Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What's Growin?

There's lots going on in the patch at the moment. Someone mentioned that Spring brings optimism and the promise of the future. I agree.

The mint rescued from the chickens is 
loving Joel's old Mini tyres.

The Asparagus sends up new shoots with 
every thunderstorm. The slugs love deforming 
and stripping the stems as they come up. 
Not so happy about that.

Lots of beans on the way!

I can't wait for these to ripen!

Finally some Mulberries.

And finally a new Poppy colour I like!

Millions of tomato volunteers from the compost.

How cute are these two?! I can't wait for my blue eggs. 
Apparently Lavender Araucanas don't lay for 9 months? 
Does anyone know if this is true? I don't know if I can wait that long!

Happy Spring

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Front Garden Bed From Scratch

After the tree came down we were left with a gaping hole in the front garden bed, except for a couple of GIANT piles of ground out tree stump sawdust. Joel laboured away for a few weekends, digging out the piles and preparing for building a new garden bed. Much to his frustration, I hadn't drawn a plan for the new garden bed and he couldn't quite accept that a Landscape Architect would not want to prepare such a plan for their own garden! I was happy to take a free approach and had a rough idea that I wanted some mounds and a swale and there were a few plants that were on my must have list. In order to keep the peace, I drew a quick little sketch, that set out the key structures of the garden bed - both plant and soil.

Excuse the roughness, but it is a photo of a 5 minute 
sketch!!! I promise - I am a professional!

Soil structures? I hear you ask. What is she on about?! Well, when you are starting a garden bed from scratch and the area is large and exposed, soil mounds are a great way to define spaces and add some structure to the new garden bed.

3 cubic metres of soil shovelled around. Good work Joel! 

With mounds you create good drainage, exposed areas, sheltered areas and moist areas where the water collects at the base of the mounds. This meant I could tailor my planting scheme to suit the conditions. I love both exotics and natives and am using the more 'established' part of the garden as a reference and so the newly planted area has many similar plants in to to unify the separate areas.

With the plants that I wanted, roughly in my mind, we went off to our local weekly market where plant wholesalers sell off their excess stock. We always manage to get pretty good quality stock for this market and all of the plants are well below the average retail price. We probably bought about 40 plants for this area and I already had my Pomegranite in a pot waiting to go into the ground and two Eucalyptus caesia's (Silver Princess) to match the other plants in the older garden bed. The theme I am going with is a kind of native cottage garden with an emphasis on dry tolerant plants. So far things are going well!

We placed all of the plants before digging in.

Most of the new plants chosen are native and will provide structure and definition for later infill planting. 
The most important are my Silver Princes's (a lovely birthday gift from my brother) which will provide height, an elegant weeping habit and striking silver white stems.

Eucalyptus caesia

Then there are the dry tolerant natives that will provide structure and textural interest in the garden. The foliage colour of these plants vary from grey to dark green with rusty new growth and bright lime green.

Eremophila glabra Yellow flowered form.

Banksia spinulosa Dwarf Candles

Adenanthos sericeus Woolly Bush 

Some of the tough key exotic shrubs are the good old artichoke that you can't go past for the big thistle flowers and the strong architectural grey foliage, as well as the lovely Arthropodium cirrhatum or NZ Rock Lily, Limonium perezii Sea Holly, Phlomis fruticosa Jerusalem Sage and the cute Festuca galuca otherwise known as Blue Grass which is a very popular little edging grass in my garden.. There is also the interesting Euphorbia x martinii Blackbird which will add some colour contrast when it matures into its adult burgundy colour.

Euphorbia x martinii

This work was all done in September and with all the rain we have had the plants are taking off and looking very happy. We also have dug a swale, which I have explained here, that collects runoff from the driveway and transfers it to the natural low point in the garden. This will eventually be a lush and shady spot, that hopefully will attract frogs and little birds to the garden. I planted the Pomegranate over the swale as a refuge for small birds as its spiky branches will eventually protect them from predators when they come for a drink. 

Its still looking bare in spots, and I haven't quite finished mulching or fixed the edging but its coming along nicely! It is already a vast improvement to what was there - just agapanthus (evil evil plants) and other weeds. 

Ollie really likes it too! Especially when the rabbits come and munch the new plants - hence the plant guards. If only he could live up to his Whippety breeding and catch come rabbits instead of following me around and sun baking!

Monday, November 14, 2011


In late autumn I went a bit nuts buying opium poppy seeds on the internet and finally I have something to show! Again, I somehow managed to end up with totally mismatched colours and plants that I didn't think that I bought but hey, sometimes I get seduced by all the seeds that I can buy that I go into a seed buying frenzy.

