First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.Napoleon Hill
It was about the time that we renovated our house two and a half years ago that the garden started to decline. That summer was brutal, a series of 40 C days. We weren’t living at the house, my regular garden routine was eclipsed by more pressing issues like removing peeling paint, juggling the schedule of over a dozen tradespeople, packing, and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning.
Then, when it was done, we flew to New York.
And when I came back I was feeling restless. I had just turned 40 and my so-called mid-life crisis was right on time!
Contrasted with my lovely renovated house, my garden was a huge letdown. The form-ply we had used to make the raised beds was crumbling, the heat had finished off most of my plants and I was starting to resent the time, the effort and the sheer volume of water my garden needed.
Also, my aesthetic has changed. While my garden wasn’t especially ugly, it was scrappy, cheap and cheerful.
I now want something beautiful, resourceful and thoughtful. A foundation for a new bountiful beginning!
So where to start?
1. Evaluate our existing space.
We have a reasonable sized urban block, with some issues, or as I prefer to say features.
- Slope – Our block slopes away from the front verge, a drop of 4 metres to the back fence. If you want a nice flat space, it needs to be carved out from the slope and retained.
- Soil – Our house was built in 1989, on a new estate of reclaimed sand dunes. Yes, it is lovely being so close to the beach, but our soil is essentially beach sand. No nutrition at all.
- Wind – Perth not only the windest city in Australia
,it is also apparently the third windiest city in the world! Typically, we get hot easterly winds in the morning, and cooler sea breezes by late morning or afternoon. Either way, it’s rare that we have a still day.
- Sun – Perth is officially the sunniest city in the world! I learned very quickly in my early planting days that when a seed packet recommended planting in “full sun” they did not mean the 8 hours of direct, searing sunshine that we experience on average every day.
- Water – Although Perth gets more rainfall in a year than London, it is usually all during the cooler winter months. In the summer, it is dry for weeks and sometimes we can go for months without a drop of rain. Understandably, we have water restrictions that are strictly reinforced.
2. What do we want?
- Wicking beds – My raised beds have always been thirsty for water, manure, mulch and effort! Wicking beds will solve many of these issues as they will be evenly watered, contained and I can much more easily know my efforts are going exactly where they need to, rather than literally draining away. My current raised beds are also long and wide, sometimes making them difficult for me to work without physically getting into the garden bed, tricky if I’m also trying to avoid existing plants.
- Greenhouse – Design and fit a purpose-built space. At the moment it is crammed with bits and pieces collected over the years. I want more bench space, zones for cultivating seedlings, and cuttings. I need a good system for storing all the potting mixes and garden tools.
- Mushroom room – Cultivate and grow our own mushrooms! As we are eating plant-based meals, my interest in mushrooms has grown and would love to experiment more with these delightful fungi.
- Wood fired oven – This has been on our list for a while. A great space where we could cook all our delicious, homegrown produce!
- Garden Storage – I don’t have a specific space for my garden tools. We have a shed that we use for storage, but despite being well organised, it simply doesn’t have the space for bulky garden tools and equipment.
- Utilise unused spaces – we have a few odd spots that could use a creative purpose!
- Re-lay the turf in the backyard. – Almost ten years ago we laid astroturf as a playing surface for the kids. Now they are older and no longer use the play equipment, but we have an outdoor cinema that they love, and we know that astroturf will last us another good 10 years or more! The existing worn astroturf may be repurposed on the floor of the mushroom house, or as a base mat for the wicking beds or even as a weed mat in the greenhouse.
- A water feature – we have French Doors in our dining area that open to the cat run and a hot outdoor mini-courtyard with a view of a weatherboard fence. A water feature would cool the space, look amazing and the sound of trickling water would hopefully mask the sound of the neighbours’ thumpy-thumpy creepy-
We also want to …
- Cut down our watering. It takes almost two hours to water the entire garden by hand!
