Famed for its rich soil, majestic views and sprawling cool-climate gardens, the small town of Mount Wilson in the Blue Mountains of NSW has long been a popular weekend retreat from the noise and hustle of Sydney. Wildenstein, one of the many grand gardens of Mount Wilson, has been a weekend oasis for the Stein family for over 20 years. For the last three years, the property has been under the custodianship of interior designer and event planner James Stein Jr. and his husband, radio newsreader Keegan Buzza. The talented pair have transformed the twelve-acre private family retreat into an incredible wedding and event venue.
When James’ family bought the property there was a small shack on it, and the bones of a garden developed by the previous owners in the 1970s. Evolving the garden and home was a family affair. ‘My father is a very keen gardener with a lot of knowledge. He was the key driver in the construction and planting of the garden. It wouldn’t be the beautiful property it is without his vision. My mum was the key driver in designing the home and how it interacted with the garden.’
The design intent of the garden has always been to ‘maximise the natural beauty of the location’, James says. ‘We wanted to keep it sprawling and park-like, maintaining it’s stunning vistas to Sydney’s CBD. We wanted something quite formal and grand in parts, and have been working to perfect the balance between grand scale and intimate space – we like to say, “epic but not ostentatious!”’
There’s plenty of art in the garden, too. Urns made by Leno Alvarez of La Paloma pottery in Hill End line the driveway, and antique bronze, marble and contemporary sculptures are dotted through the grounds. ‘We’ve always been surrounded by fabulous and interesting art and didn’t think that should only be confined to the house,’ says James.
James’s love of gardens began in his childhood, as a result of spending time at Wildenstein. “I remember coming up for weekends and holidays, and helping my parents in the garden. My favourite thing was to gather bits and pieces from the garden and create potions; I thought I was Bette Midler from Hocus Pocus!” Nowadays James creates magic both indoors and out, in his work as an event planner and interior designer, splitting his time between meeting clients in Sydney and hosting events at Wildenstein.
‘A green thumb is probably over-stating it’, James says when I enquire about his gardening skills. ‘Once a garden is established, it really becomes about maintenance, and I’m not present enough to do that. But I love touching and smelling the plants and flowers. They inspire me so much when it comes to what I do with weddings and as a designer.’ The green thumb of Wildenstein is gardener Ash Bevan. ‘He not only looks after the garden (trimming all the hedges by hand!), he also maintains the entire property. He’s our Mr Fix It and we adore him,’ James says.
It was James and Keegan’s own wedding at Wildenstein in March 2015 that planted the seed to develop the property as a wedding and event location. “It was the most spectacular day. We had a really elegant celebration. It was very simple though – we wanted the day to be about us and the ones we love – not a production. Our wedding was actually the catalyst for the business. People saw our photos and started asking about whether we offered weddings at the property. We then realised, from the feedback of our guests, that we were onto something special and decided to pursue Wildenstein as a business.’
Wildenstein has it all – both grand and intimate spaces, hedged garden rooms, mass plantings of shrubs and perennials, incredible views and majestic trees. James’ love for the property is clear. ‘We’re really just custodians. We’ve been gifted the opportunity to create magic at one of the most beautiful properties in the mountains. The idea was and always will be with Wildenstein, to maximise the natural beauty of the location.’