I had heaps of trouble germinating the seeds and then I had to fight the snails and slugs eating them, as well as Ollie crushing them when lolling about in the garden. Of the colours that have germinated there is only one that I like (which is slightly annoying) considering I had sown some crazy frilly black (yes BLACK - Hello Morticia) and pretty purple singles that have been a bit of a no show!

They have also been a pretty good indicator of soil quality. Some are really sad looking with discoloured leaves, burning and malformed flowers and others (my favourite of the lot) are going gang busters, showing no signs of the frilly ostentatiousness diminishing.

In order of preference:

That's just sad. It's certainly not all roses and sunshine in my garden!  Plant Fail.

More pink. I don't like pink. 4 out of 5.

Hmm. I don't mind this one. I like red, but the petals fade very quickly and the pollen is released as soon as the flower opens which also stains the petals. Definitely not a good cut flower but a prolific plant, doing reasonably well... 5 out of 10.

More pink. But this one is a funny kind of pink with a hint of reddish purple. 6 out of 10.

This one is my favourite! Some how it found a home in the veggie garden and is almost three times the size of the others not in the veggie garden. This variety is called 'Tangerine Fluff' or was that 'Tuft'? I like fluff better. I particularly like it with the blue sweet peas in the background. This plant is amazing. Its over a metre tall and is COVERED in flowers and buds, with a trunk the size of a pork roast! Its one happy little tangerine camper!

Look how tall it is!! I'll definitely be collecting seed from this baby!

And last but not least I would just like to gloat to all the bloggers who are having trouble with slugs and snails eating their strawberries before they get to. Namely Hazel

Check it out:

Yes. The length of my index finger and over three finger widths across. Not ONE little sluggy nibble or snaily slime was to be seen (no there wasn't a giant hole in the back, I can hear the disbelief from here) It was perfect and I don't know how it remained unseen by the evil soft bodied, everything eating, garden soul destroying critters, but I aint complaining. 

It was delicious.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Designing a Swale 101

Ali from Mud Pie mentioned that she needed to somehow deal with a whole lot of water that infiltrates her chicken coop every year during the wet season up in Brisbane. Some of the comments in response suggested that a swale would be a good idea to divert the water around or away from the coop instead of building up the ground level of the coop (a much more difficult option).

Me, being the ever eager Landscape Architect offered my two cents worth and this post Designing a Swale 101 was born.

Swales are a useful way of dealing with water and are more and more being used in urban situations to deal with storm water from roads and car parks. But they are also fantastic in home gardens as a way to direct water away from areas you don't want it, to others that you do! Rain gardens are another very similar method of dealing with water but are usually associated with guttering systems and water tank overflows - that's another post!

First of all, there are many different influencing factors that contribute to a swale's design and this post is an outline of  just one simplified option for the home garden. That being said, the basic form of a swale usually comprises of some kind of depression in the ground that is filled with a free draining planting medium and planted out with 'Bog' plants that will soak up the water (i.e. those plants from the sides of creeks and rivers or ephemeral wetlands). This depression would then fill up with water during rain events and the water then percolate through the ground and eventually drain away. BUT depending on your location, soil type, water volume, flow velocity and any other site specific factors, the size of the swale and the depth will vary.

So, back to Ali's chicken island. I sketched a hypothetical plan, showing Ali's coop and where I would locate the swale in relation to the flow direction of water that usually floods her garden. The swale, in this instance would run perpendicular to the water flow and be wide enough to provide enough catchment space as possible.  The edge running alongside the water flow would also be densely planted with rushes and grasses so that the flow would be slowed and the impact of erosion would be minimised.

In some instances it would be necessary to connect the swale to a storm water pit so that in high rainfall events, the swale would not become a dam and flood the neighbours! Connecting swales to overflow into storm water is generally standard in commercial and public situations, however residential situations vary. In this instance, without knowing Ali's specific circumstances, I can't say whether she would have to or not.

In section a swale would look a bit like the sketch below. Dense planting to the sides with a dip in the middle. The depth (as I mentioned) shown as A and B would vary, but as a rule in this situation a gentle curve is what you are after.

Joel and I had a go at building our own swale in the depression left by grinding out the stump of the big poplar that was cut down. We had a problem with run off from our driveway and this area was the natural low point in the garden. 

We dug as much of the soil out and backfilled with some sandy loam soil, mixed with scoria we had left over from another project. We then planted into our little swale making sure to protect some of the juicy plants that the rabbits find tasty with milk containers and this is what we have:

You can see the shallow open depression in the picture, which in this instance is right for the volume of water we get with an average downpour. We will eventually mulch the swale with a broken stone gravel called 'Rip Rap' (large chunks of stone around 25-50mm diameter) that helps to minimise erosion and make it look tidy.  

