Vertical garden update

A year on and it seems vertical gardening is still as popular as ever. I’m always being asked how the vertical garden is looking and if I would change anything.

Well, I won’t sugar coat it for you. There’s lots I’ve had to change. Mostly because I live in Western Sydney where the weather forecast for this week ranges from 33-36 degrees Celsius! Plants find these conditions hard, especially if, you know, um, sit in the air con and forget to, like, water them.

Let me break it down for you.

What works

  • the Hills system is still hanging on the fence and hasn’t cracked and has minimum fading, which isn’t very noticeable. I half expected quite a bit of fading because it’s outdoors and gets sun, and everything else in those two categories hasn’t held up, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Would I buy it again? Yep.
  • the individual pots in the Hills system allows me to swap plants around. This has been great for plants that have needed a little less sun (move towards the bottom) and to replace dead plants without disturbing the whole lot.
  • grass plant varieties have done far better than the shrubs and ground covers. They seem to handle the heat better, stay green longer and have filled out nicely. I don’t have to water these as much as the other plants. These have been my favorites:
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Grasses from the list above, a couple of months after planting.

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Same grasses, one year on. A couple of plants have been swapped around.

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Same grasses. They’ve filled out off the wall and the mature leaves hang down.

What hasn’t worked

  • the little water level float on the Hills system gets stuck. You really need to give it a tap to knock it free and then you can read the level (always empty, in my case!). Not a big deal, but it is a bit annoying.
  • the top of the Hills system has a little hole there for you to fill the water up, presumably with a watering can. That happened about 3 times in my house, before I worked out that I could shove the hose down the back of the top row and fill it in a quarter of the time.
  • speaking of watering, these little things really need water every day or every other day in summer. In the cooler months they go a while between drinks, but in the heat of the Australian summer they really need quite a bit of water. Over the Christmas break we took a 2 week holiday- most of the shrubs have dried up and died! I definitely recommend setting up an automatic watering system. Not hard or expensive to do, but can be tricky depending on where the nearest tap is. (Probably worth noting that our plants receive quite a bit of west facing sun in summer, which is the enemy of green things.)
  • the Rock daisy didn’t last long. This didn’t surprise me as it hasn’t really lasted long anywhere else in our garden, either!
  • the Little Ruby Alternanthera dentata is quite sensitive to the heat and wilts. It looked lovely for one summer, but this year has gone very stalky. I guess I was supposed to cut it back. I’m going to cut it down close to ground level and see what happens.
  • The Silverstar Liriope muscari isn’t doing too badly, but is certainly lost in the vigor of the other grasses. I’ve had more success growing this one in shadier places.
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Mixed plants, a couple of months after planting.

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Mixed plants, on year on. The Rock Daisy is long gone. The Little Ruby (purple) has wilted over our two week holiday (no water!), and has also gone pretty stalky. The Silverstar is the white looking one in the middle- rowing ok but not competing well with the upright foliage of the yellowy Shara and green Tankia.

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Mixed plants, one year on. Hmm, needs a bit of work.

Tips for success

  • do as much homework as you can on the plants, but be prepared for a bit of trial and error for your specific circumstances. If your garden is in the sun, it will definitely be drier than an average garden bed. If it’s in complete shade, it will likely hold the water a lot longer and perhaps even be a bit soggier than an average garden bed. If you have a spot like mine, that gets lots of heat and sun in summer and then almost no sun in winter, then pick something that can cope with both. There are miracle plants out there. The Isabella Liriope muscari has performed well in several areas of my garden and I can’t seem to kill it (miracle!). The Just Right Liriope muscari  has been a little slower growing than some of the others but is definitely looking the most lush.
  • ‘full sun’ and ‘heat’ are not the same thing. If your garden is going to face west, try to pick plants that are heat tolerant.
  • if you’re buying 140 mm or larger pots of plants when you start out, you can definitely break them up into a few separate plants to save some money.
  • remember to fertilise. The vertical garden is pretty much wholly dependent on you. Good thing there’s plenty of slow release fertilisers out there.
  • a vertical garden still needs a bit of love. You’ll still need to prune, remove dead foliage and replace dead plants from time to time.
  • check the darn water!
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Are you going to the show?

