Plant/Life: Peter Shaw

One day around fifteen years ago, Peter Shaw and his wife Simone were walking the streets of Anglesea, a small town on the surf coast of Victoria. With one child in the pram and another on the way, the pair decided they were ready to put down roots. They stopped in front of a house block with a fallen down For Sale sign, and a cluster of incredible old stringy bark trees in the front yard. Peter and Simone climbed the biggest of the trees and decided then and there that they’d found their home.

The garden is dominated by a couple of magnificent stringybark trees (Eucalyptus obliqua) – Image by Caitlin Mills

Two more children and many years later, the Shaw family lives in a weathered timber house right down the back of the block, and the stringybarks (Eucalyptus obliqua) take pride of place in an incredibly beautiful and sculptural front yard. The house and garden have evolved over the years to both reflect and shelter the Shaw family as they too grow and change.

Peter and Simone are in the business of gardens. They run Ocean Road Landscaping – a landscape design and construction business specialising in creating environmentally sensitive residential gardens. Their home garden embodies this approach.

It’s a gentle, sculptural, and grounded space with a strong connection to the coastal bush landscape around it.

Landscape architects Jim Sinatra and Finn Murphy of Sinatra Murphy were originally engaged to do a concept plan for the garden. “They came out for the day, did all the design on the ground, then went away and sent back a basic concept plan the following day,” Peter tells me. “We started off with their plan but it’s nothing like what we ended up with now, which is the way it goes.”

The mounded lawn (planted with buffalo grass) is a recent addition to the garden – Image by Caitlin Mills

Under the guiding hand of the Sinatra Murphy concept plan, Peter and Simone have tinkered on the garden for many years. Some things have stayed the same, like the meandering pathway to the entrance of the house, and the living screen forming an axis through the front garden, and others have changed – particularly the incredible sculptural lawn.

The lawn is a relatively recent addition, and a real family effort. Everyone – from Peter and Simone’s children, staff members and friends – had opinions on how it should look, according to Peter. Eventually they decided on a design and the family got building. “It was lovely having the kids with rakes and tools helping to sculpt and shape the lawn,” Peter says.

I wonder about the maintenance involved in keeping such a sculpted lawn looking sculptural. Peter reckons it’s not too bad.

We mow it with a whipper snipper. It’s a bit more work than a normal lawn but that’s the thing about art – you have to be committed to it,” he says.

The plants surrounding the lawn and trees are the toughest of the tough. They’re mostly native species like westringia, lomandra, tussock grass and others. “They may not be the most exciting plants but they’re survivors,” Peter tells me. “To get anything to grow under the gums is almost impossible because it’s dry and shady. Around 90% of the plants I’ve used in the garden are bulletproof. The rest are a bit more experimental.”

Peter and Simone Shaw’s garden is always evolving. “I’ve pulled a lot out since the photos were taken,” Peter tells me. “I’m about to plant more of what’s working. I’m sticking with the clipped, rounded shapes as they seem to look right for the setting. I like the way they contrast with the wild gums and grasses. They stand out, but not too much.”

Framed by the incredible beauty of the old stringybark trees, this garden is sensitive, grounded and incredibly beautiful. It’s watched over Peter and Simone’s growing family as they’ve built tree houses, played games, and more. It’ll be the backdrop, and also the stage, of much, much more of the Shaw family’s evolution and growth. A garden is a real gift.

This story is part of our monthly gardens collaboration with The Design Files. All images by Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

A low water bowl surrounded by washed out timber stools forms one of the many nooks within the garden – Image by Caitlin Mills
An incredibly organised wood pile! – Image by Caitlin Mills
Peter Shaw in his Anglesea garden – Image by Caitlin Mills
Strawberry plants in the Shaw family garden – Image by Caitlin Mills
The stringbark trees are the perfect size and shape for serious tree house construction! – Image by Caitlin Mills
“There’s a lot going on in our garden,” Peter tells me. “There’s so many things to look at. Whilst it’s soothing, it’s also a bit overwhelming sometimes.” – Image by Caitlin Mills