A Former Paddock Turned Vibrant Botanical Wonderland In Regional Victoria

It’s hard to believe artist and garden designer Ralph Bristow only started working on this flourishing garden in regional Victoria three years ago.

Tucked away on a six-acre block in Barwite, near Mansfield, the neglected paddock has been transformed by Ralph into a spectacular botanical wonderland filled with Indigenous trees, biannuals, bulbs and shrubs, plus a vegetable patch and a perennial garden!

The colourful landscape changes magnificently with the seasons – witnessed from his strawbale family home. Take a closer look at The Barwitian Garden in all its autumn beauty, before it features in the annual Open Gardens Victoria program later this month.

Christina Karras

Ralph’s amazing family home is shrouded in plants! Photo – Ralph Bristow

Ralph’s partner Nicky designed and build the strawbale property with the help of Chris Rule from Spacebale. Photo – Ralph Bristow

‘I tentatively started the garden in a small way about three years ago. It has dramatically expanded to about 2.5 acres. Most of the garden, besides some trees, are only around one or two years young,’ Ralph says. Photo – Ralph Bristow

The property is nestled into a small spot on the river flat, open grass lands and paddocks along the Broken River. Photo – Ralph Bristow

‘Between the house and river is a shallow bed with lower planting, which enhances the view from the house, and a stretch of mown grass, then wild mix of grasses, rock, with some indigenous tree planting; including Red Box (Eucalyptus polyanthemos) and natives; Eucalyptus gregsoniana, and Eucalyptus scoria, punctuated by Grass Trees (Xanthorea glauca hybrid).’ Photo – Ralph Bristow

There’s also a ‘decent sized veggie garden’, surrounded by plants, fenced off from marauding deer and kangaroos and access around the garden is facilitated by lawn and steppingstone paths. Photo – Ralph Bristow

‘The early morning mist, light and frost give a true gift in giving the garden a sense of drama and sublime intimacy,’ Ralph says. Photo – Ralph Bristow

Ralph says there are ‘too many’ perennials to mention! But some include Agastache, Echinacea, Mackleaya cordata, Salvia, Helenium, Persicaria, Achillea, Yucca, Euphorbia and Astilbe. Photo – Ralph Bristow

It’s a wonderland filled with vibrant natural colours and textures. Photo – Ralph Bristow

The lush outlook changes every day! Photo – Ralph Bristow

The shrub planting features, Physocarpus, Cotinus, Ceratostigma, Berberis, Sambucus, Viburnum, Hamamelis, and Daphne. Photo – Ralph Bristow

Ralph says watching the garden changes as autumn crosses into winter is his favourite. ‘The plants wither and die back to steel themselves for the cold long winter.’ Photo – Ralph Bristow

Ralph amid his masterpiece! Photo – Ralph Bristow

Christina Karras
6th of April 2022

Before artist and garden designer Ralph Bristow (of Ralph Bristow Garden Design and Services) overhauled the 2.5 acre garden nestled beside a stretch of Victoria’s Broken River at his Barwite home, it was a simple paddock filled with metre-high weed grasses.

‘The land had been grazed for a very long time and was cleared of almost all of its trees. There was no trace of any other native flora,’ he says.

For Ralph, creating the landscape was a very intuitive process, much like his painting practice. He worked without a brief, leaning on his ‘deep love’ of plants and made decisions based on colour and texture in response to the area’s existing natural surrounds.

‘I had to trust my process and let it evolve. I also let the garden tell me what to do,’ Ralph explains.

Three years later, the thriving Barwitian Garden now features a diverse range of plants and an abundant eco-system of birdlife, insects, amphibians and reptiles.

Between the house and river is a shallow bed featuring a combination of grasses, rock and Indigenous trees such as Eucalyptus and Tristaniopsis laurina (Kanooka/Water Gums). The rest of the land surrounding the property comprises a semi-wild perennial garden filled with colourful flowers including ethereal purple Agastache (Giant Hyssop) and pink Astillbe (False Goat’s Beard).

‘The planting merges into the paddocks beyond, which are dotted with ancient Redgum trees,’ Ralph says.

He notes how the feel of the garden changes dramatically with every season, with the cross over from autumn into winter being his favourite time of the year.

‘The early morning mist and light – and sometimes frost – give the garden a sense of drama and sublime intimacy,’ he explains.

‘My favourite part of the project is the theatre being played out before my eyes, coming outside every day and being amazed at the constant energy and change. To be able to connect with people through the garden is something I cherish.’

Buy tickets to see The Barwitian Garden in person during Open Gardens Victoria on April 23-24 here. Learn more about Ralph’s art here, and his garden services here.

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