Live by the sea? How to create a thriving, low-maintenance garden

Peter Shaw knows all about the perils of salty winds and sandy soils and if he had to give one piece of advice for those new to gardening by the sea it would be to keep it simple.

After 30 years living in Anglesea and almost as many making coastal gardens for a living, Shaw says he has come to realise just how many plants are a no-go by the sea. The first thing coastal gardeners need to think about, the garden designer writes in his new book, Soulscape: connecting gardens to landscape, is not what they like but what will grow.

Peter Shaw’s home garden in Anglesea, as seen from the footpathCredit:Claire Takacs

Shaw – who together with his wife, Simone, set up Ocean Road Landscaping in 1995 – has included 10 of his gardens in the book and says he wanted each to feel like it belongs in this landscape of wind-whipped heathlands, dunes, clay cliffs or tree-filled gullies.

Muted colours, rock and gravel mulches, repetition and plants “that just work” can be seen in all of them. Over the phone Shaw says he considers “super-tough” plants – rhagodias, correas and lomandras, for example – to be “the pillars” of a garden. “And then you can start to play with the edges.”

His own home garden has lots of playing around the edges. It’s the sort of garden that stops people on the footpath outside, for Shaw is a master at juxtaposition. He likes to pair grey and silver foliage with high-key colour and the laid-back with the orderly.

Clipped shrubs below a Stringybark in Shaw’s home garden.

Clipped shrubs below a Stringybark in Shaw’s home garden.Credit:The Design Files – Caitlin Mills

Many of his plants are everyday seaside fare but they are trimmed and trained in striking ways. The place is also spiked with unexpected flourishes like intense-red blood lilies, magenta-flowered bougainvillea and – most dramatic of all – emerald-green lawn mounds.

Shaw walking above the cliffs east of Anglesea.

Shaw walking above the cliffs east of Anglesea.Credit:Harley Tribe

Native grasses weep over the edges of paths, shrubs are arranged in clusters and there’s barely a straight line in sight. But messy tangles there are not. Shaw creates distinct layers and a careful balance of mass and void. Everything has a place. The mature stringybarks that first drew the Shaws to the property are pruned to highlight their twisting trunks and, while some plants billow in the wind, many others are tightly clipped.

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