-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

email minutiae: Mum's idea of holiday cottage

Early on Mum and Dad asked whether we would consider letting them build a holiday cottage on the property, but then it seemed to morph into granny flat. Hopefully now it is back at holiday cottage for occasional stays as we don't really want to have anyone else living there permanently if we can avoid it... Anyway, here's the initial exchange of emails:

Mum's initial email - 6th March 2004
When we were measuring, I said it would be lovely to be able to have a little place there. I was not going to say it, but Dad said to before you got planning. Is it possible you would agree to a little place or two being built? You were talking B&B, so this would really just be that. A little unit with a bedroom, lounge/kitchen or sucjh. Jess and Tony could bisit, me, Dad, whoever. nice to be able to maintain some privacy if needed. You could put such a place out of sight of the main house if you wished.

My reply - 7th March 2004
Actually, I was already thinking of planning in space for a separate cottage which could be used for B&B or just rented out for short holidays, and also used when people come to visit. It wasn't going to be top of the list in terms of building, but I was going to plan in space for it. The idea at the moment is to create a series of garden "rooms", but also build in some long views too. I don't want to count just on the views though down the valley because I have no control over them remaining... so want to take advantage of them but also have a secondary plan that is easy to implement if someone builds a horrible house next door and blocks it. Anyway, the cottage would effectively be in it's own garden room so screened naturally from the house. Do you remember how the cottages at that place in Belgrave were screened? They were a lot closer than this would be but they were well done in the sense of blending in and feeling secluded.

Email from Mum - 27th March 2004
A few weeks later Mum referred to it again: I said I had asked about a granny flat - Jess said it would be a good idea! Later joked you two should hurry up and build them as it would save us all having to go into a nursing home! No-one would care if you went about in your nightie at 5pm for example.

My response - 29th March 2004
On the "granny flat", not sure what you mean by this but just to avoid confusion... all Dave and I have discussed and he has agreed to is to build (eventually) a separate self contained small cottage we could use for friends/family to stay in for weekends / whenever they came and visited, and also suitable for renting out for B&B as that would be one of the ways we'd hope to make some income in the longer term. We weren't planning on it being close to the house or set up like a nursing home flat, which is my interpretation of "granny flat"?

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

article about Amherst and Talbot from Goldnet magazine (April 2000)

by Roger Rhodes
"Tucked away just about 10 miles south of Maryborough are the small rural communities of Talbot and Amherst. These days Amherst is just an intersection on the map and a couple of buildings, but the old village of Talbot, is like driving back into the past as one enters the town. About the only thing missing is the period costumes and the odd horse and rider or horse and cart. Of course most of the roads are now bitumen.

Driving past this little hamlet one could be forgiven for not taking a second glance, but then as we drive on major highways these days that is a common occurrence. The main road south from Maryborough glances along the edge of Talbot as it meanders along with its 100km/h speed limit. Just turn left when you get there, and drive into history.

main street talbot

Although gold was discovered in early 1854, it was not until the later that decade that a more permanent town became a reality. Previously there had been quite a tent city housing up to 15,000 on Back Creek Flat. However in 1859 the Scandinavian Lead was located on the site of the present town, and within a few weeks 30,000 descended on this rich lead. In a short time more permanent buildings were erected, rather than the canvas stores that proliferated in the early days.

Fires take their toll of permanent structures in this hot dry climate, and Talbot was no exception. In fact from the time they were built in the 1860's buildings were lost from time to time. The latest bushfires in 1985 destroyed some buildings. Today the town of Talbot has few trees and is surrounded by clear paddocks, used for grain crops or grazing cattle and sheep. It almost appears that no gold was ever taken from this rich land, it has been transformed so much.

However just a short distance to the west of Talbot lies the area of Amherst. Once a thriving town in its own right - today very few buildings remain, many overgrown. In its former glory days the town was in the centre of a gold bearing belt that was about seven miles long and a mile wide. There were seven general stores, a surgeon and a grand Inn. A hospital commenced in 1857 operated into the 1920's.

The "Big Reef" is a massive quartz outcrop in State Forest and private property between Amherst and Lillicur, to the west. Companies worked the reef for many years, with great success. I have however, always found that the best ground to find gold these days in this area is around Amherst to the north towards the Adelaide lead. There are indeed, substantial diggings right through this area of the forest, and with a little patience and know-how good gold can be found here.

I know a few characters that regularly spend time in their favourite gullies and hills in this area and they are usually rewarded. I just happened on a retired farmer, who drives over from South Australia regularly, a trip of 400 miles, and he was good enough to show me some of his finds. I have been asked not to disclose exactly where he was for obvious reasons, but it was pretty close to one of those little towns let me tell you.

bull and mouth hotel

The Paddy's Ranges State Park dominates this area and it is here that there are substantial surface diggings that with patience can give up good gold. It should be remembered that this area produced a plethora of gigantic nuggets last century, and one often hears of large nuggets coming from this area. Joining this park the Amherst State Forest, Talbot State Forest and the Eglinton State forest present an outstanding opportunity to detect auriferous ground in a tranquil setting, even if the bush is a little thick throughout.

Personally I have always done well to the south of Talbot. Last time I was there I concentrated on the surfacing patches using the Coiltek elliptical coil attached to a Minelab 2200D. What I got was a lot of small gold in what one could describe as thrashed ground. I concentrated on the Butchers Gully and Little Nuggety Gully areas. Although the bush here is pretty thick in places there are more than enough areas to find a few pieces that have been missed.

The virgin ground here to the south when detected with the 18" Coiltek coil turned up a few pieces in some of the gully slopes. There is no question that the reputation that this area has for large nuggets is well deserved and continues to be a favourite with detectorists from all over the world. Don't forget that a lot of the country in this area is now privately owned, and permission must be sought to enter private ground.

When visiting this area take the time to visit both Talbot and Amherst and spend some time investigating this old mining town. The experience is very rewarding and you never know, one of the old timers just might give you a hint about where the real gold might still be found.

talbot town hall

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

email minutiae: initial discussions with Prue

I made contact with Prue via the contact form on her website, then we had a series of email and phone conversations as per extracts below.

Prue's reply to my initial contact - 9th March 2004

Thank you for your enquiry regarding garden design for you Amherst property. I have had a look at your photos and the property looks blissful, a world away from life in London. It certainly has potential for creating a beautiful garden.

Some ideas to begin with would be the need for water by way of a large dam to support the needs of the house and garden. It will also have significant ornamental value. The establishment of larger trees to create structure, height and shade is important, while being mindful of retaining views across the paddocks and to the state forest. From here finer details of 'garden rooms' and levels can be created and installed. A long term project, but all good gardens take time to create.

My suggestion would be to talk with you in order to get a feel for your desires for your Amherst property and also for you and I to see if our ideas and personalities are aligned. We can also discuss the approach to the design and the fee structure. I look forward to hearing back from you to organise a time to talk.

