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

Friday, October 27, 2006

exploring the reef & old town

At least for me, it wasn't all work while I was up there. While Dad and Dave dug out the trenches, I went exploring for a few hours with Sam and John.

First up, we went in search of the Amherst quartz reef. It turned out to be within easy hiking distance from our place, only about a mile. We drove there though, following directions and strategically hung streamers on trees. It was the oddest thing... clambering up over it on a hot day felt very "Picnic at hanging rock". We climbed up before walking around it to see the scale of the drop, and it was quite astonishing. More dramatic than I'd expected.

climbing on the reef.jpg

After that we headed towards Talbot, but stopped off along the way to admire the bluestone culverts. There are several of them and they're beautifully made, although crazily out of scale now considering there isn't even a town there anymore. But it shows you the scale of what was dreamt of, back during the goldrush.

amherst bluestone culvert (near our turnoff).jpg

Before getting into town we took a detour, attempting to find the old Stoney Creek primary school that apparently had a rock garden made in the shape of Australia from the early 1900's. But, after many dead-ends up dirt tracks we had to give up... gives me something to hunt out next trip. :-)

In Talbot we had a lovely wander around. A new information centre has just been opened in a restored building near the internet centre, so I managed to get loads of leaflets and books on the area. I learned that sleepy little Talbot once had over 100 pubs!

Talbot internet cafe is behind London house.jpg

As well there's a lovely quirky secondhand bookstore and a great little place called Red Geranium Cafe that makes some of the best cream cakes I've ever had.

inside the bookstore.jpg

(more photos to come as I've just discovered not all have been uploaded yet)

Overall Talbot was a lovely place, and you could sense it'd come back to life, had a gentle buzzing atmosphere to it that most country towns these days sadly lack. I hope it continues.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Day four - digging

Today Dad and Dave started digging a trench for the kitchen garden wall foundation. Dad managed to get hold of a digger which was brilliant, once they got the hang of it. The first challenge for Dad was getting it off the trailer!

dad with digger while unloading.jpg

They started digging the trench for the back wall. It took ages as the ground is so hard, but they managed to get this back trench dug in about 6 hours. Dave did most of the digging while Dad busied himself setting up 'hurdles' and ensuring everything was totally in line. Here's a few action shots:

Dave with his giant tonka toy.jpg Digging foundations for garden wall.jpg

Mid-afternoon there was a discussion, during which John (Sam's fiance) made a wonderful suggestion that will save us lots of $$$ and time. He told Dad about this product called "Hebel sheets". Dad hadn't heard of them but they've apparently been out for about 5 years and are a revolutionary product... very light, weather/fire/bug proof, etc. They slot together really quickly and can be finished however you want. Even better, they seem to be more environmentally friendly than brick. We've now decided to use Hebel sheets for the kitchen garden wall, between the brick pillars, to save on labour and expense. We'll render them so the finished effect will be the same, just easier to achieve. :-)

In particular, it means that because the sheets are so light, we don't need a wall foundation on the long sides. We'll still need them on the short sides as that's where we'll have more brick and possibly sheds etc leaning against. But using the Heber sheets we can get away, assuming they're as light as they seem, with only having foundations under the brick pillars on the long side. Which means we don't have to dig 40m trenches today, yay...

But that didn't stop Dave and Dad keeping on digging late at night!

action shot of digging.jpg

Day four - modifying old house verandah

This morning we continued a somewhat difficult conversation we'd started yesterday, about the verandah for the old house aka 'the cottage'.

There were three areas of contention - the flooring material, the alignment of the verandah posts, and the roof configuration.

Let's start with the floor.

Dad had bought some decking to use for the verandah floor which was nice... but... not exactly in keeping with the spirit of the house. Instead what we'd been expecting to see was traditional tongue-and-groove. Luckily he's only put it on around part of the front, so with Sam & John's help (friends visiting) we came up with an alternative which should be fine.

We're going to leave the decking he's already installed in situ. Instead of using the leftovers as verandah, however, we're instead going to put a step down and extend the decking forward, so that there's a section in the open too. It should look really nice, we could put a little table out there, surround it by garden, etc.

For the rest of the verandah we're now planning to get Jarrah tongue-and-groove, 80mm wide, 19mm thick, from the same place as Sam & John just got theirs ("Australian Choice Timbers" in Kilsyth). It'll work out a little more expensive perhaps than modern decking, but it'll be worth it.

