My Wicking Ways

It seems like, for a while now, whenever I did any gardening there was nothing worth taking photos of. It’s been mostly mulching, mulching and more mulching. But while I’ve not been producing much to blog about, the garden has been growing. And finally something worth photographing happened.

We put in two more wicking beds:

They are a little smaller than the first two, because I decided to put in beds set at 90 degrees to the others so there would be spaces in which to put my chairs and table, and a few pots for seasonal or perennial edibles.

I’ve had some great successes with the first two wicking beds. A couple of failures, too. It’s a matter of learning what works here and what doesn’t. This part of our block doesn’t get more than a few hours of sun in winter, due to a huge gum tree next door, but I’d rather have the beautiful tree and its shade in winter, than sun beating down on us in the late afternoon in summer.

For the last year or so I’ve been planting flowering plants on the embankment beside the kitchen garden, vaguely following the “plant something in flower every week and you’ll have something flowering throughout the year”. It was more like a handful of plants once a month, and I didn’t put anything in during the coldest months because, well, it was cold and other things were happening. But I can patch those gaps over the next year.

At the moment I’m reaping the benefits:

A few weeks back we had a flock of between 150 and 200 yellow-tailed black cockatoos fly past. We’d seen them around in growing numbers, then this one afternoon they came from all around and gathered down by the creek, before flying away.

The bird life here is wonderful, but that was extraordinary.

Our ornamental pears are out in blossom already. The lemon tree is full of lemons all ripe at the same time, so plenty of lemon cordial and lemon juice ice cubes to be made. The plastic box in the pic above is my diy hothouse for the tomato seeds I’ve sown, and I have beans, snowpeas, carrots, basil and pumpkin seeds waiting to go in.

Spring is not far off.

(And summer, but I’m trying not to think about that.)

That Gardening Review Post I Wrote Before the Hail Storm Last Year

I visited Cloudehill Gardens in the Dandenongs for the first time last year. It occurred to me afterwards that, while it’s a lot larger and more elaborate than my garden, the lie of the land is has similarities. Mine is also a tiered slope, though it faces east not south. Cloudehill also has its buildings on the middle-to-top tier, like mine. Their practical gardens are higher up while decorative ones are lower, as they are in mine… sort of.

Every corner of Cloudehill has a purpose or theme. It got me thinking about some of the ‘dead’ zones here. While weeding the upper embankment a few months back I paused to rest and realised it was a nice place to sit and look down on our yard. Since then I’ve been thinking of putting some kind of rustic seat up there.

I bought Jackie French’s “Backyard Sustainability” at Cloudehill’s garden shop and read-skimmed it over the following weekend. (You know, where you skip the bits not relevant to your climate/garden/ambitions.) I’ve been filled with inspiration and enthusiasm for growing food plants since. Growing more food plants, that is.

After looking through my gardening scrapbook, updating my garden plan on the computer, and plotting future projects, I made some changes to my garden ambitions.

The kitchen garden:

Jackie advocates planting veges all mingled together, forgetting about succession planting and filling the gap the moment something is removed so that weeds don’t get much chance to establish. She claims to spend only about two days a year, bar harvesting, on the garden. I suspect that also doesn’t include making compost, applying it and mulch, buying mulch and seedlings (or raising seedlings), watering, making and applying powdery mildew spray or other natural remedies, putting shade cloth on and off during searingly hot days, and writing blog posts about it all. But still… ways to build a garden with the philosophy of less work are worth noting.

Having successfully grown veges in my wicking beds for just over a year (let’s ignore the failures) The three square cheapie wooden beds we put in the cat run for Slinky to poo in are the most abundant part of the whole block, overflowing with herbs and unintentional potatoes (I added the soil from the old potato drums when I filled the beds, and despite me removing all sign of spuds they sprang up the next year. Don’t worry, the cat only uses one corner of the beds and we cook the spuds well!) I’ve also been growing radish, basil, parsley and peppermint in polystyrene boxes filled with potting mix, as well as two metal drums of mint and another big post of parsley.