My reply - 9th March 2004

Thanks very much for the initial ideas, they make total sense... and don't worry, I'm under no delusions about this being a long-term project! I should also say upfront, I don't know how normal this is for your clients, but I'm keen to be very involved and hands-on. For me the opportunity to create a garden is the biggest reason for buying the property in the first place and so I want to feel like I have a big hand in that creation because otherwise it would be giving up on part of the experience. But, I think it's foolish to attempt to do something on such a grand scale without guidance, even if it is just someone who I can consult to stop me making silly mistakes. I'm by no means an expert gardener and I have no clue about gardening in Australian conditions. When we lived in Australia I didn't pay any attention to gardening...it was only here, around 5 years ago when we bought our London flat, that I started and was almost instantly hooked. Now I would say that gardening is a passion that I can't imagine being without.

At one point I was considering taking a course in garden design - e.g., the English Gardening School in Chelsea offers correspondance courses. But I gave up on that since I didn't want to turn gardening into "work" because I didn't want to risk it stopping being fun. However, I bought the textbook and have read 2/3rds of it so far...so I have some idea of how to start, but a theoretical understanding from reading is very different to that borne of practical experience! I had been just going to start off on my own and see how far I got, but then I came across your website while looking for info about dry gardening in Australia, and thought I'd get in touch.

Following this we had a long telephone discussion and I also sent Prue links to some photos of gardens we'd visited over here...

Prue's reply - 16th March 2004

Thank you for all the photos. It has made me want to visit England again in a hurry to see all the beautiful gardens. Thanks also for the photos of your garden. You have definitely fitted a lot into a small space. I have sent you through some photos of my garden, the first few are 'under construction'. It is looking much more lush now. I'll send you through some updated ones soon.

I have looked through all the information you have sent regarding Amherst and will print off copies of some of the site maps in order to start the design process.

Some plant and nursrey sites to look at are www.flemings.com.au, www.dandenongs-online.com.au, the Yamina Rare plants site, www.rankins.com.au for roses, www.pga.com.au for perennials, www.dinsan.com.au for general plant lines, www.larkmannurseries.com.au for perennials.

Hope that keeps you entertained for a while. I look forward to receiving further info from you regarding your likes & dislikes in plants/gardens etc, and any other info you come up with.

My long reply... so excited to be starting! 16th March 2004

Thanks very much for your proposal. The only thing I would say is do you have any idea how long something like this might take, just so I get a rough idea of how many hours might be involved (and hence total cost)? I think I'd like to go ahead but am worried about embarking on something totally open-ended for which I have no idea what the end cost will be. Even just a ballpark estimate would help. Also, in terms of the research... if you are thinking of visiting Bendigo, Castlemaine, etc... you are very welcome to visit our property too. It's not far from Maryborough, apparently that has a botanical garden and is a really nice little town. Also, if you want to combine it into a nice day out, I just found there's a farmers market in Talbot (5 mins from our place) between 10am-2pm on the 3rd Sunday of each month, starting March 2004 (ie: it's just started). tel: 03 5463 2008 if you're interested in finding out more.

In terms of the research, I will definitely help as much as possible, I'm pretty good usually at tracking things down online. I've been combing through my gardening books here and picking out pictures showing the kinds of things I like. Dave, my husband, is helping me scan them in. Once they're scanned I'll load them up onto the ofoto site so you can see them. It may take us a week or two though to get through them all as there are quite a few, so if you can wait till I send them to do anything more then it might save time in the long run. There is a wide range... I've only been through half the books so far and already have photos of pools, lakes, vegetable gardens as well as various garden borders, etc. I figure if I gather them all together you'll get a great picture of what I'm looking for, better than me explaining it just in words. My problem is that I know what I want in terms of the jigsaw pieces, I am just struggling to work out how to put the jigsaw together, which is what I'm hoping you can bring.

One of the books that has been brilliant, that I'll copy loads from for you, is "Natural Planting" by Penelope Hobhouse. I picked it up cheaply a few years back at a National Trust shop and it's full of loads of wonderful things. From reading that I learned about "new-style" borders, apparently a concept coming out of Germany / Holland. The idea being to naturalise perennials and grasses in plant communities so that they are self-sustaining and thus can be maintained with minimum labour. They have a wonderful wild look to them, so if I can get that with minimum labour then why not!! :-) They showed pictures of it from Westpark in Munich, is that where you worked? Apparently the guy who started this is called Richard Hansen at his Weihenstephan garden (which I've never heard of but maybe will go visit at some point). He has a book called Perennials and their Garden Habitats which was published in English in 1993 that I'm going to try and get hold of. Also, I discovered "Prairie-style" gardening from the US, some architects called Ohme and Sweden? (or something like that anyway).

Once I've done the pictures, I'll then turn to getting hold of a list of plants. At this stage, I'm thinking I will split them between those that will grow OK in the local temperature conditions (split into subsections depending on soil/water requirements), and those that won't necessarily but that I absolutely adore so that maybe we can explore a way of creating a microclimate that suits them, even if I have to cover a section of the garden with shadecloth in the summer to stop plants getting scorched! Actually, I'm hoping there won't be many in this latter category, if any, but we'll see. I can check out from the nursery links you sent whether they're available or not in Australia. Hopefully there won't be too many that aren't.

A couple of final things I was researching yesterday, that I'll just throw out as ideas at this stage... we're right near a forest, and our property was I think one of the ones that got decimated in the 1985 bushfires that destroyed Amherst / Talbot / etc. Hence, I think it would be wise to factor into the landscaping ways to reduce bushfire risk. I've just ordered a book from CSIRO that was released a few months ago which is called "Landscape and Building Design for Bushfire Areas"; hopefully it will arrive in a week or two and then I will summarise the relevant bits for you. However, one of the things I've picked up though from just looking at the CFA website is that having a green lawn is actually an excellent firebreak! Which then got me to thinking... since there is no way I'll have enough water to have a real green lawn other than a small patch, I wondered about artificial grass.

Please don't cringe, that was my initial reaction too. On the one hand I hate the whole concept, the artificialness, but on the other, if it looks real, feels real, helps out from a bushfire perspective (not to mention being easy to maintain and helping to catch water) then maybe it is worth considering? From a little digging around I found it's something that has just started in the US in terms of targeting residential property owners, because they've had so many problems with water there recently too. There are a couple of companies that claim to be able to make grass that you can't tell, from touching it, whether it's real or not. (other than the fact that it looks too perfect). They are http://www.synlawn.com and http://www.astrolawn.com and http://www.sprinturf.com). Now none appear to have distributors in Australia yet, more's the pity, but a lot can change in 5-10 years. The only one I found in Australia is http://www.superlawn.com.au but I would guess they're still not as realistic looking as the latest from the US. Now, who knows what happens to this fake lawn in a bushfire... does it burn, if it does, what does it do?... there are loads of things that might make it totally unsuitable, even aside from the issue of aesthetics, but I thought I'd just throw it out there as an idea anyway.

