Thursday, 17 December 2015

Garden trickery- how it makes us feel

I thought I should come clean about the background photo on the home page of this blog.  It now looks like this.
The cottage garden with its geraniums, artichokes, lavenders, agapanthas, marigolds and daisies was delightful in winter and spring, but during summer it looked sad.
For the first couple of summers I painstakingly watered it all daily, (picked myself up off the floor each time the water bill arrived), and waited for the autumn opening rains to revive it all again.
This kind of behavior was not sustainable and I grew tired of looking onto this sad patch of garden all summer. As it's directly outside the kitchen door where we see it before we see anything else, it was a depressing sight which made the heat of summer not only physically hard to bear but visually as well.
It is true that visual things affect how we feel.
 Newly completed landscaping project last year. We planted ground cover Thyme between the flag stones to create a thyme lawn. It grew, but it needed lots of water during summer and then the two new dogs insisted on digging between the stones on a regular basis so Brian will concrete between the flag stones, another job on the list.

 Into our third day between 38 and 44 degrees. The plants are stressed but this is normal during our harsh summers and they return to their former glory in Autumn. I give them only just enough water to keep them alive.

The "lawn" doesn't look like this at the moment. It's dead, but the gardens are still serving their purpose and creating an illusion of green.
When we first moved in here we had not planned on putting in as many gardens. We wanted to concentrate on growing more fruit trees and put our energy (and water) into vegetables and food.
However, with two large and active dogs, the expanse of the house yard that was Kikuyu "lawn" during the wetter months, became a dust bowl over summer. Watering and maintaining a lawn all year is unsustainable and was never an option for either of us.
For my own sanity I needed to give the visual impression when looking from the house, that there was not a dust bowl out there so I started planting curved swathes of garden beds with low maintenance shrubs and plants that required little water. I did all of the planting in Autumn of course, so the plants had all winter to get their roots down deep. They were watered for their first summer and whatever plants did not survive were ripped out and other hardier plants replaced them.
This had two advantages; the visual effect from the house kept the house yard looking green and cool all year, and the smaller areas of Kikuyu "lawn" were easier for mowing.
I watched the weather patterns during our first year. Where does the sun come up? Which parts of the house get the hottest in summer? Which direction do the winds come from? Where do we prefer to sit outside for a cuppa or evening drink? Which windows are affected by the hot sun? Which rooms are dark and which are light?
With all of these things in mind I planted the two Manchurian Pear trees on the Eastern side near the kitchen deck to give us morning shade during the hot months. In winter the leaves have fallen, letting in the winter sun and much needed light.
We planted Glory vines on the east and west verandas to shade the windows in the mornings and afternoons during summer whilst letting the winter sun into the house in autumn and winter after the leaves had fallen.
There was already an old peach tree growing outside the kitchen so Brian built the deck around it. Its shade in summer, and ease of picking peaches from the deck is much valued.

It's not a show home or garden. We have to function here, our dogs need to run and play (and dig), we need to go about our work in a practical way. We don't have the time or energy to be too precious about it, but we get great pleasure from the seasons and watching how the garden evolves.
Well..... perhaps I don't get quite as much joy from hot summers that scorch everything to a crisp, she says between clenched teeth.
Maybe tomorrow I will need to turn on the split system air conditioner as we have our fifth scorcher  day in a row but, so far, the inside of the old home is still comfortably cool.
I hope you are finding ways to stay cool if you are in the midst of summer where you are.
How many days until Autumn?


  1. I agree, its bad enough that its hot, but looking out at a dry brown pasture makes it even worse. I like this idea of establishing small gardens to break up the brown in summer! I would like to have a small pond as well.... just got to finish the house first!

    1. If you have the water, a small pond is wonderful, but ours dried up too quickly and we didn't have the water to keep filling it. If I had one word of advice for those moving into their home and are overwhelmed with the scale of work ahead of them, I'd say get some trees planted as soon as the correct planting season comes around. I'm so glad I prioritized the tree planting as one of our very first jobs, before we did anything to the house. Those trees gave us summer shade within three years as we just happened to get two wet winters after they were planted. :)

    2. I couldn't agree more about planting some trees for summer shade as a priority as it takes a while for them to mature. They are a important part of the structure to a new garden giving wonderful colour in all seasons if you plant the deciduous variety and then provide protection to planting your understorey. I'm speaking from experience as I learnt the hard way. Enjoy your shady trees Sally...they are a joy to have in the garden.

  2. Oh I hear you, I'm ACHING to get this place greened up after the fires especially. We have dirt and trees, and little in between. My resolve not to plant anything before autumn has broken and I have planted a few hardy flowering shrubs around the immediate back of the house, which I water by hand trying to make use of the little green that's there. But it feels like its been super hot and dusty this year already. I'm thinking of splashing out and buying some semi decent sized jacarandas in autumn to bring in some better shade as they grow. they thrive in this area. I need shade trees in this place!


    1. It sure is a tough South Aust summer this year Emma. I love Jacarandas too but ours were killed by the serious frosts we get here in our valley. I totally understand your need to get some green happening ASAP. If it's any consolation, there is always the bath and washing machine water for nurturing our precious plantings over summer. :)

  3. The heat of summer is depressing when all you can see is scorched earth. I remember Sophie Thomson commenting on the importance of shade trees for the Sth.Aust climate as they take a long time to mature. My potager garden of fruit trees and vegetables was my salvation during Summer providing that lovely cooling visual effect from my kitchen window... it does make us appreciate the changing of the seasons... Hope you will get some relief from this super hot spell and hopefully some rain!!!or is that wishful thinking.Cheers Heather.

    1. Looking at something green from the kitchen window is so necessary for maintaining calm during the hottest of days Heather. I visited Sophie's garden last year and was inspired beyond words. I can recommend a visit to one of her open garden days if you live in SA. :)

  4. And we are just the opposite. Here in North Wales (UK) we have had to adapt over the two years we have been here to the constant flow of water draining through our hillside from the non stop rain. We have had to put extra storm drains in place, channels in paths to divert the flow to drains and away from the house. And a water harvesting and storage system so that we can make use of this bounty to water the polytunnel year round and veggie patch in Summer without using mains water (why pay when it's falling non stop from the sky).

    I agree that sometimes you can't get things how you would like them to look, but you do have to have things that work and are practical and if you can get them to look aesthetically pleasing as well it's a bonus. You've done an amazing job with your land it looks really good considering the heat you are living in at the moment.

    If only we could swap weather for a week eh ... our rain would do wonders for your land and your heat would stop the saturated fields from flooding!!

    1. Have you got a spare bed? I can pack and be there next week. haha!!


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