Plant / Life

Jonathan West and Shauna Greyerbiehl

by Georgina Reid
Thursday 17th April 2014
We are so excited today to launch our very first GARDENS column, in collaboration with Sydney based landscape designer and founder of The Planthunter website, Georgina Reid!  Georgina will share a new garden with us once a month. We’ve been working closely to pull together a unique edit of creative outdoor spaces, kicking off today with this gorgeous, tiny family garden in Erskineville, Sydney. – Lucy

The Design Files x The Planthunter

The Sydney Garden of Jonathan West, Shauna Greyerbiehl and Family. The kauri pine doors with brass detailing form a lovely focal point from the house. The crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia ‘Natchez’) frames the space and will eventually provide a shade canopy. The shaggy plant on the back wall is a Grevillea ‘Moonlight’. The small tree to the right of the doors is a maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’) Photo – Daniel Shipp. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.

The Design Files x The Planthunter

A Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Trompenburg’) is underplanted by a clump of native flax lily (Dianella caerulea) framing the view towards the house and internal courtyard. PS. Nearly all the fixtures in the kitchen/living room were hand crafted by Jonathan. Photo – Daniel Shipp. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.

The Design Files x The Planthunter

The internal courtyard opens directly onto the very beautiful brass kitchen bench top. It features a wild collection of greenery including tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica), bamboo, jade plant (Crassula ovata), asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Meyersii’), begonias and plenty of other potted goodness! Photo – Daniel Shipp. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.


Jonathan and Shauna. Photo – Daniel Shipp. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.

This courtyard garden in Sydney’s inner west belongs to furniture design/maker Jonathan West, his wife Shauna Greyerbiehl and their four-year-old daughter Zora. Jonathan and Shauna bought the property in 2006 and lived in it for few years, ‘tinkering with it’ in Jonathan’s words before undertaking serious renovations in 2010.

They removed a bad 1970’s extension complete with mission brown tiles and choko vine and built a vast, high ceilinged living area and kitchen that opens up to both a lightwell/courtyard garden in the middle of the house and a larger courtyard at the rear. The house renovations were finished in 2013, and the pair started on the garden after that. It’s only a year old!

Integrating the landscape with the interior of the house was an important consideration in the planning. ‘The garden is a valuable part of the space,’ Jonathon says. ‘We wanted to be able to see greenery from all vistas, and we wanted the living and kitchen spaces to open up to the garden. Upstairs we put the windows all in a line so from the front of the house you can see the tree at the rear.’

With a house that opens up this much to the outdoors the garden takes on a hugely important visual role – if the garden looks a bit shoddy, the entire space is compromised. Thankfully, Jonathan and Shauna seem to have nailed the pared back and understated, yet slightly wild aesthetic. This evolved as an organic response to the site (and a shoestring budget!) rather than as part of a plan.

‘Basically, everything we have done in the garden has been a response to the site. We tried grass initially but it didn’t grow there’s not enough sun so we went with Dichondra (Kidney Weed, botanical name Dichondra repens). It has just evolved through trial and error. That’s what gardening is, right?”

‘When you build a house on a shoestring budget you are forced to use what you have. For example, the back gates are old kauri pine floor boards that I salvaged from an abandoned house (I also found a case of wine under the floor as I was pulling it up! The corks were all rotten and the wine was ruined, but it was pretty exciting at the time!). The boards had been eaten out by worms so I laminated them to some plywood and filled the holes with black epoxy. I just had them, we needed some gates, and they looked nice. It was very much about using what we had.”

Despite its size, the garden is a great playground for four year old Zora. ‘Being such a small space we were really keen to create something a bit wild and imaginative for her’, Jonathan says. ‘The concept of garden rooms is very difficult when you have a 20m2 backyard but there are definitely different zones in the garden for her to play in. Seeing a four year old respond to different feelings of privacy and openness in different areas of a garden is exciting. In that sense it’s doing exactly what we want it to do.’

The design and development of the garden is very much a partnership between Jonathan and Shauna. ‘We often have very different opinions about aspects of it, however I think that helps its ultimate direction. Being challenged on your opinion and needing to find a compromise forces you to think laterally. There’s no place for ego in the garden!’

The way Jonathan talks about the garden is very modest and unassuming but I don’t buy it! There is a lot of beauty in this tiny little garden, and that is no accident. Jonathan is a very talented man – as a craftsman who designs and makes custom timber furniture, his eye for detail and composition is obvious throughout the house and garden.

When asked what the biggest challenge in the creation of the garden was Jonathan says, ‘Shovelling 12 tonnes of dirt by hand. And patience! Patience is a challenge. But then that’s what gardening is all about. It sounds like a cliche but a garden is never finished. That’s what keeps me interested I guess.’

The Design Files x The Planthunter

The Japanese maple looks striking against the rough-rendered masonry wall. It’s underplanted with native flax lily (Dianella caerulea) and tussock grass (Poa labillardieri), another very tough native plant with fine, blue/green foliage. The dichondra forms a lush green carpet – It’s a great groundcover in warmer climates for semi shaded areas. Photo – Daniel Shipp. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.

The Design Files x The Planthunter

Four year old Zora playing in the garden. The gravel surface is decomposed granite, which is compacted to prevent weeds from popping up! Using gravel rather than paving or decking is a good way of creating soft, organic shapes in a garden. The grass in the foreground is a sedge grass (Carex spp.) and the blue one just behind the rock is a blue fescue (Festuca glauca). Photo – Daniel Shipp. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.