To help cut the costs further, we've decided that even though the verandah roof will go all the way around the house, we will not have a floor for it on the uphill side. There's not a nice view there, so instead we'll make a kind of mini -garden to look out over, just under the windows.

john measuring for location of veranda posts.jpg

Now, onto the verandah posts.

Dad had only installed a few posts, evenly spaced. But when you looked at the house it seemed odd, akin to someone wearing their spectacles askew, because the posts weren't symmetrical around the windows/doors.

We've come up with a way to salvage it though. We're going to install an extra post, to make it seem symmetrical, on the front right... and then to give it a reason for existing, use it as the point from where the step down to the deck extension happens. I might even put trellis between the two posts and grow a climber up it, which will help disguise it even more.

Luckily Dad hadn't progressed too far with the verandah so we've carefully marked out where we think the other posts should go on the plans... so fingers crossed it will be smooth sailing from now on.

Finally, the verandah roof.

Dad had been planning to have the verandah roof about 5m deep in front of the door, so it covered the steps. We have changed this back to where the verandah would ordinarily be, so now it's only half as deep, because it will look more in keeping and allow light to get into the hall which would otherwise be quite dark.

As well, we've decided to raise the verandah roofline to put it where it was in its original incarnation. Where Dad has put it so far is a bit too low, but again we have a cunning salvage plan... which is to leave the verandah over the deck as is, but to build it higher everywhere else. This should look OK we hope as, because the other part is set back it'll make it appear in line with the diagonal roof slope.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Day three - kitchen garden

Today we got to the block around 9am and met Dad, who'd driven up the night before and stayed over in the caravan. We talked in more detail about the plans for the kitchen garden, so Dad could work out how to tackle it given that it was slightly different to what he'd been envisaging.

At 10am, as we were leaving to get to the architects, two big trucks turned up - one with a load of manure (luckily old manure so it doesn't smell!) and the other with bricks, so we can build a test column later this week perhaps, if time permits.

bricks and manure.jpg

Dad worked today to get the corners exactly in place, based on our rough line markings using his laser surveying thingy. Tomorrow there is a someone coming at 7.30am - either they're dropping off a digger, or they're actually doing the digging for us (I don't remember what Dad said about it exactly). They'll be digging out a trench for the wall foundation. We may still need to do some widening of it by hand in the areas where the columns will be, but we haven't worked that out yet.

The plan is to have brick columns - probably with breeze blocks or something cheap on the inside, with just bricks as the cladding - with the wall inbetween the columns being finished in a kind of rendered / adobe style. If cost were no object we'd do the whole thing in brick, but this is a compromise I think will look really good.

Next things to do: (tomorrow / Friday)
  • Mark out the location of beds and cover with newspaper/manure.
  • Work out where the columns will be in relation to the beds. We want to be sure that it's symmetrical.

Day three - new house plans

The bulk of our third day here, from 11am on, was spent with our architect Eric in Daylesford (about an hour or so away). Here's a photo of him with Dave:

eric and dave

Broadly the house layout is staying the same but we're enlarging it... incrementally the extra cost won't be that much and we'd rather err on the side of too much space (as we'll easily fill it) than risk it feeling cramped.

The biggest changes:
  • The library will become MUCH bigger. We're extending it in length by about 4m but putting a small wall jutting out a little to give it the feel of two separate spaces, yet open enough to see through. The furthest space will be two storey, with spiral stairs up to a landing, so that we have some serious book storage both above and below. We'll be using the giant stained glass lampshape in here as a kind of reverse cupola, with lights & skylight above.

  • The dressing room upstairs will have a dormer window inserted to make it feel more spacious and add room for a seat... it'll also be a little wider, so it feels less like a walk in closet. There'll be a matching dormer on the other side.

  • We're changing the shape of the stairs to be square rather than a rounded finish, with a decent landing area, which may entail extending it a little to ensure they retain a sweeping feel, akin to the stairs at Standen. We'll be moving the 11ft clock so that it backs onto the kitchen wall rather than between the stairs, and raising the ceiling height by a step or two, to ensure there's space for it.

Other less major changes:

  • We're widening the entrance hall and similarly enlarging the pantry and kitchen.

  • The kitchen door will be shunted towards the front of the house to make space for glass fronted full-length cupboards for storing china, on the wall backing onto the pantry. This solves one of the major storage dilemmas.

