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The gardens of Wellswood Cottage

Ever since landscaper Jamie McIlwain was a child, he’s loved to be outdoors

Ever since Aldgate resident Jamie McIlwain was a child, he’s loved to be outdoors.
“From a kid I hated being inside and that’s still the case,” he says.
“… Even when it’s pouring with rain in winter, I just stand at the back door looking out waiting for it to rain a little bit less hard and then I’ll go out and go in the garden.”
The professional landscaper, who owns Hills Classic Gardens, remembers spending hours in the garden with his grandmother during school holidays – something he believes may have helped spark a life-long passion.
“My grandmother was a really keen gardener, so maybe a bit of that rubbed onto me,” he says.
“I used to help her out in her garden quite a lot during my school holidays, but she’d also come over and work in our garden at home so I’d also muck about in the garden with her putting in veggies or that from a young age.
“I just remember always being in the mud and the dirt and playing outside.”
Growing up in Melbourne, Jamie began a landscaping business about a month after finishing high school.

But after a decade working in the industry, he sold the business and spent four years taking tours around Australia – from the NT and WA to Tasmania.
And it was a move that set his life on a new trajectory – one which led him to meet his wife, Sally, and brought him to the Adelaide Hills.
“Sally was on one of my tours – she took advantage of the tour guide,” he jokes.
“And it was just good timing really, I had gotten that (being a tour guide) out of my system and Sal was here in the Adelaide Hills and I just wound up my tours and moved here and started working.
“And one thing led to another – we got married and had Molly, our daughter, and soon after we started back into the landscaping industry again.”
When Jamie moved to the Adelaide Hills to be with Sally, he was presented with a “blank canvas” around the Aldgate home, Wellswood Cottage, she’d built several years earlier. Over the past two decades he has spent countless hours transforming that land – about half an acre – into a meticulously maintained terraced garden.
“There was not much on it – in fact it was mostly lawn – so there were no levels, it was just a sloped block,” he recalls.
“And so the initial stages were to bring in heaps of fill that came from Mt Barker from an old potato farm – literally hundreds of tonnes, dozens of truck loads – and I created levels.
“… The garden is planted for me and the family, so I wanted a pretty garden that had a productive part to it.”
Today, the McIlwain’s garden is a tiered oasis, including an entertaining area with a woodfire oven, shaded by a wisteria and grape vine-covered pergola; a path winds from that space past a fire pit, before connecting to a vegetable garden bordered by espaliered fruit trees, and a rose-covered archway leads from the veggie patch to the “Taj Mahal” of chook runs and composting bays.
Garden art is dotted among colourful flowering plants and a narrow dirt pathway leads back from the chook run towards the house through a shady grove, while a wooden boardwalk is flanked by a wall of fruiting fig trees, flowers, rose bushes and trees.

“I’m a plant driven landscaper,” Jamie says.
“I don’t resonate too much with big, modern gardens that are full of hard landscaping – paving with a minimal amount of plants.
“So I feel that plants play a huge role in people’s gardens and from there on it’s the selection and management and placing of the different plants in combination with the hard landscaping you need in gardens as well – pathways, retaining walls that type of thing.”
Last year Jamie opened the garden to the public for the first time through the Open Gardens Scheme (of which he’s a committee member),
and also entered it into the Master Landscapers SA Awards of Excellence, claiming all five category awards he entered, including best residential landscape design and residential landscape maintenance.
But while finally opening the property to the public gave him a “sense of completion”, Jamie, who spends about eight hours a week in his garden, says it’s never really completely finished.
“You ask any gardener and you never finish a garden,” he says.
“I’m constantly editing the plants I’ve got here – changing around combinations.
“I want the plants that I’ve got here to really work hard for their bit of real estate and if they don’t flower for a long time or if they wilt or carry on during our summers, they’re out, quick sticks.
“Also I’ve always got room for new plantings – there’s always new plants that are coming on the market.”

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