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Creating an enchanting world

"It’s all about learning and not fretting if something dies."

In summer, Adam Hancock and Phoebe Conway’s Aldgate garden comes to life with an explosion of colour.

Dahlias, salvias, sunflowers, liliums, coneflowers and chocolate lilies fill the “natural” style garden with crimsons, pinks, yellows, oranges and purples.

Narrow paths weave among the tall flowers, under arbours and past trellises supporting tomato vines, creating an enchanting world for the couple’s young daughter, Olive, to explore.

Phoebe and Adam, the head gardener at the acclaimed Ukaria Cultural Centre, moved to the Aldgate property about 18 months ago from Bridgewater, where their garden had opened to the public as part of the SA Open Garden Scheme.

Within weeks of moving the couple found out they were pregnant, so Adam fast-tracked his new garden plans, transforming a large lawn and gravel car park over three or four months into an expanse of natives and exotics, flowers and vegetables.

For Adam, the garden acts as an experimentation ground, where he can try out new plants that he can later incorporate into other people’s gardens through his business, Adam Hancock Gardening.

“I’ve got my favourite plants which I’ll always like to grow, but (I’m) experimenting with new things that some of the growers bring out – so trying to incorporate them into it,” he says.

Adam’s love for gardening blossomed as a young man, working with Adelaide Hills garden designer Steve Hailstone.

After working for Steve while studying, Adam left behind a budding paramedics career to focus on his passion full-time.

“Working for Steve was a big (influence), because it was that next level of interesting gardens,” he says.

“… Through uni I was doing more regular work – a lot of work just on his own property and then when I started my own business, I took on jobs that he had designed – I would maintain them.”

In 2019 Adam was appointed head gardener at Ukaria, overseeing Steve’s original design for the site.

Ukaria, founded in 2009 by Jurlique co-founder Ulrike Klein, is a premium centre of art, music and culture nestled below Mt Barker Summit.

It has attracted musicians including the Australian String Quartet and countertenor Timothy Wayne-Wright, who was a member of the Grammy-winning a cappella vocal ensemble, The King’s Singers.

Adam says the centre’s garden aims to engage visitors through all seasons and offer a “sensory” experience.

“Some people would go there to every show, every week, and I hope that they would get to see something new,” he says.

“It’s always changing – whether the colour theme changes through the season, or if you’re going for the first time, it’s … a really interesting, complex garden.

“… Each area has a completely different feel to it, so hopefully it’s enough interest to bring people into different areas of the garden and keep them engaged when they’re there.

“There are a lot of sensory things – like with music there’s different sounds from the wind going through the seed heads of the grasses or the birds or the fragrance of the plants, so we’re trying to engage people on different levels.”

Back home at Aldgate, Adam says his garden is a space for family, bringing people together, attracting wildlife and – hopefully – providing a little bit of inspiration to others.

The couple opened the garden to the public for the first time in February, drawing about 1000 people.

“We seem to engage a lot of young families who are a similar age to us, which is really nice,” he says.

“There were 150 kids through … lots of people with babies who are making their first garden and I quite like engaging with them.”

As for novices who’d like a nice garden, he says the key is to “start small” and don’t be afraid to give things a go.

“Maybe doing one small intensive patch really well, so you’re not spreading yourself too thin – make your garden smaller before you make it bigger,” he says.

“So pick a patch where you might sit all the time, or out a window – work on that first, get that done really well and then expand it out.

“Don’t over-think it.

“Give it a try.

“I think a lot of gardeners know that for all the successes you see there’s a pile of pots out the back of the failed plants.

“So just because there’s a lot of successes here, it just means I’ve had a lot of failures to learn from.

“It’s all about learning and not fretting if something dies.

“Add compost – add lots of compost and treat the soil well.

“… If you feed your soil it feeds the plants.”

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