The garden at Greendale #11

The Western border

I mentioned we had only one fence line – along the western boundary. The people next door had horses. The view in that direction was pretty uninspiring, as you can see from the photo. At least here the grass is green, a rare event at the time. Further to the left a line of mature trees on both sides of the fence gave both of us some privacy. But it wasn’t pretty to look at, especially when the drought set in.

We created a border along the fence and edged and planted it. Peter’s daughter (bless her heart) moved the mulch along its length.

Misty  early Autumn view. You can just see the wall of next door’s dam on the left. The more distant trees are ‘borrowed’ from next door and the forest behind.

A late Spring view in 2002, looking up the bank.

I made the established area near the house into a haven for wildlife, putting in a birdbath, bird feeders, pots, and tough, dry-shade species like clivia.

Camellias, grasses, spider flowers, clivia, syzygium

And, of course, we had to have fruit trees. After it cascaded down the hillside beside that Western border the land created its own terrace, becoming almost flat for several meters, before falling over a final, very steep slope. It seemed a good place to establish fruit trees. First, we covered the area with horse manure and old straw donated by the neighbours, then waited until it rotted down. Then we planted bare-rooted fruit trees.

That little shed thing at the end is a chook house Peter built in his previous tenure. We never had chickens – we were away from home too much.

The fruit trees are on their way

We had a cherry tree, 2 plums, a peach, 2 pears, a nectarine, an almond, a walnut, and Jonathon and Granny Smith apples. Unfortunately, because of the prolonged drought they didn’t bear a lot of fruit in our time. But the first year the cherry produced fruit, I found it before the birds. Very nice indeed.

And just to give you a real idea of just how steep this block is, here’s photo of the house taken from the bottom corner.

Have I told you about the kitchen pond and the fernery? That’s next time.

The fruit trees are to the right of the tree on the right. That’s the deck in the top middle.


The garden at Greendale #10

There were very few trees on the property. I think it was originally cleared as grazing land for stock, and this area was also burnt out in the Black Friday fires in the 1980’s. This always seemed to me to be a shame. I like trees, and I don’t like steep, scrubby slopes. So over a period of time I tackled the steep slope at the side of the drive, planting a few trees and natives to hold the ground and cover it. I even let the ivy grow.

And then I decided I wanted my very own miniature 100 acre wood. That would be the left side of the drive (going from the house) near the road. And I would need a veritable Everest of mulch. Pete built me a little set of steps from the drive down to a path that would wind around between the trees, and his daughter, who was staying with us for a time, helped me move mountains of mulch. I’ll bet she’ll never forget the experience. (LOL)

An Everest of mulch. We’ve planted the trees inside plastic surrounds to protect them.

I planted fast-growing natives to screen the new house that had been built next door.

The result was a very different vista to the sparse, empty paddock we started with.

The drive is somewhere up there on the right. The path comes down the left and sweeps around

I planted all along the slope created when the drive was put in, mainly natives because they would never be watered. That area kind of led seamlessly into the forest. The entire area became a haven for wildlife, especially birds. The little birds in particular appreciated the thick shrubs.

After that I tackled the Western border. That’s in the next post.

The drive is up there to the right.

The path through the woods

Lots of natives like callistemons


The garden at Greendale #9

A place to put ‘stuff’. Here we’d already started on construction, and removed most of the accumulated junk. We’ve put in bearers from the tank to the wall.

The shade house

Every house has to have that space where you put ‘stuff’. I won’t bore you with the construction of the three-level shed Peter built up next to the water tank. But when that was finished, we had a place to hide ‘stuff’ – there and in the woodshed next to the drive. You see, the place where ‘stuff’ was left was the gap between the water tank and the house, right next to the garage. It was ugly, so it had to go.

The tank was set a little bit into the ground behind it, and sleeper walls held back the earth on the side toward the back. The sleeper wall then stepped down to the back border. It was sheltered, and a perfect spot for tender plants like ferns. We called it our ‘rain forest’.

