Monday, June 9, 2014

Landscaping at last

After a year long delay, we finally got an excavator in to shape the land around our house in early January. For us, step one was excavating, there wasn't much point doing anything until that was done. We had a local guy come, we'd had some work done by him in the past too. He shaped our land really well and ended up making large mounds/levies beside our gully, which means we don't even have to build retaining walls like we expected. Originally we were expecting we would have a sharp cut which would definitely need reinforcing. It was well worth the wait, even the work (and money) he has saved us in not having to build 25 metres (or more) of retaining walls is so unbelievably worth it. Just ask our backs! So if anyone is looking for a recommendation for a good excavator or machine operator around Samford, let us know!

Here's a comparison of before and after excavating:
Before excavation, note the very
close cut down the right
side of the house
After excavation, note the large
area down the right side, we can even
fit several parked cars in.
Seriously, it doesn't come off well in the photos, but we have so much more space! When I came home and saw it the first time, I honestly felt like they had moved the gully further away somehow. Insane! We started imagining all of the areas we have where we could have swing sets and trampolines in the future. Flat space is hard to come by around here, so this is really exciting. Our excavating guy found tons of HUGE (I'm talking 1-2 metres) rocks which we slowly gave away on Gumtree to a few different people.

This is what it looked like, mid excavation, it had to get ugly before it got pretty. 

Here's what it looked like when the excavating was getting closer to the finish line.
Since the excavating, we've had a lot on our plate. I've never been so busy in all my life. We've been simultaneously wedding planing and gardening on an almost daily basis since December last year. It's amazing how you can feel so incredibly busy when you are just at home every day. Other than going to Bunnings, we barely get to go anywhere these days. Although we have fit in a few fun things lately like a trip to the Dayboro Day fair, and a night away at the Gold Coast. Our days mostly consist of going to work, racing to get some yard work done each afternoon before it gets dark (we were able to stay out until about 7pm right in the middle of summer, now it's starting to get dark by 5:00pm). Then nights are spent doing wedding craft and planning. Every weekend we spend about 10 to 12 hours outside gardening. I would say we are at a point now though where we're starting to slow down a bit.

Just this weekend we hired a Kanga mini loader, which Daniel operated so that we could move mulch more easily. Carting mulch up our steep driveway in a wheelbarrow is backbreaking and incredibly slow going. We managed to move 20 metres of mulch in just a few hours. Unfortunately, the Kanga absolutely ripped up our grass which we had just finally got growing well from seed. Oh well, we've laid more seed yesterday and today, and it will hopefully grow back quickly.
Daniel on the Kanga mini loader.
So what have we been doing outside?
We laid 60 square metres of turf in the front yard in 3 sections. We did this ourselves, we spent a week preparing the area with top soil after work. The actual turfing we did in about 4 hours all up. We were pretty impressed with how easy it was. We purchased a lawn roller on gumtree for $30, which is only $10 more than the cost of hiring one for 24 hours. We've used the lawn roller heaps since then. We started off watering the turf twice daily, then once daily, and then every second afternoon. We treated it like our precious little baby, and it's really paying off now. We chose Empire Zoysia turf, we are so impressed with it. We chose it because it's extremely drought tolerant (it will grow roots up to 4 metres down in search of water), it stays green in the winter, it's very soft to walk on, and it looks lovely.
Top soil prep and pavers which we changed our mind on.

Voila, instant grass! Plus an additional stepping stone project which I fill you in on a few paragraphs down
We did our best to cordon off an area, as you can see there are some skid marks riiiiight on the edge, grr.
We even ended up going back for a second round of turf to extend an area we didn't finish. So we have about 85sqm of turf in total now. Since the turfing we've tilled and prepared the area all around our house for seed. Daniel got the seed down one afternoon just before it was due to rain. It grew in fairly well, so it's shame that the Kanga ripped it up so much with it's 'skid steer' 'technology'. One day we plan to turf that area too, but for now seed will have to do.

We also planted New Zealand Cabbage Trees alongside our gully, the idea being that when they grow their stalk they will act as a barricade so that people don't drive into our gully. I live in fear that this could happen one day! People seem to become absolute idiots when it comes to parking/driving in our yard, and the amount of times people have driven on our turf already, even with orange tape around it! OMG!

New Zealand Cabbage Trees planted alongside the gully to act as a barricade.
There are 12 in total, and they're going strong. They're short now, but eventually they will grow a large stalk.
We've made several new garden beds. We've got some Agapanthus planted in our bay window garden, They've been in for at least a month or so now. We also have a small skinny garden leading up to the front door, we haven't figured out what to plant there yet- something small that doesn't spread would be good. We've also built a little garden bed outside of the guest bedroom. We've planted some Liriope's and a Blechnum Camfieldi (fern) there, I think it will be great having a garden there, as the window in the guest room is floor to ceiling, so it should grow in and look lovely.