Extracts from Prue's response - 17th March 2004

I was thinking about plants suitable for Amherst climate and thought I would type a list of plants categorised 'highly, moderately and suitable under good conditions' for you to then look in to.

I have been thinking about how to structure the design process so that it fits into a workable budget for you and I to work with.

Primary stage -designing the overall view and structure of the garden
Initial consultations/research and concept design, detailing open areas,rooms, garden styles, pathways, structures etc in the garden (8hrs)
Site visit (2hrs + travel)
Structuring water and irrigation for the house and garden (3hrs)
Research, selection and positioning of trees/ major plantings (2hrs)

Second stage -attention to detail of plants and features within the garden
Research, select and detail understorey plants suitable for certain styles (5hrs)
Listing and detailing perennials and smaller plants suitable (3hrs)
Details of features, focal points and structures (4hrs)

This is an estimate of the time needed to create the design. The primary stage will be what we concentrate on perhaps for the first six months or so. The second stage we could spend a little bit of time looking in to but not as important at this stage until perhaps you have been home, or planted and established trees, structure, shade etc. It may be handy to have lists of understorey plantings for certain areas of the garden as a part of the first stage.

I know a landscaper who has been installing artificial grass as lawns, but mainly for backyard putting greens for enthusiastic golfers. He may know of some products other than the really fake looking stuff. In a fire the fake stuff melts as it is synthetic. I think lawn would be better if we can store enough water to water it. My parents live in southern NSW where they have had drought for quuite a number of years. Their little bit of sanity, and safety, when all the paddocks were dust bowls was to have green lawns around the house. They however do have irrigation although during the past 1 1/2 years they have had no water allocated to them for irrigating and have ahd to pay huge prices to get the water to fill the house dams and tanks. I think you might be relieved and thankful to have green lawns around the house.

Preventing bushfires

I find the whole thought of bushfires terrifying, I remember Ash Wednesday too well, I was living in Ringwood then so safe enough, but even there the air was smoky and ash everywhere. But, as Dave pointed out, it's no worse than living in London waiting for the inevitable terrorist attack. At least the thing about bushfires seems to be that if you're prepared and brave enough to stay in your house and fight the spot fires around it, you have a very good chance of surviving and saving the house too.

I know that Amherst is at risk because it's so close to the forest. Also, I think it was part of the area that was burned in the big bushfires during 1985. So, in the planning of the garden and house we'd like to do whatever we can (without sacrificing the look and feel too much) to reduce the fire risk. Here are various leaflets I downloaded from various government and CFA sites:

Vegetation for bushfire preventation

Living in the bush

Landcare article about designing to avoid bushfires

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Nearby attractions - Paddy's Ranges, Amherst Winery, Talbot

Here's a link to Paddy's Ranges State Park, which is close by our property. It's famous for its wildflowers apparently. I don't think this is the forest that joins our land (that's just a state forest, not a park) but it will be a similar make-up of plants I would have thought. http://www.parkweb.vic.gov.au/1park_display.cfm?park=169

This is a link to Amherst Winery which is just down the road, which also has some pictures although it's very flat, not like our place http://www.amherstwinery.com/

http://www.cgold.com.au/talbot.html this is a great little overview of Talbot with pictures. they just started a monthly farmers market, my Mum went and said it was packed and excellent stuff. There's a link to Talbot at the top of this page which if you click it drops down other things too... it seems like a small community but thriving in the sense of still being a community and being active. The more I find out about it the more I like it.

Climate and rainfall

This is a link to climate information for Talbot, which is the nearest measuring station to our property. Unfortunately they seem to have stopped measuring it in 1920 but at least it's better than nothing! Based on this it appears the average rainfall is around 550mm. http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/tables/cw_088104.shtml

The next closest place with information about climate is Maryborough, and this has been updated right through to 2003. Based on this it appears the average rainfall is around 530mm. http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/tables/cw_088043.shtml Whichever you go with, the rainfall isn't much.

Monday, March 08, 2004

dry gardening and interesting gardens in Australia

As part of researching the kinds of gardens that might be possible at Amherst, I came across a lot of books and websites which I sent to Mum. Here are some of them:

Markdale is an 8000 acre sheep station, but has a 5 acre garden around the house. If you look on this page you can see a few photos of the garden, including one great aerial shot. http://www.markdale.com/garden.shtml It is interesting because it shows how you can have lots of buildings, actually reasonably close but all would feel quite separate. This was designed by Edna Walling.

Redesdale in Heathcote http://www.redesdale.com/home.html is a winery with gardens and olive plantations. It's in goldfields region apparently and describes itself as a "dry climate garden". I thought it might be nice to see to get ideas on what could be possible. The gardens are part of the Open Garden scheme but they offer accomodation as well so perhaps we could stay there and see the gardens that way even if it wasn't an official time? e.g., see the picture of gardens and the cottage here http://www.redesdale.com/auberge.html

Bringalbit is another big property not far from Kyneton http://www.bringalbit.com.au/bringalbit_a_brief_introduction.htm which is open every day. It's 410 acres in total but has a big lake and a very traditional 10 acres garden, so about the size I was envisioning for ours. Here is the page on the garden and it sounds a bit similar in climate to Amherst: http://www.bringalbit.com.au/bringalbit_garden.htm except perhaps it gets a little wetter in winter?

Chesterfield house http://www.chesterfieldhouse.com.au is an upmarket B&B in Talbot, which is about 5 minutes drive from our property. They've obviously got really nice gardens so perhaps if you're visiting our property you might fancy popping in here to look too? Perhaps you might even be tempted to stay over, it definitely sounds like a lovely spot. It also gives me hope that we'll be able to have some of these English plants because they wouldn't have survived as long as they have there in similar climate conditions... although of course, they've got access to town water!

this lists lots of historic gardens in the macedon area and it says that Sept - Nov is the best time to visit so it actually fits in well with when we're thinking of coming back.

This is a NZ site, with an article about how to design gardens in a variety of styles that can withstand drought. It also has some pictures of Beth Chatto's own dry garden in which she's used gravel as mulch and for paths, etc

I just stumbled across this when looking for information about landscape design in Australia on Amazon. I'd never even heard of her before! I really like the style of her gardens if you have a look at the pictures... it's the kind of feel that I want to create. Best of all, apparently Bickleigh Vale is in Mooroolbark and according to http://www.opengarden.org.au/regions/vic.htm it says that the gardens will be open to the public on April 18th (just the one day). Do you want to go along? If you take lots of pictures for me and upload it to ofoto, then I'll pay yours and a friend's entry fee. Bickleigh Vale Village, Bickleigh Vale Rd & Edna Walling Lane, Mooroolbark (park in Pembroke Rd), OPEN Sun. 18 April, 10am-4.30pm. $20 for 7 gardens

Apparently this is a book she never had published (and I can understand why, it's not very well written...) but it is interesting. I especially like the description of digging out a level area for the lounge room and finding a big stone... and deciding rather than move it to use it as the base of an armchair! I think they must have been a bit made though. It also doesn't explain at all why they decided to leave it, unless it was only ever meant to be a summer house?

