Fairie Nielsen’s Tasmanian garden is a wonderful moveable feast of rare conifers, gum trees and rhododendrons fed by maritime rain, soil and passion.
Story By Trisha Dixon
Rudyard Kipling wrote that “gardens are not made by singing, ‘Oh how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.” The truism couldn’t be more apt for describing Fairie Nielsen and her garden near Burnie in Tasmania.
Visiting Fairie Nielsen at “Pigeon Hill” is unlike visiting any other gardener – nothing can prepare you for the experience. Tales of Fairie tying herself by ropes to trees and lowering herself down into gullies to plant and weed are part of the folklore woven around Pigeon Hill … along with the ‘moving fences’.
For Fairie, it all started 57 years ago when she married Danny Nielsen, a Danish mining engineer with a love of the forests and landscape of Tasmania, fly fishing and building structures that last.
After transforming their cottage into a wonderful home for their two children, Peter and Katrina, they set about planting their first garden. A dozen rhododendrons from her mother for her birthday were followed by many more gifts of trees and shrubs.
Fairie feels she must have had an inordinate number of birthdays in those years as more and more plants were generously given and planted until the main garden became overcrowded and she started looking over the fence.
With a great deal of energy and optimism – and with a fern hook in hand, Fairie investigated a gully, slashing her way through the undercover to find a creek. Later, a waterfall and another gully were also discovered. Deciding this would be the perfect place to plant conifers, oaks, ash, birch, beech and other trees, Fairie extended the garden’s boundary.
“I persuaded my long-suffering son to move the fence,” she says. “I thought [it would be] a Saturday afternoon’s job. It took the whole of the September school holidays – it rained every day – and not only did we move the fence and the concrete posts with the aid of a hoist on the back of the tractor, we managed to dig up most of the drive and all the water system. Great was the mess but out of chaos comes order in time, and eventually a new fence was put up.”
Another fence was taken out along the road (to balance the garden) and Peter asked if this was perhaps enough. “But of course it wasn’t and in the end I was going clip, clip, clip down into the gully,” Fairie says. “And of course, once started, there was no stopping. So now I’ve got two gullies and I could go on forever.”
Fifty years down the track and the fence is on the move once more. This was hardly a surprise to Peter who simply said, “I don’t know why you’ve taken this long – you’ve moved every other fence on the property.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #66
Outback Magazine: Aug/Sept 2009