gardening while renovating

This garden blog has been sadly neglected while we’ve been renovating our house. Three seasons have come and gone since we moved out to begin the building work. It’s been significantly slower and more expensive than we imagined. We were obviously delusional to have expected anything less but like everybody else we thought our build would be different. It’s exciting seeing our house slowly transformed but it has caused a serious upheaval in the life of the garden.

The front garden has been hardest hit. About a third of it had to be dug up before construction started. Luckily it was the bit I was least happy with. When I’m awake in the middle of the night worrying over the complications of parenting teenagers and renovating, I find it quite soothing to think about the day when I can start returning the compacted dust bowl outside my bedroom window to garden. This will involve a jackhammer with a clay spade attachment and vast quantities of organic matter and I can’t wait.

It hasn’t been all bad, because in spring, the tangerine geums (just visible in the bottom right corner behind the orange webbing) actually matched something. Sadly the clematis pictured below was recently pruned to ground level by a busy tradie 5 months prematurely and I’m not at all confident it will return next spring.

Miraculously the back garden has come through the build largely unscathed.*

The biggest challenge out the back has been keeping things alive through another brutal Melbourne summer in which evaporation has massively exceeded precipitation. Without power to keep the pump operating, the irrigation system had to be disconnected and I’ve spent some very slow hours over the summer watering with the pathetically slow trickle coming from the hose that’s hooked up to the tank. The tank – now only fed from the shed roof until the house has its downpipes reconnected (rather a moot point given the lack of rain) – ran dry some weeks ago, and the garden has been limping along with occasional drinks from the mains – and it didn’t help that our hoses got stolen.

In spite of all this adversity we’ve harvested our first ever passionfruit crop, apricots for jam and more rhubarb and figs than we can eat. As I write a large quantity of feijoas is ripening. Most of the vegetable patch is temporarily occupied by refugee trees and perennials from the front garden but we’ve still had cucumbers coming out of our ears as well as zucchinis, tomatoes and basil. The avocado was carrying a small but exciting crop until last week when somebody stripped the tree of every single fruit. The absence of any skins or pips makes me suspect the culprit was human. It’s a tragic waste since there’s no possibility of the immature fruit ripening, but hopefully the silver lining is that the tree will put all its energies into growing branches and foliage which will make the framework for next year’s fruit.

It’s been hard living away from the garden. We’ve only moved around the corner but it’s a long way to walk to pick ingredients in the middle of preparing a meal. Dinner is usually eaten far too late with the flow-on effect that nobody in our family ever gets to bed at a reasonable hour. But in the evenings when the tradies have left the site for the day it’s where I want to be, moving the slow trickling hose around, topping up the bird bath for the many bees and birds that visit, deadheading flowers, pulling out overly enthusiastic self-seeders and picking herbs and fruit. While the house is uninhabited it has the atmosphere of a secret garden, blooming in the absence of humans and buzzing with life.

*I’m trying not to think about it but there is still a possibility that a 600mm deep trench will be dug from the back of the house through the middle of the garden to connect our waste water to the sewer tie point on the rear boundary…