My goodness, it’s that time of year again! The HIA Sydney Home Show kicked off today and is running through the weekend, concluding at 6 pm Sunday evening.

This year there’s over 280 exhibitors showing everything from toilets to advanced therapy spas (think I’m going to like that one). Best of all, this year there’s free entry.

We had a great time being awed by all the new fandangled products last time, you can read more here.

If you want to learn more about the home show, visit their website. Maybe we’ll see you there!

Puppy problems

If any of you out there own a dog, or perhaps two dogs under 18 months of age, like we do, you will know that they may well be cute but they sure are little monsters.

Ever the dutiful guard puppies, they will notify us of all manner of breaches of perimeter. On one memorable occasion, the larger of the two took offence to a wayward cockroach, attempting to bark it to death. I don’t even want to know what happened to the slug that I discovered on their bed. Let’s just say I mistook it for a piece of raw chicken.

They are especially ferocious wherever grass or plants are involved. I’ve not met two dogs who have such an appetite for Australian natives.

While I can do my best to chicken-wire off plants until they’re big enough to fight back against the dogs, the lawn is another matter. They are dead-set on destroying Jame’s pride and joy and he’s having to resort to desperate measures in order to keep those pesky paws out.

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Desperate times.

So, in the spirit of sharing-is-caring, here’s what we know:

  1. Dogs are definitely smarter than they look. Ours have learned that we’re quite distracted any time the TV is on. They use this opportunity to dig a quick hole, eat a small pot plant, or chew a piece of outdoor furniture.
  2. Dogs have great hearing. They know it takes us about 15 seconds from the time the TV turns off to get to the back door to inspect the damage. They also know they have about 10 seconds from the start of someone descending the stairs. In that short amount of time they will have innocently positioned themselves in their kennel. Someone else must have done it, we’ve been here the whole time.
  3. Good hearing does not equal comprehension of the English language. Boy, I wish I knew dog language for “GET OUT OF THE DAMN GARDEN!”
  4. Make sure you play spot-the-difference when buying wire to keep the mutts out. There are a lot of interesting variations on the good old “chicken wire” with special products on the market for “animal wire”, “puppy wire” and “dog wire”. For example, you could easily make the mistake of buying animal netting for $39.97 when all you really need is chicken netting for $16.99 .
  5. On the topic of chicken wire- they will dig under it if they can. We solved that problem by getting the staple gun out and stapling the wire to some leftover timber lying around. Sleepers worked a treat. They can’t seem to lift the timber to get under the wire. Muahahaha!
  6. We’ve had some limited success with Skedaddle. It seems to work best in small spots, like inside one or two holes but not over large patches of lawn. That said, it definitely does not create a magical dog-repelling force-field. Shame, really.
  7. We’ve also had some success with reducing pee-stains on the lawn with Dog Rocks. You just put it in their water bowl. One of our dogs insisted on taking it back out again but she gave up eventually.
  8. They don’t seem to like spiky plants. Funny that, hey? Hence, my favourite type of plant at the moment is the grevillia!
  9. They LOVE vegies. They will know when your tomatoes, berries, snow peas, lemongrass, and anything else edible is ready for picking before you will. Excellent noses. Our dogs even occasionally take a lemon leaf for a chew.
  10. Not all plants are safe for dogs, many are even toxic. The RSPCA has a link to the US Pet Poison List which will tell you all about it. Jump on there and tick the “plants” box to be amazed. Burke’s Backyard also has a neat list. Of course, chat to your vet to get the best advice.

Maybe the future of dog ownership will be less frustrating with some new products hitting the market. Check out this idea by Ozbreed, called Scuff Turf.

 

Vertical gardening verdict

Just over two months ago I wrote about how we were going to try vertical gardening to bring to life an ugly fence.

Well, here is the finished product, in all it’s grassy glory:

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Looking lush.

Not bad, if you can recall we imagined it to look something like this:

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Imagining what a vertical garden might look like.

Nearly all of the plants we purchased were tubestock and they’ve grown rapidly.

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A colourful mix.

The plants in the picture above are:

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Growing grasses.

The plants in the photo above are:

I’m pretty impressed with the results. It’s turned out (so far) better than I expected. The plants make a huge difference to the feel of the outdoor area, particularly in the afternoon as the sun goes down and catches on the shiny grasses. Plus, it has the added benefit of being the only garden bed we haven’t had to wrap in chicken wire to keep the dogs out!

