Situated on one of the highest points of the now World Heritage listed greater Blue Mountains, Leura in the 1930s was just starting to come into its own as a Blue Mountains hill station. Like the already established Mount Wilson, it offered the wealthy the opportunity to develop large-scale weekenders with elaborate cold climate gardens reminiscent of those in Europe. Unlike Mount Wilson, it was accessible by rail.
The idea of building such a property became attractive to Henri Van de Velde, as he watched the completion of Dean’s Park (a 1920s Leura garden now gone) for his colleague R J Wilson. The garden was designed by the Danish horticulturalist and landscape designer, Paul Sorensen who, by that time, had established a prestigious clientele and was much in demand as a creator of carefully detailed small designs, particularly the highly regarded 1929 garden Cheppen 2.
Encouraged by Wilson’s enthusiasm, Van de Velde began to look for a suitable site. The land which caught his imagination was 13 acres of steeply sloping ground on the edge of a ridge looking across the Jamison Valley to Mount Cloudmaker, the Kanangra Walls and Mount Solitary. On its western side, the land fell away sharply to the Gordon Falls. Known as Everglades, it had been owned by a Mrs Stonier who had planted eight acres of orchard and built a small weatherboard cottage on the higher, less steep slopes. The site had been ravaged by bushfires in 1910 and little remained, save its spectacular view. Van de Velde saw the potential of Everglades, and could afford to tackle the challenges.
Although the scale of Everglades was far greater than any of Sorensen’s previous designs, Van de Velde recognised in him someone who, like himself, could ‘think big’. Their collaboration, where Van de Velde’s enthusiasm for the energy of the new Modernism was blended with Sorensen’s mix of skills and sensitivity to the site, was the start of a partnership which created one of Australia’s best-loved and most significant gardens.