My Garden

Soulful Gardening

When landscape designer Peter Shaw started planning his own garden on Victoria’s dramatic Surf Coast, he started with a single premise – to create a garden that belongs.

As creative director of Great Ocean Road Landscaping – a practice he runs with his wife, Simone – this soulful sensibility is central to all their work, but perhaps none more than at their own family garden named Sunnymeade.

Native Plant Project chats with Peter about this special space, his love of creating gardens that are right at home in their natural environment and his words of wisdom for starting your own…

Photography: Claire Takacs

“I feel a garden should belong. Belong with buildings, belong with the land and belong with the borrowed landscape, urban or natural…” 

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Photography: Will Salter, Claire Takacs, Harley Tribe

What has drawn you to the natural style of gardening and using native plants in your landscaping design work? 

To be honest, it’s all I have known. When I started, it was the place I worked and lived in and grew up in.  I used to think there was a superior garden world out there where gardeners used sophisticated plants, and they were the real proper gardeners. And here I was playing around with some dull old grasses and coastal shrubs.  As time went on, I realised what I leant from the beginning was the key to growing gardens by the sea and helping them belong. This information became the foundational landscape value in our work.

Describe your intent with creating your own garden, Sunnymeade…. 

Well.. the intent was to create a special place to live.. I suppose it was a rare mix of home the “homeowner bug” we all have to make the home a special place for the people who live there, myself, Simone and the four children. Naturally, I was drawn to working in the garden, we had resources at hand  (often leftover), and occasionally, we could swing a workforce of energy into the garden.  Then we have been lucky enough to have time in one place, which often brings out maturity in a landscape.

How would you describe your style, approach and philosophy to planning and designing gardens in your landscape practice? 

I feel a garden should belong. Belong with buildings, belong with the land and belong with the borrowed landscape, urban or natural. It doesn’t mean it should be benign, rather it can belong with a twist revealing something of its own personality.

“Apart from that, it’s good to remember that gardens are expected to accommodate many other things, some practical, like a clothesline and firewood storage and some fun like a zip line and treehouse…”

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Photography: Will Salter, Claire Takacs, Trishia Dixon.

What few words of advice would you give to gardeners preparing a coastal garden project? 

Don’t try too hard to be smarter than nature or work against what you probably fell in love with in the first place, a coastal location.  Work with what is at hand, use local plants first, try some others, and take notice of what is going on in the neighbourhood, the natural landscape and the dunes.

What are your favourite Australian native varieties you’d suggest gardeners should consider? 

Well, I love she oaks as trees (Allocasuarina verticillate and littoralis ). Many people don’t, but I do.  They can stand alone in a wind-swept environment.  If you ever wander through a landscape that is dominated by she oaks you will be captivated by the atmosphere they create.  Although as they mature, they will limit what can grow nearby so keep this in mind.

There are many other trees I am drawn to, however, some of my local eucalypts hold a special place for me. I feel at home when walking amongst the Ironbarks (Eucalyptus tricarpa) and Stringybarks (Eucalyptus ovata). We are lucky to have a range of midstory plants that grow under Eucalyptus trees like the Pomaderris, Spyridium and Prostatorrhea. They all make for good screening when it’s needed.

I also love Correa, many types, alba and reflexa are local to my part of the world, there are many more.  They are a great shrub to blend with other shrubs or together.  They can be clipped or left a little loose in there form.  The slender velvet bush (Lasiopetalum baueri)  is also a great local plant to my area. I can’t help but notice the number of Westringia (westringia fruticose and many others) in my garden at home, I am not sure how that happened, but there are many.  They are a great bulletproof plant that can be clipped and relied upon to fill a space and allow the more colourful plants to shine while they hold on to the background space.

I am a big fan of the Cousin it, a form of Casuarina, very similar to Allocasuarina.  As a groundcover or small shrub, it looks great and covers some ground with an interesting mounding growing habit, and it has a great name.

I can’t help but mention I love grasses, and they are so good in a garden.  They grow quick, move with the wind and change through the seasons. Some like Poa (Poa poiformis or labillardierei) will have a short growing period and need a hefty cut back (to the ground) to allow them to regenerate.  Others like Stipa or Spear grass (Stipa stipoides) will hold their own with a golden green tone for years on end.  With a little mention for Lomandra, Dianella and the glamorous  Doreanthus, not really grasses but fit into the strappy department.

“Don’t try too hard to be smarter than nature. Work with what is at hand, use local plants first, try some others, and take notice of what is going on in the neighbourhood and the natural landscape…”

What makes the Great Ocean Road area so special to you? 

Actually, the road is tricky in summer, and it can be dangerous.. it’s the landscape I love, off the main road up in the hills and tracks above the cliffs and down on the beach.  The landscape here is captivating, within a short walk or run from home I can be at Redrocks, and Point Addis, these beaches and coastal landscapes are often ‘people free’ in winter as far as the eye can see. The colours are rich with ochre, browns, reds and plants that are grey to green.

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Post Script:

Peter Shaw is the owner and creative director of Great Ocean Road Landscaping. His first book Soulscape: Connecting Gardens to Landscapes will be released in September via Melbourne Books.

It features 10 gardens along the world famous Great Ocean Road region of Victoria ranging from 35om2 to vast rural properties along the sea and amongst the wilderness, each unique yet all fitting within the natural environment.


Soulscapes: Connecting Gardens to Landscapes 

Great Ocean Road Landscaping