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

Sunday, June 25, 2006

work to do when we visit in October

Dave and I were talking today about what we should aim to do at Amherst when we visit in late October. We figured it was better to decide early enough that we could get whatever equipment & raw materials we needed sorted without last minute panic.

We're hoping to get up there on a Monday and spend a week working, then on the last weekend have a big BBQ where everyone's invited to come (& also help out if they feel so inclined!)

These are our initial ideas of what to do, which are probably hopelessly over-optimistic.

1. Lay out the broad bones of the front garden areas

By front garden areas I mean the vegie garden, orchard, and the area between the dam/driveway & front of the new house. To help in doing this, I was thinking we could get some bright coloured rope and pegs to hold it roughly in position? I thought about spraypaint on the ground but that won't last, and it's no good when you accidentally put it in the wrong place. Using rope won't be perfect, as we'll probably be wanting to put in some terracing, but will at least give an indication.

2. Dig trenches & pour the concrete foundations for the walls for the vegie garden, and build at least one or two prototype 'columns'.

Dave figures that we could just rent one of those digger things again to rip a trench, then pour concrete all around. As it doesn't need to be smoothed out, hopefully would just be a case of mixing roughly and pouring?

The columns we envisage as being hollow brick cubes, square, roughly 50-60cm x 50-60cm, up to about door height, or maybe even a bit higher. We want them to be hollow not only to save bricks, but so that we can fill from the bottom with rubbish/concrete up to about 1m from the top with a pipe inserted for drainage. The remaining bit we want to fill with soil and plant things in it, like climbers.

The reason for planting the climbers up high is to keep their base out of the way of the kangaroos, and then they can hang down and grow sideways rather than climb up. Then even if the kangaroos get to them in the summer months, it'll be OK provided we have climbers that are spring-flowering and can tolerate hard pruning in summer! We can grow other things, like lavendar or other plants kangaroos don't like lower down.

Ultimately we could even build some taller columns in the middle part of the vegie garden, as we're going to need eventally to have a wire roof over the top to stop the cockatoos, and by having the columns taller in the middle and rigging the net between we might get a sort of big top effect? I'm even dreaming and thinking that perhaps one of the inner columns could be a working outdoor fireplace chimney, so that we would have somewhere to burn things off but also keep us warm during winter days, but that might be a bit extravagant!

In between the columns we haven't decided what we'll put yet, and it's not something we're going to worry with for this trip as we figure we'll have more than enough heavy work just to get the concrete & columns. We're toying with the idea of having a kind of adobe wall that we press the local quartz stones into, to give an effect sort of like this:

Stone wall in Cambridge

But rather than being solid all round we want to intersperse it with "windows". Whether they be real windows, with glass, or open windows with wire, we haven't decided yet.

3. Collect stones

As a simple thing that anyone can help with on the weekend we have the "big BBQ", Dave suggested we start to collect stones. Besides a few wheelbarrows and gloves, don't think we'd need anything more for this? If we just collect the ones on the surface, then in a few years the weathering will reveal more and we can get some more. It'd give us a headstart on gathering the stones for the vegie garden wall.

4. Plant a few more trees

We've just now splurged and ordered 3 wollemi pines which are being delivered to Dave's parents house for safe keeping until then.


Besides helping with their conservation - these are the trees that they only recently discovered weren't extinct and they need lots of people to grow to protect them - they look a bit like monkey puzzles, which I really like but unfortunately don't suit our conditions. The wollemi's will need protection like the other trees, plus we might need to get a little creative with the watering setup during the first summer but we'll find a way. They grow about 0.5 - 1m every year up to a height of 20m according to the official site, so even allowing for our bad conditions hopefully they'll be a recognisable tree inside 5 years. They seem pretty hardy too, able to cope with extremes of hot and cold, so once they've gotten through their first year and used to the lack of water, hopefully they'll be OK.

We were also toying with the idea of planting a few figs in the orchard, if we can find some that are drought-hardy. There's a nice article about them here mentioning various varieties, but I've not yet found anywhere online to order from.

5. Plant some succulents or cacti

These seem like they'd be well suited to the conditions and as they take a long time to grow would be good to get a head start. We want ultimately to have various big specimens dotted around. Varieties we're thinking of are:

Agave Americana

Mountain Aloe (a. marlothii)

Cape aloe, also called bitter aloe (a. ferox)

But these are just ones we saw in Gardening Australia articles - I figure there will be others equally nice. It might require a bit of pre-planning to get hold of them but there seem to be quite a few specialist succulent/cacti nurseries in Australia, according to Nurseries Online.

6. Plant a hedge

This may be overly ambitious, and is the thing I'm most inclined to drop off the list, but because hedges take such a long time to establish we thought it might be worth getting a headstart, at least on a small scale. Of course, we don't know exactly where we'd plant it yet, but sure we could figure that out when we're there... eg: maybe the length of the new house and parallel to it a bit further down towards the driveway (ie: well out of the way of where we'd need to make a mess with building)? Or maybe perpendicular to that to start to give some wind protection to whatever we plant behind in a few years? Hmmm

I'm thinking of our first hedge being with Photinia:

It looks a nice colour and seems to grow fast - 2m in 4 years, so even allowing for our dreadful conditions, it might be passable as a hedge within 6 years hopefully. It likes well-drained soil, full sun, is frost tolerant, and says it copes with drier conditions, and a Gardening Australia article said it was a fire retardant.

Whatever we plant, I was thinking we could protect it by wrapping in a big narrow loop of wire, which could remain in place even once the hedge was grown. Provided it was a sturdy enough framework then we could rely on the kangaroos to help with the pruning!

7. Dump truck of manure

Once we've got the vegie garden area laid out, we thought it'd be a good idea to get a dump truck or two full of manure, to literally just spread on the surface as a way to start improving the soil. If we spread it on and then leave it for a few years, presumably the worms will work it into the soil without us having to dig Also, then Mum could always start to plant pumpkins and things if she felt so inclined.

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