For six and a half years we’ve had a big back yard and we’ve struggled with it. I say struggled. Sean would say we’ve been thinking it through.
This is not to say that we’ve done nothing. I only have to go back through old photos to see that our garden, in the early days, bore all the hallmarks of a drought ravaged rental garden. It was barren. Way back then, we built a square vegetable patch, just to get things moving. You can see here more or less what the yard was like. Just like the space behind this bed. A big square block with nothing to recommend it. A blank canvas and us with very little knowledge or understanding of just how much work we needed to do to to make it into something.
Those first few summers were depressing. Sure we grew some veggies, but the place just felt baked. Everything did in Canberra after nearly a decade of drought. We got a deck built two years ago which was, to be frank, life changing. Shade, and a place to sit and contemplate the garden has been wonderful.
Over the years, we put in more beds (always built with a sense of being temporary while we thought things through), planted some ash trees which are now in their third year and really providing some structure and we’re in the process of planning some proper raised beds, tall ones so the chickens can’t get into them.
After a particularly big weekend of yard work last week, I took some photos, again, thinking we really don’t have much of a back yard. Then I looked at the photos, looked again at our yard, and realised actually I’m telling myself lies. We do have a nice back yard. It’s absolutely a work in progress but progress has been made. Compare the above photo to this one.
It’s green – the end of the drought helped with that. There is structure thanks to the thriving ash trees, lush beds and the chicken enclosure which we try to keep as neat looking as possible – the addition of plants around the enclosure really helps with that I think. See the tall sweet peas up along the side?
And on the other side I built last week a narrow herb bed for lemon balm, tarragon and sorrel which the chickens can, in time, nibble through the wire. I’ve since enclosed it in a little fence to stop them attacking it when they’re free ranging.
I’ve said numerous times over the years that our garden is, for me, a definite sign of my mental well being. If I’m disconnected from my garden, not giving time to it, not working on my evolving plans, it means all is not well within me. And sometimes, even if things are not right inside, going into the garden helps make it so. I come home from work every day, especially now the days are longer, and do some yard work. Whether it’s working with the chickens, watering, or getting stuck into some serious digging and lifting, and I feel better. I forget just about everything. It’s a form of therapy. Green, lush, vibrant therapy and the more involved in my garden I become, the more closely I rely on that therapy.
A part of the garden that’s filling me with joy at the moment is a bed we built a year ago, in autumn out the front. It’s a bulb bed, under a well established ash tree. The bulbs are long gone now the days are warm, but the lush seaside daisies, pansies and other ground covers have covered over the dying bulbs – which was my intention and created a beautiful bed that for most of the day thrives under the dappled light of the tree.
This photo I took a few weeks ago, when there were still irises. The row of pansies down the front were a joint effort by Alice and I who now thinks of them in some way as her flowers because she planted them. That sense of having made something yourself is so important.
I’m learning more and more to just get in and try things. Both of us have a tendency to over think and over research. Research is fabulous and I love going into a task armed with ideas and some knowledge to apply, but in the end, it needs action, and experimentation. We’re learning not to worry about failure. Just try it.
The addition of chickens to our back yard means we’re having to come up with creative ideas to work with them, not against them.
Judicious use of chicken wire (the green kind – it looks better) around beds helps but in time I want to have a completely sectioned off area for our vegetables and flowers, so that the chickens don’t have to be controlled. It’ll just be an area they don’t get into. I want to do away with the irritating slight slope, to have retaining walls and paths between beds and around trees, with garden benches tucked into pretty spots and a wonderful sense of home and peace. I’ve got that sense when I’m out there now – it gets better all the time – but in time, I hope the external reality of the garden matches more closely the visions in my mind.
I picture a rambling, yet structured, shady, but light oasis, with year round vegetables and flowers. Today as I picked these flowers to decorate my lunch table for a friend, I looked at the colours and thought yeah, my garden is giving me good things and it’s because I am giving good things to my garden. It’s a great relationship.
Best of all, it’s becoming every year a wonderful place to pull up a chair, pour a drink and knit in tranquility. Who can ask for more?