What a difference a couple of years make

Nearly two years ago I visited Brigitte’s new home to help her design her garden. At that stage, it was a blank canvas – front and back yards had been carved out of very alkaline, compacted clay subsoil and covered with a veneer of mulch and gravel. It was stark but full of promise.


This week I had the pleasure of popping back because Brigitte’s fruit trees were ready for pruning – SO ready in fact that I couldn’t believe it had been only a year since they were planted as bare-rooted babies. Since the forecast was still a little dodgy (stone fruits like the cuts to dry out thoroughly after their pruning) we marked the branches with pink yarn for later pruning during a fine spell.


A temporary fence stops the dog from digging around new plantings, while the fruit trees have reached fence height in a year and are ready for formative winter pruning.


Raised beds for picking veg and herbs are located close to the back door.

The lawn, although a bit faded at this time of year, was well established; herbs, native shrubs and ground covers had flourished and the garden had been transformed. Brigitte reported that they had had great crops of vegetables and strawberries (especially when the dog had been fenced out!) and that she had been enjoying the garden in her recent retirement.

Although the soil seemed challenging at first and some suggested that importing garden soil might be the only option, Brigitte has succeeded in building her own soil in a very short time. The key ingredients, apart from some gypsum to help break up the clay, have been lots of home-made compost, with three bins rotating around the garden for spot preparation prior to planting trees, and plenty of mulch – topped up every six months. Earthworms have moved in to process those goodies and hasten their transport into the soil, and the plants have responded with great vigour.

In the front garden (which I ran out of time to photograph!), native shrubs and ground covers have transformed what was formerly a bare slope into a cascade of swales and mounds with varied tones and textures, standing up admirably against the harsh winter winds of a very exposed site.

Just a day earlier, I also had the fun of returning to Serin’s garden, where it was really exciting to see the progress of the native and edible plants in the deep winter shade to the south of the house – also in under two years.

This cheery patch includes a tall native frangipani (Hymenosporum flavum) surrounded by correas, a guava hedge, various herbs, gauras (butterfly flowers), a raspberry trellis and a winding gravel path. It’s mostly evergreen, and in spring its flowers will be spectacular.

What a delight to visit two keen gardeners whose energy and enthusiasm, along with a bit of planning and guidance, have transformed these spaces to create great habitat for humans, worms, birds, insects and pets.


Nadja’s Garden design packages start from $350 for a suburban backyard, including:

  • Hand-drawn plans
  • Planting lists
  • Seasonal schedule for establishing the garden
  • Soil improvement information
  • Fact sheets to get you started with fruit trees, vegetable beds, propagation, etc
  • “Help desk” support available by phone or email

Email nadjasgarden@gmail.com or phone 0410 636 857 to start growing your own green thumbs.

This entry was posted in clay, compost, hanging out in the garden, maintenance, native plants, permaculture design, pruning, resilient gardening, soil. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to What a difference a couple of years make

  1. macmsue says:

    Looks like you’ve all done a great job, I know what it’s like having clay for “soil”.

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