Elizabeth and Ranald Ferrier have created a garden oasis around their home in western Queensland.

Story By Louise Golden

Elizabeth and Ranald Ferrier were far from novices when they set about expanding the garden of their Roma district property “Comyndale” soon after moving there in 1963. They were both attuned from an early age to the trials of gardening in a harsh environment, but for these inspirational septuagenarians, continuing to meet the challenge has proven to be a precious, perennial pursuit.

From the time Elizabeth could hold a spade, she worked alongside her parents Ella and Guy Walker in their large garden at “Tomoo”, a sprawling mulga property further west at Mitchell. When she and Ranald married in the mid-1950s, the seeds of their shared gardening passion were sown at “Nareeten”, also near Roma. It’s this passion, morphed over time into a healthy obsession, which has sustained and inspired them, and seen the now 1.2-hectare Comyndale sanctuary evolve with them.

Bought by Ranald’s parents Gordon and Louie Ferrier in 1927, Comyndale was selected in 1876 by its namesake George Comyn, a government medical officer based in Roma. Elizabeth retained, where possible, Louie’s original plantings, which included “lots of roses and annuals” and other vestiges of her English heritage – jacarandas planted by Ranald’s parents survived until recently.

Part of Comyndale’s charm is its diverse botanical selection, a reflection of its owners’ cosmopolitan approach and readiness to nurture species sometimes considered incompatible to the Maranoa. It’s a successful formula, the result of which has prompted many a visitor to imagine they are anywhere other than western Queensland. Voluptuous plantings of philodendrons shield parts of the homestead and prosper amid mature native and exotic trees; inter-planted with cocos palms, bird of paradise and bougainvillea, they harbour a cool, sub-tropical atmosphere.

Vast sweeps of buffalo and kikuyu lawn recede to a large man-made lagoon, extended over the years to its current 30,000 cubic-metre capacity. Stocked with cod and yellow-belly when water levels allow, the lagoon area is a focal point. Its island is a forest of casuarinas, tipuanas, celtis, Dawson River callistemon and river red eucalyptus. Giant red river gums skirt the lagoon while celtic, coolabahs, leopard trees, silky oak and ghost-like lemon-scented gums shade the expansive front lawn.

About 10 years ago, a stretch of much-loved garden that featured along the front of the homestead was replaced with pavers to spare the building’s foundations. The pavers meld with a series of imaginative stone and brick walkways and retreats, including those made from antique bricks salvaged from the abandoned Cattle Creek settlement nearby. A former outstation of “Mt Abundance”, one of the district’s oldest properties in the latter half of the 19th century, Cattle Creek is said to have supported a school for 30–40 students, a post office, hotel, 14 homes and the brickworks.

This story excerpt is from Issue #64

Outback Magazine: April/May 2009