Garden planning

When last we left the garden, it was pretty much a blank canvas. What a delight! I had a long list of plans in my head even before we moved in, but I wanted to sit and see what I could observe before I did anything permanent. Besides, there were plenty of other things to do around the house, so I kept any planting to the pots and bits and pieces.

In January, my sister came home from Ireland, where she’d been living for four years. She stayed with us for about a month, which was as delightful and also as infuriating as you’d expect. It was so so lovely to have her, and it was also lovely when she left. She’s living in Melbourne now, going to Melbourne U, and I definitely wish she was closer, but this is closer than Ireland so I’ll take it!

Anyhow, while she was down she VERY kindly helped me measure up my garden and draw up a plan, and then she made it up for me in Sketchup. With a minimal amount of swearing, for that kind of process.

Here is the to-scale plan of the garden as it was in January, minus the prickle tree and palms because we already knew they were coming down.

Kate's Backyard amended


I would like to point out that I do not actually have a giant ‘google’ sign on my shed. You can download things that other people have made, in Sketchup, and that was one of them. Why not? The man comes with every plan, for scale.

I thought a lot about what I wanted from my garden. I want less lawn (I hate mowing, I’m allergic to it, and the kikuyu is super invasive). I want greenery PACKED in, I don’t mind if it’s often overgrown although I would like the possibility of keeping it under moderate control. ‘Lush’ is the word I’m looking for. I want it to be beautiful and pleasant to sit in, although I don’t need designated seating areas as we already have the verandah, but it would be nice to have little nooks. I want chickens, eventually, and I’d like them to be able to be integrated into the garden system as a useful tool, and to expand their diets. I want a garden that we can eat out of often, but that can also go through ebbs when I’m busy or tired, that doesn’t need constant, everyday care, or even every weekend, since in winter I have very little opportunity to be out there. But I want it to be flexible enough to ramp up in summer when I have more time and energy, and I want the opportunity to expand the productivity of the garden if the chance arises so that means using space efficiently to leave room for future plans.

Here are some observations I made about my garden:

  • Very windy – we get the strong wind right off the ocean. Wind can be quite strong and quite drying. Anything in line with the shed is ok but after that things will need to be able to support themselves, or will need supports and windbreaks. It would be good to plan for more trees etc to break up the wind, in the future.
  • Because the garden is long along the E-W axis, it gets a LOT of sun in the summer. It especially gets a lot of afternoon sun, even in winter. And even in winter, that afternoon sun is HOT. Plan for sun protection, both temporary and perhaps plan deciduous trees to shade in summer.
  • Don’t bother with anything along that western facing fence, it will cook. Possibly that space can be used later, when there’s more in the garden to shade it.
  • No point planting anything much under the gum tree.
  • The back bed will be annoying to plant in – it’s barkchips over river pebbles, lined along the front with HEAVY rocks. Excavating all that will be good – those resources can be used elsewhere in the garden – but certainly not trivial.
  • The Kikuyu is invading the shed. Honestly. Any garden in the lawn area will need some solid defenses against the grass.
  • The bins already live behind the shed. The compost bin and potting bench is there too. That area gets accessed fairly often but I don’t want anything there that needs keeping an eye on. Beds would ideally be close to the kitchen door, or at least with a direct line between them. Chicken coop too, for scraps and for checking on them and collecting eggs. I also need to keep enough space open for the bins to be taken back and forth.
  • In terms of zones, though, because the yard is long and thin, it’s pretty easy to access all of it. Nothing feels very far away, although there’s still plenty of space. The only bits that are hard or annoying to access is behind the shed, where there’s quite a lot of room but it’s a bit of a dead space, access and attention wise. And also down the side of the house where the water tank is is hard to access.

