Dream Domain, Blue Mountains Life, August-September 2011

Explore Marilyn Pride and Lewis Morley's Totoro garden in Linden

STEP into Totoro and be transported into Marilyn Pride’s fantasy world, a world where medieval meets prehistory and modern environmental technology meets age-old permaculture methods.
The overall effect of the Linden house and garden is fantastical, but it’s the details which really set the scene. The pinnacle is the rooftop garden.

Marilyn and partner Lewis Morley have worked as model-makers for many fantasy, horror and sci-fi films including Razorback, Dark City, Matrix 2 and 3 and Superman Returns. Their work has meant that Marilyn has been able to literally live in her own dream world, a multi-layered dimension she calls the Red World.

In fact, Marilyn and Lewis, their home and garden, work and private fantasy world are intertwined.

The couple bought the 42ha property backing onto bush in 1991 and moved into their carefully planned mud brick home in 1993.
From the start, Marilyn planned to make her dream world a reality. While there are no dinosaurs, giant sloths or rustic cities nearby, Totoro’s blend of fantasy and the natural world does exude the atmosphere of Marilyn’s Red World.

That world can be seen in her illustrations in her award-winning non-fiction books Australian Dinosaurs and Their Relatives and More Australian Dinosaurs as well as numerous fantasy book covers.

Indoors, the home is scattered with reminders of the couple’s work, their characters and passions evident wherever you look, from the menagerie of small dogs which greet visitors excitedly at the door to the Dark Crystal-inspired wood carved bedhead, fairy lights entwined in old wisteria vine in the living room and kitchen and the Razorback head hanging on the wall.
``The little kids around here call our place The Linden Museum,’’ Marilyn says. ``Every now and again a group of them will show up with a few who we don’t know, asking if they can show their friends around.’’
Outdoors is the realisation of Red World, an extension of the natural, prehistoric and medieval worlds.
``I love the middle ages, environmental, art nouveau, natural history and fantasy periods. I’m also interested in the bronze and iron ages and the Tudor and Elizabethan periods and after that, I’m not. I’m not a modernist at all.
``Some people have classed this house as twentieth century organic.
``At times I have tried to follow what they did in the middle ages, but it’s just not practicable to do so in many ways, so I just use elements of that time.’’
One element is the low wicker and vine fences to keep the small dogs off the garden. ``When I prune a tree I just grab the sticks and put them in the ground and make my own small fences to keep the dogs off the gardens.’’
Then there are the salvaged bits and bobs – old bird cages and baskets, laundry tubs used for growing water chestnuts and veggies, and a penny farthing bicycle sculptured by Marilyn’s father Alan.
Like gardens throughout the ages, many of the plants are edible: black kale, potatoes, tea herbs and late tomatoes, medlar fruit, figs, Jerusalem artichokes and chokoes, Akon, arrowroot, raspberries, pepinos, pomegranate and kiwi fruit.
``I’m a very basic cook, so we do a lot of steaming and stir fries. You can roast some things. I tend to like eating more than cooking.’’
But plants are not just chosen for food. ``I always go for scent, food and flowers,’’ Marilyn says. ``I like to be able to make tea out of things, medicine or eat them.
``You could be nearly self-sufficient if you put a lot of work into it. We do grow all our own leafy greens, though – french sorrel, lettuce, Greek spinach, silver beet.’’
Many of the plants are self-sown, like the paw paw, pea plant, parsley and bush spinach.
``If things come up I tend to just leave them, like the tomatoes which have come up in the flower garden and you don’t have to put a huge amount of time into it if things are managing themselves.
``I don’t buy mulch. I just get people’s grass clippings and if I cut pieces off things I just drop them on the ground.’’
A new favourite for spot colour is ornamental salvias. Another prize is the scented jessamine tree arch over one of the meandering paths criss-crossing their way through the garden.
``Once you’ve got your basic structure down and your soil built up, you can grow a lot in a small area,’’ Marilyn says.
Another love is the easy maintenance red and yellow tamarillo trees which dot the property.
As well as the chook pen, Totoro also has a pond at the backdoor which is home to frogs.
The garden atop the roof is very different, with nasturtiums, succulents, lilies and grasses covering the 6” of soil and waterproofing material underfoot and surrounding the solar panels and a solar-powered hot water system.
``I wanted a thatched house but you can’t have that here because of the bushfire risk,’’ Marilyn says. ``I then wanted an underground house but they tend to leak. So I went with an earth roof.
``I would like to have a lot more vines, I’d like vines over everything and a lot more feature plants on the rooftop but we can’t. We are limited here a bit because of the fire hazard.’’
One might think a rooftop garden would be high maintenance. However, it survives on natural rainfall alone.
``Someone asked me at Christmas time if I’d sprayed the roof with Roundup, it was that dry. It looked like a desert but I knew that once the weather cooled down a bit it would pick up and it did, so I didn’t worry about it.’’
 

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