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Looking lush.

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Looking lush.

Vertical gardening

We’ve (or, I’ve, James is just going along for the ride) decided to try vertical gardening.

I’ve been pondering it a while now, at least a year. The problem is, it’s so darn expensive. Even a full DIY job, starting from scratch, can set you back a fair bit more than an average garden. So, when a casual trip to Flower Power had me discovering that one of the vertical garden set ups was on sale, I decided it must be a sign from the vertical garden Gods and I should immediately buy three packets. I later went back to buy two more.

So, I’m committed now. The garden is going up.

Let me start by explaining why we need a vertical garden. Because we’re on a lovely corner lot, and because the house design is the way it is, our outdoor area looks out onto our side neighbour’s house, and our side fence. Both the dining room and kitchen area look straight out onto the outdoor area, so it’s a significant vista in the house. Our main problem is that the fence is so damn ugly, I cannot stand to look at it any longer. See what I mean?

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Ugly fence.

And it will only get uglier as the fence ages and it turns grey.

I’ve been wracking my brain thinking of ways to “jazz” it up a little. Paint the fence? Some more outdoor furniture? Some pot plants? SOMETHING?

While pot plant’s aren’t a bad idea, the dogs are quite fond of knocking them over and eating the plants so that’s not going to work long term.

And so the vertical garden dream was born.

The system

The system I’ve brought is this one, from the Hills brand (the maker of the Hills Hoist clothesline). It normally retails for about $80 for a triple pack like this, but I scored mine for $50! Any saving is a good one though, cause you’re going to need more than one pack to make any kind of impact.

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Hills “I’m the expandable self-watering garden wall”.

Why do I like this vertical wall over the numerous others out there?

  • It’s less ugly. I know that the plants are supposed to grow over the top of them and you don’t end up seeing much of it but plants can take a while to establish and let’s face it, you’re going to see it at some point.
  • The pots inside are really easy to remove and plant. This also means I can pull the pots out and rearrange them if I need to.
  • It has a water reservoir, meaning I won’t be watering it every five minutes in summer and I won’t need to set up some complicated drip irrigation system. The reservoir also has a water level indicator on the outside of the unit so I can easily see when I need to refill.
  • The units connect together so if we stack two or three of the units together all of their water reservoirs line up and I only have to fill from the top one.
  • It looks pretty easy to install (for James to install).
  • When it’s on sale it’s cheaper than anything else of comparable size!
  • It has a three year warranty and it’s a brand I’ve used before and never had an issue with.
  • You can arrange it in more than one way.

Here’s what it looks like when you open the box. It’s pre-assembled and there isn’t much to do except attach it to the wall.

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Already assembled!

The plants

Picking the right kind of plant for any garden can be a bit hit and miss when you’re starting out. This vertical garden will not be any different!

I originally dreamed of a vertical herb/salad green scenario and imagined myself putting a few seeds into the pots and watching them grow. And then I realised I’d need to do that every year because the kinds of herbs I would want to grow won’t stay vibrant all year round. I’m also going to need something that can tolerate both full sun in summer but quite a bit of shade in winter.  So I went back to the drawing board. Google.

I was super excited to find that Ozbreed, another favourite of mine, has experimented with green walls with some of their plants and even tested some of those in Western Sydney! Check out this page for a handy table of plant’s they’ve tested, what conditions they do and don’t like, and some great pictures of their experiments in action. I’m sold.

I’ve seen a lot of the Ozbreed plant’s in my local Flower Power nursery but the Ozbreed website also gives some links on where you might find them online as well (often cheaper!).

As well as the new plants I’ll be buying, I’ve also decided to move some of the rock daisies out of the western facing front yard. Although they’re drought tolerant they’re not doing so well in the heat. They’re supposed to be fine in containers so I’ll add them to the vertical wall and see how it goes.

One thing I’ve had a bit of fun with today is the downloadable PNG images of the plants from the Ozbreed website. I’ve been able to lay them on top of a photo of the area and imagine what a successful green wall might look like. This is a fantastic option if you’re trying to imagine how a plant might look in your garden at home.

