Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Backyard Renovation

My backyard renovation is coming along well.  It's been a very kind Melbourne summer, suspiciously kind for a world with a warming climate.  While there have been a few days above 30 degrees Celsius there has been nothing like the run of high-thirties days that are typical of previous Melbourne summers.  We're now into February, generally agreed to be the hottest month in Melbourne, but right now I'm sitting outside, shivering slightly at the chilly 15 degree morning.  I'm counting my blessings in this regard, landscaping a new garden in Melbourne's summer is really quite a stupid idea.  Whenever I lament the lack of progress I've made I think how worse it could have been.  If we'd had a summer like previous years I'd not have made half the progress I have so far.

It all began back in early December 2016.  I had finalised the design for the new back garden.  I'd settled on a series of raised beds constructed out of cor-ten steel with a few trellises made from concrete reinforcing mesh.  There were a few steel rounds in the design as well.  Perhaps the preponderance of rust was my Neil Young fandom coming through?  My my, hey hey, cor-ten steel is here to stay.  The steel just seemed like a good material to use.   I spent a couple of weeks pricing materials and where to source them.  My original idea was to use Formboss garden edging for the beds - it looks great and is straightforward to install, and the plans I sent to the manufacturer came back a bit cheaper than I was expecting.  I visited a couple of local steel fabrication workshops around the inner north of Melbourne and talked to them about my ideas for the garden and found one that just 'got it' with no more than a glance at my drawings and a brief conversation.  They came back to me with a quote that was $500 cheaper than the prefab Formboss material, and what's more, they were going to build the beds out of 3mm steel where the Formboss product was 0.8mm.  I went with the local metal blokes.

Cor-ten chequer plate, the rounds

The new beds arrived the day before a two week trip.  It's always the way.  What I had imagined to be a few weeks of building before Christmas turned into no building at all before early January.  With a bit of extra help from a visiting sibling we took a deep breath, cleared the yard and got stuck right in.

The backyard almost cleared, construction was about ready to begin

As I said before, progress started out slowly and has remained so.  Getting the levels right for the raised beds was much trickier than I expected.  You can see in the above photo, most of the beds were only three sides - I'd planned to build the backings with cypress pine, which is resistant to decay and a lovely timber to work with.  The process I followed was to measure up the pine backing to fit the steel, concrete the backing into place then get the beds level before coach screwing it all together.  It sounds easy and in most senses I guess it was, but much more fiddly and time consuming than I had anticipated.

 The first bed in, what a relief

The hardwood upright supports for the beds were an essential solution to a problem that became apparent almost immediately.  There was a slight flex in the steel and getting it to sit straight was impossible without extra support.  They would surely bulge once filled with soil.  I borrowed this idea from a garden in the Yarra Valley that had steel beds with old railway sleepers bolted onto them for stability.  I'll likely reduce the height of the uprights when the garden is nearing completion but they will sit proud of the beds for two main reasons.  The first is aesthetics, I quite like the look of them.  Secondly, I have a huge problem with blackbirds in my garden that sees me having to net beds of young seedlings lest the little flying fuckers destroy young them.  The supports will be a handy thing to drape netting over.

Supports will be handy for netting down the track

After the first bed went in I had a system for getting the others in and it unfolded quite quickly up to a point.  The very last bed, some 5 meters long, was going in along the fence line.  This will be a hedge of fanned citrus eventually.  One thing about citrus is that they resent root competition.  They will never thrive near existing trees.  There is a mature maple in the neighbouring yard and its roots extended significantly into our soil - they would have to go and a root barrier installed to keep them out for good.  There was nought to be done but dig a whacking great trench along the bed.

The root barrier - essential for keep competing roots away from citrus.  This one extends to 700mm below the ground.

The trellises were next to go up, constructed out of hardwood uprights and reo mesh.  Having worked with reo mesh a lot in the past, the trellises went up in a couple of days.  The garden was finally starting to reveal how it would look upon completion.

 First trellis up

Trellising done, the garden begins to show its structure 

Despite the garden showing hints of its finished self, the place still looks like a tip.  But its nothing a bloody big skip can't fix in the coming week!  My progress is set to be hampered a wee bit further by a couple of music festivals coming up, back-to-back over the next two weekends.  Mind you, I have the weeks free so it isn't all bad news.  Come to think of it, all that news is pretty good news.

My next post will be a detailed account of how I built a small greenhouse out of old French doors.  I'm working on it today and aiming to have it done mid-next week.  Then its skip time.  The end is so close I can taste it.

Until then, keep digging.

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