Over several weekends, Pete built a pergola over the space. I got to do the painting, climbing up and down ladders with tins of paint. At least it wasn’t hard on my back. Not too sure about my calves and feet, though.

The structure is defined, and painted

Looking along the back veranda

Pete did some painting, too.

The front gate, out to the driveway, and a trellis closing the area off from the terrace. We put a similar gate at the other end.

We added planter beds and a place for a water feature, then covered the lot with shade cloth.

We added gates at both sides, with deliberate holes so small birds could get in. Several birds built nests in the wall baskets, including the superb blue wrens.

Interesting corners were planted with ferns

And we added a water feature

The sleeper walls were ideal for hanging baskets and stag horns and the like. The area was also a great place to propagate cuttings. It was cool and green, and very relaxing in the dry summer months.

Next, we created a forest. I’ll tell you about that next time.

That’s a small Japanese maple (acer) in its Autumn finery.

Another view of the pond, with fuchsias and on the right a begonia

Begonias, ferns, staghorns, fuchsias, spider plant. And a path through the middle

The garden at Greendale #8


The house from the area around the dam

Around the Dam

If you drove up our street past the drive you couldn’t actually see the house. It was below the level of the land. You can imagine what could happen in the event of heavy rain. So Peter had put in a small dam, and drainage channels to conduct excess water away from the house. This quite large area above the house was never developed and never used. One reason was that really open areas are never used, by anybody. We didn’t have any fences except between us and our immediate neighbour to the West, who had horses. We didn’t need a fence, since we had no domestic pets, so we planted a hedge (photinia robusta), fast-growing to about three metres. It has a gorgeous flush of red foliage in Spring.

Planting photinias. Rather a lot of them. That’s the neighbours’ fence behind him

The hedge a few years later

Then one day as we were on our way to Ballarat for a leisurely breakfast, we noticed a new servo was being built on the Western Highway. The site was solid rock and the builders had blasted out tonnes of rocks and placed them in a pile. An opportunity! Over several weekends Pete and I went to the site and filled the trailer with rocks to cover the dam wall. That way, it no longer needed mowing.

Early morning ready for a day of labouring. We still have a pile of rocks to shift

Hosing the rocks down to clean them up

Edged and finished

The end result was beautiful, as well as practical

I planted tough sedum, grasses, allysum and the like between the rocks

Low-growing, tough plants like grasses and sedum and allysum nestle between the rocks

In his previous tenure at Greendale Pete had planted three gum trees up in that top paddock that were now well-established. Now we’d provided privacy with the hedge, we built a little arbor incorporating the trees, and overlooking the dam. By then the dam was empty because of the drought – but weather changes.

Gum trees. That’s the shadow of the archway over the steps leading down to the terrace

Pete created an octagon around the trees, then we selected natives for the edge. When they’re grown, that should be a hidden spot to sit on a bench

The hedge is looking splendid and the natives between the trees are starting to grow

Sitting on the bench you can see the dam

Next time I’ll tell you about the shade house.


The garden at Greendale #7

Greta bringing in the bin down the 100m driveway. We had a fortnightly rubbish collection

The drive

I expect you’ve realised that all these projects didn’t happen in a lineal manner. Small things were happening all the time, with necessary spurts for large projects like the deck and the terrace garden. One thing we spent time on was the drive. In the above picture, there’s a steadily longer slope on the left, and there’s a slope up to the right, where Pete had dug a small, but fairly deep dam, to collect run-off from the road.

The drive was untidy and uninviting. It went around the curve to the house, where we had a circular planter and what was supposed to be a circular drive. We added beds to the front garden to define the round shape of the drive – which provided more opportunities for planting.

That meant laying out beds (with a gap for the mower), then clearing, bringing in top soil, and finally planting and mulching.

The original uninspiring vista

New beds laid out and cleared

A mountain of top soil

Pete finishing off the spreading

Roos admiring the new beds

In this picture, I’ve already started planting. Beyond the gap I planted natives, but also spring-flowering bulbs to create a drift of jonquils and daffodils, followed by tough gazanias. The bed nearer the house became a rose garden. The trees edging the drive are in and starting to grow. We’ve brought in soil for the circular planter and planted a peppercorn tree which will shade the drive. I’ve planted annuals around the base.

