From Rose Cottage to Casa Girasol: Growing a garden in Galicia

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From Rose Cottage to Casa Girasol: Growing a garden in Galicia
Photos: H Savage / Casa Girasol

From a well-tended rose garden in the Sydney suburbs to a neglected plot in rural Galicia, Heath Savage puts her green fingers to the test.


Our home back in Australia was named Rose Cottage when it was built in 1879. A magnificent hedge of pink, climbing, roses fronted the house, and tumbled over a white gate trellis, that we built to showcase the marvellous blooms. It was my pride, and my joy. People would stop as they passed, to admire it, and sometimes to pluck a bud.

An elderly lady arrived one Sunday afternoon while I was out tip-pruning, to ensure a second blooming. She was with her daughter, and shyly asked if she could look around the garden. She explained that she had grown up in our cottage, and was delighted to see the rose hedge flourishing as it had when she was a girl. 

Rose Cottage in Penrith, a subrub to the west of Sydney, Australia.

I gave her a tour of the garden I had planted at the rear; it was filled with ornamental climbers, olive trees, an apple tree, cascades of jasmine, as well as raised beds full of herbs, and a rockery planted with cacti and succulents (to give our resident Blue Tongued lizard a safe home). The lady remembered riding the old bicycle I showed her, which I had found in the tumble-down shed when we bought the house.

It was a wonderful experience, and I could see that she was happy that her childhood home, and garden, was being cherished once more, after decades as a neglected rental house. I looked at our modest cottage with renewed love and wonder.

Plaster mouldings in the interior were of intricate rose patterns. A glorious stained-glass window in the bathroom depicted a single red rose. I grew many roses in the front and back gardens: pinks, reds, yellows; and my pride and joy, a heavily-scented creamy white, which would fill the entire house with a heavenly perfume when cut and brought inside.

I was delighted to find that the gardens of our new home were also filled with roses, all in need of pruning, a drenching with my homemade anti-bug treatment, and a good feed. I brought them all back to life and we enjoyed a superb show this summer. I had to re-home many bushes, to the boundary fence, when I revamped the terrace garden at the front of the house, where, happily, they have flourished.

Naturally, we thought of calling our new home Casa de Rosas, but after some discussion we decided to name it something that reflected its aspect – south-east facing – bathed in sunlight from dawn to dusk. Sunflowers are Sarah’s favourite flower, so Casa Girasol was the obvious choice, confirmed when we jointly decided on the colour for both the exterior and some of the interior walls; sunflower yellow!

A friend appeared with two sunflower seedlings at the beginning of this summer. I planted them in one of the huge half-wine-barrels that are sunk into the terrace as raised beds, where I grow herbs for the garden. They quickly stretched and grew large, fluffy yellow manes that they turned each day as we slowly spun around the sun. Casa Girasol had her first girasoles!

I have many, many seeds to plant for next year, which will go into the ground a couple of weeks before the last spring frost. And when the summer sun shines on Casa Girasol in 2020, our sunflowers, and our new B&B business will, we hope, flourish.




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