Weld class

A re­mark­able gar­den wired to sur­prise

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - LIFE -

Peter and Chelly Gray’s gar­den in Castle­maine, in Vic­to­ria’s gold­field coun­try, is as be­guil­ing as their wire-based art­works. Home, stu­dio, gallery and gar­den are all the prod­uct of their hands and hearts over the past two decades. And much of their work – in wire that is twisted, welded, sculpted and wo­ven – has a botan­i­cal theme.

Theirs is a ro­man­tic story. They met 27 years ago as fel­low stu­dents in a ce­ram­ics course in Bendigo; Peter was 21 and Chelly 19. Says Chelly: “We were best bud­dies from the start and within nine days we knew we were in love and told each other. We’ve been besties ever since.” The pair pi­o­neered art­works in rusty wire back in the ’90s and still work and de­sign to­gether, their styles com­ple­ment­ing each other.

They bought an 1860s miner’s cot­tage on half an acre in 1999, tak­ing three months off to re­store it. It had no floors, plumb­ing or wiring – every­thing had been stripped out. De­spite hav­ing no train­ing, they tack­led every­thing them­selves and “made it up as went along”. Over the years they’ve added stu­dio and gallery build­ings, and an­other for their fas­ci­nat­ing mu­seum of wire­work “kitchena­lia”.

Their long block slopes steeply up to the house, which over­looks Castle­maine. “We’ve done a lot of stonework to terrace the block into about six lev­els,” Peter ex­plains. Gravel paths wind through­out gen­er­ous gar­den beds – there is no lawn – dot­ted with rus­tic seats, pots, lit­tle ta­bles and old plant stands, some col­lected, some their own work.

The prop­erty had few trees so plant­ing started at the out­set, in­clud­ing sil­ver birch ( Be­tula pen­dula), red pear ( Pyrus ‘Red­spire’) and white mul­berry. “The gar­den was very im­por­tant to us, and we were in­spired by Edna Walling’s books,” says Peter. As the trees grew, the cou­ple grad­u­ally planted around them.

“We use old-fash­ioned ‘nanna’ plants that are tough,” says Chelly, who has learned to roll with the hot, dry sum­mers and cold win­ters of the re­gion. She de­scribes their soil as “half rock” – tree holes are dug with a crow­bar and pick. “I love aga­pan­thus, arum lilies and oys­ter plant – green sta­ples that are so tough and thickly massed, the weeds don’t get a chance.”

Suc­cu­lents fea­ture promi­nently. “I hated them as a kid and now I ab­so­lutely adore them,” Chelly laughs. “I love their shapes, their form, their colours, and the way you can just break off pieces and plant them.” Plants are scrounged from friends, rel­a­tives and throw-out days in Mel­bourne. “When I walk around

the gar­den each plant re­minds me of par­tic­u­lar peo­ple or places.”

Dur­ing the long drought, so many plants died that the Grays made over­sized metal flow­ers on stakes to fill the gaps. “That’s how it is for us. We make things for our­selves and then peo­ple like we what do,” Peter says.

Al­though they started with interior pieces, about 80 per cent of their work is now for out­doors, in­clud­ing chan­de­liers, can­de­labras, bowls, birds nests, mir­rors, signs and gar­den art. “We are very much in­spired by our gar­den and na­ture,” says Chelly.

And the busi­ness name, Shades of Gray? Don’t smirk – they thought of it more than 20 years ago, long be­fore that in­fa­mous book ap­peared.

Pho­tog­ra­phy Simon Grif­fiths

he­len Young

Send your ques­tions to: he­leny­oungtwig@gmail.com or He­len Young, PO Box 3098, Wil­loughby North, NSW 2068. Web­site: he­leny­oung.com.au. The best ques­tion for June wins a Ther­ma­cell Halo mos­quito re­pel­lent de­vice with re­fill pack, worth $106. The...

Rus­tic: metal chairs, flow­ers and art­works; the miner’s cot­tage

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