Despite all this, there’s plenty of gravel-covered ground in the cat run that could be used to grow more food. So I’m going to add another two square cheapie beds to make a ‘U’ shape herb bed and move the parsley, chives and mint from the polystyrene boxes and metal drums into them. Then I’ll grow spinach and radish in the boxes. When the weather cools I’ll get another wicking bed.

On top of all that, I want to grow pumpkin out near the lemon tree next spring. But tha’t a while away.

The poolside and shade garden:

All the plants I put in the shade garden are going well. Seven of the ten creeping boobialla plants I put under the trees in the poolside garden are still alive, though not growing as fast as I’d hoped. Still, the faster they grow, the sooner I’ll have to start cutting them back.

Down at the end of the house, where the pool pump is, is another ‘dead’ zone. It floods during heavy rain. The ground level needs lowering. The grass there grows through the fence into the gravel driveway, too. I want to replace the grass with a lower gravel area and a higher garden bed behind a retaining wall, containing cannas. Or ginger.

The native garden:

The day before the hail storm I printed a copy of the plan I used to plant out the native garden and crossed out anything that had died. About 20% has gone. Which is not surprising when I planted them into mulch-covered clay with just a bit of gypsum and native fertiliser, and no watering after the first three months. Only two species died across the board however: correa reflexa and chamomile sunray. Others died in one spot but lived in others. The dry spot under the tea tree had the most deaths, but two plants there are thriving. So I know which plants to add more of – and which to avoid. I’ll get some more in next Autumn.

The front garden:

This year we should (hopefully) be able to connect to the sewer system, which means we can cut down two sick trees, plant their replacements, make the garden beds they’ll be part of and finish our driveway. Just waiting for the go ahead… yeah, well they said it would happen in two weeks six months ago, so I’m not holding my breath. If they haven’t given us permission by the beginning of March, I’m going to tackle the tree removal and replacement part.

Also, when the soil is wet and soft enough to dig again we’ll join up the lower garden beds. And some point I’d like to get a barrier type of garden edging in rather than a ditch, but there is so much of it to do that even the cheapest option will be expensive overall. That’s a winter task, anyway.

Since I wrote this post… we’ve put the two new low beds in the cat run and I transplanted parsley and chives. I bought a new mint plant, as the old was looking sad, as well as tarragon, dill, italian parsley and spring onions. I also put a pumpkin plant that was growing spontaneously in a vege bed into one of the old drums, hoping to train it up the cat run supports.

I’d have done more, but it’s been too bloody hot!

Hail to the Neighbours

Last week I wrote a long post about the garden. It’s looking pretty good and I’d been inspired by a book and a visit to a famous garden. All I needed to do was take some photos and I’d be ready to publish.

Then the storm came.

The laserlite roof of our deck is full of holes, and there’s a mysterious leak in the toilet ceiling. Those are both being handled by the insurance. But the flood of water runoff from the neighbour’s tennis court that washed out part of the embankment and flooded the kitchen garden and studio is another matter.

We’ve soaked up all the water in the studio with old towels and ran the aircon for a day to dry it out, and there doesn’t appear to be any damage. But preventing this happening again isn’t easy. Water runoff from the neighbour’s tennis court has caused problems before. The main event happened a few weeks after we moved in, over three years agao, washing mud and mulch into our pool. We paid for a pile of drainage work to be done in to prevent it happening again, and that seemed to be working. But dirt has washed down from the neighbour’s place and silted up the drain.

I called the neighbour on the night, an they came over with extra old towels and looked at everything. They’ve promised to get advice and a quote to fix things on their side. They want to wait until we get permission to connect to the sewer, so whatever needs doing can be done at the same time.

We’ve dug and raked back the silty dirt that’s washed down (which has given us a pile of free soil to use elsewhere, so there’s a small up side at least). I’m considering putting a second retaining wall in to try to draw away the water. But there’s no guarantee anything we do on our side will work if the neighbour doesn’t sort out their drainage. If it doesn’t and we’re not at home, it’s bad news for our studio. Paul is raising the cupboards and filing cabinets up on pavers.

