Friday, April 13, 2012

I delight: Our patch of sand

One thing that punches well above its weight in terms of the pleasure it brings us is our garden.  The irony of this is that gardening at our rental house was as far from pleasurable as you could imagine, in fact it was the absolute bane of my life.

But there is gardening (daft) and there is gardening (not so daft).  We chose the latter.

We never intended to buy a house when we moved to Mandurah.  We intended to rent long-term.  But I hadn't counted on our and all other rental agreements containing something that I had great difficulty doing.  I can do many things and I love learning to do new things, but I am absolutely rubbish at having to do things that I consider wasteful, ridiculous or environmentally unsound.  So what was the thing that my rental agreement said I had to do and that convinced me to buy a house?  Water lawn.

Here is a bit more information to put that in perspective.  The Southwest corner of Western Australia has major water issues.  It is often described at one of the fastest drying if not the fastest drying region on the planet. Speedy, ongoing population growth is putting existing water supply sources under extreme pressure.  It barely rains here for about 6 months of the year so water is stored in dams, sourced from natural underground water reservoirs or produced from desalination plants.  The Water Corporation spends a lot of time, money and effort explaining the latest water shortage dramas and imploring people to use water wisely.

But it looks to me like the poor old Water Corp is pushing manure uphill. Walk down any suburban street at almost any time of the day and night here and you will see shockingly wasteful use of water.  The custom of growing and watering gardens that are completely unsuited to this climate is widespread and ingrained. People here habitually pour copious amounts of water onto even the most unkempt of gardens and the skankiest of lawns.  According to Water Corp information, 44% of residential water use here is used outdoors.  And given that 71% of water use is residential, my casual observations of what is happening in my neighbourhood tell me that the potential savings are enormous.

And the lawn here isn't even nice or usable.  I won't go into detail but push all thoughts of lush green stuff from your mind.  Push away too any thoughts of me mowing lawn with a well-maintained antique push-mower while dressed in a floral sun frock and a wide-brimmed hat.  Nothing could be further from the harsh reality of lawn (and gardening in general) in this part of the world. The unfamiliar local combo of searing heat/relentless merciless sunshine/flies/mosquitoes/soils of pure sand meant that we had to relearn how to garden.

But advice on how to garden for these conditions was easy to find.  My partner and I attended excellent free gardening seminars put on by the Great Gardens team  and I went to various council seminars on creating wildlife-friendly gardens.

So here is what we did.  Despite being mostly lawn, our large (980sq m) new property was well framed by existing shrubs and trees.  Some of these are inside the perimeter of our property and some hang over the fences from the neighbours.  Below are a few of them.

And a few more.
Ahhh.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, Australian plants and Western Australian ones in particular are gorgeous.

Not all the existing plantings are exactly to my taste but they do provide some lovely, long, uninterrupted views to far distant mature trees.  My photos don't do the view below justice but that particular one always reminds me of a gloriously blousy Karl Maughan painting.  It has pink Oleander in front, then blue Plumbago, back to a yellow wattle at the back of our property, peeps of the neighbour's orange and crimson Frangipani, right back to borrowed views of huge distant flowering Jarrah, Karri and Marri trees.

The very first thing we did was create a summer herb patch.  Here in the land of scorchio summers plants go bitter when they get heat-stroke, regardless of how much water is poured onto them.  We needed the coolest possible position so used the narrow strip down the side of the house.  A mere fortnight later that patch was producing.  We have had so much Basil for the past 6 months that I am reminded of another Fast Show character:  "This week I 'ave been mostly eating ... Basil".

But the biggest job to tackle was the enormous lawned front garden.  The process was pretty ugly - yes that is the old wool carpet used as weed matting under the paths.

But then one day three gigantic and gloriously fragrant truckloads of eucalyptus mulch arrived on our front lawn - for free.  When I expressed my surprise and delight that such wonderful stuff could be mine for free, the tree-surgeon-dude said "If it's any help to you, we drink Corona."  I was more than happy to oblige.
Here is what our front garden looks like now.

Despite planting our garden at the wrong time of the year, everything is doing brilliantly.  We haven't used our reticulated watering system once; we carefully hand watered our plants and our water bills are tiny and below half the average for our area.  Given that our plants will be well established by next summer, our use will be even lower then.  And our garden certainly wasn't expensive.  All up we spent less than $300 on landscaping supplies and plants. 

The paths and funny little birdbaths were cobbled together from bits and pieces strewn around the property.  One of my favourite places to sit with a cup of coffee is on our bed as it overlooks the birdbaths.  In the time it takes me to down my long black, up to eight different species of native birds will swing by. (I have tried and tried to photograph them but photographing birds is definitely on my "Stuff I'm rubbish at" list.) 

Now it is autumn (woohoo) and a great time for tackling the enormous back garden, which we simply weed-matted with all the stinky curtains then topped with mulch.  We won't plant anything permanent there as we plan to eventually build over that area.  Tempted as I am to put in some high maintenance topiary dolphins, (obviously not my photo.  It arrived in my inbox with a bunch of other nutso topiary creations) the heat/sun/flies/mosquitoes combo means I'll take a different approach.  And it won't be plastic lawn despite that being a very popular option here - don't get me started...

Does anyone remember growing "everlastings" or "straw flowers" as a child? I sure do. I thought they were fabulous and used to torture my mother by giving her ghastly arrangements of them poked into plasticine which she graciously displayed. Well many everlastings are native to Western Australia and I have been given thousands of their seeds. There above in the very useful room we call "the hut" (technically it is probably a conservatory but that it too grand a word for such a huckery room) is my latest batch of seedlings, including lots of kangaroo paws grown from seed and thousands of everlastings.

No time for gazing out the window while drinking long blacks now as I have work to do; I have a Western Australian wildflower meadow to plant.

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