Almost 35 years ago Mickey, alongside her husband Larry, thrust herself into a new chapter - restoring a rundown property at Glenmore just outside of Sydney. A journey of discovery led Mickey to an extraordinary opportunity to have earth to nurture, ground to shape and space to experiment - this new chapter morphing into a new way of life.
Tell us about Glenmore House and why it’s so special
I’m not sure if it’s anything but its place in the landscape, nestled into the foothills of the Razorback Range in New South Wales, bound by two creeks and placed just so, that allows such diversity and creates its unique atmosphere. We can see emerging weather patterns and I think that adds to a heightened sense of connection to the elements. Our views are not sweeping, but they are extended enough to be aware of a new moon rising, a storm brewing or a fully arched rainbow. But of course, the restoration we’ve carried out, the garden we’ve made, the way it’s grown and connects the colours, textures, perfume, light and shadow, the bounty it yields, the beauty that’s constantly unfolding and the people it brings are what make Glenmore unique.
Where did your connection to gardening stem from and how has it shaped you as a person?
I’ve been driven by a long-held love of gardens since childhood. I spent a great deal of time in Centennial Park, The Botanic Gardens, and also a little garden nestled into the foreshore of Sydney Harbour called Gladswood Gardens. It’s these gardens that form some of my earliest memories – their paths, sounds, smells. But it was both travel and reading in my early years that seeped into my soul. Although I’ve long had a love of gardens, it was a love of gardens, rather than gardening which are two completely different entities. The idea of gardening had never much appealed. But as someone recently suggested to me, I am quite determined and so if one wants a garden, one must learn to garden!
At the beginning of the Glenmore garden journey, creating a garden was all about the task of connecting a disparate collection of buildings and anchoring them to the ground. But that sat alongside a love of plants and flowers and a desire to incorporate them. I’d long made and kept lists, even before Glenmore, of flowers in season. I would religiously buy flowers by the stem on Friday afternoons from a favourite florist and keep a note of what they were.
It was this list I first turned to when I wanted to grow flowers. Of course standing in that lovely corner shop, I would choose those stems for their impact, their colour, form, height, foliage, juxtaposition, harmony and perfume and creating a garden is not dissimilar to flower arranging, just on a bigger scale. Up until Glenmore, I hadn’t had the earth in which to experiment.
Of course, a flower arrangement lasts but a few days. To garden requires a great deal more planning, along with attention to the soil into which one plants; the climate, rainfall, heat, wind, sun, shade, drought, flood - that’s no mean feat compared to an arrangement in a vase!
I think learning to garden has made me a great deal more inquisitive in the way design leads you to architecture, history and the myriad arts and skills. Gardening encompasses all of those too, but adds nature and nurture. I had the opportunity to connect with nature on a much more meaningful level - to really be at one with the great and recurring cycle of life.
“...it’s these gardens that form some of my earliest memories - their paths, sounds, smells. But it was both travel and reading in my early years that seeped into my soul.”
What is your gardening philosophy today? Are you more inclined to listen and let the plants and seasons guide you?
Just grow. Growing a garden will grow you. My life is utterly guided by and attuned to the seasons and cycle of plants! I listen and watch and allow myself to be guided. Nature always shows the way.
How does gardening, growing and creating make you feel?
Content. I get the most out of growing when I’m gardening. Pruning, cutting back, tying-in, making compost, adding compost, mulching, caring for the soil and inturn, nurturing the plant, coaxing the best to come and always working towards the season ahead.
As humans, why do you think our connection to the soil and the Earth is so important?
Connection to the soil, connection to the cycle of life is, I think, what gives reassurance in our own lives. It may not answer the big question of why we’re here, but I think it removes anxiety and allows us to be at one and at peace. We are part of such a big picture and our preoccupations on so many levels in the great scheme of things are meaningless. Life goes on without the newsfeed and much stupidity of human intervention. We literally need to stop and smell the flowers, stop pushing and just be. Earth is a miracle and I get so angry with the acceleration into a ‘Metaverse’ when we already inhabit the most incredible ‘real’ world that can sustain us – mind, body and soul!
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I think my inspiration is an amalgamation. I’m very visual and expressive and – by my age, no doubt – have absorbed so much varied experience from historical documentation, books, articles, paintings, film, fiction and myriad garden wanderings that it’s hard to be specific. There are gardens I love that I could reel off, but when it comes down to it, it’s a personal choice of a plant here and there put together that spark my imagination, a spur of the moment thought.
What has been taking up most of your time in the garden lately?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by botanical waters. I wanted to somehow capture the very essence of the garden in a bottle. Just imagine capturing the scent of an Orange Blossom that floods the air overwhelming the senses for that very brief moment in spring? And the armfuls of heavenly Rose Pelargonium I bring into The Dairy on event days and the Lavender spikes that scent our laundry? The roses I bury my nose into? If only I could capture them in a bottle. I thought I could share a hint of the garden to lift the day of someone else, so I went about discovering the process properly and learned the secrets of using a traditional copper alembic still. I gather my material at its absolute peak moment of beauty and vitality and steam distil. While I have no doubt that many years of experimentation lie ahead, I’m thrilled to have captured these floral essences so far in such pure form and released them into the world.
You lead a beautifully busy life surrounded by nature, how do you think it has shaped who you are?
Although I’m surrounded by beauty, not every aspect is beautiful! In all honesty, I’m a good labourer, furniture removalist and cleaner. The very word ‘gardening’ makes it sound like a gentle Sunday afternoon activity when in reality it’s hot, hard, sweaty work. And I do the heavy lifting as required, so while the end result is one of beauty, none of it is for the undisciplined or faint-hearted. Much of my life is in the muck and mire and it’s made me resilient.
My surroundings are my life and Mother Nature is a constant companion for better or worse and usually, on the whole, for better.
Do you have any knowledge to share with fellow gardeners?
Listen to the Earth, lose yourself in the garden and dare to trip down the paths she reveals. It’s there I hope you will find contentment.
What can we expect for the future of Glenmore House?
For the future? I refer to the garden here as a ‘working garden’. It contains wonders to be unlocked beyond my capacity. Hence, I intend to continue bringing in others to tap into the treasures it holds, across herbal and medicinal, perfume and art, alongside the food source and sustainability realm that must, by very nature, be the most significant topic of all. I see Glenmore as a place where beauty and practicality sit side by side, merged. Inspiring a broader community is, I hope, what the future holds.