Healing Gardens

Hugging trees may be out of fashion, but what if a tree was to hug you? It’s a concept garden designer Betsy-Sue Clarke employs when creating a therapeutic space. “We all need a hug,” she says. Betsy-Sue specialises in healing gardens and says an enclosed place to sit – preferably by water or with a view – is a key feature. “Having a tree canopy overhead is like having a hug.”

The idea of gardens as remedial spaces is not new: sixth-century Persian gardens aimed to help connect people with God, Japanese Zen gardens have long promoted healing meditation, while monastic infirmaries almost always include a cloistered garden.

Surgical patients with views of nature have been found to have shorter post-operative stays, take less pain medication and experience fewer minor post-operative complications than those facing man-made structures such as buildings.

Similar results have been noted since nurse and horticultural therapist Steven Wells created a therapeutic garden at Austin Health’s Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre in Kew, Victoria.

Steven originally thought patients at the Acquired Brain Injury Unit would benefit from gardening activities, but now patients from all the departments – as well as visitors – use the space. One patient even got married there.

Science backs up centuries of garden practice. Professor Roger Ulrich, director of the Centre for Health Systems and Design at Texas A&M University, found that viewing greenery helped with stress recovery.

As well as aiding physical health, gardens aid spiritual recovery, Betsy-Sue says. She cites key elements:

  • Being able to see the seasons changing helps with moving forward.
  • The sound of water is important and watching water moving – never in a straight line – reminds us that our lives aren’t perfect and controlled either.
  • Seeing how plants battle and survive helps us to battle our own storms.
  • Some plants evoke memories from our childhood – good and bad. “I try to replicate elements of loving memories to help visitors feel safer,” Betsy-Sue says.
  • The ability to make a memory in a garden, whether it’s placing flowers in a vase or stacking rocks, allows you to say, “I’ve been here”, and gives you a moment of peace or of letting go.

words Jane Canaway
Image Dean Golja


For gardening inspiration visit

Fruit for thought

Regardless of the size of your garden, courtyard or balcony, it’s possible to produce home-grown fruit.

Fruit trees come in a range of sizes: full-size (four metres or larger), dwarf (two to three metres tall), columnar (60 centimetres wide and up to four metres tall) and miniature (one-and-a-half metres tall).

Apples and pears need a cool winter, but there are still plenty of options for people living in warmer climates – look for dwarf peach, papaya, mulberry, macadamia, persimmon, almond or mango trees. Consider dwarf quinces, apples or blueberries for balconies and small gardens. Mail-order nurseries stock a large selection of fruit trees.

If you only have room for one full-size tree, plant two varieties 15cm apart in the same hole. This is particularly effective when combining apples, pears or plums that need a cross pollinator, but it can also be done with trees of different species. Prune overlapping branches to reap more fruit over a longer period.

Alternatively, you can buy trees grafted with two or more varieties of fruit, whether it’s a mix of citrus, stone fruit, apples or pears. Just remember to mark branches so you don’t accidentally prune off a variety.





Pruning is key, says Craig Castree, a Victorian-based horticulturalist and the author of Edible Gardens. “If you can’t reach the fruit when you’re standing with your feet flat on the ground, trees become too hard to manage,” he says. “Trim vertical growth to encourage horizontal growth, which produces more fruit and will be easier to pick.”

He also says: “No net equals no fruit.” So, protect your crop from local pests such as birds and possums.

Strategic pruning can reduce the space needed without a huge loss of fruit, from trees trained in neat lines or fan shapes (espaliered), to column-shaped cordons (trained to grow as a single stem). You can even buy stepover apple plants that act as productive bed edging and grow to a height of about 50 centimetres.

If you’re not sure about your pruning skills, try Fleming’s Ballerina range of columnar apple trees, which are bred to stay in shape.

Miniatures are perfect for growing in pots and dwarf sizes suit larger tubs. Meyer lemons, cumquats and mandarins are best suited to tubs. Buy wheels for your tubs so you can move them.

Some specialist suppliers graft trees to order. Choose from heritage varieties not widely available, or have a favourite fruit tree cloned onto dwarf rootstock.

Caring for container trees

  • Keep tubs in a sheltered, sunny position
  • Apply a slow-release fertiliser every six months
  • Keep soil moist at all times
  • Pick off pest insects
  • Trim the branches and roots every two years and change the potting mix to keep plants healthy
  • Instead of tubs, try bonsai bags, which can be used to temporarily hold fruit trees if you’re moving house
  • Apples and pears need different pruning to stone fruit; check before chopping.

words Jane Canaway


Winter Flavour

It’s hard to imagine life without oranges and lemons. A staple of cuisines from Spain to China, citrus is probably our most versatile fruit family. Best of all, they come into season now, when many others have ended. There are about seven species of native limes, plus cultivars, but sadly they are still rare in shops – which is ironic because new research suggests all modern varieties can be traced back to Australasian species from 30 million years ago. However, you will find new-season lemons, limes, satsumas – a lunchbox favourite – and navel oranges, taking over from summer’s Valencias.