Green wall

Floating plants. Still need to use your imagination!

What about a change in the front yard?

Front yard

Considering grevillias.

Anyway, back the vertical gardens, James has already installed two of the sets for me. At the moment they just look like big black pots on the fence but I’ve ordered some plants and hopefully it looks much better in a few months time.

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Ready for planting.

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I’ll let you know how it goes.

Future house

Before we’d even finished building people started asking if we thought we would ever build again. For some people, once is more than enough heart ache. For us, we kinda screw our faces up and shrug, maybe.

We’re not sure either way, but every so often we see things that make us think oh, let’s put that in our next house!

Our recent trip to Japan was a great source of that kind of inspiration. We stayed in a couple of typical modern Japanese apartments and were amazed to see how the lack of free space had inspired some pretty cool solutions. For example, the bathroom doubles as a clothes dryer. Yep, hang your clothes and change the settings to clothes dryer and then 4-6 hours later you’ve got dry clothes. AMAZING.

We also noticed the fondness for the control panel. The places we stayed all had control panels (and even remote controls) for all kinds of things: lights, hot water, bath, shower, toilet. Want to fill the bath? Put the plug in, select the temperature and hit the fill bath button and it will do it automatically.

Just when we thought we’d see it all, we stumbled across a Panasonic show room and popped in for a look. We were thinking it would be full of TVs and sound systems but there were very few of those around. Panasonic in Japan seems to have taken home renovation to a whole new level. Here are some of the favorite items.

All of these images are from http://sumai.panasonic.jp/. Try google translate if you can’t read it (like me!).

Draining cupboard with a difference

Draining cupboards have been around for a while and you can get them if you look hard enough but they haven’t really made their way into the standard Australian kitchen. Perhaps the dishwasher is to blame. I don’t know about you, but there are some things that will just never be able to go in the dishwasher and things like wooden chopping boards, sharp knives, baking trays and flimsy things all end up competing for space on the dish rack on the sink, looking ugly 99% of the time.

In it’s most standard form, a draining cupboard is just a cupboard with the bottom cut out and a few racks put in, like the ones here: http://drycupboard.com/dish-draining-cupboard-program/. The idea is to get the drying items up off the bench top and out of the way.

The difference about this amazing one is that firstly, the drops are captured at the bottom and it’s ventilated. Secondly, at the press of a button, the whole thing raises up into the cupboard above. Yep, disappears completely. All by itself.

Access all areas

Can’t reach the top shelf?

Cloak/shoe rooms

I would LOVE one of these. A magic place right by the front door to store shoes, coats, umbrellas etc. Of course, these are quite popular in many countries, but in Japan they come with a control panel for ventilation, odour control, lighting and just about anything else you might desire.

VERITIS

Magic grill drawer?

Yes please. If only for the novelty!

Bubble bath

I laughed at this one, but they had a sample to put your hand in and it feels lovely. Basically,it creates tiny bubbles of air in the water, like bathing in a soft drink!

Bathroom cupboards

With space to store and charge all the appliances! Seems like common sense but we had to pay extra just to have a drawer in our vanity!

Neat consumer electronics storage (Mira come mirror)

Bathroom cupboard

Amazing toilets

Toilets in Japan are known to greet you, raising their lids as you step into the room. They have warm seats, play sounds to disguise your sounds, wash, blow dry and deodorise. No need to squirm about touching the flush, most of them have hand sensors or will simply flush on their own. And this one flushes with foam every time.

La Uno

Indoor clothes line

We’ve all been stuck in wet weather when you have to dry a few things inside, but there’s not enough to warrant the full tumble dry. No more fiddling with the wire clothes horse, check this contraption that lowers from the ceiling!

What everyone’s been asking

Since it’s now been a year since we moved in I thought I might try and answer some of the questions everyone has been asking us. If you have any burning questions of your own, pop them in a comment and I’ll see what I can do!

Did we get our rebate back?

Yes! We got the full sustainability and landscaping rebate from Landcom, the whole $10 000. Thank goodness!

Was it easy?

