Architect David Wilkinson describes the grand old Dutch elm in his garden as a blessing because it allows sun into the house in winter and shades the north lawn all summer. I immediately pictured long, happy, French-style lunches under its spreading branches.
Amazingly there are three wonderful elms in the garden. They were planted by the first owners of the old Victorian residence, Kalithna, on the north-west corner of Punt and Domain roads.
The Wilkinsons’ house was designed by Roy Stevenson in 1928 and built in the original vegetable garden of the old house. The romance of this beautiful garden doesn’t end there.
As you come through the front gate you will see an English elm on the left and a Wych elm and an enormous strawberry tree on the right. A green gate leads to a pebbled courtyard and a decorative pair of aviaries. One is home to superbly coloured Gouldian finches and the other to a couple of zebra finches.
A tin birdbath on an iron base, found for Wilkinson by his mother, is reminiscent of the orient.
The ivy-clad west passage leads to the main part of the garden and the beloved Dutch elm. Wilkinson believes strongly that the garden should sit comfortably with the style of the house so he has complemented this quintessentially English house with a formal, romantic garden.
There are three terraces of lawn, delineated by privet hedging. On the upper level is a trough fountain Wilkinson designed for water plants and goldfish. The fish spouting water is based on sculptures found in the Piazza Navona in Rome.
The middle level is a luxurious flat expanse of lawn under the canopy of the Dutch elm. Steps lead down to a small pool with a central fountain featuring a bronze replica of Verrochio’s Boy With a Dolphin.
Wilkinson has loved this sculpture since he first encountered it in Axel Munthe’s Story of San Michele. The east side of this small Italianate garden is lined with a “hedge-on–stilts” (five mop-topped robinias.)
At the southern end of the pool is a small knot garden designed and planted by Wilkinson, who loves to make topiary creations from bay laurel and box. Close inspection should reveal what event the design celebrates.
Wilkinson, who wants visitors to experience the tranquil “otherworldliness” of his inner-city garden, says: ’This serene, shady and sylvan garden, after some 23 years, continues to be a source of pleasure to me and our family.”
The garden of David and Bibi Wilkinson at 266 Domain Road, South Yarra, will open as part of Australia’s Open Gardens on February 11 and 12 between 10am and 4.30pm. Entry $6. A plant sale will benefit Friends of The Royal Botanic Gardens.