The view from the house. We’ve got a pond, the circular drive is defined and things are growing

The natives have grown. We put a bird table in there for visitors.

We planted a row of Tasmanian blue gums alternating with callistemon King’s Park special along both sides of the drive. Later, we edged the entire drive on both sides with jarrah edging.

blue gum, bottlebrush, blue gum, bottle brush

Peppercorn tree with wild cottage planting. Also notice the plantings on both sides of the drive

Tough but pretty

The wattle was there when we arrived.

Lots of gazanias, seaside daisy, echinacea

And this is the view avisitor would get in Summer. Next time, we’ll talk about that barren paddock between the house and the street, where the little dam is.

Agapanthus is tough as old boots




The garden at Greendale #6

The Mediterranean garden

The site of the Mediterranean garden

We called it the Mediterranean garden because of the site. Whatever I planted on that steep slope would feel the full brunt of the weather, and would have to endure the poor soil and excellent drainage. Mediterranean. But first we had to build it. It happened shortly after we finished the deck.

First, we cleared away the scrappy grass around the birches and defined a border for the garden with sleepers.We also planned reticulation so we could provide water underground.

Then we added paths which we lined with weed mat. The paths also served the purpose of providing a certain amount of terracing, so I’d have beds to plant in. We had our deck, but we needed steps to get down to the garden on the left-hand side. On the right a few gentle steps was all it took to get to the grass, but on the left the fall was steep.

In this picture the steps are taking shape. We’ve already defined the garden beds and added some soil.

Piles of dirt had to be moved by hand. Here, the bed from the bottom of the deck to the first path is done.

Forming the dry creek bed

This will be a dry stream bed which might be a wet stream bed if it rains. Did I mention the sore back bit? And the sore knees?

Soil, plants and mulch have been added, and the little pond is full. I even added a statue at the blind end of a path. It’s made of concrete, and both plinth and statue are very heavy. I bought it when Pete was away, and the boys at the garden centre helped me load the pieces into my station wagon. But then, of course, I had to get them down to the garden. Slopes, remember?

I used the wheelbarrow and almost got away with it. The plinth was easy-ish, but balancing the cherub with the wings – not so much. The cherub overbalanced the wheelbarrow and one of his wings is a little bit damaged. I had to get help from the Master – after enduring a short lecture about ‘stupid’ and ‘could have damaged the car’. Never mind. You’d never have known cupid was damaged if I hadn’t told you.

And then there was the planting. All the garden centres knew me by name, I think. As I said, I needed tough plants. I planted salvia, lavender, snow in summer, gazanias etc. And several buddleias, which lived up to their name of butterfly bush. Sparaxis and Tritonia, South African bulbs, put on a show every Spring, as did the bluebells planted under the silver birches. (very English and not Mediterranean at all). I planted climbers to cover the front of the deck – clematis and Chinese jasmine. The end result was worth the work.

Enjoy the photo gallery. Next time I’ll talk about what we did with the drive.

Cherub in summer

Ornamental grasses and Californian poppies. A buddleia behind the architectural plant.

This is the path that goes along past the desk. I have climbers scrambling up it.

Lavender, bluebells, and silver birches

A wider view of the garden with the deck in the background

Climbers scrambled up the deck face

Late Autumn

Early Autumn

More Autumn colour

A corner in the path. What’s up there?

Lavender and white wisteria

Sparaxis and lavender – Spring/Summer colour

It’s Autumn. The claret ash I added is going red, the birches are getting ready to turn and the wisteria is well on its way

Winter dreaming


The garden at Greendale #5

Preparing for the deck

The Deck

The North end of the house jutted above the valley like the prow of a ship. We liked the idea of a bit of flat space there to take advantage of the view, so we decided to have a deck. It was a difficult site, sloping in two directions so while there were steep slopes on the right, there were only a few steps down to the grass on the left. We both worked in Melbourne, so we were away for at least 12 hours a day. We agreed we could afford to get someone to do the work for us. But that was one of the issues about living at Greendale. Although it was only a half hour from Bacchus Marsh none of the tradesmen we contacted wanted to do the job. I’m not sure if that was due to distance, degree of difficulty, or both. With no other options available we ended up doing it ourselves.