I can’t help thinking we should just brick up the back door, where the water came in, and raise the level of the floor, but it’d be expensive and mean emptying the studio. We’ll just have to see what, if anything, the neighbours end up doing. And hope we’re home next time we have a big storm.

Spring Gardening

At this time of year having an acre to look after is overwhelming. Though most of the landscaping is done, and I’ve designed for easy maintenance, there’s no such thing as a no-work garden. Especially in a wet and sunny Spring.

When it comes to weeding for most of the year, I go around in circles anti-clockwise: kitchen garden, then poolside garden, then courtside garden, then front garden, and back to the start. But lately we’ve had a lot of rain followed by enough sunshine to send plants into a growing frenzy, so it’s been more a matter of tackling what seems like the most out of control area or, if all areas need urgent attention, whichever interests me most.

Kitchen garden:
I regret not getting our wicking beds made and filled before we went overseas, but it took a while for the company to assemble the kits and those last weeks were hectic. We’ve only just finished them, and I haven’t yet planted anything. I also wanted to plant some citrus trees, but I should have done that in early spring. Now I plant them now there’s a chance summer will kill them off. Oh well. Next year.


Aside from a spectacular display of bottlebrush and some unexpected lilies springing up, not much is happening here. Now that I’ve removed the ivy and defeated the blackberry, onion weed had sprung up. I’ve been cropping it to the ground, because if you pull them little latent bulbs left on the roots are activated, and next year you get many more plants. Cutting them gives them no chance to draw energy back in.

The natives plants are doing well. I’ve been fighting onion weed here, too. The embankment belonging to the neighbour has been getting weedy, so I’m spraying it. They don’t do anything to maintain it. The alleyway on their side is an absolute mess, with weeds up to my shoulder. We’re spraying that, too.

Now that the ‘back’ garden is tamed we’ve been tackling the front. It’s mostly trees and grass, and I’m keeping it that way for now. We’ve been weeding and mulching under the trees, and trimming the lower branches. It doesn’t sound like much work, but the scale of this place is deceptive. What I think will take me an hour takes three with two or three people. Fortunately, we have a friend who hires herself out as a garden helper, who is happy to settle down and get weeding.

For the smallest bed, we tried digging a “Victorian” style garden edge – which is just a trench cut straight down on the grass side and sloped on the mulch side. I like it, so I’m going to put one around the rest of the front beds.


The biggest tree we have is a huge Chinese elm. It puts on leaves rather late, so the extra sunshine underneath means it gets pretty weedy. So far we’ve spent over 20 hours, with the help of our weeding friend, weeding, pruning branches and mulching. This was the pile of branches before we mulched them:


To get the mulch under the tree we put down a ‘slip and slide’ of builder’s plastic weighted down with bricks:



We need a lot more mulch under there, so we’ll be doing a lot more mulch sliding and raking in coming weeks.

In a month or so it’s going to be too hot to work outside and the ground too hard to dig. Then gardening will be mostly a matter of keeping everything alive (well, except the weeds, but their growth will slow down too) and maybe harvesting some veges from our new beds.

The List of Lists

Holidays can be like punctuation marks in the flow of daily routine. Sometimes they’re a like a comma – a small interruption after which life continues in the same vein. Sometimes they’re like full stops – things begin anew but on the same or similar subject. Sometimes they’re like paragraph returns – a shift in direction. And sometimes it’s like an entire chapter finishes and another begins.

The new problem with my neck that began at the beginning of this year forced me to find a new routine. I had to work out what I could and couldn’t continue to do by trial and error, and found that I needed to restrict sitting and typing/weaving/whatever to an hour at a time, once or twice a day.

Since what I do for a living involves sitting and typing, that meant lots of changes. But I had a deadline, which kept moving as I discovered my limits. Eventually I knew I’d finish just before going overseas, and a lot of things I needed or wanted to do were pushed onto the ‘when we get back’ list.

