Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Life through a curved window

One's perception is often dependent upon how a narrative is framed, and curves are gentler, curves are more inclusive. That is my perception, anyways.

The photo of our rear garden was taken from Alannah's bedroom window when the rains were in full-swing last week. The photo of the front garden was taken from my usual vantage point - hanging out the family room window. Remarkably similar shapes, aren't they. The curved garden at the back is pure flowers, pure pleasure, sans utility. I have Bijou Sweetpeas, prostrate Gardenias, hot pink Cyclamen, white Allysum, Sweet William, Primula, and Lobelia, as well as a sprinkling of succulents.

In the front garden, I am tossing up between Lavender (which I am useless at!), and Pompone Dahlias which my maternal grandfather grew prolifically. I have just discovered that there are Raspberries and Blueberries for temperate climates, raspberries being a biennial cane, and blueberries being a bush.

Both Kirsten's husband, and Kirsten's father, today commented that the celery I planted last week is growing more wicked by the day. Goodo ...

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Pitter patter rain drops

I have worked like a trojan yesterday and today; ever since, really, that I discovered it was going to team with rain for the second half of the week, starting mid-afternoon today. I had gardening supplies arrive by courier from Hargraves out at Dural, about the only nursery that still had King Alfred Daffodils available. I was keen to get them all in prior to the rain, and then crossed my fingers that there would be some gentle falls, rather than torrential.

Of course, I was also keen to plant up the first bed of our new vegie [or should that be vege] patch. I had added my first compost batch last week, together with the regulation fistful / m2 of el-stinko, but knew I needed more. As Alannah toddled off with her Grandad on Tuesday, I collared Hamish from across the road, and received permission to clean out his chook pen. Hamish calls himself 'the hoarder from hell', but his garden is a delight. It reminds me of the grandmother's garden in 'Hunting and gathering', with one of my favourite actresses, Audrey Tatou. Following his instructions, I carted away a barrowful of the moulding hay bale, a barrowful of the chook manure on and under the tarpaulin, and another barrowful of the scratchings from the hen-house floor. Three barrow loads in total. The hens were worried at first, clucking here, and fluttering there, but calmed down when all I did was chatter to them, and shovel shit.

The hay bale I broke up and scattered over my 'orchard'. I have a dwarf mandarin coming by the end of the week, together with a 'Brown Turkey' fig, and a Kumquat. The latter two will start their life with me in a pot. The other two barrowfuls went into the lower of our two raised beds. I then transplanted out some celery (need to collect 8 lemonade bottles, too), some brown onions, some shallots, and some silverbeet (Foodhook Giants). When I was a kid, I used to call this spinach. What an ignoramus I was! Already I know that I need to be growing my own seedlings to have enough control over quantities planted. I am not sure we need THAT many shallots! I have some seedling starter boxes, and shall consider a small green-house down next to my compost, worm farm, and work bench. Boy, was I chuffed to see some greenery at last. Bit of a while before I recoup all that has been expended on creating this veggie patch.

And what of the King Alfred Daffodils, I hear you ask? Today, whilst Kirsten and Alannah were off at "French Tales" which they participate in each Wednesday in Chatswood, followed by dumplings, I dug 40 little holes in the back lawn, 8cms deep, and now they are being drenched by the rain. Perfect! I also planted a punnet of 'Carmine Glow' Primulas and a punnet of 'Wee Willie' Sweet Williams in my arched garden around the back. After all this digging and planting, I raked another million leaves and have two rapid rails ready to be collected next Sunday. Was keen to collect them as much as possible, as there are few things worse than piles of soggy leaves.

Rain, you little beauty! Rain!!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Colour me winter

As we enter Winter, all these flowers are still adorning either our back-garden or our front-garden, and many camelias are still at the bud stage. Whomsoever owned this garden prior to us, they surely liked Camelias, both Camelia Sassanqua and Camelia Japonica. Sadly, the only Azalea in the garden is one I brought with me in a pot. However, their taste in colour differs from mine. We have too many that are white with splashes of pink. But to my great joy this morning, I found a bold'n'brassy Japonica in the middle of the rear fence. Yay!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Our house | The empty room

More than three months after we moved in, our living room still stands almost empty.

The obvious way to furnish it would be like this, as it was when we first saw it.


But we don't need more couches and we definitely don't need another television.  (Suggestions of televisions in all rooms with 24-hour sport did not fly.)

And so it remains empty, except for our old couch, the armchair that I will soon move to baby sister's room, the toy box that holds Alannah's paints and brushes, and a few toys strewn about.

