Stress…… Relief

Last Friday morning WeBlow blew 45 cubic metres of mulch on the garden.


This means I can ignore the garden for six to seven months, apart from tackling weeds. There are still smaller jobs around the garden to do, but nothing on this scale.

What a absolute, profound relief.

After some work gigs on Friday and Saturday, I spent Sunday sitting in a chair, aching with exhaustion after sleeping for 12-13 hours. Thinking back over the last three months, we’ve done a heck of a lot of physical work. We’ve done it on weekends around social occasions and on weekdays in the mornings, pushing my usual morning work and domestic tasks into the afternoon and shrinking the time I have to write and putting me behind schedule.

It’s been stressful, too. First waiting for a planning permit, then preparing the site for the landscaping, then preparing the site for the mulch. Plans were made then constantly altered. Each day I either pushed us both to get out and do the work, or if sickness or inclement weather prevented us I used that time planning and organising. So many times I felt a bit desperate as I realise each job is going to take two, three or four times as long as I’d estimated. We did 8 to 10 hours of raking and digging over the embankment, post-landscaping, about that much just sweeping the muck off the court surface, and at least double on other tasks all together. All the while I was only too aware that the only way anything could be done by each project deadline was by taking time away from important things, like visiting my parents and work.

We also had a housewarming, two birthday parties and two dinner parties in that time. I guess we didn’t have to, but the housewarming happened early on, it would have been a shame not to celebrate Paul’s 50th, and I’d arranged the dinner parties when I’d given up on getting the permit. Thankfully we have good friends who offered to help out during the 50th, which made it less exhausting. It’s going to be a long time before I feel like having people over again, I suspect. Not because I don’t want to see my friends, but just thinking about the hour and a half of dishwashing I did after the last party makes visiting friends them rather than inviting them here far more appealing.

Now the organising and stressing falls to Paul, as the garage build begins. The concreter is one of these “we’ll start some time next week” kinds of tradies, which would drive me nuts. But Paul doesn’t seem bothered.

I slept for 9 1/2 hours last night and I’m feeling more rested, though I haven’t a lot of energy. I’m off to Supanova at the end of the week, which I’m looking forward to. Two of those to get through and I’m done with publicity and can concentrate only on writing.

Though there’s Christmas to get through. Actually, I think this is the first time in decades that it feels like I’ll be less busy rather than more – and I might not mind working through the holiday season so much either. It’s going to feel like a holiday, compared to the last year and a half!

The Best Laid Plans

I took two weeks off recently, starting when the landscapers started work and 3000 title pages of my next book arrived to be signed. So not really a holiday, but a break from the writing routine. My mind needed it. My body… well, I don’t know.

Recently I asked my doc to investigate pain I’ve been getting in my hip and lower back, that my physio couldn’t explain or treat. An MRI later and it turns out I have a perineural cyst. The good news it isn’t life-threatening. The bad news – at least according to Doctor Google – is they don’t go away. I’ll be seeing a neurologist in a few weeks to get the official lowdown.

General advice out there is to avoid prolonged sitting or standing. I’ve found that I’m quite comfortable while being active. In fact, I’d noticed for a while now that I get very fidgetty when I try to sit and work. I want to be active, and I figured that was a good thing.

At the beginning of my break I injured my right hand while sweeping, so to ensure I’d get the title pages signed I had to avoid using my hands as much as possible. So no using hands, no sitting or standing for long periods… I nearly went out of my mind with boredom by the end of the first week.

I had to find something to occupy my mind. Once the landscapers were done I could leave the house, so I went to the Horticulture and Gardening Show on a very humid Friday. The next Sunday we headed to the Royal Botanic Gardens to take portrait reference photos of another friend. I’d forgotten how fabulous the gardens are and now want to go back and wander around some more. The following, much cooler Friday I joined friends on an op shop crawl.

Trouble is, all that activity was also wearing me out. My body started begging for a rest.

By the end of the second week I’d figured out that I could occupy my mind with researching plants for the courtside garden. This involved sitting at the computer, but also lots of getting up to grab books or photograph things, and not a lot of typing.

First I took six photos of the courtside garden and got Paul to create a panorama. Then I went virtual plant shopping. Once I found a suitable plant that I liked, I’d find it on Google Images, take a screen grab, open the file in Photoshop and delete the background. That would be inserted into a layer of the panorama file at around the right size, with a label added. Then I was able to duplicate and move the plant around.