  • The bedroom and study upstairs (and possibly also the bathroom, yet tbd) will have 1-2 steps down to enter them from the hall landing. The exact amount depends on how much the ceiling in the stairway area needs to be raised to accommodate the clock. This will give them a wonderful feeling I think, like the house we saw in Washington.
  • Eric is going to attempt to bring the bathroom dormer window forward a little, so it has a bit more space, although it'll still be cosy in feel.
  • At the front Eric is going to see if its possible to put a small balcony - accessed via climbing over the window sill - across the top of the front verandah. It depends on what it does to the roof shape, but he's going to experiment with it.
  • In the lounge room, a false ceiling will be added starting a bit in front of the bay window area, to make the space feel more interesting... and at the same time the whole room will be lengthened a bit "letting it breath" in Eric's words. A similar thing will be done in the kitchen probably too.

Eric is going to work on revising the drawings and send them to us in a few weeks, so I'll scan and add them here when they arrive.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Day two - paint paint paint

Today was tough... it was hot, it was dusty, it was tiring. But we made a lot of progress.

First up, we focused on the walled vegie garden. Dad is arriving tomorrow with digger in tow to dig the trench for the wall foundation. Before he gets here we had to work out where exactly it was going to be positioned, and what shape.

In the end we decided to put it down near the orchard, slightly closer to the dam than originally envisaged. We choose that spot for a couple of reasons: 1) The land is flat there, so cut out the need for terracing; 2) By having it nearer the lake, the boathouse can also double as a place for having a relax while gardening; 3) We needed to get it out of the shade of the tree.

After trying a few alternatives, we settled on a size of 25m by 40m for the walled area. It sounds enormous, but we want space for a green/shade house, for a big potting and tool shed, for lots of compost bays, for some of the fruit trees that require more protection, etc.

Here's the layout we came up with, at least as a starter. The round thing in the middle is a fountain shaded with a big pergola (ala the one at Sissinghurst in the White Garden):

vegie garden plan

We used stakes to mark the corners, with the help of string and a measuring tape to get the lengths of each side. 90 degrees was worked out by eye, comparing it to the scrapbook shape! I'm sure it's out by a little but not enough to worry about. At the end, we used spraypaint to mark out the borders, to make it easy for Dad to dig in the tractor thingy.

marking out the vegie garden walls.jpg

At lunchtime we went into Maryborough to get some supplies (including hayfever tablets and a new hat for me). On the way back we drove past the house I spotted last time, with the glorious front verandah. Sadly it's in a worse state of repair, oh I really hope they fix it up.

I adore the square bay window on the diagonal and the lovely simple fretwork combined with fancy columns on the porch.

view from other side.jpg

I also ADORE the ceiling... using light blue to mimic the sky. We planned to do this too but I was thinking about skimping and painting it straight onto the metal. Now I see this though I'm afraid we will somehow have to line it to give the effect of boards, even if not the real thing.

gorgeous verandah roof like we plan.jpg

In the afternoon we laid out the new house, measuring the downstairs layout in situ, then marking with spraypaint so we could "walk around" the whole thing and get a feel for it:
marking out the house.jpg

In wandering round it we discovered that we want to stretch the house to make it a bit more spacious - especially in the library. But that will be the subject of tomorrow's email, as we're seeing Eric to discuss then.

Day one - exploring

On our first afternoon we didn't do much work - instead too busy exploring! After the trees (see previous post), the house was next on our list to look around.

Even though only a little work had been done to it, Dad had rearranged things to give the effect of a room at the front. It really started to let you see how it might feel:

bedroom in front room.jpg

There's also the beginnings of the wraparound verandah at the front, which has been a wonderful place to sit during the hot days:

front verandah.jpg

Dad has also managed to take down a lot of the collapsed extension at the back to reveal the original shape of the house:

back of house.jpg

The dam was looking particularly nice, albeit less full than I would have liked. It's not really low yet though as you can't see the 'humps' in the middle. We saw lots of sheep go down to the dam for a drink which was lovely to watch. We also saw two egrets wading, getting yabbies no doubt.

view across dam.jpg

I'm more relaxed about getting the dam to look like a lake now than I was. Hopefully the waterlilies will take, but even if not provided we can get the big clay bank covered with reeds and other green stuff, the dam will take on the appearance of a lake. It's the dam wall that makes it look muddy (although the darn yabbies have something to do with it too).

