In December 2013 we moved into a little old house which was too small for our family of five. On the up side it was ours and it came with a big garden which, despite its location in a suburb of Melbourne and the existing selection of shrubs and trees, most of which made it into my top ten most hated plants list*, somehow exuded a kind of bucolic charm, probably owing to the poorly laid broken brick driveway and the borrowed landscape of large trees over the fence. Once we had razed almost every tree on the property** it was a blank canvas covered in kikuyu grass and the ruined brick foundations of a former shed.
We installed a 10,000 litre water tank in the back corner behind the shed and hired a landscaper to scrape off the grass and make a meandering path in the front garden and to pave the courtyard garden along the north side of the house with granitic sand. So far so good. Because an intimidating amount of the backyard was covered in a luxuriant mat of kikuyu grass I made the fateful decision to pay the landscaper to dig it up and create two different levels with his bobcat. This took place over several days during a very wet August.
By day two the bobcat was getting bogged in the heavy clay and as the landscaper appeared to have an aversion to using actual tools it was impossible for him to continue working without importing several cubic metres of road base to drive his bobcat around on. Which he did for another couple of days. After which the lower half of our back yard, the designated vegetable patch, had become a carpark.
We lamented the day we had ever set eyes on the landscaper but ultimately it seemed as though the devastation was my punishment for wanting the garden to happen fast. Attempts to turn the ‘soil’ over with a spade produced actual sparks. With a jackhammer and a crowbar we proceeded, inch by inch, to break up the heavily compacted mixture of road base and clay.
We bribed our teenager with cash to do some of this work as exhaustion consumed us. The younger two were getting paid to sieve pieces of crushed bluestone out of the vegetable beds. Several truckloads of compost were incorporated into what remained of the soil and lucerne mulch was spread around to encourage any worms not wiped out in the apocalypse.
It almost killed us, but by late spring of 2014 we had a garden ready to receive plants.
A couple of years later the garden has bulked up quite a bit but it has some way to go before it envelops you when you step out of the house.
In the front garden the ratio of grasses to flowering perennials is steadily increasing. Here it is in spring 2015:
3 months later it was quite a party…
On the hot northern side of the house I wanted to make a courtyard garden with lush greenery, shade and lots of scent. In early 2016 it was getting there…
The back garden was planned as a sort of potager with some lawn for the kids and a tone-lowering trampoline. In its first summer it looked liked this:
In spring 2015 it looked like this:
And later in the season like this:
Every year the garden will get bigger and hopefully better. All going to plan there will come a day when the fences recede and disappear under climbing plants, the trees are established enough to shade us in summer and fruit abundantly and the garden’s evergreen bones have grown to create winter structure. That might all take a while…
* I feel mean writing this but I have no love for coprosma repens, privet, pittosporum eugenioides variegatum, photinia, jade plant, acmena or yucca. In fact the only plant missing from my list was nandina.
** A previous inhabitant in their wisdom had planted several lilly pillies along the northern fence line, most of which had since been chopped down leaving several hefty stumps and one remaining 15m tall specimen which shaded most of the backyard, severely limiting the amount of usable space for the edible garden I was planning. It had to go. And I have bitterly regretted that decision every January and February since.