One of the first things we did in 1997 was plant five silver birches on this slope. We thought they’d be perfect for this sunny end of the house – deciduous in Winter to let the light in, and the leaves in Summer would provide shade.  After the deck was built, those birches would provide the framework for a garden down the slope – terraced, of course, with sleepers. But first things first – we had to build a deck.

Pete enlisted his good friend Rob to help dig the holes for the stumps.

The holes were dug in a day – 25 of them, as I recall. The next day the stumps were put in place, and fixed with concrete. My job was to check each hole and remove any frogs that may have popped in for the night before the stumps went in. (There were several). Then, checking alignment all the time, the stumps were put into place. Despite the care the guys had taken aligning where to dig the holes the previous day, a few were slightly out and had to be widened.

Which meant more concrete. This is me helping with the concrete. In the unlikely event that a tornado hits Greendale, the house may go – but the deck won’t move an inch.

Once the stumps had set, Peter could fix the joists to support the bearers. This view gives a good notion of the steepness of the slope.

The joists are done. Before we even thought about putting down decking we cleared the ground as much as we could, smoothed it out and laid down weed mat. That was a mainly Greta job. My back aches at the memory.

With the weed mat in place, we could start on the bearers, which would hold up the decking. Pete’s attaching the bearers to the joists with a metal stirrup thingy.

The decking was treated pine, and liable to split if a nail gun is used. Peter drilled a hole for every nail, and we (yes, we) nailed every nail by hand. Every single bloody nail. The deck was 30ft long and 15ft wide. That’s a shitload of nails. And oh, my aching back. Kneeling was just as bad.

Me nailing. But please also note the stumps, painted with bitumen paint before they went in. Painting was almost always my job

Pete lining up the decking

All finished. Pete surveys the domain. The top rail was wide enough to set a glass on, and the bottom rail was just the right height to rest your foot

This is it, finished. We used Cabot’s deck sealer on the decking, and I (I!) painted the rails in Mission Brown. I know it’s old-fashioned, but I was going to use a dark green for the verticals and eucalyptus green for the horizontals. I tried one coat – and it stood out like dog’s balls. Mission brown blends with the scenery so much better. That’s a dwarf peach in the pot. It bore full-sized, delicious fruit when it was a bit larger. And although I never had any success growing citrus trees in the ground, I planted a Meyer lemon in a half barrel planter placed on the deck, and that went splendidly.

Autumn from the deck, looking West. That’s a claret ash on the right

Wisteria and lemon tree. Note also the little arch I added on that tall blank wall.

So – our deck was done. Now we had to build that garden I mentioned, around the silver birches. That’s in the next post. Join me tomorrow for the Mediterranean garden.



The garden at Greendale #4

Water tank, driveway and garage

Water tank, driveway and garage

The Terrace

That jumbled junk in the picture at the top wasn’t the first thing we dealt with, but it was close. It was our view when we left for work in the morning and what we saw when we arrived home each day. We decided to terrace that crumbly wall, clean up and flatten the ground, and maybe add a garden shed.

Pete and a friend doing the manual labour to create the terracing

Pete and a friend doing the manual labour to create the terracing. We still had a LOT of junk to get rid of.

Terracing the bank

Terracing the bank. We used railway sleepers and lots of concrete. We also added steps that led halfway up, then up a slope to the top part of the property.

Eventually it looked like this

After much concreting and sleepering it eventually looked like this. We brought in soil to fill the tiers

We were so happy with how it was turning out that we abandoned the idea of a utility area with garden shed, and decided to turn it into a terrace garden, a little closed off oasis at the side of the house. First things first – paving. And a focal point, a central raised bed for a small tree.

The steps to the top. I was given the job of excavating the sloping ramp. We couldn’t put in steps all the way because it would have ended up like a ladder.

The framework is complete. Later, we added a fence at the back, and a low westringia hedge and a fence at the front, with an entrance arch. Three steps led down to the drive.

Later we added a picket fence along the top edge of the garden to stop kangaroos (and I suppose people) falling over. We put a waterfall in the left corner with a statue of Diana bathing. To start with, Pan played his pipes at the top of the waterfall, but I moved him elsewhere later. We’ll come to that. And from then on, it was fun with plants.

Just about the only things we didn’t do ourselves were the paving, the brick work and construction of fences. We paid contractors for that.

Pond, waterfall and statue

Pond, waterfall and statue – much later, of course, when the planting was doing its thing

The picket fence along the drive side of the terrace

The bank in springtime, a mass of colour. The sleepers are for some other project


A celtic cascade in the planter. It’s deciduous, perfect for an underplanting of Dutch iris and tulips. When they finish, the tree’s leaves take over

The picket fence along the drive side of the terrace. We planted a hedge of wisteria fruticosa just inside.

The picket fence along the drive side of the terrace. We planted a hedge of wisteria fruticosa just inside. Also note the archway at the top. That’s native wisteria – hardenburgia.

We put a narrow garden bed around the edge of the water tank, covered it with lattice and grew clematis to cover the concrete.


Clematis on the water tank


And of course there had to be somewhere to sit. The garden is about 5 years old in this picture


A later picture of the pond with the waterfall. We left this pond for the frogs

Ah, the memories. From a total tip it became one of the stand-out features of the garden. When we came home from work on warmer, clear nights we’d have dinner, then sit on the steps under the stars and count the satellites. No street lights and no city light pollution up there.

A superb blue wren – we had several nesting families (eventually)

The garden bench was a warm, sheltered spot to sit and read a book, and the small birds loved the shrubs and the water feature. I remember watching with delight as a superb blue wren bathed in the top tier of the waterfall.

Next time we’ll go down the other end of the house and I’ll talk about the deck.





The garden at Greendale #3

Early days – but a lot of work has already been done

The  Front border

When we first arrived at Greendale the only real semblance of a garden was at the front of the house. A narrow, sleeper-lined bed went from the edge of the garage along the veranda to the front door. A pathway led from the drive to the front door, and to the right of the path was another bed. It widened out at the front of the house outside the formal lounger into a largish rectangular garden.


The planting was a mess. Ivy had been put in as a ground cover, growing around some sad roses in the large garden. A native black wattle, always the earliest to regrow in paddocks, had taken up residence in a corner. Along the house front the rhododendrons and hydrangeas (never pruned) competed with the ivy. A gum tree had recently self-seeded and was nearing the height of the gutter. Next to the footpath the shrubs had become a hedge.

Job one was to clear. I spent days pulling out the ivy. The stuff is okay growing up a wall where it can be controlled, but not as a ground cover. The hedge came out, too. I wanted to be able to see the view. In that first year, we planted tomatoes in the newly cleared bed next to the path, but the intention had always been an ornamental garden. We kept the plants we wanted – an Erica which provided much-needed Winter colour, an oleander, a dwarf callistemon (little john) and a couple of large fuchsias, along with the hydrangeas, rhodies, and azaleas. I moved the roses.

We had two microclimates here: the deep clay and shade in the bed immediately next to the house, and the sunnier bed with better drainage where the tomatoes were planted. We also decided to get rid of the large rectangular bed, pave it, and add a formal, rectangular water feature with edges where people could sit.

One of the few things we didn’t do ourselves was cobblestone paving, and construction of the pond. We paid a contractor to do that for us.

Ajuga and azalea in Spring

The planting for the front bed became traditional English cool weather. The rhododendrons and hydrangeas were joined by more hydrangeas, azaleas, and roses for the Summer, with lambs ears and ajuga reptans as ground cover. I also planted aquilegia, tulips, foxgloves, day lilies, Japanese windflowers and others to provide an all year display. But again, the bed was at its best in Spring and Summer.

As it happened, some of the bushes we planted did end up being something of a hedge. We had to trim it back regularly. But that was okay – they fitted into the bigger picture. I expect if we’d stayed, some of them might have been removed. Gardening’s like that.

New bed newly planted. This would be my (main) rose garden

We added new beds, too. Pete had always envisaged a circular driveway, with a feature tree in a circular bed in the middle. So we created new beds around the paddock edge of the drive, with a gap to allow the mower access to the paddock. This area became my rose garden. Every year I bought ranunculus and anemones and mass planted them under the roses. I also had jonquils and daffodils – which I left to multiply.

We ended up with some lovely vistas. Next time we’ll move on to the Terrace garden.

Front patio with pond

Front planting

Summer time – ice berg roses and hydrangeas

The rose bed – vol du nuit, day lilies, gaura, and ground cover roses (among others)



The garden at Greendale #2

Looking up at the front corner. That’s the study window on the left

The rockery

Last time I described what we did with the back border. But that border ran from the kitchen door left to the garage. To the right of the kitchen door, the veranda went past the kitchen, the dining room, and then around to the end of house. Outside the kitchen door the house pad and the block were at their most level. From here, the land sloped down, and the house pad was elevated. Just outside the kitchen window Pete had built a patio area with a large table and benches built from sleepers. The patio was raised above the sloping land, which overlooked a steep bank. It all needed work.

His original idea had been to train a wisteria to grow on a pergola over the top of a patio. Although the pergola had never been finished, the wisteria had been planted. With nowhere else to go, it sprawled over an acacia growing in the corner. I tried very hard to get rid of it, but it resisted all efforts. When we decided to put the pergola up, it was raring to go.

Building the new pergola

Planing the slats for the pergola

Painting the slats for the pergola

In fact, we had two wisterias. The second one was planted on the other side of the aforementioned acacia and was supposed to be trained on another pergola, at right angles to the one over the patio with the picnic table, covering a paved section outside the dining room. Although the pergola had been built, the wisteria had never been trained and was in need of serious pruning. In fact, the back board supporting the bearers was rotten, so we had to take the lot down and replace it.

The pergola is finished and the wisteria has been shown where to go

You can see from the top picture there’s a natural line where ordinary mowing ends and vertical brush-cutting begins. We turned that sloping bank into a sort of rockery. We lined the edge with sleepers, bought rocks, which we manhandled into place, then added a layer of top soil.

The slope is cleared, ready for the rocks

Rocks are in place

This site needed tough, low growing perennials. I used predominantly blue, yellow and orange flowering plants, including Californian poppies, calendula, seaside daisy, lavender, prostrate rosemary, salvias, and the like, as well as some natives. Grey foliaged plants were also added to the mix. An enormous King protea cascaded down the slope at the corner, loving the neglect and the poor soil. It died of old age just before we left Victoria. I also grew roses. Roses are actually very tough, thrive in clay and don’t mind heat or a touch of winter frost (when they’re dormant anyway). I chose pale yellow varieties to contrast with the purple and grey.

Rockery planting is well under way

The end result was easier mowing. And something nice to look at. The rockery became a haven for little lizards, as well as bees and birds. The wisteria outside the kitchen window turned out to be the purple variety, and it was much loved every Spring by the crimson rosellas, which covered the paving under the pergola with a purple carpet.

The second wisteria was white, and also put on a spectacular spring show – although it was never ravaged by the rosellas.

We also thought that blank wall where the study was needed something. So we put up trellises on both sides and trained the Spring flowering, virtually thornless banksia rose to climb up it. I also planted a clematis. The idea was the clematis would flower in Summer when the rose had finished. But I got it wrong, and they both flowered in Spring. I did plant a dark red Summer/Autumn flowering clematis on the left side, but it wasn’t anywhere near as vigorous as the white one.

Oh well. That’s gardening

So… here’s some results. Next time I’ll tell you about the front border.

Rockery and wisteria are both established