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

Saturday, April 17, 2004

wishlist for the garden

To help Prue, we wrote a wishlist of things we did and didn't want in the garden at Amherst. It was quite amusing to do as well as more helpful in a pragmatic way than the dream photos!

Things that we want

BBQ area with a permanent table and space for an umbrella/shade cloth. Also there should be a roof over the BBQ area

Bar area (not necessarily near the BBQ area but it could be)

Quiet reading / meditation area

Petanque playing area where it won’t matter if the grass etc end ups with lots of bumps

Small swimming pool inside a secure brick walled area, so we don’t have to have dorky looking pool security fences. Swimming pool will not be very big and no more than 8 ft deep at the deepest part and it will have steps to get in. It will be around 8 metres long by 3m wide. There needs to be space for sun loungers etc alongside. Also, I would like it to feel secluded and not necessarily entirely in full sun in all places (e.g., it would be good to have trees overhanging in some parts and we’ll just deal with the hassle of leaves). Ideally this would be near to the BBQ area but they would be distinctly separate areas

A pool house, ie: a kind of building that is near the pool that has a place to store towels, get changed, put away deckchairs when it's out of season, etc etc. I don't know what this looks like yet, but there needs to be a space planned for it in the section of the garden that has the pool.

A rotating summerhouse. Ideally this would be like a room with french doors, etc that we could use as a writing or reading or painting room, that would sit on a base and rotate so it could face in whatever direction we wanted. They have them here so you can rotate to follow the sun; that might be good in Australia in the winter, but I expect in summer we would probably be turning away from the sun to keep it cool! Ideally this would be positioned somewhere that there would be a variety of views from different directions to make the most of the flexibility, maybe at one tip of the property up on the hill? You can get them here in ready-made kits. e.g.,
http://www.source-antiques.co.uk/summerhouse.asp (this company say they ship all over the world)

Cricket net, which also could be inside a walled area. This needs to be about 30 yards long and 10 yards wide at a minimum

Space to play croquet if we are having grass. This doesn’t need to be a formal posh croquet lawn but just a space for informal games

Lake, preferably with a little jetty to sit and dangle our feet over or a very shallow entrance bit we can line with pebbles for wading in. I don’t want it to be muddy at the bottom and I don’t want the water to be brown. Ideally the lake will have some waterlilies

Dovecote, which could even be a full-blown dovehouse you can walk into. Even if we can’t get doves in Australia perhaps we could entice some other friendly birds to stay there.

Tree seat – ie: a big tree somewhere that we can build a circular seat around

Potting shed

Lean-to style greenhouse in one of the walled gardens

Old fashioned style cold frame things

Vegetable garden

Steps in some parts of the garden

Herb garden in the broadest sense, so this can include even odd herbs like in a physic garden

Camomile seat or bench

Feeling that the garden is actually an outdoor house, with a series of rooms, each individual, differently sized, but which lead from one into the other with multiple entrances and exits

Decorative fish pond that we can keep a few pet koi or goldfish in. This needs to be well shaded. In fact I love ponds so the more ponds the better

Use of small fountains etc to create a calming and cooling feeling but not formal fountains… more things like water trickling down a wall, etc

If it is at all possible, I would love to have a bog garden even in just a small part. I figured the only thing would be perhaps in the sewerage recycling bit where it will get a lot of water and fertiliser?!! Or perhaps I just have to bury a pool and plant into that. I like those prehistoric looking bog plants, and things like gunnera manicuta (sp?).