This is what I ended up with after a couple of days:

Courtside Plant Plan

It’s very roughly done, but it doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to give me something to play with between now and next autumn, when planting can begin.

Turf Out, Rocks In

A couple of weeks ago we had landscapers here. They removed the rest of the tennis court surface.


They removed our old rotting sleeper wall and the brick drain below it, and cleared the weeds and dead plants in the garden bed.


That’s my kind of weeding.


And they built a new rock retaining wall at the edge of the court slab. Some of the rocks were pretty big:


The final result looks amazing.


Though a visitor decided it needed an extra little something:


We now have a pile of bricks to clean…


And a garage to build.

On the gardening front, this ticks off most of the items in the first part of the to-do list – “A Garden With No Structural Issues”. We’re in the process of digging swales into the courtside garden bed, which is the last item.

The second part of the to-do list is “An Easily Maintained Garden”. We’ve covered the poolside garden with plastic in the hopes of solarising all the weeds before the mulch goes on, including hundreds of little blackberry seedlings coming up. I’m hoping well have this and the courtside bed covered in mulch by December. Then the garden goes into summer mode: watering and weeding only. It’ll be too hot and dry to do anything else.

Courtside Garden Plans

A month or so back I made a rough panorama photo of the courtside garden, traced it in Photoshop and identified as many of the existing plants as I could. Then I did another layer and sketched rough outlines with the weeds and some plants removed, and new ones added:


It helped me decide what was going and what staying when the landscapers arrived. But mostly it’s so that when I’m ready to plant next autumn, I’ll know roughly how many plants of each size I have space for, as well as a rough idea of whether each position gets more or less sunlight.

In the meantime, it gives me a framework on which to dream…


We finally got approval of the planning permit amendments for our garage last Monday, and I got straight onto the landscapers to book the tidy up of the embankment garden. They’ll be here in two weeks. In the interim the old tennis court needs to be demolished.

I’d like to recycle as much of the court as possible. Many of the fence posts will become a shorter fence, a pergola and a cat run frame. Some of the mesh will be reused on the new fence if my idea for recycling it works, and a friend of a friend is interested in taking some for her property. I wanted to put the fake turf on the embankment gardens to suppress weeds until next autumn, when conditions are better for planting, but by the end of the weekend I had to abandon that idea.

Two much-needed helpers provided invaluable extra hands:


While Paul tackled the fence:


He made better progress on the fence and posts than I expected – they’re almost all down and stacked away. The turf was my target. However, lifting one big piece to use on the garden turned out to be impossible, as the stuff is very, very heavy. It’s embedded with sand, and though a good blast with a high pressure hose gets most of it out, to have any chance of moving it it had to be cut into 30-50cm wide strips.


We’ve done maybe 10% of it and spent at least 12 hours on it now. When we stopped yesterday, and considered the size of the garden beds it’s meant to cover, we realised we’d need almost all of what’s on the court. That’s just not going to happen before next Monday.

Once autumn arrives and it’s taken off the garden beds, we’re going to face the same problem all over again. And next autumn we won’t have landscapers here with excavators to make light work of moving it.

So we’re going to keep what we’ve lifted, and the rest will go to the tip. We have kept a square of it under what will be the pergola, too:


It’d make great door mats, too. But we don’t need THAT many door mats!

And, of course, I’ll have to find other ways to suppress weeds in the garden until autumn. Black builder’s plastic is recommended for this. It isn’t too expensive, and I have an idea for what I can do with it afterwards.

So while I’m sad that we can’t reuse everything from the court, I’m happy that we’re going to be making something out of most of the non-turf parts.

Turning a Corner or Three

Spring is definitely in the air, despite it still being technically winter. Plants are waking up. Weeds are sprouting everywhere. Two weekends ago we put in what I hope will be the first plant that doesn’t end up dug up again: a mandarin tree a friend gave us for our housewarming. We also transplanted some rhododendrums and, the weekend after, spread half of a huge pile of mulch.

Last week I decided that I was tired of waiting for the garage planning permit and would focus on getting the kitchen garden finished, so we felt like we were getting something done. It was last on my list of areas to landscape, though in my original plan now was when I’d planned to tackle it – I just expected to have had the rest of the garden sorted by now.

