Heaven on a granite rock face

Bede and Mary Gibson at home in their Mica Grange sculpture garden.

Bede and Mary Gibson at home in their Mica Grange sculpture garden.

Creating a garden atop a bed of granite rock requires a certain amount of skill, and plenty of good luck.

For Sutton Grange couple, Mary and Bede Gibson, it's a challenge that keeps them active in retirement.

When the couple sold their home in Sydney about 14 years ago they intended to retire somewhere along the south coast of NSW.

Their plans took a detour however when their daughter asked them to delay buying elsewhere and look after her property at Sutton Grange for a while instead.

"We fell in love with it and bought it from her," Bede explains.

"So we're here purely by accident."

Using her art and fashion design background, Mary began designing extensive gardens and walkways to envelop the home, utilising the natural contours and granite boulders of the land.

"You can only work with the contours of the land anyway, because we're on a rock face all the way round," Mary says.

"When you go out beyond the deck you can't get anything in between most of it, so it's just a matter of digging holes and hoping for the best.

"When our daughter bought this property it was just a house on a block of land.

"So the garden's only 14 years old. There was nothing here at all, just the house, with no power, no water, nothing."

The gardens have been expanded in stages and now include a rockery, an Australian garden, a protea garden, a rose walk, and even a fairy garden.

A small orchard and large raised vegetable garden also provide a year-round supply of organic fruit, vegetables and preserves.

The Gibsons say they have always been keen green thumbs.

"We almost sell our houses on our gardens, don't we!" Mary laughs.

In 2012 the couple were asked if they would open their garden to the public for Open Gardens Australia.

They agreed, but Mary decided that rather than just having an open garden like everyone else, they would ask some of the sculptors around the area to exhibit there at the same time, to make the garden more interesting to visitors.

Two sculptors from Bendigo, one from Castlemaine and one from Malmsbury all sold pieces at the open garden event.

After that the Mica Grange sculpture garden was born and now opens twice a year, for five weekends at a time in autumn and spring, including for the Castlemaine Festival of Gardens.

"We started off with four sculptors and now up to 20 sculptors show here each season," Bede adds.

The Gibsons also open Mica Grange for garden clubs and tour groups, serving them afternoon or morning teas, and have even hosted operas from time to time.

Preparing their garden for the openings is hard work, but the visible pleasure their visitors gain is worth it every time.

"It's quite rewarding actually," Mary says, "A lot of the older retirement village groups just love it because they're out of their little, tiny spaces, they're out in the open, and I'm happy to open any time for them.

"They think they've come to Heaven, that's what they say!"