Sunday, March 07, 2004

email minutiae: soil testing

Extracts from various emails to Mum 6th/7th March 2004

I think we need to do a separate sample for each acre or so. According to the CSIRO website there can be dramatic changes of soil even within a single paddock. They showed a pattern where you take samples along grid lines... it's not perfect but is a million times better than taking just one sample and assuming everything around it is the same.

I ordered a pH soil test kit from a garden website in Australia and it's being sent straight to Dave's Dad. It says it can do between 20-40 samples. I spent over an hour searching for kits for the more advanced tests, like for nitrogen, etc and could only find really expensive ones in Australia (where you have to send samples off to labs), so instead I ordered kits from Queenswood's UK online shop. They too are being shipped to Dave's Dad, via airmail. I bought 5 of the advanced test kits (which includes 4 separate tests, including a test for nitrogen). Each of the kits does 5 samples so there's enough for 25 of them.

I don't think it will take too long, at least I hope not... Actually from reading the instructions I think you don't even have to do the tests on-site, e.g., you could just dig out the samples, put them in labelled plastic bags so can see where they appear on the grid, then could do the tests at home. If it made it easier, perhaps you could all stay up there overnight e.g., there's a B&B cottage at the winery with 2 rooms. We could pay for it as a thankyou for doing the tests.

Don't worry, I know it will need loads of water, but that's why we have to be very clever about recycling water... every single bit must get re-used. Also, we will need to invest in improving the soil to make it better at storing and retaining water, as well as investing in having a place to store it. In a sense, we have 30 acres to collect water over, to use on 10 acres.

Because of the water situation, that's why it can't be a straight English style garden, we have to plant things that are suitable for dry areas and can withstand drought. However you can do an awful lot, eg: one of Edna Walling's gardens I saw a picture of is up in Goulburn, that's pretty dry and has been stricken by drought, yet they've managed to keep that going.

It makes the planning doubly important, as the climate isn't going to do us any favours so we have to be really clever about how we get round the problems it creates. There is a lot I can learn from gardens in Spain and Italy, they have a pretty dry climate, and there were many English gardeners who retired to Spain and Portugal and created gardens there too. We are going to try and visit some in the next few years. Also, I've been doing a lot of reading, and have bought several books about dry climate gardening, xeriscaping, etc etc. It's a big deal in the US, especially California with their recent water problems, so there's a lot written. Also, Beth Chatto in the UK has written some useful books that give me hope.
e.g., http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/075281642X/ref=sr_aps_books_1_3/026-3497574-5529207

I have to believe we're going to find a way of doing it, and Dave promises me we will, because the opportunity to build a big garden like that is one of the main motivators for buying the block in the first place. I'd hate it if I had to have a dreary dust-prone paddock around me and no garden, in fact I wouldn't, I wouldn't live there. Just because others might choose to do so they probably have a different set of priorities and aren't prepared to put in the creative and physical effort plus financial investment to make it possible.

detailed article about understanding and managing soils

Here's another article about soils and climate, it's part of an online book for people new to farming. Unfortunately I can't find the link anymore but it came from a Victorian government site http://www.nre.vic.gov.au

Natural resource management deals with the physical management, retention and enhancement of resources such as soil, water, vegetation and wildlife. As a small property owner, you need a clear understanding of the natural resources on your property and the importance of conserving and managing them. In addition, the small property owner needs an appreciation of the natural resources in the catchment in which he or she resides. Any action that will affect the natural resources on the small farm is likely to effect other aspects of the catchment in either a positive or negative way. For example, soil erosion on your property may create turbidity in a local stream affecting the aquatic values of that stream.

Assessment of your resources will help determine such things as the most appropriate place to site your house and dam, and the selection and management of a suitable agricultural enterprise. In other words, understanding your natural resources will allow you to assess what your land is capable of achieving without risking the natural assets on your property. This will also help maintain the value of the property.

The components in this chapter will provide an introduction to natural resource management but to enable effective natural resource management, a Whole Farm Plan should be completed. A Whole Farm Plan will provide you with a physical plan of what your property should look like to provide for long-term natural resource management. The Plan will also provide you with goals to work towards in developing the property.

Land classes and land capability

Land everywhere is not the same but varies due to a number of factors including soil type and slope. How the land is managed will depend on the type or class of land therefore, the classes of land on a property need to be determined. Your property is likely to have several different land classes. These are determined by the physical features of an area, such as:

Climate - average annual rainfall and the spread of the rainfall, average maximum temperature in summer, average minimum temperature in winter, frost frequency & wind

Topography - angle of slope, aspect, local drainage

Soil type - including soil texture, chemical fertility, physical structure and depth of the soil.

Land capability is an assessment of the ability of an area of land to continually and sustainably support a particular land-use, at a given level of management and production. The capability of the land varies according to and within a land class.

Climate, topography and soil type can combine to cause wide differences in land classes over short distances. The number of different uses possible on a land class decreases with decreasing land capability. For example, an area with poor soil, short growing season, and steep slope would have low land capability and few possible uses. An area with fertile soils, plentiful rainfall, and flat topography, would have a high land capability, provided it did not flood, and could support a wide range of uses.

To obtain further information about land classes and land capability, contact your local office of Department of Primary Industries, or Landcare group. Climate, topography and soil, the main components of land classes and land capability will be discussed in more detail below.


Temperature, rainfall, wind, humidity are aspects of climate that are crucial to any farming enterprise. Climate in Victoria varies greatly across the State and is predominantly determined by altitude and distance from the ocean.

Rainfall reliability - Just looking at the Average Annual Rainfall can be deceiving as it gives the impression that the average rainfall is what can be expected. However, rainfall is very variable in Victoria causing both drought and floods. For example, in the Parwan Valley near Bacchus Marsh the lowest rainfall on record is 230 mm in 1967 whilst the highest rainfall on record is 800 mm (1970), and the average 500 mm. A general rule of thumb for rainfall variability is that once in every five years rainfall will not be as expected. This may be either wetter or drier. Droughts can be expected on average every 10-15 years.

Drought - Drought is very much part of the Australian environment. Your home and agricultural enterprises need to be managed for the advent of drought. Recent significant droughts have occurred every 10 or 15 years (1967, 1983, 1995, 2002). Chapters 4 & 5 discuss management against the risk of drought in more detail.

Flooding - Flooding in Victoria occurs at irregular intervals and may result in stock losses and damage to other assets such as fencing and sheds. Your local Shire and neighbours should be able to give you information on how flood prone your property is.