The Design Files x The Planthunter

Mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera) hanging about on a rock. In small spaces, design is very much about ensuring objects have both practical and aesthetic functions. The placement and scale of the rocks in this garden are a great example of this. Whilst looking very sculptural when viewed from the house, they are actually seats!Photo – Daniel Shipp. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.

The Design Files x The Planthunter

Timber stump used as a stool. Jonathan salvaged a couple of them from a neighbouring tree that was being cut down. A crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia ‘Natchez’ ) forms the focal point of the garden. Bluestone steppers wind through the garden to the rear gate, protecting the groundcover (Dichondra repens) from getting trampled! Photo – Daniel Shipp. Production – Lucy Feagins/The Design Files and Georgina Reid/The Planthunter.

by Georgina Reid
Thursday 17th April 2014


  • Cara 3 years ago

    What a gorgeous garden, inspirational for such a small space! It looks like the house is amazing too. Great new column!!

  • Chelsea 3 years ago

    It’s so beautiful! And now I need to figure out a way to get brass bench tops…

  • Kate 3 years ago

    So good to see this new offering. Love this small garden; the rock seats, the dichondra, the paving and other plantings. Great that the plants are named.

  • Emily 3 years ago

    I am so excited to see gardens as a feature! What a lovely, fluid, calm garden this is. I like that they adapted to use dichondra when the grass battled. It looks fab!

  • Cheekie 3 years ago

    Love this peaceful deceptively simple but serene garden and lil Zora

  • julia piggin 3 years ago

    Took me immediately into the world of the delightful children’s story ‘The Secret Garden’.

  • Cathy 3 years ago

    Beautiful garden. It is fantastic to see gardens included in The Design Files. For me, gardening can be about trial and error but there is nothing like the joy a garden can give – especially on a beautiful Autumn morning such as this .

  • Madeleine Stamer 3 years ago

    Oooh I LOVE this little secret garden. I wish it was a regular weekly feature! xo

  • mahani 3 years ago

    Yay! I am in need of garden inspiration, looking forward to these posts.

  • Amanda 3 years ago

    Wow – what a beautiful garden – congratulations to the owners for maximising a small space – it’s stunning.

    Is this a new feature? If so – I’m now looking forward to Thursday, garden day. Well done to the Design Files Team!

  • Ella 3 years ago

    I have only recently discovered the joy of gardening – and this post made me so happy. I look forward to more! Well done GR and TDF team.

  • Rohan 3 years ago

    Very cool. I love how all the solid grey walls and fences frame the lush green plantings.

    Great post idea!

  • yaani 3 years ago

    love the garden, who did the renovations?

  • Peter 3 years ago

    Fantastic! Both the garden and the new website section. I’ve been looking around for garden inspiration and haven’t found much yet so this is great.

  • Carla 3 years ago

    Wow such an inspirational garden. We are doing something very similar with the kidney weed and decomposed granite. I had a questions – how much of the kidney weed did you have to plant for it to have such great coverage? Did you compact the decomposed granite. Thanks in advanced.

  • Andy 3 years ago

    What a magical garden plot. May I please ask if the rendered walls have been painted as well? If so, what is the color please? I’m onto sample pot 6 & just can’t crack it! Many thanks

  • Rebecca 3 years ago

    oh my, a garden post every month… Love love love! (Thank you for reading my mind!)

  • whitney 3 years ago

    like a modern retelling of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “Secret Garden.” And I know we’re supposed to be focused on the garden, but those kitchen cabinets!!!

  • Jules Gardiner 3 years ago

    So inspiring! Thank you for sharing this! I live in Cape Town, South Africa. So lovely to find some inspiration for southern hemisphere gardening.

  • TheYellowDanceSpot 3 years ago

    Thank you for this wonderful new segment!

  • CJ 3 years ago

    Just love this post. Looking forward to seeing more of this column!

  • Paula 3 years ago

    Yay! I am of course so excited. Let me know if you are interested in some great public design projects. P x

  • Clare 3 years ago

    GREAT new column! And thankyou for featuring a small garden first! I know from personal experience how hard it is to make a little walled in garden look good, and not feel like a box!

  • Jen 3 years ago

    I love that gardens are getting featured on design files. And what a beauty this one is.

  • Emily 3 years ago

    lovely new series! such a perfect extension of what you already do. and, this garden is spectacular..really the perfect size.

  • Michelle 3 years ago

    Love this space. More small gardens please.!

  • john m 3 years ago

    thank you for this wonderful addition to tdf!

  • Bridget 3 years ago

    Ahhhh! Perfect new series. Looking forward to the next installment.

  • Leah 3 years ago

    Beautiful. Looking forward to more garden posts. And thank you for naming the plants!

  • Chris Dent 2 years ago

    This garden is just gorgeous – tiny but with imaginative and appealing spaces. Also love the look of the house. Could we be lucky enough to be shown some features of it one day?

  • Clair 2 years ago

    I love how the owners have created a beautiful natural play space for their daughter in such a tiny space. Is there any chance of a sneek peek into the home at some point. Jonathan’s craftsmanship is stunning- I love the combination of the brass benchtop and fine cabinetry combination with a view onto well thought and executed greenspaces. Homes of the mid-century craftsmen spring to mind.

  • thefolia 2 years ago

    Viva la garden…this is truly the ultimate secret garden. So inspiring…so calming. Happy Nesting.

  • aletheia 2 years ago

    compliments – that wonderful

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