The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on April 28, 1999 · Page 79
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The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia · Page 79

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Issue Date:
Wednesday, April 28, 1999
Page 79
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8 THE AGE 28 APRIL 1999 .French fefcffllnRSS Robert Cowell has lovingly created the flavor of France in an abandoned bakery, writes POLLYANNA SUTTON Robert Cowell has a magic touch when it comes to gardens. At Black Springs on the road to Beechworth, he has transformed an abandoned stone bakery on about two hectares of land into a French Provencal enclave, complete with a parterre garden and olive grove. It is inspiring how he has taken the colonial farm buildings, on an overgrown and rubble-filled landscape and turned them into something that could easily be in the French countryside. Along the stone walls are pots of lavender and red geraniums. Through the garden are pomegranate trees, roses and borders of box hedges. Cowell was well known in DOMAINHome tdiHH8HBBBBBBIJJ.MiJJlLil.UIJJJ.IJLlJJ.MMillljJI.liia Beechworth for his former cottage with its exuberant garden filled with silver birches, espaliered granny smiths and flowers. For many years he shared his garden through the Open Garden Scheme and also won the prestigious Garden of The Year tide in 1995. When the Department of Conservation called for tenders for the old bakery site, he looked at the elements and immediately saw potential. "Out here, it was more about the Australian landscape and creating a garden that took in that amazing view, but had a restful quality and fragrance," he says. The buildings and land had been closed off for many decades, and very few of the locals had ever been inside. Cowell says this is what preserved them in their original state and kept them from bad renovations in the 70s. When he arrived, the garden was in ruins but, in spite of the rubbish, it still had a great atmosphere. After the refuse was cleared, the old garden with its native plants began to emerge. He even found the original dunny building with its double seat down the end of the garden. Black Springs Bakery has an interesting history. It had been built by the Flynns in 1870 and operated as a bakery until 1942. The family, with 13 children, lived next door in a simple wooden miner's cottage. At one side of the stone bakery is a creeping Boston vine, which Mrs Flynn was given as a cutting by Baron Von Mueller, from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. There are three stone buildings on the land: the old bakery with street frontage, a barn that has been converted into accommodation and a stable that Cowell is slowly restoring for himself. He has retained original aesthetic of the buildings, with whitewashed walls and simple decoration. "If something happened and I had to move on in 10 years time, I am glad the buildings would still be essentially as they were," Cowell says. A wide wooden gate to one side of the bakery swings open on to a gravel driveway that leads up to the 19th century stone barn. Inside, Cowell has retained an old combustion stove and had a kitchen built with a thick pine draining board and a large white ceramic sink. The bedroom is in the old loft and double French doors open onto a rear paved courtyard overlooking the Australian bush at the back. At weekends, he opens the garden and bakery building to the public, spending two hours dressing the front windows and the nature strips with a myriad of plants. Inside the bakery he has a shop selling local furniture, beautiful turned wooden bowls with a limed finish and stacks of French soaps and bath products, including his own hand-made olive oil soap. In winter, Cowell lights a fire and spreads bunches of lavender on the floor so that, when people walk through, the scent is released in the air. He also offers self-contained accommodation for a couple in the 19th century stone barn. His eye for detail can also be seen in the way he has planted throughout the gardens, matching

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