Time to bulldoze and start again?

Like most creatives, I’m easily rattled.  And, frankly, I’ve come to love a good rattling.  

I love nothing more than being unglued by visiting a garden so different from mine that it makes me want to bulldoze mine and start again.  Granted, it’s uncomfortable.  If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be categorised as an ungluing.  And it’s always temporary.  But the result is (nearly) always life-giving.    Re-energizing.  It’s like painful exercise that leads to an endorphin rush.

January brought with it a few thorough rattlings.  Firstly there was the superb evening opening of Sunnymeade, Peter and Simone Shaws truly wonderful garden in Anglesea.  If you google it, you’ll find plenty written about it that doesn’t need to be repeated here.  Its major strengths are well documented – its playfulness, its clever use of space, those fabulous lawn mounds and irresistible tree houses.  But there’s other stuff going on.  There’s something magical about the fact that it feels considered, right to its very edges.  There’s not a square centimetre that feels like it has been overlooked.  It’s not at all over-thought.  It just feels like it is honoured and loved right to its corners.

That rattles me a little, as I feel like I’m destined to always have the crappy corners and neglected behind-the-shed bits in any garden I own. But this character trait of attention to every detail and to every corner as it emerges at Sunnymeade, is too richly genuine to do anything but lead you to humble admiration.

But its inherent creativity also feels so unforced.  It’s as if it’s the natural overflow from a family of truly creative spirits, rather than sweated over, or as if someone was ever stressing about having to dream up an original idea to outwork.

But what rattles me most about that garden, and has since my first visit to shoot Dream Gardens (Series 2 Ep 1 on iView if you want to chase it up), is what is achieved with a very simple palette of primarily woody plants.  I’m so seduced by the seasonality and flashiness of perennials, resulting in an addiction that I expect will survive the rest of my lifetime and may well infect the next, that I’m often pulled up short by sensitive and creative uses of evergreen, woody plants. 

Then a week later I visited Steve Wells’ garden.  I’ve long been aware of its brilliance from the many feature articles about it in mags, and from Steven’s own fabulous instagram feed.

As genius as this wall-inserted bench is, it’s the evergreen surrounding ground planting that made me rethink the wisdom of my constant use of deciduous plants in such settings at home

As a small apartment garden it is astonishing on many levels (which I want to save for future blog posts), but what rattled me was his fabulous use of a great diversity of evergreen plants.  Some of this was woody, but most on the ground layer, at least, was herbaceous – but evergreen herbaceous, including succulents, lomandra, and billbergia.  It made me really wonder why I give so much space to deciduous herbaceous perennials, rendering large areas of my garden dormant for too many months of the year.

An admittedly terrible and unconvincing pic of a very convincing bit of low maintenance, ever present and interestingly textural planting

Yes, I know (I told myself) that my frosty climate precludes nearly all of what Steven uses (even the Lomandra confertifolia carks it up here in sub-Siberian Woodend), and yes, I know that this kind of planting is rather less seasonal than my preference (offset against the imperative, in a really small garden like Steven’s, to find permanent and permanently evident planting solutions for every pocket and corner), but I couldn’t help but think that there was something going on in his planting that I should really learn from – that I’m stupid not to learn from.

Yep.  I love a good rattling.

What gardens have you visited that make you want to start over, or question the value of every gardening decision you’ve made so far?

Follow Peter Shaw’s work on insta – @oceanroadlandscaping, and Steven’s @stevenwellsthegardener


  1. Cloudehill in Victoria ruined me 🙂

    1. What was it, do you think, that made you come unstuck?

  2. Michael, gosh I feel like I know myself a bit better now – I have so many crises of confidence that I take too much to heart. You’ve named it now I can tame it😊👏👏

    1. glad to have been of assistance!

  3. A wander through Fiona Brockhoff’s Sorrento garden a few summers ago was big for me. It’s strong sense of place, and its beauty, underpinned by what felt like humility, has stayed with me.

    1. Yeah, FB does that do me regularly. Yes, humility. Creativity without any ‘look at me’.

  4. As always Michael I do enjoy reading about how you view and interact with gardens. And I’m happily intrigued that while visiting mine it gave you a rattling. I think visiting gardens is a wonderful thing to do for that reason. I know for me, that seeing how other people create, plant and live in their gardens is always an opportunity to challenge and inspire me. I look forward to reading more about it in your future posts. Thanks for visiting.

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