No, I liken it to pulling teeth. On top of submitting the application there was a house visit, then there was a follow up with a bazillion emails and phone calls. The DRP didn’t like that we’d planted small plants, even though we had planted an extra 50 native plants throughout the garden (we knew that would be an issue). So, we had to plant two additional trees in the front yard to compensate. We also had to prove that we had not left holes in the hedge where the sewer manholes are. I’m rolling my eyes while I type this, but we had mulched over the manholes with a light covering and we actually had to dig up the mulch and take photos in order to prove that the manholes were really there (geeze, why would I make that up?). We also had to prove that we had planted a native hedge species because DRP didn’t believe me on that either… sigh. Oh well, we got the money in the end, YEAH!

How are the appliances? 

Good, except the oven. The oven has had an issue with the thermostat. Lucky it’s still under warranty and we had it fixed at no expense. Hope it stays unbroken from here on in!

Are there lots of settlement cracks?

There are a few on the inside, but nothing too dramatic. Hairline cracks that we will fix with fill and paint when we feel like it (probably never!). Nothing on the outside that I’ve noticed.

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Example of the kind of settlement cracks we’ve got. Nothing unusual.

Anything you hate?

Yes, the gloss paint they used on all the doors, skirting and trims etc has yellowed considerably. Especially in areas that don’t get a lot of light, like behind furniture. Pretty annoying to have lovely white walls and yellowing trims.

How are the sinks, taps, showers?

Showers are lovely. Taps are nice but get a lot of fingerprints, water marks etc on them. Doesn’t bother me too much but if you’re a fanatic you’ll be bugged by it. Sinks are lovely in design but lacking in functionality. They’re very shallow and dirt, soap bubbles, toothpaste and anything in between stays in the bottom of the sink. I’m FOREVER cleaning them. Would I get them again? Probably not!

This is what my sink looks like 99% of the time. Gross!

This is what my sink looks like 99% of the time. Gross!

Anything you didn’t expect?

Yes. Everything is square and pointy. Like the towel rails and door handles. I find myself bumping into them every five minutes and have a collection of bruises to prove it. (Will spare you the photos…)

What do you LOVE?

The fact that a lot of the house faces north and we get lovely winter sunlight coming into the house. Perfect. Great excuse to become a lounge lizard. We’re pretty damn proud of our turfing job as well. Can’t believe we did that ourselves.

What was totally worth it?

The strip lighting under the overhead kitchen cupboards. Was a pain to get the builder to do but worth it in the end. Can’t imagine life without them. Some kind of under cupboard lighting is fantastic.

Well, that’s my brain dead for tonight. Let me know if there’s something I’ve missed!

Take a peek at our winter garden

Hello! I know, I know, it’s been such a long time…

This morning the sun is shining and it’s a delightfully warm 19 degrees here in Bungarribee. I’ve been a lounge lizard all morning with my tablet doing “life admin” when I looked up and thought it was a great opportunity to snap a few photos of our house in all it’s winter glory.

Enjoy!

Primary frontage. Hedge is still small but grown quite a lot since it was planted as tubestock. Grass is greener in the higher areas where it’s suffered less frost in the cool mornings.

House, from the corner

House, from the corner.

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Primary frontage, taken from the corner, looking up Annabella Street.

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Secondary frontage, looking down Hopkins Street, towards Annabella Street.

Secondary frontage, looking up Hopkins Street.

Secondary frontage, looking up Hopkins Street.

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Primary frontage, looking North towards the creek.

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NSW Christmas bush- oh my, how big you’ve grown!

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NSW Christmas Bush, getting ready to burst into Spring.

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Inside the parapet- first row of plants is the Rock Daisy. Second row are Hills Jubilee Grevillea. Both have flowered throughout winter.

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Under the kitchen window. In the foreground, the Rock Daisy. In the background, Grevillea Rosmarinifolia.

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Our hedge plants are doing ok, seeing as they’d prefer to not be planted in such high clay soil. They’re Westringia Aussie Box. You can see the small mauve flowers are starting up for Spring.

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Mat Rush grass, dug up from Jame’s family farm. I think they’ll get quite a bit bigger over Spring.

Was it greener on the other side?

Those of you who have been following along will know that we were originally quoted $44 340 for our builder to do the landscaping for us. After we finished laughing, we decided we would give it a go ourselves.

Was it worth it? Or should we have just handed over the cash?

