FREMANTLE resident Alex Wilson has spent four years creating a green wonderland in the gardens of her 125-year-old heritage-listed home.
‘Monaro’, now surrounded by succulents in every shade of green, purple and red, creeping vines and a soaring sugar gum, was built in the Victorian-era for tobacco merchant, Mr Robert Dixon.
Ms Wilson is the the property’s fourth owner and since moving in four years ago she’s worked hard to honour and preserve its history, whilst bringing it into the 21st century.
She is opening up Monaro, at 24 Ord Street, to the public this weekend, as part of Open Gardens West Coast, from 10am-4pm.
“This garden is a living, breathing, growing, changing space,” says Ms Wilson, who is qualified in horticulture and garden design.
“There’s a fresh energy in the mornings; everything sort of sparkles in the light.”
Ms Wilson says Mr Dixon built Monaro as a guest house for visiting business people during the gold-rush.
“He knew people of a certain economic standing wouldn’t want to stay in a tiny room above a pub,” Ms Wilson says.
“There was even a bathroom on every level, making it about 50 years ahead of its time.”
Ms Wilson says Freo’s cruddy limestone soils would have meant a bare garden back then.
“The Freo Doctor was certainly still blowing back then and there was a heck of a lot of pollution in the air, coming in from the port; it was probably not til the 1930s, even 50s, that this kind of garden started to take shape.”
Previous owners were instrumental in constructing limestone retaining walls and garden terraces with the aid of architect Gerard McCann, while Freo sculptor Theo Koning has two installations in the backyard and created ironwork balustrades from the original 1890s balcony.
“Theo found some cast iron lace panels rusting away in the corner of the garden and he turned them into balustrading, which was really lucky for us because when we came to restoring the front balcony, which had rotted, we wanted to reinstate the original panels,” Ms Wilson says.
“I was sitting here with the architect, and I was like, ‘well, can’t we use those panels?’”
One cleaned up enough to be used as a mould for new verandah panels at a Wagga Wagga factory.
“We really knew we were reinstating an authentic, original piece of the house, and it’s come from the garden, so it’s nice it comes full circle,” she says.
Ms Wilson says while respecting history she “didn’t want to work with hedges either”.
“The obvious take on a house like this would be very classical stuff…but I wanted to bring some softness, romance and elegance to it.
by MOLLY SCHMIDT