12 October 2012

Doll's Paddock - then

It was a warm spring afternoon, we had come to look at 5 acres along the Lodden River, in Glenlyon as a possible site for a strawbale house. The paddock was virgin, only Dollie the Fleicher’s horse, and several generations of cows had lived on it since the foundation of Glenlyon.

I sat on the slope looking east, with Tilly and Bella beside me, and slowly I began to realize that this was a very special place.  A place to live.

That was October 2006. The house was completed in May 2008 and in August when we  moved in permanently, the work on the garden began.

I knew almost immediately what the final design would look like,  ltaking into account the slopes, the position of the house, and the beautiful red soil, I knew where to put the vegetables, the trees, herbaceous borders ( if any) and steps.

In June 2008 and in a panic to get things started we planted 10 melia anzanderachs, 11 silver birch, 10 crab apples and two varieties of robinias. We planted them in a hurry, and without due attention to their welfare.  Mostly they have survived, and seem happy in their new home

Neighbours, who had not shown their colours in 2006  when we bought the land, now started a road haulage, bob-cat and bull-dozer business, leaving their machinery next to our southern boundary. In order to hide this, we planted a 50 metre hedge of prunus lucitanicus  and repeated this around the flower garden.

There were many suggestions for hiding the water tank, but I liked its architectural qualities and decided not to camouflage it, besides we had been warned that if trees or climbers were planted close there was a danger of roots damaging the plastic liner.  Perhaps the most important decision was the building of the terrace wall which helped frame the house and connect it to the landscape. Including the fish pond at the western end was a sudden choice of my husband’s (Tony) and he looks after that – totally !

The red soil is a great gift, however when dry as it was at the end of the drought in 2008,  it became solid concrete, needing jack hammers to break it up.

We planted three agapanthus on the west side of the water tank, using crow bars to break the soil.  Three further seedlings of questionable origin but definitely eucalypts, were planted amongst the building detritus.  They looked sick for a year.  Unable to rip along the western fence line due to phone and gas lines, we spent 3 months hand digging and planting eucalypt, acacia and calistemon varieties.  These needed hand watering and being unfamiliar with amounts in retrospect we were not generous enough.

An attempt to terrace a vegetable garden was made on the eastern side of the house, with some success, but maintenance proved hard with only one pair of hands.

With a determination to avoid the classical English ‘look’, our  second year saw the landscaping and native planting of beds around the house. David Glenn at Lamley advised on frost hardy plants, and landscape artist and gardener Ray Robinson advised on selection of plants, trees and ground cover.  The John Deere enthusiast  (Tony) found cutting the grass on the  slope from the house unnerving due to its  angle, its uneven surface, the rocks and the tree-like cape weed. But continued and regular cutting has lessened the problem. The virgin soil although slightly acidic has proved very productive and the plants have thrived. When the rains came we were rewarded with amazing growth.

Last year we established the “waterfall” in the natural swale where the water tank overflow pipe appeared and with the ‘floaters’ found on the block, we built a very natural looking rocky outcrop and planted leucadendrons, olives, a forest of casuarinas with crocus ground cover,  grasses and frost hardy succulents. Plans to extend the planting are in hand.

During the recent heavy rains the red soil has turned to a thin, red soup – mulches, compost and sugar cane mulch has been used to provide substance. This winter temperatures have fallen below -5 degrees, too cold for the survival of many plants.

Winds have taken branches off the soft robinias, and broken the blossom-heavy acacia trees. We are exposed to strong winds, and heavy frosts as well as temperatures reaching 40 degrees. Very demanding gardening conditions.

Next year we will have established the basics and look forward to a less stressful and hard working year.

Dee from Doll's Paddock

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