To cap off the day, on the way back to our rented Avoca cottage, we explored some new roads too... driving along Lillicur Road up the side of our property all the way up to the Sunraysia Highway. There was a fantastic sunset as we came over a ridge:

sunset view from lillicur road (driving to avoca).jpg

Monday, October 23, 2006

Day one - inspecting trees

Today we drove up to Amherst. It was the first time I've visited in nearly 2 years, and the very first time we've ever been there together with no-one else around.

We arrived mid afternoon and spent several happy hours wandering around. Our goal this trip is less to get lots of work done (although we'll still be busy), and more to get a proper feel for the place. We're staying up here for an entire week, so I'm going to try and blog every day about what we get up to. It's so exciting to be actually on site rather than stuck on the other side of the world!

The brilliant news is that the trees we planted last visit are by and large doing really well. We've lost a few, but nowhere near as many as I'd expected.

The mulberries and plums are doing the best out of all the fruit trees:

mulberry tree.jpg plum tree.jpg

The peaches are doing OK but are infected with something on their leaves; the persimmons are OK too although a bit twiggy still - I guess they're just later to bud. The almonds are doing well though.

peach tree.jpg

persimmon tree.jpg almond tree.jpg

Overall, the lemon gums are doing better than we expected. We've lost about 5, maybe 10, of the 70+ we planted, which isn't too bad. Almost all the ones lost were in the lower part of the driveway, where the frost would have been most pronounced. The ones that had the fullest shade cloth wrapping as protection unsurprising did the best. There are some that look pretty dead with only a few green leaves; Dave reckons they will bounce back though so fingers crossed. Here's a photo of one of the nice bushy ones.

lemongum tree closeup inside.jpg

It's amazing to think that two years ago they looked like this.

The olive grove too is going brilliantly. Again a couple of trees are a little the worse for wear, but most have put on new growth and are looking healthy. Because the soil is so poor and there's little water, we are expecting them to take their time in getting big, but the fact that they've all got new leaves shows that they've settled in.

view of olive grove.jpg

Sunday, October 22, 2006

wollemi pines are doing well

Today we stayed with Dave's parents and had a wonderful lunch out on their patio... next to the Wollemi pines! They are amazing, doing really well with a lot of new growth. The new growth started off a creamy colour apparently and is gradually becoming green. It's still a noticeably lighter shade of green, it looks lovely. According to Jess (Dave's Mum) the trees grow from a small nobbly bit at the top that looks almost like it's been cut off, then it gradually gets bigger and opens out into branches almost like fronds. Then the process begins over.

What impressed me the most about them though was how soft they were, with lovely feathery leaves, not like pine needles or harsh like monkey puzzles as I'd been expecting. They do seem to have a bit of a monkey puzzle habit though, which bodes well. :-)

They're doing so wonderfully under Jess's nurture that we've decided to leave them with her for the foreseeable future in their pots, rather than transplant them to Amherst until there's someone around to look after them. They're too special to risk losing.

wollemi pines.jpg wollemi pines closeup.jpg

Monday, October 16, 2006

San Francisco inspiration

In early October I was in San Francisco for a work conference. It finished on the Friday and I stayed over the weekend to visit friends.

On Sunday Caroline and I went exploring to see some of the beautiful old houses. I'd been to San Francisco several times before, but not since I got interested in architecture, so it was fun to look around with fresh eyes.

You can see all the photos I took here, but below are some that sparked particular inspiration for Amherst.

Bamboo mural on the front of a house in Haight Ashbury - something like this might be nice for a shed or verandah wall?
house with bamboo mural

I loved the glossy black finish on these stairs.
glossy black steps

And I loved the concept of training vines to grow across the risers of stairs.
vines growing on steps

I like the small verandah under the eaves of this house and can see something like this working well with the style of Amherst.
tower and balcony closeup

You can barely make it out in this photo, but there's some lovely old stained glass set in the trellis on the edge of the verandah. Something like this could be really great on the verandahs at Amherst, at one end to screen something off, or simply as a partial divider maybe? In particular, for the old cottage now Dad is putting the wraparound verandah on.
stained glass in deck

I loved this plant, especially how the melodrama of it so fitted with that of the house. This is a reminder to not separate planting from the architecture.
my favourite house

Plunging rosemary plants... I never knew they could grow like this. This might be a nice option for around the balcony edges or on terrace walls.
rosemary plants

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The water lily saga

I've been trying to be good and not plan to do too much work while visiting Amherst. Last visit was great but exhausting with little time for dreaming. This trip I want to do some work, but more importantly have time for imagining what it will look like, marking out the house & envisioning the views from the windows, etc.

