Four years on

Four years ago today we turned the key in the front door at our house in Wyndham Vale for the very last time, bundled Reinhardt and Zelda into the cars and made our way across the city traffic to arrive at our wonderful new home in Mount Dandenong.

The Wyndham Vale house itself had been nice, and we left behind some wonderful neighbours, but we weren’t all that sorry to say goodbye to the western suburbs, especially considering the house and garden that we were moving into.

Four years on and we’re still good friends with our Wyndham Vale neighbours, but we’ve made a whole bunch of new friends here as well. It really is a wonderful community, and no matter what the stresses of the working day may bring, every night that we leave the city and return to the mountain, it still feels like we’re heading off on holidays.

Things have changed a lot in the four years since we moved here. The moss covered “lawns” that we inherited have largely gone thanks to a combination of dogs and a couple of overly dry summers, and we’re slowly working our way towards replacing them completely with paths and gardens.

The Rhododendrons, Camellias and Azaleas that dominated the garden when we first arrived still continue to thrive, but we’ve also worked hard to establish a lot more native plants, as well as thousands of spring bulbs to bring colour to the garden at what is otherwise a pretty dreary time of the year up here.

We’re actively working to introduce additional wildlife friendly elements to the garden too. Number one of course is the wildlife pond that we created a few years ago, but we’re also looking at providing more lower and mid level habitat to provide extra food and shelter for birds. It seems to be working, as we’ve noticed a marked increase in the number of birds such as honeyeaters, whipbirds and bowerbirds using the garden over the last 12 months or so.

So here’s to a fabulous 4 years, and let’s hope there are many, many more to come!

Winter Wonderland

For the first time in the almost 4 years that we have lived here at Greatrakes, we have had snowfalls heavy enough to settle on the ground, not just once, but two days in a row.

Snow started falling in the early hours of Saturday morning and when I woke up around 5:30 am it was quite heavy – there was a covering of around 5 mm of snow on the bluestones along the edge of the front porch. By 7:30 am the sun had risen and the garden was white with a fresh dusting. Sadly over the next hour the snow turned to drizzle and by lunchtime it was all gone.

Then on Saturday night and into Sunday morning, a fresh wave of snow showers hit, and by sunrise the garden was once again white, however this time it kept snowing, and by 9:00 am there were actually some quite heavy snow showers.

This meant that the snow lasted well into the day, with the drizzle not taking over until well after 10:00 am, and patches of snow still visible in the more sheltered areas of the garden well into the afternoon.

Heide thought it was fabulous stuff, but Reinhardt was completely ambivalent about the whole experience, preferring instead to bury himself in among the cushions on the couch.

Reinhardt is not a big fan of the white stuff.

Plans for a pond

In 2016 we started work on what would eventually become the Greatrakes Wildlife Pond. Three years on, the pond has now become an established feature of the garden, and a favourite spot for visitors and ourselves alike to sit and watch the world go by. What was once a plain, featureless area of patchy lawn is now an oasis, with its running cascades and placid pools proving to be a haven for many species of native birds, frogs and insects.

In the meantime however, other parts of the garden have not fared quite so well. The summer of 2017-18 at Mount Dandenong was a tale of two halves, with a very wet start, followed by a dry spell that stretched late into autumn, whilst the 2018-19 summer has been a long and dry one with below average rainfall. This has proven to be fatal for the lawn area alongside our David Austin rose border.

Main lawn

We’re pretty sure the soil that forms the slope in this area consists mainly of the sub soil that was extracted when the house was extended and a courtyard excavated some time in the mid 80s – it’s certainly much heavier than the typically rich mountain soil found throughout the rest of the garden. The lawn area also cops a lot of foot traffic of both the two legged and four legged varieties, as well as the runoff from the top path every time it rains. As a consequence it spends most of winter in a permanently sodden state, and most of summer baked dry to the consistency of concrete.

When we first arrived here in 2015, this “lawn” consisted mainly of moss – great for staying green during the damp winters and retaining enough moisture through normal summers, but definitely ill suited to sustained traffic or extended dry spells. We’ve attempted to establish more grass, but after four years we’re ready to admit defeat and start looking at alternative arrangements.

Sacred Lotus

Enter the plans for a new Lotus Pond. One of the few regrets with the wildlife pond was that due to the location we weren’t able to create any pools large enough or deep enough to grow Lotus plants, but the location of this new pond is much more open and sunny, with far fewer tree roots (hopefully) to contend with. It also offers better visibility from the house, so an oriental style pond with Lotus, surrounded by Japanese Maples and Cherry Blossoms will provide a beautiful backdrop to the rose border when viewed from the living room. As with the wildlife pond, this pond will also feature a series of cascades and a natural bio filter to maintain crystal clear water without the use of chemicals.

Greatrakes Lotus Pond Bio Filter plan

We are in the very early stages of planning at the moment, with preliminary excavation not likely to begin until later this year, so stay tuned for more information as it comes to hand…