bebeah is engulfed by greenery. Photo – Daniel Shipp for The Design Files.


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