It's still early days in our design plans, but we see it as a shared reading, writing and creating space.  A library, salon, studio, and parlour.

It would have a big shared table in the middle, perhaps square, perhaps rectangular, flanked with comfortable chairs.  Of an evening, we would be there working, reading or relaxing.  Of a Saturday night, there might be friends for dinner or a poker game.  Of a Sunday morning, we would be there reading and chatting with our coffees.

Along the wall opposite the fireplace, there would a large bookshelf stacked to the brim.  On one side of the fireplace, there would be an inviting armchair and ottoman; on the other, perhaps little armchairs and a bookshelf with a rotating mix of library books and home favourites.  One day, there might even be a working gas fireplace and welcoming hearth.

It would all start with the centrepiece table.  I have struggled to put my finger quite on what it would be like.  Would it be hardwood, heavy and dark?  Or would that overpower the room?  Perhaps something lighter, slimmer, more modern?

Recently, Brenda from benah posted this beautiful space on instagram.  I had not pictured anything like this table; could it be what we are looking for?

Living room inspiration

Soil quality

The Orchard and Bed 1 are making progress. I spent time yesterday sifting both for rocks and roots, and breaking down the soil into a finer loam. Loam might be going too far, but I am working on the soil quality of each bed. They are raked, sifted, and leveled at two rungs below the top, to make way for compost, and manure. A layer of home-prepared compost has been raked into the surface of each, and Dynamic Lifter applied at the rate of a handful per square metre. All was watered in. Compost is going to be in short supply, and a second, and perhaps third, bin may be required.

Will also need a pitch-fork for working over the garden bed, and ensuring that the quality of the soil is more than skin deep. I have also raked over the pathways between the beds. Will wait until Darren has progressed upon constructing the bed for the trellis garden before laying a ground-cover on the walkways. More inclined toward a pine-bark mulchh than a small stone cover. Should be cheaper, too. The trellis garden will look similar to the bed out the back wherein grows a Chinese Star Jasmine, which is cut-sandstone blocks set in concrete. No more than 500mm wide and deep, and probably close to 4 metres in length.

The citrus trees I will buy from Daley's, but they are not all in stock at the moment, and are cheaper to buy altogether. Patience is the name of this game:
I am also tempted to purchase a Kumquat to keep in a pot but need to assess the space left in the walkways after I place the two olive trees, and the fig, I already have. Patience, yikes!

According to the booklet on growing citrus, recommended by Letty, there is a recipe for soil that citrus thrive in. I am still missing a wetting agent, some gypsum, and some poo. The first two I will buy at Bunnings, and the poo I will cadge from Hamish across the road.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Not only but also ...

You will be astounded to know, but there are other things going on in addition to our all-consuming veggie patch. So I will spend a couple of posts looking elsewhere ...

The front yard faces essentially north, with absolutely glorious morning sunshine in winter, and probably overwhelming heat in summer. Here are three views of the front. Let me talk about hedges. We have three of them in the front, the one not shown is a neat hedge of Murraya beneatb the living room window. More about this living room in another post. The Murraya hedge is under control and 'fleshing out' having had a cat land in the middle of it and break the continuity of growth!

Along the front - the verge - there is a hedge of Lili-pili, however that is spelt. It is a plant, and a hedge, that I am coming to terms with. The limp pink 'flowers' don't do a lot for me, but I am keeping the hedge trim'n'taut to encourage thickness. The cats like it as it affords both shade and protection from passing dogs. This hedge is easily managed, as is the Murraya. However, the third hedge, the one to the west of the front garden, is an abomination. It is about 20 feet high, and totally incapable of being trimmed unless one is a professional. It also occupies about a metre [excuse the mixed measures!] of garden AND blocks sun and light from 2pm onwards which is crucial at this time of year.

So ... we have determined that it must go. Once the veggie patch is structurally complete, the next garden project [there is a list of projects as long as Darren's arm, which he tries not to think about too much, but put head down and tackle one at a time!] is to totally remove this hedge, reclaim the fence, move the garbage bins to that side, and FINALLY, be able to brings the cars down the driveway without scratching the duco.

Forgot to mention that this hedge is a hodge-podge of wonderful plants that have been destroyed as individual specimens: Camelia Sasanquas, Azaleas, Wisteria, and that blue honeysuckle whose name I can never remember.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Here endeth the grubbing out

I started removing the fringe of rocks, and the excess gardenias in the first week of March, meaning we had been in our new house for four weeks. Darren cut in the curve for the grassy amphitheatre on 24th March, and has worked solidly each weekend since then, seven weeks in total, and probably upwards of 100 hours. Here is the best I can manage as an AFTER & BEFORE show. I wanted to lead with an image of what the veggie patch looks like now, so the After shot is the first of each pairing.