Temperature - Temperatures tend to be more extreme away from the coast ie colder overnight temperatures in winter and hotter day temperatures in summer. South of the Divide, temperatures are generally more moderate and evaporation rates are lower due to higher humidity as compared to north of the Divide. Central and northern Victoria by contrast has hot summers with an evaporation rate that exceeds rainfall, while winters are much colder. Frosts are more common as you move further inland. This is an important consideration when choosing your agricultural enterprise as frosts can effect stock, pastures and crops. Some areas of your farm may also be more frost prone than others. Cold air sinks to the bottom of valleys and depressions resulting in a frost hollow.

Wind - Cold winds prevail from the south and southwest in winter while in summer strong hot winds come from the north and northwest. This should be a major consideration when planting windbreaks. (Discussed further in Chapter 5.)


Slope and aspect are components of topography that effect the capability of land.

Slope - Steeper slopes cannot be cultivated and therefore are unsuitable for cropping and make pasture renovation more difficult. The greater the slope the greater the velocity of water that can run off hills which increases the likelihood of erosion if slopes are unprotected. Soil depth varies with slope. Soil at the top of a hill is generally shallower than in the valley. Hills are generally more suited to grazing and tree planting whereas valleys are more suited to crops except in flood prone areas.

Aspect - The direction which the slope of a hill faces (aspect) influences the soil. Shallow, stony, weakly structured soil is found on dry exposed northern slopes, in contrast to deeper well structured soil on the southern aspect. Northern slopes generally provide better winter growth due to direct exposure to the sun while southern slopes produce better summer growth due to less exposure to the sun which extends the growing season.


Soil, the thin layer of weathered material on the outer crust of the earth, is one of our most valuable assets. Physically it provides support, water and air for plants, while chemically providing the nutrients essential for growth. Soil needs to be managed appropriately and utilised within its capability otherwise degradation that will effect productivity and other natural resource components will result.

Soil is a mixture of 5 components: Mineral particles, Organic material, Living organisms, Water and Air.

The mineral components of soil result from the weathering of rocks over tens of thousands of years. Mineral particles are described based on their diameter; Gravel -particles larger than 2 mm in diameter, Sand - particles between 0.02 and 2 mm in diameter Silt particles between 0.002 and 0.02 mm in diameter, and Clay - particles less than 0.002 mm in diameter.

The texture of a soil is the proportion of sand, silt, clay and organic matter and is a way of describing a soil. Approximately 20 texture classes can be described but the most common include, sandy loam, loam, silt loam, clay loam, sandy clay and clay. The texture of the soil can vary between the topsoil and the subsoil, eg a sandy loam topsoil over a clay subsoil. Large changes in texture between the topsoil and the subsoil can lead to water drainage problems. The texture of the soil is an inherent property of the soil that cannot be changed and therefore management strategies for particular soil types need to be developed.

The physical structure of soil is as important as the chemical status of the soil. Sand, silt, clay and organic matter are able to cement together to form aggregates. Soil structure is the number, size and arrangement of soil particles and aggregates. A good soil structure consists of many stable aggregates with spaces in between.The space (in between known as macropores) allows for rapid movement of air and water into and through the soil (drainage) and allows for good plant root growth. Water is held for plant growth in smaller spaces within the soil aggregates (micropores). Well-structured soils allow for good water infiltration into the soil and therefore minimises the risk of soil erosion.

Poorly structured soil on the other hand has few aggregates and fewer macropores. Without sufficient macropores between the aggregates, rapid water and air movement does not occur. Water therefore does not move easily into the soil, resulting in waterlogging on flat country or water run-off on sloping country. Water run-off increases the risk of soil erosion. Root penetration into these soils is very difficult resulting in poor plant growth.

The structure of the soil can be adversely affected by management practices such as excessive tillage, tillage when soils are too wet, as well as compaction from vehicles and stock.

There is a suite of good information on assessing soils for their structure, ranging from developing your general understanding of soils, to a detailed examination of soils found on the property. Ultimately you could pay someone else to do the testing, however you can do the same tests yourself at a greatly reduced cost and all the while further enhancing your understanding of the land that you have invested in.

Agriculture Notes and Landcare Notes (http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/notes) are a series of free information sheets that provide brief information on a wide range of land use issues. These free information sheets are available from the Department of Primary Industries website or any office. Alternatively, you may be interested in carrying out some of the simple tests yourself. A step by step guide is detailed in the Centre for Land Protection publication 'Know Your Soils'. This is a no fuss, common sense approach to explaining and carrying out common soil tests. For those who are keen there is the 'Land Classing Kit for Farmers' that build on the simple soil assessments with the aim of developing a Whole Farm Plan. Both the 'Know Your Soils' and the 'Land Classing Kit for Farmers' may be purchased from;

The Manager,
Land Evaluation Unit
Centre for Land Protection Research
Phone: 5430 4444

Organic matter

Organic matter is an essential component of good soil health. Organic material consists of dead and decaying plant material, animals and animal products. It contains most of the nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and many other nutrients in the soil. It also provides food for soil organisms and helps to bind the soil together. Water holding capacity, airflow, nutrient availability, infiltration and soil organisms are influenced by the amount of organic matter. Management, such as excessive tillage, can decrease the amount of organic matter in the soil, which can have detrimental effects on the structure, and the nutrient status of the soil.

Soil life is a good indicator of the health of the soil. Soil provides a home for a great variety of organisms including bacteria, fungi, algae, nematodes, slugs, earthworms, termites, ants and millipedes. Management can effect the number and type of organisms living in the soil.

Soil Chemistry

Plant nutrients
Nutrients are essential for plant growth and are provided by chemicals that are held in the soil. Some soil textures such as clays and loams hold plant nutrients better than other soils such as sands, therefore the nutrient holding capacity is dependent upon the texture of the soil.

Table 4. Nutrients found in each of the groups.

Macronutrients (required in large quantities)
Nitrogen (N)
Phosphorus (P)
Potassium (K)
Calcium (Ca)
Magnesium (Mg)
Sulphur (S)

Micronutrients (required in small quantities)
Iron (Fe)
Manganese (Mn)
Copper (Cu)
Zinc (Zn)
Boron (B)
Molybdenum (Mo)
Cobalt (Co)

The quantity of nutrients required by plants varies and is divided into macronutrients (those required in the highest quantity) and micronutrients (those required in the least quantities).

Macronutrients are required in large quantities while micronutrients, essential for plant growth, are required in smaller quantities. Imbalances in any of the nutrients will result in reduced plant growth.

Removal of produce from a paddock takes with it nutrients that were once in the soil. To be sustainable, nutrients exported through produce need to be replaced. Exported plant nutrients can be replaced through fertiliser. Generally the nutrients most often required to be added by fertiliser include phosphorous (P), potassium (K), sulphur (S), molybdenum (Mo) and zinc (Zn).

