A new way of living in retirement created a beautiful garden project

Sheryl in her garden Pics Serena Kirby
Sheryl in her garden Pics Serena Kirby

When you’ve worked hard all your life, retirement can lead to a whole different way of living. And, if that work involved running a large farm, retirement can mean selling your family home and moving elsewhere.

For Sheryl and John Shaylor the decision to sell their farm in Katanning was one they’d had in the pipeline for a long time. But the retirement plan was brought forward after their son passed away in 2002.

“After Stuart died, I couldn’t wait to get away from the farm,” Sheryl said.

“Selling up also released us from the huge workload that lay ahead as Stuart had worked on the farm with us. We were definitely physically and mentally ready for a life change. I’d been heavily involved in the Katanning community and felt I’d given all I could, so I was looking forward to another chapter. And that’s what I call retirement – the next chapter.”

That ‘next chapter’ took the form of a neglected two acre property located at Albany’s Emu Point. The house needed major renovation and the surrounding grounds were a hotchpotch of untamed vegetation and random garden beds. But Sheryl didn’t see that. What she saw was the lake and endless possibilities.

The lake and its endless possibilities
The lake and its endless possibilities Pic by Serena Kirby

“We put an offer in straight away and I drew up the garden plan before we even moved in. It felt pretty damn good when it came time to move.”

Sheryl was no novice at creating gardens having worked as a garden designer on and off for many years. She’d also taken groups on tours of overseas gardens in England, France and New Zealand so she’d seen countless ideas she was keen to incorporate into this new venture.

“We brought in the bulldozer and cleared a lot of what was there, then brought in loads of soil plus 20 tonnes of manure to create garden beds and the undulating lawns. Then came the strategic placement of more than 40 trees and the creation of the different areas and features within the garden.”

And those features are many and varied. There’s a dry stone creek bed, a summer house, a fairy dell, fig forest and vegie garden to name just a few. All are connected by meandering paths that lead you past garden nooks and pretty vistas. Dotted throughout are reclaimed objects and materials that John has cleverly and artistically repurposed to delineate areas and create focal points. And, at the centre of it all, is the expansive lake complete with working windmill, row boat and jetty.

The superb gardens at Emu Point
The superb gardens at Emu Point Pic by Serena Kirby

“The garden is our major pastime. John is constantly making things and we use things that remind us of our agricultural background. John is also the lawn-keeper and he does a brilliant job of it.”

But these garden lovers don’t keep their creation just for themselves as they regularly open the garden to hoards of visitors to raise money for charity.

“We consider ourselves to have been fortunate in many ways so it’s important to us to give back to the community. We’ve raised lots of money for local charities including the Albany Hospice and the local women’s wefuge. Giving back is something we’ve always done and it’s something we’ve taught our children to do too. We still feel the pain of losing our son, but I really do find that giving back helps relieve that pain.”

The couple also hire out the garden for special occasions such as weddings, parties and even the occasional wake. While income is not the driving reason for this, Sheryl admits that it does help pay for some of the garden’s upkeep.

Deane Ross Memorial Award for Sheryl
Deane Ross Memorial Award for Sheryl Pic by Serena Kirby

“Prior to Covid-19 we were hosting six or seven weddings a year. We don’t advertise and most of the bookings come from word of mouth or via recommendations from celebrants. We even bought the two acre block next door to accommodate parking for events we host at the garden.”

Sheryl says she and John get great pleasure from seeing others enjoying the garden. They also curate an extensive collection of heritage roses and Sheryl recently received the prestigious Deane Ross Memorial Award for her contribution to the promotion of these beautiful old rose varieties. This national award, given out by Heritage Roses of Australia, is only handed out every few years and only to someone who has shown many years of involvement with these less common roses. 

“It’s certainly an honour to receive the award and I’m very proud of it,” Sheryl says. “But I grow these roses because I love them and I want to share them. Being amongst them, or in fact anywhere in the garden, is definitely my happy place,” she said.