But in one of our regular discussions bemoaning the muddy state of the dam (as in "why can't it look more like a lake?"), Dave came up with the notion of water lilies.

Now I adore water lilies, always have, although have never successfully grown them (the darn koi ate the ones in our London backyard pond). But they were my Gran's favourite flower, even to the extent she had them in her wedding bouquet. So I always envisaged having a pond with water lilies... but for some reason had never put two and two together and thought of filling the dam with them too.

I couldn't resist making a start on it this trip.

First stop was checking with Prue to make sure I wasn't making a hideous mistake. She said:
"Water lilies would be really lovely, perhaps even water iris on the banks
too. As for suppliers in Melbourne, the best one I knew of has closed down but I
found another online: http://www.walliscreekwatergarden.com.au. The iris can be found at many places but a good range can be found at http://www.tempotwo.com.au".

I then got in touch with Wallis Creek:

"I'm interested in buying some waterlilies from you via mail
order, but would like your advice on which varieties would be
most suited and how many I should get.

The varieties I'm thinking of are:
--Nymphaea "Hal Miller" (white)
--Nymphaea "Karleen Harder" (yellow)
--Nymphaea "William Falconer" (red)
but if there are others that would be better suited let me know.

Hal Miller water lily karleen harder water lily william falconer water lily

...During summer the water level can go down significantly
so anything planted fixed in the dam edges would be at risk
of exposure. The dam also has yabbies in it which my husband
refuses to condone getting rid of, so I was thinking of not
planting in the actual dam bed itself but instead in something
like a big garbage bin with holes drilled in the side, as I
presume that would give more protection from the yabbies?
Also, I was thinking of rigging up some floats so that whatever
I planted them in could move around rather than being fixed to
the bottom.... the advantage of this would be that it could
adjust itself to always remain in water if the dam started to
get low. Would love to get your advice as to whether this
would be something you could envisage working or if you have
any better suggestions."

Unfortunately, they replied with some downbeat news:

"Water level fluctuations are ok so long as lillies are
not high and dry until the mud around their roots drys
completely. Your main problem is much more likely to be
the yabbies - They muddy water, snip off leaves and flowers
and dig up and float away tubers - robbing them of food
and anchorage. Placing then in drums will only work if
the drums extend above water level-which won't work
really well. Usually we suggest establishing plants
before animals-it sometimes works then by sheer mass.
I suggest if you want lillies- you may need to trap and
eat as many of your yabbies as you can, especially the
larger ones".

Now unfortunately, trapping & eating the yabbies isn't an easy option as even if we catch them now, they'd soon repopulate and we won't be around to catch them again. And we live in an area that is extremely yabbie-prone. There is even an annual Yabbie Festival in Talbot!

Despite this, I refuse to give up without trying. I've ordered one each of the white and yellow ones above, and to help find a way that yabbies and water lilies can cohabit, I posted on Yahoo & Google Answers. I got responses on both, albeit with more thorough research at Google (as you'd expect, hey, you get what you pay for).

On Yahoo, thanks to odafintutuola:
"All I can think of is a piece of straight culvert or drainage pipe
with slits in it, sunken straight down into the water and drop your
(smaller around buckets) of bulbs down into it, you don't say how
deep you're going to have to sink the buckets so I would only hope
no matter which route you take is going to allow for sunlight to
'bring up' the stems..."

On Google, thanks to hummer, I got some hope - apparently the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne managed to restore water lilies to a lake, helping to protect the lilies from birds and yabbies using netting. At least it is possible! Hummer also found me several suggestions for how to make the floating containers, including one that is very clever, out of an old tyre.

I ran these past the guys at Wallis Creek, and they were skeptical but did come up with one alternative idea:

"I looked at the answers and in my opinion they will not
work in the long term. These answers assume all yabbies
are of a certain size that they will not go through the
net. Once my pond pump was not performing well, it had
been deteriorating over some time. I expected to find a
mud blocked filter, but in fact there was a large yabbie
which must have crawled in when small enough to fit between
2mm slots. If you have a dam try to get yabbie eating fish
like eels or catfish and these will keep them under control."

Eels I loathe, too close in appearance to snakes. But catfish... I wonder if Dave would allow it, hmmm.... Perhaps catfish will be a back-up plan but for this trip, we're going to try making 2 variants of containers.

I'll post pictures of the contraptions as we do them. Keep your fingers crossed for us!