Nitrogen is the soil nutrient required in the largest quantities by growing plants and can be supplied by growing legumes which are able to biologically transform nitrogen from the atmosphere into a form that is available to plants in the soil. Legumes include clovers, medic, wattles and the bean and pea plants. By combining legumes in pastures or in crop rotations, nitrogen can be added to the soil without the need for nitrogen fertiliser in most circumstances.

The majority of Australian soils are relatively infertile with nitrogen and phosphate deficiency being very common. Indigenous vegetation, having evolved with these soils, has adapted to these deficient soils, however, introduced pastures and crops will need the addition of fertilisers.

Soil pH

The pH of the soil will also have a strong influence on nutrient availability to plants. Soil pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil and is measured on a scale of 1 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral, less than 7 acid and greater than 7 alkaline.

The pH expected to be found in soils ranges from 4 to 9. As soil pH changes, certain nutrients are less available to plants while other elements become toxic. For example, in soils with low pH (acid), nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca) and molybdenum (Mo) are likely to be less available while aluminium (Al) becomes more available to such an extent that it can be toxic to some plants.

The pH of the soil is an inherent property of soil but can be affected by management. Agricultural production has an acidifying effect on soils and therefore soil acidification is becoming a major problem particularly in the higher rainfall areas of southern and eastern Victoria. Lime will increase the pH of soil (make it more alkaline) and will be required on soils when the pH becomes too acid if productive agriculture is to continue. Generally speaking an application of approximately 3-3.6 tonnes/hectare will be needed to raise the pH measurement by 1 unit. Plants have different tolerances to soil pH and should be selected to suit the pH of your soil.

Soil depth

The depth of a soil is a major determining factor (along with soil texture and structure) as to the quantity of water and nutrients that can be stored for plant growth. Plant growth on shallow soils is limited by sufficient water storage and therefore shallow soils are often not viable for agriculture.

The best way to observe soil horizons and therefore the depth of soils is by excavating soil pits. Whilst a sufficient pit can be dug by hand, soils that are more difficult to work with may require the help of a backhoe etc.

Soil types

Parent rock material (geology) is a strong determinant of soil types, however, climate, topography, biological activity and time have all contributed to the types of soils found in Victoria. Victorian soil can be divided into 6 broad groups.

Deep Sands - these sandy soils are usually located along the coast and in the Mallee. They are relatively infertile. Mallee sands are alkaline whilst coastal sands are generally neutral to acid.

Alluvial Sediments - these are associated with the flood plains of streams and have a high degree of clay deposited during floods making them generally fertile. Many of the red clay soils north of the Divide fall into this category. They vary in pH depending partly upon their age and rainfall.

Sedimentary and metamorphic soils - clays, silts and sands depending upon the parent rock. These are often shallow and stony soils found along the Great Dividing Range. If derived from mudstone, soil will be silty clays or loams. They are often low to moderately, acid.

Wimmera plains soils - Deep well-structured cracking clay soils deposited when parts of Victoria were influenced by an inland sea. These soils are alkaline and show good fertility.

Basalt soils - Can be red or black in colour showing neutral pH. Black soils are often stony and display seasonal cracking, which can cause problems with buildings and drainage during wet periods. Red basalt soils have good structure and moderate to high fertility and are prime agricultural soils.

Granite soils - Range from deep coarse sands to sandy loams over medium clay soils. They are generally low fertility with steep areas being very prone to erosion. Waterlogging can be a major problem on granite soils. These soils generally are acid to strongly acid.

Victorian Resources Online (VRO) is your gateway to a wide range of natural resource maps and associated information. You can access this information at both Statewide and Regional levels across Victoria. The VRO also provides access to the Victorian Soil and Land Surveys database. This Directory comprises over 100 bibliographic records of Victorian soil and land surveys, dating from early this century to the present day. The Victorian Land and Soil Survey database can be accessed at http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/vro. You are able to search the database by either keyword, shire or Catchment Management Authority area. This will result in a list of soil survey publications, including maps being generated. Publications can either be ordered from the DPI bookshop or viewed at DPI libraries.

Assessing Your Own Soils

Even though soil tests cost you money initially, they may save you money in the long run. A failed dam wall, which may cost thousands of dollars to repair, could have been avoided with appropriate soil testing. Equally unwarranted use of fertiliser is costly and may damage the environment. Soil scientists and engineers use different ways to test soils for different purposes. The type of activity you want to carry out on your property will determine the type of soil test you require.

Engineering Tests

Engineering tests are essential if you are planning any engineering works such as building a house or dam construction. Your local shire will tell what types of tests are required for particular works. Remember you may require a planning permit for many works around the property such as dam construction. Tests are done through geo-technical consultants listed in the Yellow Pages telephone directory under consultants. Dispersion testing, linear shrinkage, ribbon tests, liquid limits and test for fine and coarse sands are all available. Costs vary depending on the type of test required.

Soil tests for engineering purposes:
DAM - dispersion test, linear shrinkage, ribbon test
HOUSE - liquid limit
SEPTIC TANK - coarse sand

Agricultural Tests

Soil tests can be carried out for different agricultural activities. A soil test kit can include an assessment of soil type, structure, nutrition, electrical conductivity and pH as well as including interpretation of the results and a set of recommendations. This usually costs between $60-$110 depending on the number of tests included.

Soil augers for sampling for agricultural tests are available for loan from your local DPI office. Soil sampling kits with instructions are also available from DPI. If you are not near a DPI office check with your local fertiliser supplier to see if they have test kits and soil augers.

If you cannot locate a soil auger you will need to improvise when sampling. Using a shovel is possible provided that sampling is done very carefully. All samples need to be taken to the same depth, usually 0-10 cm and sample the same volume of soil from each depth. Sampling should cover at least 30 different sites across the whole paddock in a zigzag pattern. Instructions are available in test kits. Many firms offer a soil analysis service. Check your local Yellow Pages telephone directory or DPI Office for soil testing companies.

Do it yourself!

Laboratory testing will tell you a lot about your soil but may not give you all the answers for successful management. Topsoil depth, compaction, porosity, soil life, texture and crusting may vary across your property. So why not get a shovel and dig a few holes around your property and assess your own property.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

soil tests

As part of the gardening planning it's important to test the soil so you know what you're dealing with. Here is an article from http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/farming/smallfarms that talks about simple tests you can do:

Small Farm: Soil physical properties - texture and structure
Carole Hollier, Rutherglen
September 2003

Soil is made of varying amounts of silt, sand and clay. The proportion of these components determines if a soil is a sand, loam or clay or any combination of these. Soil texture has a number of implications for management because it effects the ability of the soil to hold water and its ability to withstand cultivation and compaction.

It is easy to assess texture in the paddock by mixing a small amount of soil with water in your hand, just enough to form a slightly sticky ball. The way the sample feels in your hand and the way it forms a ribbon, allows you to determine the texture.

Sands - Won't form a ball. Forms a ribbon less than 10 mm. Feels very sandy and not sticky at all. Clay content 0 to 10%.

