Jimbour House with its surrounding garden is – for the garden historian – a mine of information about the evolution of garden fashions and management from the 1870s to the present day.
There was really no garden at all in the earliest days of Jimbour.
In 1874, Joshua Peter, eldest son of Thomas Bell, became the sole owner of Jimbour, and from 1875 to 1876 he built a new dwelling – the present Jimbour House – to replace the two-storey building of blue stone and cedar that had existed before, part of which still stands to the north of the new house.
The garden of the new house was fenced on three sides, with a stone wall (still standing) marking the southern boundary.
The Bell family’s enduring legacy to Jimbour’s garden lies in the trees they planted. In addition, drawings made by a visitor shortly after the construction of the House in 1882 indicates a plan for the garden between the House and the southern boundary very similar to the present design.
Moreton Bay fig trees (ficus macrophylla), Old bottletrees (Brachychiton rupestre), Douglas firs, two Jacarandas, pepperinas, a Kaffir plum (Harpephyllum caifrum), silky oaks (Grevillea robusta), and also two Buddlejas were put in. There was not much water available, and an extensive garden was not attempted. Old photographs show that at this time the house walls were covered with creeper.
The effective acquisition of Jimbour by the Queensland National Bank (which had taken control of Bell Family interests and the Darling Downs and Western Lands Company in 1893) heralded many years of neglect and deterioration for both house and garden, and it was not until 1923 – the year that the property was bought by Wilfred Adams Russell – that the real life and history of Jimbour’s garden began.
The initial renovation of the house and garden would take 12 months to complete. With the assistances of Harry Stokes, a Brisbane landscape gardener, in 1924 the basic plan of the garden as it is today was laid out – rose garden, lawns with palms and shrubs, and garden beds.
A row of olive trees was planted along the southern stone wall. Shrub borders were created. Tropical fig trees, bauhinias, macadamias and Jacarandas were put in. A golden cypress (since removed) was placed in the centre of the rose garden. Bougainvilleas were planted beside the house, and the tennis court was made.
Colourful bougainvilleas have long been popular feature plants In south east Queensland, not least among early settlers who built large mansions. They are renowned for drought tolerance and bright colours after all. A photograph taken on the day of the re-opening of Jimbour House in November 1925 shows that the new garden was beginning to flourish.
In the 1930s, two large wooden pergolas now to be seen over the drive at each end of the house and the four smaller pergolas to the rose garden were added, and the rose garden divided into the four quadrants which now define it.
It was at this time that the drive was constructed from the front gate to the water tower, and Jacarandas and shrubs were planted along both sides. Also at this time ivy was planted near pillars on the front verandah, and cement urns and three fountains were added to the front lawns.
During the Second World War, the garden slipped back a bit. In the ensuing decades, the fowl house and yard were moved to outside the back garden fence, the vegetable garden was enlarged, and fruit trees were planted.
Little star-shaped garden beds were removed from gravelled areas amongst the trees in the northern garden. The olive trees were removed from along the stone wall. Chrysanthemums were planted in their place, and rockeries were made around some of the trees.
In 1950, the swimming pool and wading pool were built, and the garden was extended beyond the wall. Grape vines were planted at the sides, and orchards was planted to the east and west of the swimming pool. The golden cypress in the centre of the rose garden was replaced by a fish pond and fountain in the 1960s.
In the 1950s the poultry yard which had been located in the north-east corner of the garden was moved to outside it. The ivy was removed from the front pillars in the 1970s , and, after the erection of a new fence on the eastern, northern and western sides of the garden in 1990, lawns were planted beyond it.
The western orchard fell into disuse but in the 1990s a stone fruit and pomme fruit orchard has been planted to the west of the swimming pool and avenues of trees (planted by distinguished visitors) commenced on the eastern and western sides of the garden.
In more recent times the garden has been increased in area by relocation of the culinary garden to outside the former eastern boundary boundary fence and its dedication as the Millicent Russell garden (2004), construction of an amphitheatre south of the swimming pool and orchards (2005), enclosure of the northern and north-eastern courtyard areas, the first of which is dedicated to Eileen Quinn, daughter of Wilfred and Millicent Russell (2006), and the construction of a summer house and development of its precincts to the south of the Millicent Russell Garden (2011).
The area between the House and the Bluestone building has been extensively redesigned and the former utility areas demolished, the resulting garden being dedicated to David’s wife Deborah who died in 2011.
In addition, the area surrounding the Bell Monument, Water Tower and Chapel has been landscaped, and the spaces between there and the western boundary of the garden and on the southern side of the drive have been planted with bottle, jacaranda, flame and silky oak trees. A line of fig trees now forms a northern boundary to this area.
Jimbour Garden Today
To arrive at Jimbour House today is to arrive at a place where history, grandeur and graciousness are blended harmoniously.