Lots of shade trees which are tall enough to walk under

Use of trellises to add height e.g., using grapevines, kiwifruit, passionfruit etc to act as a roof in some areas

Outdoor lounge room area, with lots of space for lying around on cushions, with a central fire pit. Also a wall that has a flat section that we could project movies onto

Orchard area which has lots of trees with spring blossoms even if it doesn’t give us fruit

Shady woodlandy feel section, even if it is small, because it will be a lovely cool place to retreat to in the heat of summer

Long walk which has trellises etc for things to clamour over

A garden that looks different in each season, or at least some sections of it do

Native plants scattered around the garden rather than there being a special “native” garden for them

Patio area around the house that has shade

Pathways around the garden that are barefoot walkable, and pathways where there is shade, at least dappled, for getting around in summer because I don’t like the heat and I sunburn easily

A place for chickens and ducks to live

A proper serious composting area

Space for a blowsy herbaceous border in the old fashioned sense but on a manageable scale

At least a few places where you can sit to get views down the sweep of the paddocks. One of these could be possibly a tower or tree house?

Sweeping driveway which has symmetrical plantings for at least part of the way

A paddock or two so we can have pet sheep, cow, horses as well as a barn for them

Use of things like mirrors to create interesting perspectives in the garden. Also surprising places e.g., plinthes, alcove to display sculptures, little pot plants, etc

An old fashioned lamppost like in The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe buried somewhere in the midst of the garden

A herb lawn (e.g., thyme/wild oregano/etc) that you can lie on in the sun when its hot and which is fragrant, like at the cemeteries at Gallipoli

A cemetery area, ideally with wrought iron-like fence where we can put ourselves one day as well as pets

A swing that is strong enough for adults to use; ideally something like a tyre swing that hangs from a tree

If it is possible a small fernery (e.g., perhaps we could create a grotto like area for them where they had shade?)

Flowering meadow

Mini-olive grove

Things that we do not want

A tennis court

A formal rose garden that looks skeletal and clipped within an inch of its life for most of the year. I like roses but old fashioned roses that you don’t prune, that just grow wild and clamour over everything. I don’t like roses all grouped together without anything else around

Formal gazebo stuck out in the middle of nowhere as if it’s the main feature. We want the plants to be the stars not the structures

Gum trees with that horrible harsh brown thick craggy bark, or at least not very many of them

A separate kids play area

Giant boulders scattered around

Things that look plastic

Concrete in wide swathes (but it is OK if it doesn’t look like concrete)


Anything that involves a cupid or dumb statue

Overly modern, stark feel

Overly quaint “English romantic” feel

Topiary figures

Friday, April 16, 2004

photos of garden things I love

As part of pulling together a brief for the garden design for Prue, we've put together an album of photographs of garden features and planting schemes that we liked, which you can view in an Ofoto album here.

UPDATE: I've now put it into book format on Scribd to make it easier to browse...
Garden Ideas (a collection from 2004)

There are 208 photos in total, and if you view them on the fullscreen rather than thumbnails I've put in the description what the particular thing was that I liked about them.

Below are my favourite photos in which I love absolutely *everything*, to give you a flavour:

creating filtered shade for patio (Dry Climate Gardening - Orthos)

gum tree lined driveway at Cruden Farm - Eucalyptus Citriodora (Natural Planting - Penelope Hobhouse)

lavendar sage and yarrow garden (Dry Climate Gardening - Orthos)

mediterraneon style pool2

olive trees in meadow (Practical Herb Garden - Jessica Houdret)

sedum in rockery planting in brick wall (New Perennial Garden - Noel Kingsbury)

shady bold architectural planting - palms, agave americana (Natural Planting - Penelope Hobhouse)

stone and pebble paving (Lost Gardens of Heligan - Tim Smit)

wild mediterranean garden (new perennial garden - Noel Kingsbury)

yellow orange red in sunset garden (gardening at sissinghurst - Tony Lord)

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

email minutiae: the chook debarcle

Mum's email talking about the visit on my birthday - 10th April 2004

Hello Lyn and Dave

Just filling you in on the latest news re Amherst, which we visited yesterday = Friday9th. Your birthday Lyn - hope you had a nice time.

