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The first time I was actually in this house, and finally got to wander around the huge garden (800sqm approx.), was the day we signed the lease and got the key. Until then, all I’d seen was bad photos on the website. From the one photo of the garden, I’d decided that this was the house we were going to move into.

As I was working during the inspection, Stefan went along and phoned me from the back yard. He kept talking about some of the dodgy things about the interior, and I kept saying, but what about the garden? It’s really big, he said, and overgrown. Two words that are like a red rag to a gardener.

We moved in over the last two weeks of May 2011. It wasn’t until June that we really had time to start the garden; a bit late but it all turned out well in the end.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the garden was pretty much nothing but grass, weeds and the 10 neglected fruit trees. We have an orange, mandarin, lemon, apricot, feijoa, plum, almond (now, sadly, reduced to a stump – another story), grape vine (was very old, so has subsequently died), olive and an apple. The orchard will definitely have to be the subject of its own post. All these trees had been pruned badly (you’ll note, they all lean), not fed for years and had their trunks and roots encircled by narrow rings of concrete. For those of you reading this in Melbourne or Sydney, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about re: the proliferation of concrete.

The space where the owner’s parents had a vegetable garden was covered in couch grass, and was straight into the clay soil and made up of narrow concreted strips. Once it may have been a productive garden, but not for a long, long time. After digging up every second concrete strip, we laid down tarp with bricks to try to kill off the grass (see below).

Before removing the concrete and installing the beds. DSC_0139

Over to the left of the first picture, under the Hills Hoist, you can see the old vegetable beds, covered with couch grass.

We ordered the wood and brackets for the beds, and a tonne of dirt (supposedly containing compost but pretty poor, really), and we organised a working bee with people we knew who liked gardening or who just liked to help out. About 20 people turned up over the day; we fed them lunch and plied them with post-work drinks. And we got a lot done. Then we had a fire. More on fires at some other time.

Working bee

The working bee – happy days

Where the garden beds were going to be, we laid down hessian (I happened to have been given a huge roll of the stuff, from my friend Andrew, who’s a scrounger, and who was there, helping out, on the day), to kill off the grass and weeds. Then Stefan and Andrew built two of the beds, and then we carted in the soil from the driveway and filled them, adding as much manure and compost as I had (not enough, never enough).

Andrew et al working bee

That’s Andrew, on the right, provider of the hessian, and lots of labour on the day.

Stefan and I finished off the third bed the following day and voila!, a vegetable garden was born, the largest, best-positioned expanse of potential vegetable growing power I’d ever had (is voila! always followed by an exclamation point? Is it part of the word?).

Three garden beds

The three completed beds, which took a day and a half to build (could take less time if you subtract the eating and drinking, or the standing around talking).

To cut a long story a bit shorter, we’ve been eating from that garden for over two years now (within three months of moving in), with barely a week when there isn’t something available. And this has included making a mass of preserves & pickles and sharing around the neighbourhood. (The garden has also been created on the cheap – another post will focus on how to build a garden on very little money.)

Below are some before and after photos of the garden, where ‘after’ signifies an ongoing state of being.

The Shaftesbury Garden – Before & After

The Orchard


The Orchard – Before: you can’t see the concrete rings around the trees, but they were there, trust me. As you can see, I’d already put a stamp on the ‘aesthetic’.

Orchard in between

The Orchard – In Between: By early Spring 2011, the trees had been pruned and beds built around their trunks. There’s blossom on the apricot.


The Orchard – After: Spring 2012 and things have changed a bit. More beds built, plants established, and lots of flowers, for the bees. I had to net the apricot as soon as buds appeared due to the pesky possums, who are all called Brian for the sake of ease.

The Vegetable Garden


Vegetable Garden beds June 2011: lying fallow for as long as I could hold out.

Garden beds in between 1Garden beds in between 2

Vegetable Garden July 2011: planting and growing has begun.

Early summer vegetable garden 2011

Vegetable Garden, early Summer 2011.

Spring 2012 AFTER 2012

Vegetable Garden Spring 2012: one year later and the garden is well-established. In the first picture (right) is the Satsuma plum we planted, and which produced 20 plums in its second year. I didn’t have the heart to knock them off, as you’re supposed to.

Summer 2012:13

Vegetable Garden Summer 2012/13: tomatoes, carrots, corn, zucchini, pumpkins, etc. We got at least 60kg of tomatoes last summer, no kidding.

This year, 2013, I feel like the garden is finally consolidating. The many small paintings are beginning to take shape. Here’s one I prepared earlier:

2013-07-18 17.06.31