Old Front Garden

When we moved into our old house the front garden was fairly typical: an expanse of lawn with a bit of garden around the outside. It also had some big prickly date palms, which I promptly removed after pricking myself on them a few times. I was also keen to get rid of the expanse of lawn because it was a hassle to mow and used up a lot of water.

I put together a plan for a big garden full of natives and drought-tolerant plants, and got to work.

Step 1 was to kill off the old lawn and prepare the site: I sprayed the old lawn with herbicide, and then brought in a hand-tiller to turn it all over. The tilling was hot and hard work, even with the help of the machine.

Next I landscaped the soil into the shapes we wanted (rather than just being flat). I also put down the main lines for the reticulation to feed each area of the garden.

This is a close-up of the under-surface reticulation – this type of retic delivers water very efficiently to the plants (no evaporation) and is really good for low-water gardens. It’s porous so the water bleeds through it slowly and soaks the plant roots.

Next, with the help of lovely wife we brought in a bunch of heavy moss rocks from the local garden supplies place to edge all the gardens. We tried to position them so there were some big flat spots to sit in the shade and at the edge of the new pond.

We then brought in lots of good-quality soil to build the garden beds up and to landscape further into interesting mounds and paths. I laid reticulation on top of this mounded soil, and then we heavily mulched – it was layer about 6” deep.

After heavy mulching, the fun part of planting everything out began. We then brought in and planted big groups of plants that are good for low-water gardens: lavendar, native rosemary, hebes, kangaroo paws, etc. They did very well in the new garden.

I paved the front verge (aka nature strip) (foreground) so we had somewhere to put the rubbish bins on collection day.

This is a before shot of the driveway – it was a bit narrow, and it needed a retaining wall to stop the garden tumbling on to the driveway.

Here is the after shot with the driveway widened, and the brick retaining wall built. Brick laying is hard and I’m not very good at it, so I always render over the top.

I attached strips of wood to the bricks and rendered between them so that I could use a screed with an end on each piece of wood to get a nice flat surface. When the render had dried I removed the wood (at which point this photo was taken) and then rendered the gaps where the wood had been.

Rendering finally finished – this is tough work. At least it covers up my dodgy bricklaying. It’s really hard and frustrating getting the render to stick to the bricks.

We planted a big line of plumbago down the side of the driveway on top of the rendered wall – it hedges really well and has a beautiful blue/white display in the spring.

In the middle of the garden I dug out a big koi pond – here it is marked out before digging.

Here’s the completed pond with water feature, and the beginnings of a bridge. There is a pump submerged in the bottom of the pond which feeds through a large bio- and mechanical-filter and back directly into the pond (over some rocks) and also fills up the large bowl.

We bought some koi and put them in the pond, and when we filled in the pond a year later (we moved house) the koi had already had babies! While we had the pond I spent plenty of relaxing time sitting on the bridge and feeding the koi.

A view of the pond from the bridge – the plants had grown in by this stage. The steps are covered in merbau sawdust that we got from a friend’s furniture factory. Sawdust is good for paths because it suppresses weeds and compresses nice and firm, though you can’t walk down the path in socks.

On the side closest to the front door I built a set of steps at the end of the path. The steps were framed out using treated pine sleepers and posts (similar to the vegetable garden edges.)

The steps were filled in with bluemetal fines. I really like using bluemetal because it compresses really well and when it dries it becomes very hard.

Here’s the garden on the day we moved out after selling the house and moving to Melbourne. The koi pond has been filled in because we rented the place out and didn’t want the hassle of being landlords on a house with a pond – I just filled it with dirt and then mulched it and put some creeping daisy on top.

Overall I’m really happy with the way this worked out in terms of water conservation – the new garden only needed about 15 mins/week of water through the retic system during the heat of summer, which is a lot less than the lawn required to stay green.