Sandy loams - Able to form a ball. Forms a ribbon 15-25 mm long. Feels sandy and slightly sticky. Clay content 10 to 20%.

Loams - Forms a smooth ball, ribbons to 25-40 mm. Feels slightly sandy and moderately sticky. Clay content 20-30%.

Clay loams - Forms a smooth, plastic ball, ribbons to 40-50 mm. Almost no sandy feel. Distinctly sticky. Clay content 30-35%.

Light clays - Forms a smooth, plastic ball, ribboning to 50-75 mm. Very sticky. Clay content 35-45%.

Medium to heavy clays - Forms a smooth, extremely plastic ball. Ribbon more than 75 mm. Feels very sticky with no sand. It is more difficult to mould than light clay. Clay content greater than 45%.

Soil is comprised of three-dimensional arrangements of solid particles and pores. Soil structure is determined by the distribution and the size of these soil aggregates and pore spaces.

Soil structure is influenced by its physical, chemical and biological characteristics. Good soil structure is vital, as it can affect the availability of air, water and nutrients for plant growth. Agricultural practices can significantly alter soil structure. Poor soil structure can greatly reduce plant growth, making it difficult for plants to obtain water, air and nutrients and also impeding seedling emergence due to surface crusting.

The structure and texture of soil affects the soil's ability to hold or drain water and withstand cultivation and compaction by machinery and stock. For example, sandy soils have low water holding capacity and are easily damaged. On the other hand, heavy clay soils are very dense, do not drain water very well and have small pore spaces.

Sand is weakly structured because the sand grains are only weakly bonded together. A very heavy dispersive clay which sets hard into large sheets when dry has a massive structure. Most soil types fall in between these two structures.

An ideal soil has well formed, loose aggregates which hold water but have adequate drainage and are not easily broken down by machinery and stock.

Organic matter is the remains of living things or products of living things in the soil. Organic matter is important for soil structure. Organic matter on the soil surface (such as wheat stubble residues) protects the surface from the action of raindrops, reducing surface compaction and hardsetting. Organic matter also helps to bind sandy and silty soils together and also improves water infiltration through the soil. Organic matter also acts as a buffer against the forces of compaction.
Continuous cropping and cultivation can diminish organic matter in the soil very quickly, leading to soil structural decline.

The chemical make-up of the soil will also determine structure. When high amounts of sodium are present (>6 ESP%) clay particles separate and move freely about in wet soil conditions. When sodic soils come into contact with water, the water turns milky as the clay disperses. When the soil dries out a crust forms on the surface.
The effects of high levels of sodium on soil structure can be overcome through the application of gypsum. Gypsum contains calcium which stops clay from dispersing when it is wet. Calcium is able to overcome the repulsion of the negative charges which cause the clay particles to separate. It helps the clay particles to clump together through a process known as "flocculation".

Slaking is another problem that causes damage to soil structure. When intense rainfall hits dry soil, the surface of porous aggregates rapidly absorb the water and air is trapped internally. With further wetting the force of the air escaping can cause weak aggregates to disintegrate. This process of aggregates breaking into small particles is known as slaking and can block up pore spaces. When the soil surface dries, a crust will form. Slaking occurs within minutes, whereas dispersion may take hours. Slaking also causes water infiltration and seedling emergence problems.

A simple way of checking for sodic, or dispersive soils, is to take two or three pea-sized samples of clay and put them in a shallow container of rainwater. If the soil is sodic, a cloudy appearance will develop in the water around the clay. The quicker this happens, the more sodic the soil.

Slaking can also be checked using this method. When the clay sample is put into the shallow dish of water, it will crumble if prone to slaking (note that no cloudiness of the water occurs with slaking).

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Ebay wins: giant lampshade and stained glass windows

Ebay is a godsend. Here is the first in what I'm sure will be a regular feature of things I've bought on Ebay for Amherst

From an email sent to Mum on 4th March 2004

That giant lampshade I got on Ebay arrives on Sunday, the one that we were thinking of using as a skylight somewhere in Australia. The frame is apparently too big and too heavy to get back by plane or to store here so we will probably arrange a furniture crate in the next few weeks. In fact, it's so heavy that it takes two people to lift it apparently so that'll be fun to install. It has an iron frame on it though so has been up at one point. I was told it was taken out of an old hotel in Bath that was torn down; I'm looking forward to seeing it.

giant lampshade

We've shipped it back to Australia now, Dad's storing it somewhere in his garage I think. Cost a fortune but given we got it pretty cheaply, it evened out. Can't imagine ever finding another one like it!

Stained glass windows emails

From my email to Mum on 20th Feb 2004.
Look what we got for the Amherst house (well probably Amherst)... pretty good to get them all matching, don't you think, for this price? It was the fact they were all decent sizes and matching that made us decide to go for them. The colours are OK, enough variation that you wouldn't be limited in decorating colour inside anyway.

Stained glass window set

7 panels sized 51cm x 34cm
7 panels sized 51cm x 36cm
2 panels sized 46cm x 24cm
1 panel sized 53cm x 28cm
1 panel sized 53cm x 53cm

They're in Southhampton, we'll collect over a weekend soon and combine it with a visit to Aunt Marion. The great thing too is they don't have their wooden frames, so a lot easier to store and bring back to Australia in a suitcase.

Mum said..
they are lovely. Dad is working for a guy in exchange for some glass panel things - he has enough to build his "conservatory" at the back and in barter has done two days work. There is a lot more glass there - do you want him to get some more? He works as barter when he doesn't have another shift nursing...

And I said...
Perhaps... it depends on what the glass panels are like. e.g., are they doubleglazed? are they part of plastic units or wooden framed or no frame at all? I always like to do things the traditional way so ideally want everything to be timber framed. Of course if the glass is going for free then may as well take it as it can always be stored up at Amherst out of the way and gotten rid of later if not OK, but if it is going to cost money (or time from Dad which I will reimburse in money) then no point unless they're what we would want. We're going to visit Aunt Marion next weekend and pick up the glass then. Hopefully we'll be able to bring it all back with us when we come back this year but we'll see... I can't really tell how big they are all together till I see them.

email minutiae: land contours

As part of the initial musings about the garden layout, we got onto the topic of land topography and Mum drew me a contour map

Another description by Mum of the land - 4th March 2004

property up there is lovely. we walked the boundary to measure it as expected of course. dogs ran and loved it. They went through the fence in a few places but generally the fences are good for a country place and would keep them in. they had to watch where they went under and once we had to help them back by holding the wire up. It was too far to walk back to where they had gone initially!

there is a dam not marked in the state forest down the back.. well back end of the side. It has water in it, a bit, and reeds and things. Angie at least went in and then came out and sunned herself ont he dam wall bit. She is the same colour as the clay! Later she stood under a tree, then sat, and looked every inch a dingo. Take the collar off and you would swear she had never seen a person! you have a few little bits of trees on your land, mostly where the edge of the crown land has sort of escaped or has not been cleared right back to the boundary. Not good forest but trees.. and the hill up behind the house gets a bit steep in one bit along the boundary - over 20 metres it dropped about up to Dad's chin. About 1.5 metres over 20 metres.. the rest was only 1m over 20 for about four measures, and most of the rest it was so little we did not bother.