You might even find tangelos, citrons, yuzu, Buddha’s hand or bergamot; there are hundreds of types and they’re all cousins. They’re also good for you, providing fibre, lots of vitamin C, B vitamins (including folate), antioxidants and trace minerals.

Few Greek dishes are complete without lemon, and it’s a healthy addition: squeeze it on salads, stir fries, risottos, roast potatoes, chicken, fish, water, tea – and an occasional gin and tonic. High levels of citric acid mean lemon is a good meat tenderiser and it can be used as a cleaning aid. It’s even supposed to fade sunspots. To preserve a glut, you can freeze juice in ice trays, make cordial and curd, or preserve lemons in salt.

Limes can be substituted for a change; generally they are more acidic. The sweetest citrus are oranges, which work well in cakes, desserts and salads. Try oranges with raw fennel for a summery crunch in winter. Or create the colourful Sicilian orange salad, using a range of sliced citrus dressed with olives, red onion and olive oil. Swap tinned fruit for fresh citrus to make a refreshingly different trifle; you can even make the jelly from scratch using fresh juice, and decorate with shavings of orange-flavoured chocolate.

Grapefruit adds flavour to a salad too – it is particularly tasty with avocado, rocket and prawns, or in a Vietnamese-style slaw with chicken or crab.


Make an easy lemon curd by whisking 2 eggs, 2 egg yolks, 175g caster sugar, 80g butter and 2 lemons (zest & juice). Stir continuously over low heat until thickened. Store in an airtight jar in the fridge.

words Jane Canaway illustrations Clementine/The Illustration Room


Cooking tip: Add lemon juice before scrambling eggs to retain their golden colour.

Know your Natives

Spring in Australia is a magical time to explore our native flora and a good time to consider adding some local colour to your garden.

Native plants are naturally suited to Australian conditions and if you choose varieties from your immediate area you’ll be providing food and habitat for native bees, butterflies, lizards, mammals and birds.

Unit-dwellers need not miss out – many stunning plants are fusspots best grown in pots: brown or pink scented boronias or vivid orange, red or turquoise lechenaultias, bright yellow and exquisitely detailed verticordias, lapis lazuli derwentias and neon orange-yellow-and- pink chorizemas. There is no end to the colours or combinations.

Slowly does it

For gradual change, replace underperforming plants with native ones.

Consider the position to be filled then ask at your local nursery for plants to suit, rather than falling in love with something impractical.

For a hedge, try correas or westringias, which can be cut to shape and will still flower. Trimming a little and often is best.

Remember plants with grey leaves often prefer drier climates and may suffer from fungal problems in higher humidity.

There are lots of options for replacing lawns, whether you want a grass and flower meadow or a neat line of low-growing plants, such as myoporum parvifolium.






High drama

Some native plants are surprise stunners, providing a green backdrop for most of the year, then exploding with colour in Spring: acacias, mint bushes (prostantheras), hibiscus (alyogyne), eriostemon, orchids and daisy bushes (olearia and ozothamnus).

Quiet performers such as grevilleas, banksias, eremophilas and small daisies (chrysocephalums, xerochrysums and brachyscomes) bring colour – and wildlife – for much of the year.

Then there are the superstar plants whose simple role is to be gorgeous. You only need a few of these in a garden and they need room to shine.

The red gymea lily that soars four metres (or more) is a perfect example. Waratahs are almost as spectacular and enjoy the same conditions as azaleas. Grass trees (Xanthorrhoeas) also fit into this category, as do kangaroo paws, which need good air flow.

Height matters

Tall plants lift a garden and provide structure: consider lomandras, dianellas, tree ferns, grass trees and trees.

While researching the nine-volume Encyclopaedia of Australian Plants and other books, authors Rodger and Gwen Elliot spent years exploring our native flora. Rodger singles out Eucalyptus petiolaris and E. leucoxylon subspecies megalocarpa as favourite small trees.

“You cannot guarantee the flower colour – sometimes young plants with reddish stems may have pink to reddish flowers – but they are some of the best,” he says.

Both are best suited to medium-size gardens but many of the Mallee-type eucalypts only grow up to four metres, offering an Outback look in miniature. There’s the Rose Mallee with enormous pinky red flowers, or Eucalyptus synandra, whose pink-white flowers look like beaded skirts.

For a more humid climate, the Blueberry Ash (Elaeocarpus reticulatus) with its smooth trunk, dark, shiny leaves and fringed, scented flowers is another of Rodger’s star trees.


TV gardener Angus Stewart, from the ABC’s Gardening Australia, recommends checking roots are not pot bound, gently teasing roots out and soaking the root ball in water before planting. He also suggests adding organic matter to improve soil condition.

