By Ellen Hill – Blue Mountains Lithgow & Oberon Tourism
The gentle “knock, knock’’ of radiata pines bumping together is the sign the wind has conceded defeat after an unhampered journey through the valleys and ridges of the Blue Mountains National Park.
Tom Breen has listened to it sigh and moan through the wilderness, watched it ruffled treetops like a parent tussling a child’s hair.
Out on the western escarpment on the edge of his 45ha oasis at Mt Wilson there’s no whooshing of cars, no chattering of voices to interrupt your thoughts and no mobile phone coverage.
Surrounded by exotic and native fauna, those dinosaurs of the bush – the original stand of Wollemi pines – are out there somewhere as they have been for millennia.
“I feel like I haven’t really been to the property if I haven’t been to the western escarpment,’’ he says.
Balmoral-based mining magnate Tom and wife Dr Rachael Kohn, ABC Radio National broadcaster, escape their city life to Breenhold regularly.
Perched atop a basalt-capped mountain, the heritage-listed Breenhold estate reflects the fertility of the rich volcanic soil of Mt Wilson and Tom, with the help of gardeners, has continued his father’s work to create one of the most extensive private garden properties in Australia.
During the past 40 years tens of thousands of exotic and indigenous trees and flowering shrubs have been planted to create luxuriant gardens, parkland and native bushland including the 1km long series of radiate pine wind breaks andmasonry garden walls using slabs of basalt.
Breenhold was founded in the mid-1960s by the late Thomas Essington Breen (1914-2002) and his wife Charlotte and includes 18 separate land parcels on each side of The Avenue accumulated by the couple.
The garden became “a real labour of love’’ for Tom Snr in memory of Charlotte, who died in 1968, Tom says. An obelisk to her memory stands at Bill’s Point Lookout on the western boundary.
The first tree his father planted on the property was a sycamore and the occasion was marked with a plaque. The births of ensuing grandchildren were also marked with new trees.
“A garden is alive, so it’s ongoing,’’ Tom says. “It’s very much a family garden with family resonances.’’
Breenhold has several links to earlier Sydney history including the quadrangle of the archway enclosed Celestium garden salvaged from the imposing 1865 mansion Retford Hall at Darling Point, several pink granite columns from the original AMP Building which stood at Circular Quay, a Victorian copper-domed cupola, numerous antique English Coalbrookdale cast iron seats and Italian urns. Its gates are French, the lampposts Victorian with New Zealand light tops.
The Mediterranean-style garden with its laurel hedge, roses and lavender, its goldfish pond, Seville oranges and pomegranates, is “rather nice to have a glass of white wine and just sit here and relax and take it all in’’.
But Breenhold is not just for the Breen family and friends. “I get a lot of joy in sharing it.’’
Visitors can wander the eucalypt-lined pathways past hundreds of deciduous trees, the colourful hanging gardens, stop by the Roman-style bathing spot and walk under magnificent mature trees broken by drifts of daffodils, jonquils and snowdrops.
Across the road in the Breenhold parkland, the driveway is lined with young magnolias, a Huon pine from Tasmania and two Wollemi pines are being nurtured. Tom particularly likes the varying shades of red and green of the stand of trees he named Ballet Russes after the Russian Ballet, which visited Mt Wilson around the time his parents met.
As well as many wombats who call the property home, myriad birds are also attracted to the Breenhold gardens.
The Breenhold property was also immortalised in Baz Luhrmann’s Hollywood blockbuster movie The Great Gatsby recently. It was also used during the filming of a documentary about Charles Darwin.
Breenhold Gardens, The Avenue, Mt Wilson, is usually open to the public from 10am to 5pm in autumn and spring. Cost: $7.50 adults, $2 child. Details: (02) 9968 1232.