Wild and Wonderful Garden in the Blue Mountains


James Stein describes his garden in the NSW Blue Mountains as a constantly evolving artwork.

James Stein describes his garden in the NSW Blue Mountains as a constantly evolving artwork.

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As antiques dealer and gardener James Stein recalls, the first time he visited Mt Wilson in the NSW Blue Mountains “every green finger started twitching”. About two weeks after arriving in Sydney from WA he brought his wife, Annemie, and son, also James, up for a look around. “I’d always been a gardener, and when we lived in Perth I used to spend weekends looking after my mother’s cottage garden at York,” he recalls.

“But I was just bowled over by what I saw at Mount Wilson. It has the most wonderful volcanic soil, and because of the volcanic rock it’s perfectly drained. And we are blessed with water, both from the sky and the ground. We went down 40 metres and struck the most incredibly pure water.”

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Bewitched as he was, it was only a matter of time before James found a property to buy. In 1989 the Steins bought Wildenstein on a 12.5-acre (5-hectare) block and James had a giant canvas on which to build his dreams. “We inherited good bones from the previous owners, who had been there for 21 years,” he recalls. “The garden is a splendid mix.

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The natives include centuries-old eucalypts and Dicksonia ferns, spotting waratahs, little orchids that attract pigmy possums, and banksia. To that had been added exotics including sycamores, oaks, maples and conifers. I’ve actually culled hundreds of trees, because they were too close together. Tree maintenance is very important, especially of the eucalypts, because they provide the canopy under which everything else grows.”

Continuing the art world metaphor, James describes his role in the garden as “layering complexity”. “I’m particularly interested in seeking out rare shrubs and ornamentals,” he says. “Like a painting that you work on over a long period, it keeps evolving. The great reward is it seems to get better every year.”

James adds that one his favourite aspects of the garden is its progress through the seasons. Autumn, of course, is spectacular, with the deciduous trees turning and the bark of the Sango Kaku (Japanese maple) turning coral and the “starlet of the garden”, the Nyssa sylvatica, burning such an intense vermilion you need sunglasses to look at it. “Then the climbing hydrangea does its turn and as it goes to sleep the daphne comes on,” he says.

“So there is always something in bloom. In early spring it’s daffodils and then peonies like multi-faceted gems, dahlias and bearded iris, which I always think of as the drag queen of flowers. Then summer has a burst and we start all over again.”

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Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Ken Brass


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