Here is a house that has not only been a happy home, but the active centre of a busy community, and its atmosphere is such that can only be engendered by such a past. Situated on a property that was first established in 1841, the garden contains elements of a history to the present day, with specific hallmarks of the 1860s and 1870s plus a continuing evolution from the 1920s to the present day.
The driveway to the house, made in 1938, begins at the old, four-storeyed water tower which was converted into a residence for the gardener in the 1950s and has served as a visitor information centre and Cellar Door for the property’s vineyard. The drive is planted on both sides with alternating Jacarandas and shrubs.
When the Jacarandas are in bloom, the drive becomes a soft lilac pathway. It passes through ornate iron gates between sandstone pillars, and sweeps up to the porte-cochere of Jimbour House.
The porte-cochere is on the western side of the building, but the house actually faces south. It overlooks a large front garden of formal design. The colonnade of lofty stone pillars on the ground floor verandah is echoed in the tall Queen palms (Arecastrum nomanzofflanum) standing in triangular blue couch lawns on each side of the large central rose garden. This is divided into quadrants by gravel paths leading to a large fountain standing in the centre, in a lily pond, contained by stone covered with Ficus pumila. At each end of the front of the house, a large bougainvillea-covered pergola straddles the gravel drive. Two smaller pergolas covered with Rangoon Creeper (Quisqualis), Banksia rose, and a newly planted New Zealand Akoroa Rose, mark the entrances of the eastern and western pathways to the fountain. There is very little frost at Jimbour and, throughout the garden, there are examples like this of temperate and tropical plants existing side by side with equal vigour.
The central beds of white, red and yellow roses are edged with colourful annuals. More colour in adjacent beds comes from jonquils, flowering peach, plumbago, violets, Carolina jasmine, lots of liliums, including spider lilies, and snapdragons, Oleanders and hibiscus stand in triangular beds in the lawn, and there are acalyphas and hibiscus along the gravel pathway. Beyond the rose garden is the low, curving stone wall built by Joshua Peter Bell to define the original southern boundary of the garden. The garden now extends beyond this wall. In centre position is the swimming pool built in 1950. The citrus orchard, which was planted east of the pool at the same time, is now complemented by the stone and pomme fruit orchard on the western side, replanted in 2000.
Behind the pool is a rose garden, which includes some floribunda types. High wire fences supporting grape vines act as screens between this area and the orchards. Behind the swimming pool is the amphitheatre.
Beyond all these, stretching as far as the eye can see, are the fertile black soil plains of the Jimbour plain, dotted picturesquely with trees.
A clump of Bougainvillea thomasli decorates the northern wall of the house. Until 2004 this was the location of the vegetable garden screened from the 1950s by a (now removed) hedge of orange bignonla (Pyrostegia venusta). A stretch of lawn which doubles as a croquet venue leads to an Isabella Grape vine.
It is trees, those great survivors, that represent a continuity of history in the garden from the 1860s.
There is a Grevillea robusta and several old hoop pines (Araucaila cunninghamiq. Another hoop pine fell down but the stump is still there, covered with spider lilies and other ground covers. Snapdragons and liliums mark the ‘grave’ of an old fig tree that had to be cut down.
The large Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla) across the drive from the front door, featured in an 1889 photograph, was planted many years before. At the other end of the house stands one of the Douglas firs planted by J.P. Bell In the 1870s.
At the rear, near the old bluestone house, are many very old trees: Moreton Bay figs (Ficus macrophylla), a silky oak (Grevillea robusta), Jacaranda mimosifolia, and a Queensland Nut tree (Macadamia) planted at least 70 years ago by W.A. Russell.
The tennis court at the back north-west end of the garden is surrounded by old trees: Grevillea robusta, Jacaranda, Ficus, Araucaria cunnlnghamli and a very old white frangipanni that may be the same vintage as the old lagerstroemias by the drive (circa 1925 or older). There are Nandina, Russella, oleanders and liliums in the shelter of the trees. Nearly all the shrubs In the garden have been there for about 70 years. For the gardener, a long association with a garden can result in a special feeling for certain plants.
The back of the house is adorned with much colour. There is pink Antigonon, a bougainvillea planted by Mrs. WA. Russell in 1925.
Behind the back garden are a historical display in the old workshop and stables, the garden workshop, a garage, an aircraft hangar, and beyond – Jimbour’s airstrip.
The Millicent Russell Kitchen Garden
Garden lovers, prepare to be enthralled when you arrive at historic Jimbour House and make your way through the spectacular grounds to the Kitchen Garden.
This special feature has been designed in the classic style. Spread over 3,000 square metres, this garden adds to the historic ambience of the Jimbour experience and delivers its own surprises as well. So be sure to bring your camera!
