L’esprit d’espalier

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I love fruit trees. I love the blossom in spring. The fruit in summer. I even love the knobbly bare branches in winter. But with such a small backyard, fruit trees are going to be an issue. We have three dwarf citruses already – lime, kaffir lime and lemon, which I intend to keep small. And I think I’ve got a spot where I can stick an apricot tree. There’s the pomegranate out the front. But I want apples.

The problem with apples, is that you really need more than one, for pollination. And I definitely don’t have room for two apple trees.

Bu then I started to do some reading about espalier.

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Espalier is a very old (possibly thousands of years old!) technique of training a tree against a flat surface. Sometimes it’s in a fancy pattern, sometimes not (although the fancy ones are gorgeous, I think I prefer a slightly more natural shape). It turns out that apples are one of the most common and easiest things to espalier, because they have such whippy, pliable branches.

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So once our big ugly asbestos shed comes down, we’ll have a big long stretch of bare fence. With espaliering, you can plant trees much closer together. I could probably squeeze five trees in, but I think I’ll be sensible and go for two or three. Except the area won’t be ready to plant til the end of the year, and apple trees are best planted in winter. So it looks like another year before I can start my espaliering adventures.

Succulent planter

The house came with a bunch of succulents, and I’ve nicked a few tips from other people’s front yards. Succulents are so popular at the moment, as are vertical gardens. I had an old shadow-box in the shed that my grandpa made for me, so I thought I’d give vertical gardening a shot.

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First I went to Bunnings and bought a roll of gutter wire (I think it was $8), and a small bag of succulent potting mix (about $6). I snipped off lots of succulent tips from the plants growing in the backyard, and drilled some drainage holes in the back of the box.

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Then I staplegunned the gutter mesh over the top of the box, tucking it under at the sides.

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Filled it with potting mix, and using a chopstick, started poking in my succulents.

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Now I leave it for 6 weeks or so so they take root and start to spread. I need a few more for the top. But eventually they will cover up all the wire, and I can hang it somewhere! I’ll post again with an update when it’s looking a bit less straggly.

Backyard eatings: kaffir lime and cucumber syrup

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I love kaffir lime. The scent of the leaves has to be one of my top 5 favourite smells, and I frequently find myself wandering into the backyard for a whiff.

I’m also quite fond of gin. For my birthday I was given a bottle of Hendricks, which has such a delicate, floral flavour I hate to overpower it with supermarket tonic. In the past I’ve made my own tonic, but I’ve run out of cinchona bark and can’t source it in Melbourne, so it was time to try something different.

Kaffir lime and cucumber syrup

2 cup sugar

2 cup water

rind of 2-3 kaffir limes

good handful of kaffir lime leaves, crushed

2 grated lebanese cucumbers

1tsp citric acid

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Let it boil for a minute or so, then turn off the heat and chuck in all the other ingredients. Stir, and leave to cool. Strain into a bottle. Mix with gin, soda, ice and a good squeeze of fresh lime. And a little muddled mint, if you’re feeling fancy.

Laneway garden

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My newfound obsession with gardening comes from two sources – the first is having a garden for the first time ever. The second is the fact that I’m working on a novel about some guerrilla gardening teens. So today me and my mum went to explore a guerrilla garden in Clifton Hill.

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It’s hidden down a cobblestone laneway, in some disused land owned by the railway company. Different individuals and families have their own boxes, and there’s a very complicated compost system with multiple bins at varying stages of decomposition.

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It’s a bit like stumbling upon the Secret Garden – tucked away, hidden and bursting with life. I saw capsicums and eggplant and carrots and onions and pumpkins and about a million kinds of herbs and salad greens.

I’m pretty sure the garden isn’t entirely legal – but it’s very removable if anyone complained because all the gardens are boxed. And it’s making great use of unused space. I love it.

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Replacing trees

Pomegranate

Pomegranate

I feel so guilty cutting down trees.

But there are three trees in our backyard that just have to go, because they’re in the wrong spot, they’ll grow too big, and they’re just plain ugly. My friend Esther said to me recently that she doesn’t want anything in her garden that isn’t either useful or beautiful, and I’m adopting this as my mantra. Our yard is so tiny (it’ll be 90m2 once the studio is built) that I can’t afford to have light and space taken up by something that we can’t eat or at least enjoy looking at.

So I’ve made myself a deal. For every tree we cut down, I’ll plant a new one.

So far we have cut down one of the straggly useless trees, and planted two citruses. Soon the other two will go, and I have plans to replace them with an apricot, and a potted Wurtz avocado.

This weekend I impulse-bought a pomegranate. While pomegranate isn’t the most useful of trees (I mean, we don’t eat pomegranates as much as we eat, say apples), it’s very pretty. And our front yard doesn’t get much sun. A house two doors down has a fruiting pomegranate in the same position, so I know for sure it’ll produce, which I couldn’t guarantee with an apple.

So it’s in the front yard. There was a small drama involving a stormwater drain when digging the hole, but it’s patched up now, the hole is relocated, and the pomegranate is in!

First home, first garden

our little garden with hideous shed

our little garden with hideous shed

This is our first proper, non-rental home, in wonderful Thornbury, Melbourne. It has a long, skinny backyard (north-facing) with a hideously enormous asbestos shed, which will be disappearing soon. The plan is to knock down the shed and build a music studio for Michael, keep a little bit of lawn and install some raised veggie beds.

When we moved in, the garden was already reasonably well established, with:

– a glorious gnarled magnolia

-a very sick kaffir lime (which died despite my best efforts)

-a rosemary bush

-some wildish flatleaf parsley

-an enormous tangle of vietnamese mint

-a weedy grove of mint

-four hardy chili bushes, one of which produces chilis so hot they are inedible

-some straggly tomatoes which actually produced pretty well last summer

-two pretty camellias (one pink, one white)

-a lillypilly in the front yard

-a compost bin

-a young liquidambar

-two other young, ugly straggly trees planted in stupid locations

-some weeds growing in an old wheelbarrow

The straggly trees and the liquidambar will be removed – the liquidambar is gorgeous at this time of year, but it’s too close to the house and those things get ENORMOUS. The Hills Hoist is going to have to go too, much as I love it. It’s way too big for this little garden.

Since moving in nearly a year ago, we’ve planted a new kaffir lime, along with a tahitian lime and a Eureka lemon. I’ve planted the wheelbarrow with herbs and spring onions, and have created a raspberry and garlic patch. I’ve added wisteria to our patio, and am growing rhubarb, strawberries, lettuce, roquette, bay, aloevera and blueberries in pots. There’s also some unkillable silverbeet in the back corner.We’ve just submitted our studio plans to council, so fingers crossed that our makeover project is approved!