I’d already decided that I wanted wicking beds. While this does limit the way I use the space in the future – they’re hard to move, although it’s certainly not impossible – and they are a big resource and time investment up front, it solves a few problems. First, it gives me a bit of extra wriggle room in terms of timing of care. Second, it protects a little bit from the wind and the sun, giving plants a bit more reserve than they would have just in the ground. Third, since they’re raised up, we can put them on top of weed barriers and protect against the kikuyu.

I looked for materials in a bunch of places, and found that it was hard to find timber not treated with arsenic and copper. When I could find it it was prohibitively expensive. I didn’t want metal beds because they would get hotter and also we’re close enough to the beach that corrosion is an issue. I ended up finding dovetail timbers and ordering from them. Because of shipping costs, I knew I was going to get three beds at once. I’d originally thought I might just do one and see how I went but since shipping for each extra bed was minimal, I thought it would be better to get multiple. All up, the price of the three beds, plus shipping, was really reasonable (although not cheap) and I LOVE my beds. I’ll talk about them more in a future post when I detail the building of the beds. Suffice it to say, at the planning point I knew I was going to order three beds, 2.4m long x 1.4m wide x 0.6m high. That would give me enough room for 25ish cm of wicking reservoir, and a good amount of soil, but not so much that wicking would be compromised. Again, a lot of planning went into the beds themselves but I’ll leave that for another post.

So I wanted three beds. And I wanted fruit trees, and chickens, and still a good amount of walking and working room around the beds. Here’s what we came up with.

Kate's Backyard FUTURE


The structure under the existing gum tree is to be the chicken coop. It’s easy to access from the kitchen door (the door is roughly in line with that first bed). It will have a dayrun attached, room for maybe 5 chickens to be comfortable even if they never get let out of their coop/run area. But they’ll also have the run down the back bed – I’m not sure you can really see it in this shot but you can see the end of it up against the yukkas (you might need to use your imagination…) There will be some fruit trees in this run. There’ll also be another run down the west facing fence… maybe. I’d like to maybe plant berries or something there, perhaps. Or bananas? It’d get hot enough! Still unformed at this point, we’re also debating a line of water tanks there. I’d like to grow a grapevine or something over the everyday run, to utilise the growing space and provide summer shade. Ideally the rocks lining the back bed will go, to be replaced with a perennial border lining the extra run’s fenceline, but I’m not sure that’s possible because they are very heavy. I might have to work/plant around them.

We’ve also go two trees (probably two nectarines, although it’s up for debate, I want to plant them next winter) and the three beds. On the right, down the east facing fence, we’ve planned for three citrus (now planted). I’m privately plotting for another bed, probably in-ground or slightly built up, between the washing line and the shed, but that’s a longer term plan involving killing off kikuyu,

Speaking of killing things off, by the middle of February we’d had the trees cut down – the prickle tree up the back and the three palm trees, which I was kind of sad about but citrus beats palm tree, every time. And the temperature of the backyard and house went up by a significant amount, I’d say probably almost five whole degrees.

Where the prickle tree isn’t.

The lagunaria had shaded most of the backyard for large parts of the day – everywhere got sun still but it meant it wasn’t all sun, all the time. Thankfully next door has privacy film on their windows – unfortunately it probably made them a bit hotter, too, although I bet it saves them some dollars because they have solar panels on one side of their roof. It definitely upset the pigeons, who used to nest in the tree (I did wait until everyone had fledged before getting it chopped) and now huddle miserably on next door’s solar panels.

You can see by the long shadows that this is afternoon – I probably took this about 7pm, I’d estimate, and look how bright and sun-filled that backyard is. Also note the grass browning off from the heat. I don’t appear to have taken any photos, but I later poisoned a whole swathe, and then laid black builders’ plastic over it to solarise. Lots of it was already dead anyway. It seems to have been pretty effective. Killing off the grass also kicked the temperature up a degree or so. Hopefully that means that with more vegetation in there this summer, it won’t be as brutal? From that point of view I’m pretty keen to get going on the front yard, but it’s not really a priority.

And baking sun over where the palm trees aren’t. And citrus will be one day.


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