So I made a list of tasks to be done and began with sourcing raised garden beds. I did a whole lot of online searching and I tried to buy corrugated iron ones from two companies, but the website of one didn’t work and the other never rang me back. I wound up buying cheap pine beds from Bunnings and got Paul to cut down some drums he’d bought for a photography project a year or so ago.

Of course, the day after I wrote out my plan and bought seed potatoes, some herbs, soil, compost and pine garden beds, the permit came through. With some amendments, but we essentially have approval to build a garage.

So I cut the kitchen garden plan back to doing only what I bought materials and plants for. That is: potatoes and mint grown in the drums, and herbs in the pine beds. The paving and gravel will have to wait.

Then Paul checked a few details with the council yesterday, and it turns out that we can’t start on the garage – and the garden beside it – until the amendments have been stamped.

So I figure I’ll get to work in the kitchen garden and see how far I get. Today I filled the first of the potato drums, which I’m setting up as wicking beds. I didn’t have enough scoria for the base of the second one, so that’s top of the to-do list.


In the bases I planted two kinds of mint: spearmint and common. They can spread out and aren’t in danger of infesting garden beds.


I dug a big square hole to set the first of the three pine garden bed into, loosening up the soil and covering it with straw mulch for now.


Being inside the cat run, their main function is as cat toilets. We finally had a cat door put in a few weeks ago. Since then we’ve had the litter box sitting outside as the first step of training him to ‘do his business’ outside.


So far just getting him to go outside at all has been a bit of a battle of wills.

From the Ground Up

Our new property is a full acre. When I stop to think about that I think I must be nuts taking on a garden that size. Yet the majority of it is laid out in the easiest way to maintain: large trees that don’t require work and grass a mowing guy takes care of.

The rest is far from ideal: a difficult-to-access weed infested embankment. 20% of the property will require 95% of the time, energy and money to fix and maintain.

I’ve entertained plenty of ideas about what I’d like to do here: native gardens to attract birds, productive vege beds, pergolas covered in grape vines and more fruit trees. But the gap between what I have and what I dream of is pretty wide, and I need to consider what I can physically do now and as I get older.

I’ve been struggling to tame what we have. Having gone away for a while, I can see that the philosophy of dividing work into smaller, manageable tasks isn’t working. Too much of the work required has to be done everywhere at the same time, to keep the costs down and prevent weeds spreading.

I’m now taking a step back and looking at the garden from a different viewpoint and asking myself: what do I want to achieve here?

1) a garden with no structural issues
2) a garden we can easily maintain
3) an attractive and usable outdoor spaces
4) a productive garden

So I’m setting my sights on numbers 1 and 2 for now. Drainage, soil, weeding, mulching. That’s more than enough to keep us busy for quite a while.

Twist & Shout

I had this unrefined plan in the back of my mind that when I finished with work I would do a whole lot of gardening. And craft. But gardening most of all.

An hour into the first day, stepping from the paving onto the grass, I rolled my ankle. I heard and felt a snap. When it stopped hurting like hell I managed to get on a chair so I could elevate and ice it. And like a proper modern woman on social media, take a photo:


The doc at the hospital said something about the x-ray showing no bone damage only ligament tears. I’m not entirely sure, because though I wasn’t in much pain they insisted I take enough pain killers to make me a little high (it doesn’t take much). He was more excited about the heel spurs I have from plantar faciitis, but suggested I ice and elevate it, and see a physio.

A couple of days later it looked like this:


With a smaller bruise but just as dark bruise on the other side. The physio, my regular, was most impressed. The good news was I could get rid of the crutches and start hobbling around, because moving is better than being stationary. The bad is that I’ve done a good job of it and have probably completely severed a ligament or two and torn the rest.

Permanent damage. Just from walking on grass.

Still, it’s not quite as dramatic as the last gardening accident I had, where I stuck a gardening fork in my foot. That was back in the 90s. That’s one gardening accident every 20 years or so. Not so bad when you think of it that way.

Landscaping Stage 1

The last few weeks we’ve had landscapers here doing some major work. While the front garden will pretty much take care of itself, with a regular mow, the back had drainage issues, a rotting retaining wall, and an abundance of weeds.

