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A Serendipitous Garden From Two Lifetime Gardeners

Gardens

John and Jenny Shaw are lifelong gardeners, and their half acre plot in Woodend is an expression of their lives. Planted without reason or design, it’s a rambling and intuitive space that resists construction. Even defintion. There’s a mannagum tree over 300 years old, beside random plants gifted to John and Jenny by friends. John describes it as a ‘serendipitous’ place, a lived-in garden filled with tokens of the couple’s near 50-year stewardship of the property.

This space of cultivated landscape has seen John and Jenny’s children grow from infants to adults, even hosting one of their weddings decades later. Their son, Ben Shaw, has gone into a career in permaculture – no doubt inspired by a childhood spent soaking up this loving family garden. 

It’s a very special place.

3rd September, 2021

John and Jenny Shaw’s garden spills onto the street into a ‘verge garden’ on the nature strip, a 30 metre stretch of productive garden beds that neighbours and passers-by are free to take from. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

John and Jenny’s verge garden is a celebrated part of the local community. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

John tending to his beloved verge garden. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

John tending to his beloved verge garden. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

John caring for their garden. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

The abundance of John and Jenny’s verge garden. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

One of the four oak trees dotted around the garden that date back to the First World War. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Lawn, veggie gardens and oak canopy make for wall-to-wall greenery. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

John and Jenny have lived in this house for 50 years, about the half of its existence. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

John and Jenny Shaw. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Before it was residential, John believes the property was a farmlet. In the 70s, the pair ran a restaurant from their kitchen for private functions. There is an aura of gathering and sharing at this place. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

‘Growing up in this place has had an impact on the kids,’ says John of his sons. One was married in the yard and another is Ben Shaw, permaculture expert on the Victorian surf coast. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

The ancient plantings are complemented by new plants and flowers that John and Jenny have added over the years: camellias, ash trees, productive veggie beds, 30 rhododendrons, peach, apricot, apple trees and hazelnuts. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Glimpses of house can constantly be caught throughout the garden. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

A meditative moment. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Sometimes people gift the couple plants, which they happily incorporate into the garden. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

The personality of this garden is a mixture of wildness and loving maintenance. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Jenny stopping and smelling the roses! Photo – Marnie Hawson.

John tending to the beds at the base of the mannagum tree. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

John estimates that the stately mannagum is around 400 years old. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

A sublime yet intimate vista. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Snow pea tendrils ready to eat. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

As well as decorative elements, the garden provides produce for the family. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Drooping lilac-hued flowers. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Pops of energetic colour sprout in dazzling layers. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

The place has an unintentional meadow-style feel. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Sasha Gattermayr
Friday 3rd September 2021

‘Growing up in this place has had an impact on the kids.’ – John Shaw

John and Jenny Shaw have been living on this property in Woodend for 50 years, around half the time there’s been a house on it. The residence dates back to the first World War, and some of the flora has been there even longer. 

There are three oak trees dating back a century, and a stately mannagum that John estimates is 300-400 years old. These ancient trees are complemented by new plants and flowers that John and Jenny have added over the years: camellias, ash trees, productive veggie beds, 30 rhododendrons, peach, apricot, apple trees and hazelnuts that refuse to bloom. Sometimes people gift them specimens, which the pair incorporate into the existing space. 

It’s an intuitive garden – serviced by a large composting system – that has evolved with the whims of its owners. 

In the ‘70s, the pair ran the house as an event-space for private functions, putting the Federation-era wine cellar to use and serving retro menus from their own kitchen. The house was filled with people and conversation – it was a place for gathering and meeting new neighbours, who dined amongst the Shaw’s family life. 

‘Growing up in this place has had an impact on the kids,’ says John of his sons. One was married in the yard and another is Ben Shaw, permaculture expert on the Victorian surf coast. 

This culture of sharing has even impacted the evolution of the garden. There is no real fence at the rear, meaning the Shaw’s garden spills into the neighbour’s land – an arrangement that suits them both perfectly. He describes the sprawling vista from his window as 100 metres of ‘combined garden’ that stretches out to the neighbouring house. 

‘We don’t have a conventional two metre wooden fence, which gives me an extra 30-40 metres of the other people’s garden,’ says John. ‘And likewise with them, they have the benefit of our garden. It gives a sense of space.’

This notion of non-proprietal gardening underpins another key part of John’s plot: the verge garden. 

A verge garden is a shared productive garden cultivated on a lawn or nature strip, from which passers-by can collect fruits, vegetables and herbs as they please. The verge garden is protected by an unspoken contract between neighbours: trust that no one will pilfer or destroy it. This public part of the garden planted and maintained by John and hedged by hay bales is potentially his favourite piece of land, stretching up to 30m long beside the road outside his house.

‘The more that people could do that the better,’ says John of the community space. ‘If it’s treated with respect, it does something for people’s sense of equanimity or safety, that they’re living in an area where someone can do something like that and it will be respected. It’s a rather nebulous idea. It has a benefit that is not quantifiable.’

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First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net