My reply - 4th March 2004

That sounds good. I'm looking forward to seeing the other photos you took. Did you take any of the hidden dam? I'm curious about that, I didn't think they had dams in the forest. Is it definitely man made and not natural?

I've been reading a book about landscape gardening, it's actually part of the required reading for a correspondance course that I was thinking of taking a while back. But it's good because it gives an introduction on the things to consider and how to start in planning a garden of this scale. The first thing I need to do, which we will aim to do on the next trip back, is to get a detailed contour map of the land (e.g., like ordnance survey they have in the UK; not sure if they have the same in Australia?) and also to take soil samples from different parts of the land. It will be quite a task but I need to know the kind of soil it is, more than just what you can see by sight, so as to help in picking plants, etc. Also, I need to understand the light, and how the shadows fall from the forest, house, and where the trees are currently. etc etc etc. Also, I need to get a sense of the wind direction around there, e.g., are there parts that get a lot of wind, like a mini-wind tunnel?

There is so much basic info to collect, and then I can start working out where the basics go. e.g., I figure the positioning for the driveway is pretty much set as there won't be a lot of options probably... also the position of the house extension and orientation of the house. Also the position of the current dam, plus any other we chose to build, like a big one like in the other property I showed you. Although, I don't know if that will make sense, as there's no point in doing it unless it will look natural and fit the contours of the land. From what you saw of it, could you imagine anywhere it might fit? Also of course we have to work out the positioning of sheds and barns and things, which also will be set to some extent because the back part of the roofs (facing away from the house so not seen, ideally) will be covered in solar panels, and they will have to face a certain direction to get the most sun.

Once you've positioned all the buildings/fixed things, then you start planning the garden areas... you start with shapes, apparently. Also looking for balance of "mass" vs "void" with shrubs, trees etc being mass and void being flat parts whether it is paving or dirt or lawn... apparently ratio is 3 void to 1 mass, approx. With the shapes you cluster them in nice patterns and also taking into account effect in terms of blocking views, shade, impact on wind flows etc etc. The shapes, combined with the climate conditions and soil type will go partway to narrowing down your plant options for each position. Then next you consider texture, and finally colour, and then also the dimension of looking different across seasons. You plan it first for the mature garden, say 15 years out, and then you work backwards to current day. So you plant the long-living trees, shrubs apart enough for their full grown size, and fill in the gaps with short-living species and/or bedding plants, ground cover. There is apparently a system for designing gardens on this scale, alongside the creative art to choosing plants (akin to painting I think), so I am going to have a go at planning it myself given that planning is something I can do while over here and it'll be fun.

Mum's reply - 5th March 2004

yes there is a photo of the hidden dam. Quite small and most definitely man made. the overflow would normally run into your property - I mean, if no dam, it would be the watercourse marked on map. But they have done the overflow at site furthest from your house and channelled it along the far side of fenceline ie in the forest for about 100 yds - when it meanders back into your place. We are talking a creek of depth about 6 inches maximum, mind you and dry as dry can be. but, if you got good rains and the creek flowed naturally, the back end of your place could become a swamp. I think the overflow is always at a side of the dam so it does not wash away the whole thing when overflowing but Dave will know more about that than me.

Not much shade anwhere apart from the stand alone trees and along the forst boundaries and even then it is the scrubby shade, not the sort you get from eg oak trees. the steep down bit to 'gully' where hjidden dam is is about three quartes along that side boundary by forest. there is a patch of trees on on the "peak".. we are talking about 80 metres long maybe and about 30 metres out at the max from fence.

Wind yes, not sure where from BUT the"valley" goes a long way along.. ie back along the road, all open.. can see a long way and there are indeed some little"mountains" in the far distance. you would only see them in clear weather. I imagine the wind would come up the valley - ie from east mostly as there is nothing to stop it. but I think it was from north when we were there , not a lot to stop it from that way either.

will have to get photos in for processing tomorrow.

Mum's hand drawing of the land contours - 5th March 2004

attempt at drawing with computer.

black lines are about where creeks would run if they ran. I have tried to show contour lines, and remember the blue bit round creek at right si the lowest and it works up from there. Sorry I can't view from here. Red is highest I think. and the treey bit.

From flatest bit to highest bit would be about, er, 10 metres?? less maybe? I am thinking though the steepest bit down to corner with hidden dam dropped up to Dad's chin in 20 metres and it rose about a metre per 20 metres two or three times on the ohter side of peak, and dropped once like that before the sharp drop. slope from house down to front fence is more gradual but probably about a metre drop maybe two over 100metres or so. Top edge is east. left edge is north -- almost due north. "Mountains" area a long way along the open area to the east. Miles.

I am sure it is not to scale!


My response - 6th March 2004

Thanks for drawing this up, it helps a lot. I hadn't realised the house was up on the hill part nearer the forest. I'd thought it was down nearer the gate.

Do you think there's space between the edge of our land and the existing dam for a single-lane driveway to go between the fence and the dam? Or would it have to loop round the other side of the dam? Also whereabouts are the trees, at least the few that exist at the moment?

If the top edge is the East, and hence the nice long view off into the distance, and the bottom edge is the state forest, what is on the other two edges? Are they all just wire fenced and open pasture, or is there another house anywhere in view nearby or any trees in the neighbouring land? Even though it's not our land, it'll help me get a feel for how things are arranged and potential wind paths.

It's nice that the land rises up a little again on the right hand edge. Also, looks like there is a slight dip in the middle top right area, where it's lower ground, so if we wanted to have a bigger dam then could do it there, where the other creek would flow (the one that's dried up because of the little dam in the state forest).

There were three photos in the original web listing; two were of the house, and one was of an area where there were some small trees growing, couldn't work out if they had self-seeded or were deliberately planted. I'm guessing from your description of the forest overflowing it's boundaries that it must be at the top part?

I might get creative tomorrow with paper mache or something and build myself a 3D model, at least as an approximation. It'll be like being back at primary school!

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

getting started on the garden

We decided to start thinking about the garden before the house, mainly because trees take so much longer to grow. Also, because of that, we don't have time to make mistakes, planting the wrong kind of tree or in the wrong position. So, even though its still going to be very much our own garden, we decided to get expert help in the planning. After some searching online we found Prue from http://www.pruemetcalfegardens.com.au. She's based in Melbourne but has worked in Germany and the UK so is familiar with the kind of gardening styles that I've learned about here. Also, among other things, she specialises in dry-tolerant English style gardens.