Sunday, 18 October 2015

Oasis in the city

Recently, I found more photos when sorting through some dusty boxes, so I hope you don’t mind me taking you on the occasional trip down (my) memory lanes?
And, apologies now, for I tend to ramble along these lanes…

Once again, these photos were scanned on various devices – it would be another five years before I “went digital”.


We left my dear Secret Hollow, to move to the city, where school and work opportunities were more plentiful.
After renting for a time, we found that buying an existing house was out of our financial reach – real estate in the city was enjoying a “boom period” and was highly inflated.
So, our best option was to “block & build” in a new suburban estate. Not something we really relished – living cheek by jowl on small blocks, surrounded by cookie cutter, off-the-plan homes and McMansions with tiny, unappealing, bland gardens – you know, the handkerchief lawn, bordered by low “strappy” plants en masse.
Looking down the endless streets, houses and front gardens all looked so similar, and sadly devoid of character.
We came to call them “Stepford suburbs”.
And, we country bumpkins did not fit their mold.

Many subdivisions were built on what was considered by property developers to be, “poor land to be reclaimed”.

Ours was one of them.

our small portion on the corner

So much native bush has been lost to metropolitan areas.
What was once diverse open woodland - important habitat for marsupials, and birds such as black cockatoos (red tailed and white tailed – now endangered), was totalled. The land bulldozed. The soil eroded, leaving nothing behind. The fragile structure weakened without its topsoil and root network. It became arid and unproductive. Not even a hardy weed dare grow.

Primed for new housing...

For me, the transition from bountiful old growth forest to barren building block wasn’t easy… to say the least.
After living where space and privacy wasn’t an issue, I felt disconsolate and depressed.
Hemmed in and claustrophobic, staring at blank metal fences, and smothered by the oppressive heat. Not a tree for shade in sight.
I so missed my little country cottage and gardens. Tears flowed every day.

As the foundation was laid, the house built and fences went up, available land for a garden shrunk before my eyes.
For ages, I refused to acknowledge the wasteland outside.
What could I do with a small block, bound on three sides and endless, dry deep sand that held no water or nutrients for any length of time?
There was nothing. Not even a living twig on our block. The slightest wind whipped up mini dunes onto every windowsill and at each door.
When I studied the soil sand, it was devoid of microbial activity. Nothing wriggled, as it should have. No critters or earthworms, crucial to sustaining healthy earth, were evident.

Judging by the established properties nearby, the (temporary) remedy was to pour litres of water every other day onto lawns and border plants to keep them green. But, in summer, even a few days of missed watering would begin to render their feeble green patch, light brown, as precious moisture drained deep into the earth with no substance to hold it.
After observation, it seemed few people – in our street at least – did very little to truly nourish the soil. Much chemical fertilizing, and a lot of water, seemed to be the order of the day.
Oh yes, and starkly coloured inorganic pebbles, were the fashionable “mulch”.
Natural mulch, was seen as “messy”.

With such poor, depleted soil, there had to be another solution.

There was.
Hard work, and the introduction of copious amounts of manure, compost, wet newspapers, straw and layers of natural mulch.

Gradually, inspiration rose in me, like sap through a tree. Once again, I felt the need to create a new garden.
But, this one had to be different.

I decided that I wanted to give back to the area, which was once wilderness. An oasis that would encourage wildlife to return. A shelter in a suburb.

I also knew that, to help drown out the sounds of the city - which I found difficult to come to terms with - I wanted falling water of some sort. A fountain or waterfall perhaps?

I drew up plans for our garden to be. It was to feature a pond and waterfall, in the hopes of bringing the frogs and lizards back.

In the following months, we collected rocks, advertised for sale in the local paper. Oh, so many rocks.

And, in February 2006, work began.

After consulting with hubby, he agreed that I could include a “jetty” made of old railway sleepers in my plans.
The hunt for (seconds) sleepers was on, and we stockpiled until we had enough.

With his incredible skills in interpreting my vision of a walkway out to the pond, hubby measured and cut and made a wonderfully rustic, “old” landing.

His beautiful structure gave instant age and character.
I adored that old sleeper jetty.
And, I adore my clever hubby for making it  ♥♥ 

I wish we could’ve taken it all the way across Australia with us when we moved…

Digging the pond was an almost Herculean effort – for every shovel full of sand removed, it seemed two would fall back in place. Even when we hosed it down for stability, the sand would threaten to crumble, and was heavier to move.

Hubby and I worked tirelessly, digging and barrowing. When he returned to work, I continued to dig on my days off, and slowly, the hole grew and was shaped into what I hoped would look like a natural billabong.

Our stock of rocks anchored the edge of the durable lining – the larger ones were carefully placed to create a waterfall ledge.
With our backs and arms sorely tested, the hardest part was done.

Once filled, the pond began to draw many tiny insects to the water, and with them, came the lizards, then the birds.

And, the myriad dragonflies were a delightful bonus.

Watching them hover and flit and skim the sparkling surface was mesmerising.

Once the soil began to build up and planting was underway, the previously dead air in our yard, buzzed with tangible energies ~ from the water, the ageless rocks, the old, dense wood, the now rich, fertile, teeming soil, the plants, animals, insects and birds.

Life was returning to this tiny barren world.

Early the following season, we heard our first frog call late one evening – a very welcome sound that brought tears to my eyes.
My vision of an oasis - a sanctuary, not only for us, but for local wildlife - was fulfilled.

On that small block, I created a green haven, with hidden paths and surprises around each corner, making it seem much bigger than it really was. Such was the illusion.