It was absolutely worth it! Here’s how we know:

  • People stop to look. They say imitation is the finest form of flattery and while it’s true they could just be looking for ideas about what not to do, we like to believe they’re using our garden as inspiration for theirs. Even our neighbours are asking us for advice.
  • We’ve been asked if we’re just the landscapers, or whether the house is ours. If our day jobs pack it in, at least we know how to set up a damn good string line!
  • We’ve seen some of the dodgy work going around. In particular, one of our neighbours was referred a “landscaper” who was cheap, but took a lot of short cuts. The result is less than ideal, especially in their back yard. When you do the work yourself, you’re more likely to put in extra effort to make it last.
  • We learnt new things, discovered new muscles, and it was nice to work together on achieving a common goal. We make a pretty good team.
  • It didn’t take us as long as everyone said it would. We were told it would take us 18 months to do the work ourselves. Pfft! It took us about 4 months, even with a lengthy Christmas break in there as well.
  • We came in on budget!

Speaking of budget, I bet you’re wondering how much we spent?

We aimed to spend less than $25 000 (just over half of the original quote). Here’s what we actually spent (including delivery charges):

  • letterbox, $300
  • stepping stones, $276
  • soil (high quality topsoil for lawn and native mix for garden beds), $2014
  • garden edging, $597
  • sand and cement, $298
  • driveway and concrete entertaining area, $4020
  • fence, $4893
  • plants, $1439
  • labour (leveling the clay and help to spread topsoil), $ 950
  • turf, $3470
  • drainage (to stop the backyard flooding!), $200
  • pebbles, $262
  • mulch, $198

All up, $18 717.

You might like to note that this sum doesn’t include the “bonus $5500 landscaping gift card” that Wisdom gave us when we signed their contract. That money subsidised the cost of the driveway.Though, even with that money added in to make the fair comparison ($24 217) we are under budget. Yay!

By doing the hard work ourselves we’ve saved a huge 45%, or $20 123!

PLUS, we got more than what we were originally quoted for. The stepping stones and pebble path under our clothesline was not part of the original quote, nor were two extra garden beds we decided to add in. We also planted significantly more plants than what was on the original quote.

So, I’d call it a success. I guess we’ll have to wait and see how it stands up against the test of time.

I’ll be sharing some photos soon.

Doing it ourselves: the landscaping saga! Part five: Planting the hedge

Planting a hedge sounds like an easy thing to do, until you’re faced with 200 plants and a shovel.

Here are my top tips for success:

1. Buy tubestock. These little plants are fantastic for three reasons.

Firstly, they’re fantastically cheap. So cheap that if you loose one or two plants to the elements (or to a not-so-green thumb!) you won’t be so devastated that you want to give up on gardening forever.

Second reason is if you want your hedge to be bushy from the ground to the top then you should plant young, small plants. Larger plants are more expensive, tend to have a higher rate of fail at planting and can lead to the gappy look at the base of the hedge.

Third reason is that you don’t have to dig an enormous hole to plant it. Remember that the hole in the ground should be twice as big as the pot of the plant!

I’ve talked about where to buy plants here and my latest favorite place to buy plants online is Fernview Nurseries. They have some lovely hedge plants for just $2 each. We’re using Westringia Aussie Box.

2. Dig a trench. While it will be tempting to just dig a hole for each individual plant and shove it in, you’ll get a much straighter and neater hedge if you dig a trench. It will be easier to space your plants out and you can move them around in the trench to be happy with the positioning before filling the trench in.

To make sure you dig the trench straight, set up a string line first. We used a hoe to do the digging and it seemed to be the perfect width for the tubestock.

3. Get the spacing right. We were told to use the “0.3” rule, where you multiply the hedge height by 0.3. So for a 1 m high hedge you’ll be planting the plants 30 cm apart. We did a double staggered row of plants for our hedge. I measured out the spacing using a long measuring tape.

Use a string line, measuring tape and a trench to set out the  plants.

Use a string line, measuring tape and a trench to set out the plants.

4. Tip prune. While it may be tempting to let the plants get height first, you should encourage the plants to gain side growth. You can do this by pruning the tips of the plant regularly.

The results?

This is what out little hedge looked like when we planted in early January.

Tiny plants, all in a row.

Tiny plants, all in a row.

Here they are, 2 months on, in early April.

Growing up!

Growing up!