We left here about 1.20pm - Dad was late as he had to get some sleep after finishing night shift at 7.30am. Trailer was loaded with windows and things like BBQ - and we went via my new workplace out by airport. All that meant we did not arrive until about 5.30, 6pm. First thing we saw was chooks and ducks in the paddock where horses used to be. Dad stopped there and went to talk to the lady - I walked up the hill. The result was, she refused to consider putting them in shed before they wandered into it of their own free will when dark (only 30 minutes away) and said if the dogs got onto her land she would shoot them. Further said if the other neighbour (seems from that they do not own the long paddock out the back of their place; and it has never had anything on it when we see it) sees any dog on his land he shoots it on sight. They just have to be there it seems, not actually doing anything. We kept dogs tied on leads after that and will not take them again.

We spied out the land and have put a few piles of stone in the corners of the room, maybe. Up almost at top of west ridge. Big stones and rocks there. Good for gravity feed for water for house. Then unloaded trailer in a hurry as a fire several paddocks away got a big flare up and was coming towards us fast. We found the front door of house open, with a brick in front of it to keep it that way - and carpet and bricks arranged in one room inside which I am sure was not like that when we were last there - and I wedged door shut when we left that time. Dad has tied it shut now but I think someone has been in there maybe camping... And I think maybe another weatherboard or two has been removed. I cannot be sure but I think so.

The fire was about out as we left - no need for worry as it turned out. We had seen it as we went past on the way along Lillicur Rd - only a few men there, but water tanker at the ready - burning around the fences. We think now they let it rip in the centre of paddock deliberately and it had nowhere to go then so burnt out. It was so dark when we left we had problems finding the right way to drive - we knew the direction but could not see the faint marks we always drive along and ended up in some slightly longer grass and heading for the dam! The headlights even on high beam were useless for finding the way. We were glad to leave. Consider getting that drive defined by some white stones maybe.

It was nice to see the lights of the few houses in Amherst as we went by. (About 5 - 8 total.) And then Talbot - for the first time we went through the down town area and I really thought Great Great Gran could easily have walked out of any of the shops there. None operating, and only one, a modern milkbar not in main street, open. Pub had a sign saying meals $5 but we did not go in. Next Sunday I will have time to really explore it. But it is a lovely place. If ever you ended up living at Amherst, then I might possibly consider living in Talbot or Clunes if here gets too expensive. I can't see the housing in Talbot would be hugely expensive - yet, anyway. Clunes is bigger but same style. I think it even has a bus to Ballarat!!! And a nursing home. A thriving metropolis, no less.

On the way in along Lillicur Rd, after passing the burn off, we saw on one of the paddocks three kangaroos. Must have been big ones to be so easily seen from the road when they were at the back of the blocks. The way they bounced made them obviously not a cow, amongst which they were hopping. There were fresh roo or wallaby droppings on the track I walked up from your dam to house, too.

Dad and I are concerned about people getting in to your place and stealing things if not damaging it more or setting fire to it. He is wondering about spending a few days there, demolishing the back lean to and using the boards from it to repair the house itself - and glazing windows, and then putting something over them to stop breakage of glass. And sealing up one room, locking it.. In other words, making it as secure as we can. But we know you do not like the boarded up look. You will need to talk to Dad on that.

Peter has got about 300 bricks free for you - that will do for the cabin room which will have an open air cook place = BBQ beside it. Dad is saying a 12ft square room with about 6 ft veranda out front and about 8 ft on south side at the front end of which will be "stove " = BBQ woodfired, and at the back of which will be the tanks and a bit further up the dunny or whatever. Fire can't be at back as planned as trees in the way. Also want the place in trees not open and not sticking out like a sore thumb from your place. So it can be seen, your place from this site, but this place will not be obvious. Dad said if he used palings on the outside, treated and stained that dark colour it should blend in with the trees and used the local stones as the visible brick bits of the open air kitchen then it would be OK. You will need to talk to him though as he was not definite.

my reply - 13th April 2004

Thanks for taking all that stuff up to Amherst. Dave has left a message for the planning guy, but hasn't managed to speak to him again yet. So, tell Dad not to do any building until we have spoken to the planning guy to confirm it's OK - unless he's prepared to take the chance that we may need to change things. I figure it will be OK but it's important we do things by the book, this early on anyway. At least Dad's been able to clear out some things from his house anyway.