This is where the bulk of the hours were sucked up: mattocking, chiseling, chain-sawing, and shoveling in this little area, known colloquially as 'The Orchard'. The previous owners had repeatedly had trees and shrubs hacked off at ground level, leaving stumps and roots to resucker. Not any more they wont. Quite a few massive female funnel web spiders were encountered, readying to launch an assault. Not any more they wont. Hard to believe they are the same area. On the left of the After photo is the orchard, and on the right of the After photo is the utility area - water and gas meters.

Along this fence line were a series of resuckering stumps, which have all been either removed or chased down to the fenceline and poisoned. What is left now is an area to construct a trellis for climbing things like peas'n'beans. More on this in my next post. I have the first lot of compost ready to go. I have Hamish primed to unload some chook poo on me !!). And we have a discussion to navigate to determine what to layer the walkways with. Darren wants some sort of blue-metal, whereas I am after something softer for little kids' feet, and less dangerous if picked up by the mower. I will look to see what Bunnings offer as alternatives.

Still to come is the rainwater tank.

Saturday, 4 May 2013


I do little in the garden. That is to say, my role in this garden building odyssey is to keep Dadda's little helper occupied (and away from heavy machinery) and to keep the workers nourished. Barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen you could say. Less and less barefoot as the days grow cooler.

When I was pregnant with Alannah, I thought - ha! - my year off would be my year of learning to cook. It turned out to be my year of learning to photograph. Photography allows you to keep an eye on a increasingly fast moving child; cooking requires you to have your hands free.


Down to Earth is one of my favourite blogs. Rhonda's book is one of the two bibles (the other Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Companion) that is helping to guide us as we begin composting and building the vegetable garden. 

They are also my guide as I start learning to cook from scratch. Last Friday night, I gave Rhonda's chicken stock a crack with a carcass I'd saved from a roast chicken earlier in the week. The first step is roasting the carcass in the oven, as you see. I made and froze two to three litres of stock and filled the entire house with its comforting aroma.

Over the last few weeks, I've also begun to turn to cookbooks more and more for our weekday meals. I'm particularly fond of Jamie's 15 Minute Meals and Annabel Karmel's Family Meal Planner. Both contain quick, simple recipes that I can see becoming regulars in our dinner rotation. There were a fair few pantry staples to buy in the beginning, but I now have the ingredients (or substitutes) on hand for that vast majority of recipes.

So this Friday night, I tried out a variation on Annabel's vegetable soup using my homemade stock. I used the older vegetables from our fortnightly fruit and vegetable box and threw in some leftover creme fraiche.  It might not look like much but, with homemade bread: wow.

I'm quite liking this cooking-from-scratch lark.

Homemade vege soup

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Composting - [updated]

Decision time.

Kirsten obtained this compost bin from our previous municipal council - for free! I think I started piling 'stuff' into it toward the end of our first week in our new house, which was three months ago yesterday. In my head, I have declared this bin-full done. But what do I do now? I have been reading up the Willoughby Council site for tips on styles of composting. I think I want something easier for me to 'turn' which does not imply a tumble-bin. Not at all. I think I want a three-sided pit, but in its absence, I think I will have one unencumbered. This image was taken a few weeks ago when I totally restacked the compost. I think it is looking quite good, but I need to stop putting kitchen scraps in and just let it 'fester' for a bit. I will leave it open to the air, turn it, water it, and put a tarp over it, until the end of June, then declare it 'cooked'. In the compost bin, I will start my second heap. Decision made. Shall do all this on Saturday.

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

So, 'tis done. I removed the bin from the pile and re-established it about 2m away, loading the top 6" from the first compost as starter into this new batch, with dried leaves on top, and a sprinkling of kitchen scraps on top of that. Shall add soil, and some moisture tomorrow.

The compost I made - my first ever - is very 'short', perhaps half the bin, but I guess that is the result of the chemical reaction of all the ingredients. It was riddled with worms, and I wanted to use it on the 'orchard' straight away. However, management wants more time to work on the shape of the veggie garden SANS stinky-poo compost beside him. I have covered the nearly-ready compost with a tarpoline and shall turn it, twice a week. I would like to use it sometime towards the end of June. It looks very nutritious.