I’ve never bought a house that didn’t have a neglected garden and/or need some landscaping. At my first house the cut made into the back yard for a verandah became a sloped herb garden and paving. At my second house I had 14 tree stumps removed and planted a small vege and herb garden, but couldn’t afford more. The last house flooded twice, so required a lot of expensive drainage, and the extension made such a mess that most of the garden was wrecked. It was almost completely redone. (Including the much-more-expensive-than-planned replacement retaining wall between us and the neighbour that I paid for entirely – but let’s not go there.)

We knew the new house needed work and budgeted for it. We braced ourselves, too, because landscaping always throws up unexpected and costly surprises. I’ve split it into three stages based on what was urgent and what could be done later.

Stage One was mostly about drainage and retaining walls.

Stage Two will be mostly about restoring the eroded embankment at the far back corner, plants and fences.

Stage Three will be mostly about paving and raised garden beds for the kitchen garden.

Stage One started a few weeks ago. Day one of the work the landscapers hit shale – clay that’s been compressed to the hardness of rock:

(It’s the pale yellow under the orangey clay.)

All our plans of moving the retaining walls a little back into the slope to get more space had to be abandoned. We couldn’t have sleeper walls, either. The posts for the old wall barely penetrated the shale, and digging post holes deep enough to properly support a wall would require expensive equipment.

So we had to upgrade to a recycled brick wall in the middle, where space is tight. After seeing the time and care that goes into a simple brick wall, I am never going to regard them and brick laying in the same way again. So much skill and time. I love the colour and variation in the recycled bricks, too.


We used big colac rocks in the kitchen garden. It’s much less formal than I’d intended, but I can work with that. The upper area will be planted with roses, herbs and flowering plants, taller at the back and ground covers spilling down the rocks. Well, that’s the plan. The big challenge is the soil, which is very poor. It’ll all be mulched, but for every plant I put in I’ll need to dig a big hole and fill it with new, good soil.


The three citrus trees are the only survivors in this area, and the lime took a nasty scrape down its trunk from the excavator. I’m going to plant two more citrus trees on either side of the row. Maybe two limes, maybe a lime and orange – or mandarin.


The flat lower area was going to remain as grass for a year until I had the raised vege beds put in, but the excavators turned it all to mud. I’m now going to cover it in mulch. Trying to reestablish grass at the beginning of summer in Melbourne is a waste of seed, water and time.

I’d only put five plants in since moving in and they all had to be removed. Three were pumpkins, so I’ve planted them outside the laundry door into some compost. I’ve never grown pumpkin before, and I’ve been impressed at how resilient they’ve been, continuing to grow in the pots and even flowering.


There was a pond next to the deck that had to go, but we weren’t all that keen on it. We kept the rocks, though. The plants that had to be removed were divided and replanted around them. I want to keep this as a greener area but without creating a high water demand – you can get a rainforest look without plants that require lots of water if you choose carefully.


The drainage issues were bad and for a while it looked like we might have to replace the whole storm water pipe system. Fortunately the cause was found and wasn’t as bad as it first appeared – one thing that didn’t cost us more than expected!

Stage Two will happen next autumn, but there are a couple of projects Paul is in charge of that may happen before then, like the new driveway. A few plants will have to be removed or transplanted. And friends have been taking these…


… and using them as Christmas trees. They look fabulous, too!

The ‘Anyone for Tennis?’ Weeding Party

The amount of work needed to get control of the garden along the embankment of our new property has had me feeling overwhelmed. At the same time, friends have hinted that they’d like to use the tennis court before we dismantle it. So a few weeks back I put a ‘I don’t suppose anyone wants to rip out some ivy in exchange for food, cocktails and tennis?’ question, and got lots of positive replies.

So I set a date, bought food, spirits and bubbly, and tried to make a half-furnished, mid-renovation house look presentable.

I blown away by how many friends came along and how much work they did.


Some of the guys even attacked a tree stump. Took them an hour and a half to get it out. Manly determination overcame stubborn roots, and the stump now lies defeated on the battleground.

This is what it looked like before. Well, these are the house ad pics from a few months ago, as I forgot to take ‘before’ pics. Imagine the ivy has grown several inches and onion weed and other pests have pushed through the bare patches of mulch.



Now it’s a manageable bed almost ready for new plants.



I’ll have to wait until new shoots of ivy and weeds come through and poison them. Only when they’ve withered away will native, slope-stablising grasses and one or two shrubs or small trees go in.