A remarkable garden wired to surprise
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.
Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org 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