I promised a virtual tour of our garden in lieu of the open day which was cancelled recently, and here it is. It seems the weather agreed with the decision to call off the event, as it ended up raining most of that afternoon. Today’s sunshine, however, is bringing out all the spring colours.
And for the coming month’s garden guide I’ll refer you to this post from the same time last year – just bear in mind though that instead of a dry spring, this year we’ve had a very wet one – so the ground is cooler and better soaked, meaning that heat-loving plants are slightly delayed in their germination and growth (tomato, capsicum, eggplant, pumpkin etc), subtropical trees/vines have not been so keen to be planted out early (citrus, avocado, mango, passionfruit), and those plants susceptible to fungal diseases may be more at risk this time around (grape, zucchini), so be ready with your antifungal treatments such as milk spray or eco-fungicide.
In years gone by, a walk through our garden was a kind of parade of individual fruit trees and vegetable beds. I’m happy to say that after eight years it’s maturing into a cluster of effective plant communities and microclimates. It’s challenging to convey this in two-dimensional pictures, but please bear with me as I try to explain how the elements work together here.
Setting the scene… First, it helps if you understand that we have a fairly small, flat space (around 430m2 including the house) located on clay soil about 15 metres above sea level, that we are about 20 minutes’s walk from the sea on our west, an hour’s walk from the foothills on our south-east, and we have a train line right in front on our north. From the west come both our hottest summer sun and some of our strongest cold winter winds. Cold winds also come from the south. From the north and north-east, our most drying summer winds, noise and dust. Also, we don’t put very much time into gardening.
Our house faces north, which means, as well as letting valuable winter sunshine into our front windows, our front brick walls form a kind of passive heat bank for our front garden. In summer, however, the grapevines and the higher sun angle ensure good shading to keep the front of the house cooler and reflect less heat to the garden.
More space is devoted to perennial plants than annuals – i.e. more fruit and herbs than vegetables and more long-lasting vegetables than fast-growing ones. This means more rewards for less frequent work. Most of the ornamental plants (that is, those that provide windbreaks and food for beneficial insects) are grown from free cuttings and are always available to share. Some are permanent while others hold a place until we’re ready to plant another fruit tree.
Many plants are multi-purpose – e.g. mustard is a useful salad leaf but also fumigates the soil to deter root-knot nematodes that can affect carrots and tomatoes. Peppermint geranium shelters sun-sensitive plants, offers beautifully scented leaves, and can be used like a paper towel to wipe out the compost scrap bowl. Lavender feeds bees, smells good, makes a pretty hedge in a hot spot, and its trimmings line the floor of the chicken coop (along with a shredded newspaper) until the weekend when this happy blend regularly goes to the compost.
Here on the eastern side of the garden is another compost bin, with its fully matured contents available to feed vegetable beds and fruit trees throughout the garden and to add to potting mix. The mango tree on the right is its number one fan.
All the trees are pruned to contain their size, keeping them small enough to net in the case of stone fruits, and ensuring that we can grow a diverse range of fruits in a small space.
The outdoor living area includes a wood-fired pizza oven and an ornamental vertical garden. This area also cools the eastern side of the house in summer and offers useful propagation and project space.
The road verges and fences form an integral part of the garden design, extending our planting area, sharing productivity with the community, rehabilitating dead land, creating habitat for birds, lizards and insects, and buffering our private garden against wind, noise, dust, heat and pollution. Scroll over the images below for descriptions.
The back garden is devoted to utility space, subtropical trees, chooks and bees, with the clothesline area and and chook house doubling as growing space. Perennial herbs and raspberries are seasonally shaded by a shadecloth cover over the clothesline, and the chookhouse supports climbing vegetables such as pumpkins and cucumbers during summer.
The chookhouse is home to four girls who are about – I say ABOUT! (in my best Foghorn Leghorn voice) – to start laying … Not that I’m ungrateful for the manure they provide already. Or for the easy access to that manure from the hatch that opens under their roosting perches. The upper hatches are for adjustable ventilation and the bottom doorknob is for accessing the nest box that sits below the coop (where they can hop in from ground level).
A grapevine is growing up the back of the chookhouse and will eventually provide seasonal shading over most of the structure. On the western side are wormwood bushes for medicinal nibbling and afternoon shade, as well as a physical barrier between the chooks and the beehives. At night they hop up their little ladder to go to bed, and a solar-powered timer-operated door closes after dark to keep them secure. (Maybe slightly over-engineered – but fun.)
Thanks to everyone who has sent kind wishes over the past few weeks. I’m still not 100% well, but it sounds like there are a multitude of us in the same boat this spring. Chipping through the backlog of design work and looking forward to more consultations soon. Thanks to Mum for managing our market stall at Organic Corner Store market – it will be there again next Thursday (Nov 3rd) and I certainly hope to be too! xx