Now that we’re back, I’ve been considering all those things, and all my to-do lists. Last week I divided everything into six categories that fit across my computer screen: work, general, house, garden, art and craft. (I use a program called Stickies.) It allows me to not just prioritise within a category, but across them. And when one task is held up, I can consider spending my time on high priority tasks in other categories as well as in the same one.

It’s been working really well. When bad weather meant I couldn’t tackle many of the more important tasks, or items further down, I moved across the lists until I found something I could do. That turned out to be renovating a loom I’d rescued from the Guild. Knowing I really couldn’t do those other things means I could work on it guilt-free. I didn’t stuff around wasting time in the house or on the internet.

As a result I’ve got the loom finished in time to put it up for sale at the Guild’s Textile Bazaar next Saturday. I’ll be bringing in the Ashford Table Loom on the homemade stand as well as the Dyer & Phillips loom. Hopefully they’ll find new homes and I’ll make back the money I spent on them with a little extra for my time… to spend at the bazaar!


When I planted out the Unexpected Succulent Bed I found a lot of my potted succulents were very root bound. So I set to repotting or rejuvenating the ones that didn’t end up in the ground.

This used to be a bonsai, but the main plant died and the secondary one took over. I decided I liked it, so it only needed trimming, topping up of the soil and some cuttings added:


Lot of plants were simply moved to bigger pods. However, I did get a bit creative with this one, putting three pots together to make a tiered arrangement:


And, of course, I planted lots of cuttings:


I have lots of empty pots now, too, but with my love of succulents I expect I’ll eventually fill them up.

The Land Scaped

A few months back I sat down with Paul to work out if we could get the kitchen garden done before Spring. We figured we could, so I called the landscapers to quote on the structural work. We’ve had these guys in four times before, so they know this place well. When they found out that the concreter kept making dates to do the crossovers for the garage then not turning up, they offered to quote for that as well.

The quote was very reasonable, so we gave up on the concreter and got both jobs done. However, there was a lot of work to do clearing out the kitchen garden. Pots and garden beds to move, the temporary cat run to dismantle and fake turf to remove.


One of the lingering structural problems we had was that this area still got boggy in winter. I decided that the wettest area may as well become a garden bed, so I got them to bring the rock edge (which I hadn’t finished building) out further from the retaining wall.


We were going to have toppings in the flat area, but they suggested gravel instead, as it would drain better. When they were done, Paul constructed the new cat run, recycling old tennis court poles. I’ve been helping put the cat mesh on. It’s looking great and the cat now has three of the pine garden beds to poo in.

As this work was being done, we got chatting with the landscapers about our long-term plans. We didn’t yet have a driveway. The original idea was to do a concrete one, but we’d have to wait until the water company puts in sewerage – and at the rate that’s happening, it could be years. The cost of the slab for the garage had eaten into our budget considerably, too.

So we got the landscapers to put in a topping driveway and finish the garden bed at the corner. It gives us something to drive on to access the garage, but part of it will be dug up again when we connect to the sewerage.


I wanted to plant a tree in the garden bed, to replace one I’d had to cut down, but didn’t want anything that would shade the house. So I bought a weeping cherry.

Turns out there is a lot of water in the ground around under the driveway, so in places it’s quite spongey. The landscapers think that the stormwater pipes might be blocked further down the slope, so when we get a lot of rain they slowly fill up and the water finds it’s way out in front of the house. We’ll probably have to replace the stormwater pipes, but since having trenches dug is expensive it’ll have to wait until the sewerage connection happens.

Lastly, we wound up with this garden bed along the garage as a way to deal with water run off. The front is all gravel, but I had the rest filled with a mix of sand, gravel and potting mix and mulched with stones. It has become the Unexpected Succulent Bed.


That’s all the major, structural landscaping done now. Hopefully from now on there’ll only be small jobs to do, that we can tackle ourselves – though there’s enough of those on my to-do list already to keep us busy for years!

