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Building a botanic oasis

Bird in Hand Homestead

Tucked away behind an olive hedge that separates the world-renowned Bird in Hand winery from the family’s old homestead is a botanical oasis.

Gravel and sawdust paths weave through Mediterranean gardens, shaded by oak trees, pencil pines and spruces, while silvereyes, honeyeaters and eastern spinebills flit between purple top vervain, butterfly bush and olives.

For Susie Nugent, who founded of the renowned Bird in Hand winery with her husband, Andrew, the garden is a sanctuary away from the every day bustle of business life.

“I think living here at the winery the garden is even more important because you need that sense of ‘I’m leaving there’,” she says.

“It’s definitely like a sanctuary.

“It’s sort of my calming thing.”

Susie Nugent now spends a large part of her time helping other people design their own garden sanctuaries.

The property wasn’t always the picturesque retreat that it is now. When Susie and Andrew – who started their famous Bird in Hand label as an olive oil brand – purchased it in 1997 with plans to pivot into wine, it was an old dairy – bare but for a couple of palm trees, spruces and an old willow.

“It was sort of just a big open-air shed and then an old, falling-down building and then this house was just a derelict house,” Susie recalls.

“We put the vineyard in, we planted the olive hedge all the way around the property.

“… We got married out the front in 1999 … we couldn’t live (in the house) because it didn’t have water or anything, so we moved into a 1960s caravan, which was so funny because Andrew would come in and the whole caravan would move.

“It was ridiculous.

“So we lived in the caravan for a while while we made the house liveable.

“It was really just two bedrooms and it was that for a long time.”

Over time Susie began to create a garden around the house, full of roses and hedges and bordered by pencil pines.

But her vision for the space changed a few years later when she and Andrew had to pull out the garden to make way for an extension to the family home.

“A friend of mine came here one day … and she rang me a few days later and said ‘Susie, I left your place and I knew something wasn’t right and I couldn’t put my finger on it’,” Susie says.

“Then she says ‘I realised what it was – there were no birds’.

“That was the best thing that she ever said because I went outside and there were all these beautiful roses – roses, roses, hedges, hedges – and there were no birds.

“And so when this (garden) got knocked out and I had to start again, I thought I’m going to do everything that brings birds.”

She began to focus on Mediterranean plants and soon saw the birdlife return.

And, inspired by her passion for her own garden, she decided to study garden design.

“We were doing the winery together and it was really stressful,” she says.

“Everything was just very full on and after about 12 years I thought ‘I’ve got to do my own thing’, so I went and did garden design at TAFE and then at Waite and that was really good because it taught me permaculture and I loved it.”

She now spends a large part of her time helping other people design their own garden sanctuaries.

“A lot of people think ‘I can’t have a garden or a bigger garden because it’s too much work’, but it’s actually not that much work … I love turning people into gardeners,” she says.

“… It’s nice to be a bit separate from wine world, because that’s exhausting.”

But she still finds time to be in her own garden most days and it’s still a constantly evolving space.

A section of lawn was transformed into garden beds during Covid-19, the front yard was replanted after the Cudlee Creek bushfire burned through many of the original plants and the most recent project is a large garden of native edible plants, created at the request of Bird in Hand’s chef.

But her garden has also inspired a new passion, which has become an escape from everyday life.

“I’m a bird watcher now,” she says.

“I belong to Birds SA and I’ve been going out and doing things with them and that’s a big thing for me and I love it.

“… I think the bird thing has become almost like what gardens used to be for me, because now I can’t relax going to gardens because I see what I can change and what is good.

“Whereas birds I can just go and enjoy.”

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