- Get a bore and reticulation – I know this seems to contradict the point above. But the parts of the garden that aren’t wicking beds will need to be watered regularly too. We purchased our home fully reticulated and ended up removing most of it as we re-landscaped the slopes to terraces. Scheme water is precious and the water pressure is terrible across our gradient. We know from our neighbours that the bore water quality is excellent, with great pressure too.
- Reduce our inputs – I would love to reduce our reliance on introduced (and expensive) resources like manure and mulch. I need to get my worm farm ticking over again so it can provide us with the castings we need.
- Increase privacy – Thanks to the weird shape, aspect and slope of our property, we have 5 other houses that share a fenceline with us. We also have an elevated position, I can assure you I don’t like being able to see into their yards any more than they like being so visible to me! A bit of screening will also offer protection from the sun and wind.
3. What stays? What goes?
There are going to need to be some plants relocated and I will likely move some and pot others up to be sold on Gumtree or given away. We will do a garden survey and determine what goes, what stays.
Our council provides us with a skip bin each year and we have already used our quota! Removing all the unwanted stuff from the greenhouse might involve a few trips to the recycle dump. Alternatavly, I’m always amazed at what people are willing to take for free listings on Gumtree!
4. Who’s going to do what?
Are we going to do all this work ourselves? Recruit professionals? In all likelihood, it will end up being a mixture of both.
Obviously, the bore and the reticulation will require specialised tools and expertise!
Fortunately for me, Husband is a great designer and project manager. When renovating, he was was the one who kept everything running on time and budget and had the design brain that reconfigured the floorplan, designed an awesome kitchen, bathroom and laundry spaces.
Husband laid the last round of turf and could do again even though his availability is limited. He is keen to give the wood-fired oven a go too, and there will be paving required there as well.
I have zero carpentry skills, but I am keen to have a hand in constructing the greenhouse and mushroom room. Ideally, work could be done on both at the same time. My Dad has all the expertise and tools so I’m hoping to get his help once I have a design together.
5. How much is it all going to cost?
Ah, the $64,000 question! (Let’s hope it comes in cheaper than that!) Of course, the total expense depends on what materials we choose and the amount of work we can do ourselves. I don’t have a huge budget for the garden, and some projects will have to wait until we have the funding to do them.
I will start gathering quotes next week, many of the trades I contacted take this hot time of year off to holiday!
Cleaning up costs nothing, but I anticipate the biggest expenses will be in the following order,
- Bore and reticulation,
- Wicking bed infrastructure & landscaping,
- Pizza Oven and paving,
- Greenhouse & Mushroom room,
- Water feature.
6. Where do we start?
I can start tomorrow
As far as the big projects are concerned, I would make sense to start with the bore and reticulation once we have finalised the reworked garden plan. It’s also likely that this will be the costliest item, with the most earthworks.
I would hate to get all my new wicking beds in place, only to have to move them for the laying of reticulation! Same goes for the laying of the astroturf.
Also, the existing solenoids for the existing reticulation are located in the exact spot where I want to put the mushroom house.
So it seems the items of biggest expense as I listed above, might also be the best order of works.
7. How long is all this going to take?
Of course, if time and money were not constraints, we could have all our plans pulled together in a few short months. But, I’m going to be generous and give us a year before I hope it’s all done and dusted.
Note that I haven’t even talked about what to plant here, the infrastructure and foundations have to come first.
But I am thinking that a hedge of carob trees along the back fence would be a good idea. They can be trimmed to shape, thrive on neglect and grow to over 15 metres tall. They are also evergreen and don’t drop leaves. And after about 6 years, they fruit delicious carob pods…I think I just convinced myself there!
With al the big stuff out of the way, it’s time to get down to the little tasks. I am using my January Garden Journal pages to do exactly that! For the last week I have been somewhat housebound with a headcold, so it has been the perfect time to ponder! Besides, given the heat outdoors January can be the best time to really think about what I want in the year ahead!
If you haven’t already downloaded your pages, sign up below and download them today!
What are your garden plans for the new year? I’d love to hear from you!