Please thank Pete for the bricks.

I'm sorry to hear about the dogs. I hope you didn't get too angry at the neighbour; perhaps they have had a bad experience with dogs previously? I wouldn't be surprised if there are wild dogs that live in the State Forest. It would be very distressing if you had chickens and ducks as pets (which it seems like she does) to have them attacked by dogs. Also, I can understand why she would be irritated by her pets being asked to suffer and miss out on some of their time outside (not to mention the added hassle for her of having to round them up) just so some "stranger" dogs could go running off a lead.

I don't suppose you got the name / address of the neighbours yet? We would like to write them a letter and send it from here , just to introduce ourselves and say hello, to start things off on the right foot. The real estate agent didn't know and we couldn't find any listings in the phone book. We're going to ask the planning guy if he can help, at least in terms of addresses, but I'm not even sure if they have postal deliveries to the houses out there or whether everything is PO Box in the town. Anyway, if you could ask them when you go up next week, that would be nice.

Dave says that threatening to shoot dogs that are treespassing is fairly common practice in the country in his experience, in the sense that farmers don't like to have their animals terrorised and lambs/etc murdered by runaway dogs so they don't take any chances. In practice however I'd imagine they would shoot first to attempt to scare off the dog rather than at it to kill, unless of course the dog was hurting one of their animals. Why can't the dogs be tied up to a big central post while they're up there and not being walked? They could be on long long tethers, they'd still have a good time and it's not like there's any trees etc for them to get tangled up in.

If someone is camping in the house then I figure there's not much we can do to prevent it. I doubt they would be taking the weatherboards off if they were camping there; it defeats the purpose. It could always be that the previous owners came back to clear out some of the things they had left there, and had wedged the door open to make it easier while carrying things out. Was the old futon still there? That was in the pictures you sent me; I thought it was odd they left it. Even if it is people camping, the harder we make it for them to get in, the more likely they are to do damage. If they're not hurting anything then I don't mind. Perhaps next time if you think someone has been there you can leave a note... not saying that they can't use it but just asking them to look after it? We will talk to Dad. I figure, the house has survived for the past 20 years as it is; so it's not likely to be torched in the next 10 years unless we do something to antagonise the people who used to visit it. I'd prefer they didn't come but as I can't afford a full time security guard, or to pay for the insurance on an unoccupied property, perhaps it's better just to attempt to make it watertight, but not to lock the door. If someone is visiting it for camping, I doubt they'd smash the glazing if they were able to open a window? We will try and talk to Dad in the next few days anyway.

Monday, April 05, 2004

soil test results

These are the results of the soil testing which Dave's parents did, with some help from Mum and Dad

soil testing results

soil testing map

Overall, the pH seems to be between 5-6, so slightly acidic, although not as bad as I was expecting. The other minerals are worse than I'd anticipated though... I guess it just means we have to do a lot of preparation of the soil in advance; but in the scheme of things it's not impossible.

The tests were done after about 5 years of low rainfall, so all the soil was very dry. After clearing, the land was probably used for grazing, and at testing, grass was dry and sparse to very sparse. The soil is a grey to reddish brown loam
In most areas there is 20 to 30cm topsoil with small to medium sized quartz fragments on the surface or in the soil. The area called up creek and down creek was probably a shallow gully which was filled over the years with soil washed from the uphill forest area. The top soil here is at least 30cm and is a fine dark grey loam with an absence of quartz fragments. This area supports the greatest quantity of grasses. The ph tests showed the creek soils to be slightly acid probably relatred to the humus content and overall the creek soil would be the easiest to cultivate and probably the most fertile.