We purchased a few different types of ferns, they continually looked like they were going to die, but when winter came along that seemed to give them a bit of a boost. Here are 2 ferns which popped up on their own. Amazing! We have them everywhere, to the point where they often get mowed over.

We have several other areas we've planted up too. On our big mound along the gully, we've planted about 25 plants including Coppertops, Alcantarea brasiliana and Alcantarea Vinicolour (Bromeliades), several Alocasia, more than enough Lomandra, several Evovulus, several Gardenia, a few Philodendron and some bunches of Tradescantia. I mulched a lot of the mound by hand using the wheelbarrow. We've just finished it off with the dingo thank goodness! We've been getting our mulch from local tree loppers, which is a much cheaper way to buy mulch. I've had a number of people at work say they wouldn't be happy with the quality of the mulch buying it this way, but seriously, it's fine, and it's just mulch, it all dries out and looks the same eventually anyway. At least this looks natural.

Alocasia Brisbanesis
Evolvulus (Blue Eyes)
Tradescantia Discolor (Moses in the Cradle). We have SUCH a hard time keeping these alive, for a plant which is apparently non fuss, they just keep up and dying on us. This our last bunch alive, and they aren't looking great. 
Alacantarea Vinicolor
Alacantarea Brasiliana
Lavendar, we've got two lots of this, both planted at the same time,
but this one is double the size of the other already. 
This little gem is another Alocasia, which popped up on its own!
It's already so much stronger and bigger than the ones we purchased.

My Mum just brought down a heap of cuttings which she took from my Aunt's garden, so in the next few weeks I will get around to planting them too.
There are 18 plants here, and we only know about 5 of them, the rest are mystery plants.
Additionally, we've got a few more manicured looking areas. At the front of the house we've added some lovely concrete sleepers as stepping stones leading up to the front door. They're surrounded by gravel. We're also using the gravel around the entire house. Anywhere that has garden beds up against the house, we've put about 30cm of gravel between the garden and the edge of our termite barrier. This should help to prevent any issues with termites, as you are not supposed to put gardens/garden mulch up against a house.

Concrete sleepers with gravel and a small garden. Doesn't that grass look green!
Last week we brought in a load of road base and spread this across an area of our driveway which was previously just dirt. It makes a clearer road for people, it goes across to the bridge for the gully, and also bends around the house.
Roadbase driveway extension. Previously this was just dirt.
Aside from the pretty landscaped areas we've been able to create. We've also had to do some things which don't necessarily leave visible results, but still took a lot of time and energy. Daniel had to make a french drain (or an agriculture drain) as there was an area which continually held water in the yard.

It's hard to explain to people how much work we've done. Across such a big area, it can seem as if we haven't done much. But trust me, this is months and months of hard effort to get it to this point. Daniel and I think it is a massive improvement from where things were only 6 months ago. Especially considering we lived with absolutely no landscaping for more than a year when we moved in.
Here's some general progress pictures to give you an idea:
Daniel designed this area, it has a little escape stairway at the back, doesn't it look like a fun spot to explore!

This is near our back patio, this cute path leads you up to the top of the gully.

This gives you a good idea of what it looks like driving up. Gully is in the right of the picture.

This is what you see when you first drive in our entrance. The area near the watertanks will hopefully one day have a massive garden around it (with access for water trucks etc)

Taken from up on the hill. Really all we need now is for the grass that got ripped up down the side of the house to grow in again and we'll be going pretty well. 
On the long term to do list, we have a lot to do around our water tanks to get the area looking more presentable. We also have an embankment down the side of the house, which is one of the first things people see when they drive in, we need to extend the retaining wall at the bottom of it, we need to backfill with more dirt, we need to mulch it, and get it looking like a garden eventually. We'd really like to get more gardens happening along our driveway so that it feels very inviting when people drive in. We of course need to keep planting up our gardens. We also want to level an area of our hill in the next few years so that we can build a shed. In the meantime we hope to build a little tool shed. We also need to invest in gutter guard- I'm excited about that one. We also wouldn't mind turfing the backyard too. Long, long term, maybe a fantasy even, includes building boardwalks over the top of our gully. Adding a hot tub up in the bush. Building a hidden outdoor area up in the bush. Adding wooden steps from up where the house is down to the bottom level. If you ask Daniel there'll be an aquatic centre somewhere too. There's sooooo much potential to work with the beautiful bushland and rainforest here in our very own backyard. We are well on our way, and we've done a huge amount in a very short time. We just have to pace ourselves, as you could really keep going forever.

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