10 October 2022

Historic Merryville proudly opens historic gardens for Red Cross fundraiser

| Sally Hopman
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woman on verandah

Ning Clark on the verandah of historic Merryville Homestead which will host an open garden for the Red Cross on 23 October. Photos: Sally Hopman.

UPDATE: The Merryville Open Gardens has been cancelled due to the weather.

As a young woman growing up in the Philippines, Ning Clark knew three things for certain: there was only ever one season, if you grew vegetables you’d never go without – and gardening was hard work.

“We lived on the outskirts of the city,” she says. “One day my mum asked the people who had a big house nearby if she could grow vegetables in a part of that garden. That’s how we survived.

“I remember she’d ask me to go and get water for the garden and I’d have to carry it back in buckets. That was hard work.

“Then, years later, I came here.”

“Here” is historic Merryville Homestead, the circa 1903 bluestone nine-bedroom home built by legendary sheepman Sir Walter Merriman for his family, on 200 hectares between Murrumbateman and Yass.

French street sign in garden

A quirky piece of Paris on the other side of the world – at the historic Merryville Homestead garden at Yass.

She moved there in 2007 after marrying Rob Clark who she met in the Philippines. The Clark family has been at Merryville since the 1970s.

Ning still works hard. With Rob and son George, 20, they do most of the gardening and maintenance on the historic home and property’s cottages, run a B&B on site, and on the day Region visited, Ning was just about to help with the mustering.

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On the large property, which Merriman made famous for its fine wool, the Clarks welcome guests to their B&B as well as run fat lambs. When the bloke who slaughtered meat for the family left, Ning took it over. “I had been watching him for years and helping out so I knew I could do it.”

She can also fix the plumbing and do most other tasks around the farm. She has also learned much of its history and is keen to retain what works, including the original gravity-fed water tanks and red geranium that has grown in the same place for about 40 years.

Woman with flowers

Ning Clark shows off the red geranium, originally planted by the Merriman family, more than 40 years ago.

Quirky pieces of garden art, furniture, ancient farm tools and machinery are scattered across the vast gardens. French street signs, the wall of shelves carpeted with old bottles and jugs, and bits of machinery are sure to have a use – one day.

“We also have lots of gates everywhere,” Ning says. “Rob loves to collect them.”

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She shows off an outside meeting place with a huge fire pit in the centre and chairs and benches all around. “Rob put these old stoves at the back too,” Ning says, pointing to half a dozen old fuel stoves sitting behind the chairs.

The connection to the well-known Merriman family lives on too. When the grandson of Walter Merriman died, members of the family stayed at Merryville to celebrate his life. “It was wonderful they came here,” Ning says.

Old water tanks

These original water tanks on the historic Yass property, Merryville, are still in use today.

“It was very special for them. I have a lovely letter from Sir Walter’s granddaughter thanking us, saying how happy they were to be able to come here.”

But she’s also implemented her own visions, which stretch back to working in the vegetable garden in the Philippines. “It had always been my dream to have raised bluestone garden vegetable beds,” she says.

Ning will always be most at home in the garden. She concedes she’s unlikely to ever get on top of the weeding, but putting her touch on what goes in the ground remains her passion.

From her early days on the property when she discovered there were actually four seasons – and a particularly bracing one known as a Yass winter – she has been cultivating the garden.

Man and woman at historic garden.

Ning Clark with her son George enjoy the historic garden at Merryville.

From new trees in the nursery to cuttings from friends’ gardens to striking something interesting on the windowsill, she lives – and plants it.

She’s also passionate to welcome visitors to her home for a good cause.

Ning and Robert will open the Merryville gardens, 1143 Dog Trap Road, Yass, on Sunday, 23 October, from 10 am to 3 pm to raise money for Yass Red Cross. Tickets available at the gate for $10 each; under-16s free.

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