Last night we had enough rain to fill our little swale which was exciting to see, but it drains away quickly, which is what you want! Happy days! No more water in the house through the front door!

I hope this has de-mystified swales for those who are interested. Remember in urban situations it is a good idea to talk to the local council about their regulations and design standards for swales (most council's these days have them!). It is also important to not alter how water flows onto your neighbours property, but that's something your council's design unit can help you with for free! 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Melbourne Blogger's Diggers Adventure!

So it looks like I'm the last one of the Melbourne bloggers who ventured out yesterday to the Diggers Club property Heronswood to report back, but that's because I was at the Werribee Zoo Gorilla exhibit opening today (but that's another story)! 

The Lavender hedge and Citrus walk in the herb parterre.

I was SO excited about meeting the girls and to my delight they are every bit as awesome in real life as they are on the computer screen! Friendly, interesting, fabulous and generally all round awesome, us girls had yellow identifiers: Hazel came sans yellow in stealth blogger mode, Mrs Bok, with a gorgeous yellow watch and big, beaded, birdy necklace, Veggiegobbler had an AWESOME tiger brooch and The New Good Life's Barbara (actually, I didn't notice I was too distracted by the gorgeous baby strapped to her chest- what was it?!) I had a glaringly obvious mustard yellow cardigan on and clashing yellow bow in my hair and SOMEHOW Mrs B, knew me straight away and had a big smile on her face to greet me!

Have you seen a cooler outdoor table?!

We hung out, toured the veggie gardens, laughed wildly at the slug damage and cabbage moth butterflies, marvelled at the Abyssinian bananas, asparagus and a giant Fig tree. There were scones, Vegemite chips and ice cream, photos, gorgeous little ones and ocean views.

Tee-pee inspiration.

I will definitely have to go back to investigate the garden further as I was too busy laughing and talking with the girls. The parts of the garden that I did pay attention however, really impressed me! The planting palette was huge yet had a unifying focus on drought tolerant plantings that combined, form, texture, foliage contrast and colour to create a dynamic, interesting and pleasing garden. Careful attention has been paid to the aspect of the garden, with both shady and exposed areas thriving.

And of course I noticed the rammed earth Cafe 'Fork to Fork'! It's always interesting to see other rammed earth buildings. The formed up method of construction is very different to our rough little 1940's Pise - de - terre cottage and the thatched roof gave me a few ideas... Perhaps I need a thatched roof garden shed with a little mezzanine to blog from. Gosh, get back to reality girl! 

Today, I read in Mrs B's write up that we missed Belinda and Frog Dancer, which I was very sorry to hear! 

We all agreed to meet up again soon - the 2012 Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show was discussed or perhaps even a picnic in a park!!! Whatever it is, I can't wait! 

Thanks girls for a wonderful day out!

Oh! To the Mud Queen Ali and the Productive Diana - we felt you there in spirit and your presences were minuted!


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cup's o Tomatoes

Somehow I managed to get deliriously sick over the Cup long weekend. WHY on such an important weekend?!?! But, I still managed to plant (some) of my tomatoes!

I dud over the bed with compost, cow poo and blood and bone before planting my little babies. As you can see Ollie is enjoying some poo for morning tea... The trellis system I am using this year is the same as last year with the tomatoes trained through horizontal flexible ties and trimmed to either one or two leaders. I have seen most Old Mediterranean men grow their's this way and if they do it, I should too! I'll string the tomatoes up once they hit the 20cm high mark.

I have another bed to fill with tomatoes but I am loath to pull out my broad beans yet as they are still covered and regularly setting new beans.

On the other kind of bean front, all my runners, climbing, bush and shelling beans have been soaked and planted. The frame is some left over concrete reinforcing mesh and star pickets. My Grandpa used to grow his beans in reo mesh. I think of him when I see it in the garden.

We quite like beans in this house. I love them sauteed Greek style like my Yiayia does with onions, tomatoes, and olive oil, soaked up with good bread and feta. Best dinner ever!

I planted some of the 'Ying Yang' bean seeds that Tracy of Sunny Corner Farm kindly sent me. I can't wait to see how they go! I also have planted Borlotti, Dragons Tongue, Scarlet Runners and Blue lake. I'm not growing Purple King this year, because last year it was severely attacked by Red Spider Mite. I wrote a small beany review here.

There have also bean some Lebanese eggplums (yes Egg-plum, its a family thing) planted as well as small capsicums and Zucchinis. The slugs and snails have made light work of all my seedlings, but at least the mixed heirloom beetroots are doing well!

So, here's to summer vegetables, salads and balmy evenings!
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