Nancy and Ted Shaw moved into an existing house in Bayview Heights in 2001 and have transformed their 0.4-hectare (1-acre) triangular corner block into a horticultural mosaic of garden types. The apex of this triangle sits up the hill behind the renovated house, visually holding the cascade of steep slopes that yield at the front to Pittwater views through the neighbouring trees.
The Northern Beaches district group of the Australian Plants Society visited Nancy and Ted’s garden in April 2016. We concentrated on the front garden of Australian plants. What was once a jungle of bracken, Pittosporum and morning glory had been cleared using a backhoe and labour.
The existing turpentine, rough-barked eucalypt, smooth white bark eucalypt and Angophora were retained. Ted replaced the bamboo that ran down the long street-side boundary with lilly pillies, which screen out noise and create visual privacy. On the other side of the property, along the boundary with the only neighbours, the land drops away steeply. Local soil from a building site was imported to create a bed on top of the rock, giving it elevation and drainage. Additionally, an excavation has concealed large water tanks under a very steep driveway.
A mixture of nature and artifice seamlessly form the beauty of the front garden. Plants that survived the 2001 clearance and regenerated species include common northern Sydney bushland species, such as angle grass and Xanthorrhoea. Ted neither discourages nor encourages the various grasses, but cleared vegetation off the Xanthorrhoea to give them more light.
Ground covers include native violets, Craspedia, Zieria and Brachyscome. Ted planted a grove of the low and graceful Lomandra tanika so that traffic can see around the blind corner. An added benefit of this grass is that it doesn’t need pruning to size.
Plants from prior 2001 include Persoonia pinifolia, Callytris rhomboida pruned to shape and height, and the prolific orchid Cryptoctylis erecta which can be potted up to produce an erect spike. Plantings post 2001 include a single specimen of a blue-green Queensland xanthorrhoea, Crowea and Grevillea. We saw a profusion of rich orange banksia flowers, a single Patersonia longifolia flower and an acacia overflowing with bloom in the centre of the garden. This has tentatively been identified as the South Australian Acacia imbricata.
Ferns on rocks form repeat motifs, as do Melaleuca hypericifolia and low-lying acacias. The provenance of the acacias with soft yellow puffy flowers is via propagation of a species from a local headland, while a Cymbidium suave orchid was growing naturally in a tree stump presented to Ted and Nancy by a local tree-lopper.
Visual design features are used in the garden, such as growing a plant in the folds of a sculptural stump or growing a vine through a low banksia. Dendrobium speciosum orchids are grown on sandstone floaters, their roots anchored by small rocks. The photo shows a well-established specimen, while many more have only recently been created.
The motif is continued on a smaller scale around the grandchildren’s ‘fairy ring’. Pathways are wide with gentle inclines. Maintenance includes mulching the garden beds from huge piles that are delivered, pruning plants of all sizes (kangaroo paws, Baeckea virgata and the lilly pillies), fertilising the Dendrobium and spraying the orchids for pests. We heard about the ticks, saw a bee ‘hotel’ and few weeds.
Behind and beside the house everything except for the large trees has been planted, including a large lawn and wired in kitchen gardens. In April these produce beans, capsicum, and huge passion fruits.
Structures existing prior 2001 were re-purposed; the chook house and run now form the orchid shade house. The large angophora in the centre of the lawn draws a lot of nutrients so it is difficult to grow plants beneath it.
Nancy and Ted also cultivate an extensive nursery of potted plants, including an impressive succulent collection. Nancy works in an undercover propagation area where she propagates mainly bought tropical and cottage plants.
The tropical garden adjacent to the driveway on the western side is, in contrast to the front garden, dark and more mysterious. Numerous species grow here such as blue ginger and many ferns, which intertwine with dense and taller plants. Sections are quite steep and water seeps from the rocks higher up. The tropical theme reflects the natural rainforest area across the road.
Our group left Nancy and Ted’s place after they generously gave us three hours of their time during which we saw thousands of plants and took the cake, tea and cuttings kindly offered. We kicked on with lunch at a Bayview marina. Thanks to our member Penny Hunstead for organising a great day.