Sue and John Zwar’s garden in the Coonawarra wine country of South Australia started as a simple affair until Sue fell in love with heritage roses.

Story By Jo Fincham

The plan was to keep things simple in the garden on “Camawald” in South Australia’s Coonawarra wine country. After all, what could possibly compete with the majestic 500-year-old red gums that had captivated owners Sue and John Zwar from the moment they first saw them? 

In the late 1970s, the couple fenced off a two-hectare block now fringed with vineyards and paddocks, planting a few trees and shrubs around their new home. The grevilleas and hakeas were doing well thanks to truckloads of sand brought in to improve drainage in the limestone and clay-rich soils, and a golden elm, liquidambars and a favourite deciduous swamp cypress added new lushness to the landscape. The Zwars spent around a decade revelling in this simplicity while John also worked as a deputy principal at nearby Penola High School. Sue gave up her own teaching career to run the farm and raise daughters Carolyn and Joanna, but a visit to a neighbouring property made things a little more complicated; she fell in love with its old heritage roses and began to plant some of her own. Today, more than 1000 can be found across four hectares of garden.
“She’s just a fanatic!” John says. Sue has joined the Rose Society of South Australia and the Heritage Roses New Zealand, and she and John organised the 2012 national conference for Heritage Roses in Australia (held in Mount Gambier in November).
“I could list 100 favourites – they are just exquisite; the fragrance, the colour, and the old gallicas like Cardinal de Richelieu and the rich and decadent Charles de Mills are just lovely,” she says. “But then there are beautiful roses such as Rosa brunonii and R. dupontii, which have delicate single white blooms. And, of course, there’s the repeat-flowering Japanese and Chinese rugosas with their lovely autumn foliage – I’m besotted with them all.”
Sue says the appeal of some of the old varieties lies in their simplicity; single, spring-flowering blooms that don’t need pruning or spraying. It also helps that the local bird life isn’t overly keen on them. “Parrots eat modern hybrid teas and floribundas but they don’t seem to like eating old roses, which is another reason to grow heritage varieties,” Sue says. Rabbits and possums are a problem, and a potent mix of wasabi paste and water sprayed on the rose bushes helps a little.

This story excerpt is from Issue #80

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2012