To stop shrubs becoming leggy, Angus says, “tip pruning is a must”. And he says, “staking is best avoided, if at all possible,” because movement in the wind helps strengthen plants and their roots.

words Jane Canaway
Images: iStock photo; courtesy Tatters

Need a hand with your gardening? australianunity.com.au/home-services


For more advice and plant lists

See also:
Royal Botanical Gardens

The Australian Native Plants Society

To the Manor drawn

by Jane Canaway

Published in The Senior Traveller,

April 2014

As soon as the boys discovered the apple loft they knew it had to be their room: they were already embarked on a game of pirates before the adults had finished carrying a week’s worth of groceries into the enormous, flag-stoned kitchen (with even larger scullery).

That left young Aurelie with the stunning bay-windowed room – and a four-poster bed – all to herself. For a six-year-old with an overactive imagination, it was a week of bliss as we played at being Lord of The Manor.

The home in Bude, Cornwall, sleeps 13. www.bigholidayhouse.com

For many Australians, a visit to Europe involves catching up with family. If you have a large, spread-out mob and limited time, then renting a large house to share is a good option.

Britain has a generous supply of such homes for rent, many in splendid locations where you will never be short of things to do, places to go and things to see.

If you want something truly secluded, there are whole islands you can rent, including a fort built during the Napoeonic wars to defend Portsmouth. That costs more than $50,000 a week, but it does offer a unique base for sailors visiting for Cowes Week.

Alternatively, for the cost of a fairly average 2-3 bedroom beach house in Australia, 12 of you can enjoy a week in a mediaeval tower near Kilkenny, Ireland.

There are plenty of options elsewhere, too: Swedish Lapland, Madeira, Poland, Hungary, Czech republic, Turkey, Morocco, Cyprus, Phuket, South Africa, British Virgin Islands, USA, Vanuatu – as well as yurt holidays, ski chalets, eco-friendly homes and tree houses.

Spitbank Fort, off Portsmouth, offers fine views of Cowes week. www.thebeautifulhouse company.com

Where to start

Location and size will narrow your search quite quickly, and budget will kick in soon afterwards. After that it’s just fine-tuning and availability.

Holiday Lettings (http://www.holidaylettings.co.uk/rentals/richmond/62565) is part of the TripAdvisor network so feedback is available from previous guests. Within the UK, some areas naturally attract premium rates; even the cheapest rate for one of the Cotswold homes listed was more than the peak-season rate for a similar property close to three stunning National Parks in the Yorkshire Dales.

The Beautiful House Co. specializes in luxury rentals and includes on its books the stunning Aldourie Castle beside Loch Ness. With its award-winning renovation, it offers top-end elegance with all the trimmings: 15 individually styled bedrooms (nine with en suites) and use of the 500-acre estate from about $45,000 a week. Four more cottages, catering, activities and full house staff are optional extras.

Aldourie Castle at night

For more affordable grandeur, Plas Glansevin, a Georgian Grade 2 listed building on 10 acres in Wales can accommodate up to 62 guests. It includes wood-fired sauna, outdoor plunge pool, and has wheelchair access. Weekly rates range from $5800 to $8650.

One of the largest properties on the books at Big Holiday House is Park Hall, a Grade 2 listed Queen Anne home on a 132 acres that can sleep 45 in the main house plus 90 in annexes and cottages. For those planning a large wedding, it has a dining capacity of 160.

By the time you’ve searched through a few websites, you’ll be thinking a mediaeval tower is fairly commonplace.


From luxury to activity

Apart from the size, style and price variation of the many homes on offer – everything from grand Scottish Castles, through converted barns to modern luxury homes – you can also create a short-list of accommodation by searching for features or activities.

Think Hay on Wye for literary types, the Isle of Skye for sea kayaking, Yorkshire and other moors for walking, biking and white-water rafting, Aintree for the Grand National, Newquay for surfing, Lyme Regis for fossil hunting and South Wales for cliff jumping.

Some of the grander homes offer huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ among their country pursuits. BYO green wellies.

For less energetic types, extras include spa treatments, full catering, a dedicated chef, chauffeur or a maid. At least one eco-farm provides its own organic produce and vegetarian catering.

The YHA also owns a series of large houses, most fitted with commercial-sized kitchen and many offering access to outdoor activities.

Consall castle offers disabled facilities

Holiday Castle Rentals includes the 13th century, moated Consall Castle in its list of properties with disabled facilities, while on a number of ‘quirky’ lists is the Elizabethan Stonnwall Manor in Somerset, which boasts a themed underground bomb shelter (presumably added post-1604).

However, there are some limits, too.

?             Only some accept pets

?             Many are booked out nine months ahead

?             School holidays can mean double rates

?             Some refuse bookings for stag and hen parties

?             Not all websites provide details of disabled facilities

?             Shops are sometimes half an hour or more away

?             Nearly ALL will ask for a good housekeeping deposit to cover any breakages or damage; the bigger the home and list of antiques, the bigger the deposit.

With so many interesting places to stay, it’s worth making up with long-lost family (or friends) to make the most of our good exchange rate and try some.

By the time you've searched through a few websites, you'll feel like a mediaeval tower is commonplace.

Other websites include: