Tag Archives: gardening

The garden at Greendale #15

Sunset over the Wombat forest

This is my last garden post. It has been fascinating for me, going back through what we did at Greendale. I’m so glad I had enough ‘before’ photos to see the difference. I thought this would be a good place to answer some questions.

Where is this place?

Look in the top left corner. You’ll see Greendale nestled next to the dark mass of the forest

Do you have a map of the property so we can see what went where?

This is a Google earth image, marking the main areas talked about in the blogs

Wasn’t it high maintenance?

No, it wasn’t. The original intention in many of our projects was to reduce maintenance. No more having to brush-cut steep slopes, no more manoeuvring between groups of trees. Sure, we had to edge, but that was part of mowing.

Although we had to do some weeding, especially in new gardens, I used Peter Cundall’s philosophy that if there’s a plant there, a weed can’t grow. It worked. I used perennials and shrubs, and never lifted bulbs (unless I wanted to divide them). Apart from the on-going labour of love of filling holes and replacing failed experiments, the main tasks were pruning and mulching, and that was once a year. And part of the enjoyment of the garden was wandering around in it, maybe pulling a weed here, dead-heading a rose there, trimming a branch somewhere else. That sort of maintenance is invisible.

Did you do all the work yourselves?

Not absolutely everything, no. We brought in a contractor to lay the cobbles for us, and to build the formal pond at the front of the house, and the circular planter in the terrace. Peter constructed the fence at the drive side of the terrace, and the little fence at the fernery, but we hired a contractor to build the long fence that stretched around the back of the terrace around to the end of the back border near the kitchen door. I painted all the external woodwork at least twice. Peter’s oldest daughter helped me with mulching the forest, and she did the western border by herself. I was eternally grateful. Everything else was done by us. It was our home, and our hobby.

Wasn’t water a problem?

Yes, it was. I tried to use plants suited to their location, so the Med garden and the Terrace and rockery all had natives or drought tolerant species. We also set up watering systems – underground soaker hoses in the Med garden, overhead sprinklers in the shade house and fernery. We put in a recycling septic system so we could reuse the water on the garden. And we tried drilling for bore water. Other people in Greendale had been successful in finding reliable underground water. But it wasn’t to be. The contractor went down four hundred feet to find even a bit of dampness, and beyond that depth it would have cost a fortune in pumps. We didn’t water often, but as the drought tightened its grip, we had to consider the thousands of dollars’ worth of plants. It was worth buying a few truckloads of water, or carting water from Greendale’s communal spring. But we only watered the gardens close to the house. Everything else was left to fend for itself. From 2003 onward I recorded all our rainfall every day. The graph below comes from those figures.

Annual rainfall by month 2003-6

Wasn’t it hard to leave?

I’ve heard this expressed in a dozen different ways, and I understand the sentiment. The thing is, life changes. We moved there with a mission of sorts – finish the place, inside and out (because while the garden was being built, things were happening inside, too). Then around 2005 we were hit with enervating health problems that required multiple visits for tests to hospitals in Ballarat and Melbourne, and appointments with Melbourne specialists. Eventually, one doctor told us to go and sit on a beach somewhere and veg out. So we went on a week’s holiday in Queensland. We got home on a cold, dark Victorian night. Next morning, wrapped in woollies, I took my cup of tea out on the deck under a grey sky and gazed at the forest, remembering the glint of sunlight on water and warm sand between my toes. It took me back to my younger days at the beach in Perth. A few moments later, Peter joined me. “You know, Gret,” he said, “I think we should retire somewhere warmer.”

And that was the beginning of the end.

Greendale was too big, too steep and too remote for an ageing couple with health problems. We put the house on the market in Spring, hoping the garden would sell it. Mind you, the house had plenty to offer – 4 large bedrooms with built in robes, 2 bathrooms, separate study, formal lounge, formal dining, meals area, family room. But even so, Spring went, Summer arrived and passed. And we didn’t even get a visit. The place took over a year to sell. By this time we’d cleared all the junk, had the garage sale, thrown away the hundreds of accumulated plastic plant pots, and sold a few things we wished we hadn’t.

It was a great experience, something I’ll cherish. I really enjoyed putting these posts together, reliving the work we did, and basking in our achievement. But time doesn’t stand still.

We closed the door behind us without regrets, and moved on to a new life.

The garden at Greendale #14

Bruce with some of his ladies

If you choose to live on the edge of a national forest on a hectare of land, you’ll be visited by wildlife. There was a resident mob of kangaroos in the valley which went from property to property keeping the grass down and fertilising. We saw them often, at any time of day or evening. And sometimes we didn’t see them at all.

I took one memorable picture quite early in our tenure. I knew the roos were close to the house, so I fetched my camera and walked around the corner to where the front patio would be. The alpha buck and his ladies were right there in front of me. He stood up with a surprised look on his face but he didn’t react, although a couple (not all) of the ladies bolted. I backed off quietly and took a few pictures, then left them to it. The alpha male (we called him Bruce) was enormous. He stood well over six feet, with an upper body Arnie would have envied. I have never seen a bigger buck.

This was taken just outside the kitchen

The nice thing about the roos was that, although wild, they were comfortable with people, and behaved completely naturally. Mums would let their joeys out for a run around and I saw one mum refuse to let a joey that panicked at the sight of me, back into the pouch. I wasn’t a threat.

The young bucks would practice fighting, and check on the girls to see if they could have a quickie while the boss buck was away. They would lounge on the grass, relax in the shade, and generally be kangaroos.

This is a large buck, on his own and working up to being a challenger to the alpha

The Wombat State Forest was home to wombats (I saw one crossing the road once) but we didn’t see them much. We had possums, both brushtail and ringtail, and we saw the occasional koala. We heard them more often, the big males growling from the forest above our house. Here’s what they sound like.

But apart from the roos, the most abundant critters were birds. Sulphur-crested cockatoos in their thousands called the Wombat Forest home. We would see them in the early morning, warming up their wings in raucous groups, planning their day. In the evening, they would perch up in the highest trees to catch the last of the sun before they went off for a last noisy fly-around before they settled down in the trees to roost. They’re lovely birds living to a ripe old age of 50+ years in the wild, but they are big, loud, and destructive. They are the bush’s native tip pruners, and they love soft wood like western red cedar window frames. They didn’t mind a bite of treated pine, either, so we didn’t encourage them too much.

A squadron (just one) of cockatoos doing a warm-up run

Gang gangs. The male has the distinctive red head

Gang-gangs visited in the Summer, obvious by their distinctive call which sounds like a creaking gate. And, of course, pink and grey galahs. They loved lining up on the power lines on the road and performing acrobatics. We also had heaps of crimson rosellas. They loved the purple wisteria, but weren’t so much interested in the white one. They also loved the catkins on the silver birches.

The rosellas loved the purple wisteria

This young rosella is enjoying catkins on the silver birches in the rain. They go red as they age

Of course we had magpies. They very quickly learned we were friends. They nested in the three gums near the dam, and popped in for snacks at a feeder table we set up just outside the kitchen. Kookaburras visited, too. When we replaced the washing line with a rotary hoist, they liked to sit on the central high point. A few birds quite liked sitting on the hoist’s arms and going for a ride in the breeze.

The little birds, in particular, loved our garden because we had so many dense bushes. Superb blue wrens nested in a number of places, including the shade house. A blackbird set up in there, too.

This white-browed wren built a mud nest in the fernery. Here, she’s caught a moth

Here’s a better view of her

This male superb blue wren is perched on a rhododendron flower. He had a nest in the bushes in the front border

A pair of baby kookaburras on the deck rail

These are Australian wood ducks, probably parents with nearly grown kids. The females are mottled.

Wood ducks nest in tree hollows (up in a tree). Their kids have to jump down, and from there mum and dad take them for their first swim.

The year the dam had water

We had frogs, too. In particular the pond at the base of the waterfall in the terrace garden became a frog pond. Every year we’d see the eggs and later the tadpoles around the rushes.

Tiny frog on a waterlily

You’re going to ask, aren’t you? About the spiders and the snakes. And the simple answer is ‘of course’. This is the Australian bush. On a number of occasions, I caught large huntsmen spiders in the house and escorted them outside. (That was my job – Pete just told me where they were.) Pete killed two snakes with the brushcutter when he was hacking back the long grass when we first moved in. I don’t condone killing animals for no reason. Snakes are normally pretty keen on minding their own business. One ventured onto our front veranda and we encouraged him out to the grass with brooms – just guiding, not attacking – where he hightailed it out of there. In the years we lived at Greendale I saw a snake four times, and never in an aggressive pose. Don’t do anything stupid like stand on them, or try to attack them, and you’re usually pretty safe. Given a chance, they’ll get out of your way.

So that’s about it. Join me for FAQ’s in the next post – the final one.



The garden at Greendale #13

This post is simply about the pretties. Gardens are never finished. I never could resist finding a place for another lily, or a pretty perennial.  I had a lot of roses, but I never grew a rose that was not fragrant. So these are some of the plants I’ve grown. Please enjoy, and come back for the penultimate post tomorrow, where I showcase some of our wildlife.

Just Joey

Tulip Menton




Japanese windflowers


Californian poppy

Red rose (don’t remember the name)


Pandorea species

Clematis with bee

Iceberg rose

Oriental lily


Golden rose

Pink rosabunda carpet rose









The garden at Greendale #12

The kitchen pond

I’ve covered all the main projects in the previous posts, but we did a few more things, too. One of the bushes outside the kitchen window turned up its toes, so we pulled the stump out and replaced it with a water feature for the back patio. Pete built up the sleepers so we had some height, then we bought a fibre glass cascade.

Doing the planting

The new pond in context. With my backside outside the shade house

I planted annuals at the front of the bed to give some colour. Also low growing herbs like thyme to spread and cover the area. That’s a native fuchsia at the top

An evening view

The Fernery

Another very early job was to redo the fernery. Peter had built a little bit of garden into the long, narrow house to allow in light and break the space up a little. The area had one brick wall and two walls made up of windows. A pergola covered with green corrugated plastic provided cover. Here, tree ferns had been planted. But tree ferns were far too large for a comparatively small space, so my first job was to clear the area out. The tree ferns went to a good home with friends. Then I planted smaller varieties, and hung hanging baskets. This was another area very popular with birds.

Fernery devoid of tree ferns

Taken from inside. This was the meals area, next to the kitchen

Fuchsias, ferns, umbrella trees, hanging baskets. This was one of the few bits of fencing Peter built himself.

The bio-pond

One of the big problems for owners of ornamental pools is keeping the water clean and clear. Yes, you can buy a filter, but they tend to fail pretty quickly. So Peter decided to build his own biological filter for the front patio formal pond. In principle, it works like a swamp does. Water feeds into a bed of coarse sand, slows down, and loses its sediment. Then it feeds out, clean and clear, into the main lake (or in this case, pond). Water plants like rushes grow in the sediment-rich ‘swamp’ part, using up the nutrients.

It worked well – but the downside was the water level in the pond was much lower. If he’d planned such a project from the first, he could have incorporated it into the design.

Water was pumped into this section, from where it leached into the planted part on the right

From there, the water rose until it was high enough to pour out of the pipe

Next time I’ll share some photos of flowers.

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