Because of their isolation, early pioneers on rural properties were reliant on their own gardening skills for supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables. In recognition of the importance that the kitchen garden played in early rural life, the Russell family commissioned the development of this feature to complement the House and its landscaped surrounds. Concept drawings were prepared in early 2003 by garden consultant, Darryl Mappin, and the first works were carried out with the relocation of the mature Queensland bottle tree (Brachychiton rupestris) in August 2004. Some 600 cubic metres of black soil was introduced for the planting beds. Local timber was cut for the Cobb & Co fencing and poultry runs, and the paths were made from decomposed granite shipped from Brisbane. The gardens developed progressively over 2 years with the help of Jimbour’s gardening and station staff. Jimbour’s then head gardener Darryl Morris planted the first experimental crop in autumn 2005.
Laid out in a classical style, these gardens are farmed as organically as practical. All produce is used at the Cellar Door, house kitchen or by station staff. Any surplus material is fed to the garden’s poultry.
Many unusual heritage herbs and vegetables are seasonally grown, as well as cut flowers, cereal crops and corn. Depending on the time of year, delight in the sunflowers in bloom, criss-cross or moon and stars watermelons, giant, Turkish turban and butternut pumpkins; rockmelons; zucchinis; squash; cucumbers – the list goes on.
As you walk the gardens you will see old farming equipment and other objects from times past – reminders of the pioneers of yesteryear, the sweat and skills needed to settle this land and produce fresh produce for the kitchen.
Deborah Russell Garden
In 2009 the area between the House and the Bluestone Building was completely redesigned under the direction of Darryl Mappin. He wrote about the project in part with the following:
The space that separated Jimbour from the Bluestone building was a large unattractive utility area filled with clothes lines, parking spaces and the kitchen annex. Part of these restoration works was the development of a new garden. The structural restoration of the house and the development of the new garden was very much Deborah’s passion. Her brief for the new garden area was that it had to have historical context, be private, befit the house and existing gardens, be enjoyed both day and night and be built to last.
Jimbour is one of the most historically significant homesteads in Queensland and as such Deborah wanted some reference to the history of the property and its people to be represented within the garden.
Historical inspiration for the garden’s central feature came from the design on a tile that came from one of the original bathroom floors. This same tile design has also inspired the shape of the summer house recently constructed just outside the formal grounds on the south east corner of the formal garden.
Four flowering peach trees have been planted in the garden in reference to explorer Ludwig Leichhardt. He planted peach seed at his camp sites as he moved through unexplored Queensland. It is quite possible that some of the large stands of wild peaches that can be seen growing along creek banks outside Jimbour might have Leichhardt provenance.
The inclusion of three water features as part of the design reflected Charles Russell’s determination to drought-proof the property. During his time at Jimbour, Charles made many practical improvements to the property. He sunk bores and built numerous dams interconnected with a network of underground piping. This huge undertaking guaranteed that Jimbour would never run out of water. It is his foresight and commitment to drought proofing Jimbour that ensured the formal gardens and station enterprises survive today.
The Bells’ fortunes suffered when the payments under the mortgage secured by Jimbour were in arrears with the Queensland National Bank foreclosing and seizing the property and many of their possessions. The Bells left and the property fell into disrepair until it was taken over by Wilfred and Millicent Russell in 1923, starting the Russell family’s legacy with Jimbour. True to Deborah’s sense of irony, the two large capitol stones that sit in the water features at the eastern and western ends of the garden originate from the ruins of the ES& A Bank – not the bank that foreclosed on the Bells but it did sit over the road from the one that did. Built in the1870s and then demolished and dumped in the Brisbane River almost 100 years later in the 1970s, these capitols were retrieved from amongst mangroves. Now they have pride of place in her garden.
Eileen Quinn Courtyard
Wilfred and Millicent Russell’s daughter, Eileen, grew up at Jimbour. The area between the workshop, the former stables and the bluestone building has been converted into a formal courtyard and a Tabebuia palmeri (or pink Trumpet Tree) dedicated to her memory was planted by her daughter, Juliet McGuire in 2004. It is surrounded by four magnolias.
The dramatic annual flowering of the Tabebuia will be a fitting reflection of Eileen’s vibrant personality.
In landscaping, an avenue or allée is traditionally a straight route with a line of trees or large shrubs running along each, which is used, as their French sources aller (“to go”) and venir (“to come”) indicate, to emphasize the “coming to,” or arrival at a landscape or architectural feature. In most cases, the trees planted in an avenue will be all of the same species or cultivar, so as to give uniform appearance along the full length of the avenue. The French term allée is confined normally to avenues planted in parks and landscape gardens.
The death of two hoop pines inside the western boundary of the garden, coupled with the planting of an oleander hedge immediately outside the fence, created the opportunity to convert the immediate precincts of the fence into two allées bounded to the east by the tennis court (in the north) and the fig trees in the south western garden (in the south). New hoop pines have been planted outside the western boundary fence.