We’ve Got to Move It, Move It

Paul finished his Batchelor of Photography a few weeks back. During the final few weeks he was franticly busy and I had a head cold, so when it was done we spent a few days relaxing and recovering.

Then we got stuck into all the things we’d been putting off. Like chasing up the concreter, who still hadn’t filled the ‘moat’ between the old tennis court slab and the new garage foundations. The garage went up in January, so we haven’t been able to put our cars in it for coming up on six months.

As I expected, the concreter didn’t turn up. Again. But Paul had also got the inspector in to see if he’d give us the offical go-ahead to use the garage anyway, and he did. In the meantime, I’d done some careful calculations and reckoned we could get the kitchen garden tidy-up done in time for spring. I’d hoped to be growing veges last spring, and didn’t want to wait another year. I invited the landscaper around to quote on the construction work, and when he heard of our concreter problems he offered to quote to finish the job. The price was very reasonable, so we’re going ahead with both projects.

All this means we had a lot of moving of things to do. For the kitchen garden that meant clearing the space. The contents of the gardening shed went into the garage:


The succulents went onto the deck, sheltered from frost. The herbs were set aside, ready to go into the herb beds when they’re in. Pallets and a trestle table were moved, lots of plastic pots were cleaned and, if of the right plastic, thrown in the recycling bin, wood for the fire was moved into an old rustic shelving unit that was in the gardening shed, and scraps of wood too big for the old garage were moved to the new one.


When you move things, you find things you’d forgotten about. There was an old terrarium in the garden shed. A friend’s nine-year-old daughter, Miranda, is a bit of an expert of these, so I invited her and her mum over for a ‘Terrarium Day’ so she could teach me, and the result was fantastic:


I also found seven pavers, which was exactly the amount I needed to put stepping stones in a topping pathway, so we didn’t walk as many stones into the house or garage.


The clean up has given me some other ideas, but I’m holding off following through with most of them. I still have lots of other garden jobs that need doing, including lots of plants in pots that need to go in the ground and a couple that need moving, which ought to be done in winter. I’m sticking to a general rule that I can’t buy any more plants until I’ve planted what I’ve got.

Textile Talk: 1year1outfit


Last night I went to the Victorian Handweavers & Spinners Guild to hear Nicki of This is Moonlight and Rachel of ReduceReuseRecycle talk about Fibreshed and 1year1outfit.

Your ‘fibreshed’ is the area within 500 km of your home, and all the products grown, processed and made within. Nikki describes the 1year1outfit on her blog as:

One Year One Outfit is a challenge to make a locally sourced outfit in a year. Anyone interested in garment making is welcome to join in. Most participants record their findings through social media and use the tag #1year1outfit to keep in touch with the group.

The outfit must be made from natural fibres sourced from your fibreshed, dyed with non-sythetic dyes, and be constructed to last.

After seeing the flyer, I investigated the various sites and Facebook pages related to the challenge. It became pretty clear that it would be very difficult for me to participate, because I can’t wear animal fibres against my skin and no silk or plant fibre is being spun in my fibreshed, and I don’t spin. It might be possible if I moved away from fabric. A quick search online brought up a leather tannery using ‘natural’ methods in Melbourne. I could even try basket-making techniques using locally-grown plants.

The talk was very interesting and I learned more that what I’d found out in my investigations. I think the most exciting is that there are now ‘mini mills’ where small batches of fibre can be spun. They didn’t say if those mills were spinning silk or plant fibre, but I imagine it requires different machinery.

Today my thoughts had shifted to a video I saw recently of Hmong women weaving hemp. I found it again and another that showed how they attach strips of hemp together before spinning it – a method that appeals to me because it does not involve drafting. I got lost in researching plant fibres, and how to make cord and baskets with Australian native plants.

It all reminded me how I’d like to make baskets out of materials I’ve grown. And that I need to get those lomandra seedlings in.

And how there’s still so much work to do in the garden.

Oh – and I nearly forgot: the talk will be repeated on Sunday August 28th, at 2pm. I highly recommend it.