Every garden needs a little mystery. And touches of whimsy. Some bold elements, and some subtle.


a love of mine ~ the green man ~ a welcome, watchful spirit of place

I carved this bird bath from a limestone block... in my spare time ;)

our very heavy stone garden guardian has travelled with us from place to place and across the country - he's a member of the family now :)

In time, a garden creates its own secrets. If you let it…

A small vegetable/herb plot was built at the other end of the yard by the washing line.

a small array of herbs flourished under charming Crepuscule rose

in between chores, I quickly painted a blue wren to honour our old home in the country, and to welcome all birds

Then, we turned our attention to the patio area...
They say, "there's no rest for the wicked". We must be very wicked indeed, for we worked feverishly - yet loved every minute, as we reaped the rewards our garden gave us  :)

A screen, and much planting, was required to detract from the bare fence, and near proximity of the new house being built next door.  Soon, there would be no more sky.

Here, I had the opportunity to add some visual pop to contrast with the cool greens. 
In the harsh, glaring light of summer - and even in winter's grey gloom -  the intense, saturated hues suited this area well.


our official site supervisor xx

I wanted to create a pleasant outlook from the kitchen window, making cooking and washing up a joy, not an eyesore.

Leftover sleepers made the perfect edging.
And, the chance purchase of a peaceful soul, completed the scene.

The partly shaded wall ruled out full-sun loving native plants, so graceful Golden Palms lent an exotic atmosphere, as the long arching fronds rustled deliciously in the breeze... piña colada anyone?  :)

view from the kitchen

At any time of day, the sound of water cascading over rocks into the cool pool below, was heavenly. A very welcome respite in the often unbearable heat of Western Australian summers.


And all the while, the garden continued grow.  Luscious and full.

path leading from the veggie garden back towards the pond

eternally fascinated by the goldfish, yet never attempting to dive in - just keeping an eye on their safety :)

As I look back over these images, it’s hard for me to believe that this garden was conceived, achieved and established in just under two years. It's true!

But then, we can’t take all the credit. Australian native plants are incredibly generous in their growth. I simply helped them along with love and care.
A beautiful, compatible, symbiotic human/environment relationship.

under the dome - looking out

Once again - not long after the final established photos were taken - we moved, in late 2008.
And left a vibrant green legacy behind.

Like Secret Hollow, I miss this garden terribly also.

I don’t miss the burgeoning, busy suburbs, or the traffic on our busy street, or the long, hot West Coast summers.
But that lush, cool, peaceful patch of paradise… yes.  Very much so.

As we look to a new property sometime in the near future, I take with me the knowledge - and the hope - that once again I’ll design, and we’ll create, yet another garden for the heart, mind and soul to benefit human and non-human.
Sanctuary for all.


  1. Awe and wonder. Love your vision, appreciate the work which went into making a small slice of heaven out of such unpromising material.
    Take a bow.
    How lucky were the people who bought that home from you. So much beauty to sustain them,

    1. Thank you EC. I wanted to show that anyone can create a garden from seemingly lifeless sand. It's achievable, with work and persistence - and faith in oneself and mother nature :)

  2. I enjoyed this wander along the lane. I, too, am surrounded by the irks of suburbia, a place where we see the pest control truck more often than the ice cream van.
    Thank you for your hopeful story.

    1. Ah, I remember when it was the other way 'round. When the ice cream van (and the bottle-o) was the noisiest vehicle which one was happy to hear every weekend in the summer. Those were the days.

  3. my god.
    i have nothing to say.
    why tears are streaming i do not know. not tears of sadness. but awe.
    finding my voice now.
    to take a virtual wilderness...
    no worse than wilderness. that indicates lush overgrowth of nature's own design.
    you took MAN MADE nothing and created heaven.
    oh vicki.
    you could have grown bitter. and as dried up and desolate as you found it. but you didn't!
    to create that kind of beauty and then to move on and let someone else reap the joy of your unbelievably hard work...
    to leave an oasis for the little creatures of life that needed such a home...
    my heart is full to the brim with love for your brave spirit and vision and sheer ability! anyone can create a garden in a normal place...
    given enough good soil... enough water... etc...
    but to take NOTHING and turn it into THAT! how i love the color panels. the perfect colors. the fountain... the paths... the faces. oh ALL of it. ALL!
    i have to go back now and look at each picture and read it all again. and smile at your little furry supervisor and wish i could hug him...
    and while hugging him... hug my darling sister vicki. XOXOXOXOXOOX♥ and tim? well. tim. another bob. my highest praise! LOLOL!!!

    1. Yes, you know the pain I felt, leaving my darling Hollow.
      I honestly didn't think I could be remotely interested in another garden - my heart was elsewhere.
      But, that's the thing about gardening, once it gets under your skin, and into your blood - into the very fibres of your being, it never, ever leaves.
      As the incredibly talented Gertrude Jekyll once said, "The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies."
      So true.

      It filled me with great joy to know that we made a place of refuge for the wee creatures of the stark suburbs. Somewhere to rest, for sustenance, shade, fresh water and food on the fly - a smorgasbord for all who wished to come.
      And come they did :)
      I'm humbled and grateful to have created that. And, I couldn't have done so much without my boys :)

      Hugs furever ♥

  4. Such wonder and magic and solace...your gardens are your canvases and they are such must have been heart-breaking to let them go, but it seems you are on a gifted journey, Vicki, and have changed many landscapes, external and internal, from desolate, barren and thirsty to endless bounty and quenching beauty.

    1. Thank you Charlene. I was a wrench to farewell yet another green sanctuary.
      I just hope that there is yet still another one in me to create, for it gives me much joy to work with nature - her rewards are truly immense :)

  5. Permaculture!!!!!!!

    And the huge amount of work which went into the water effect and all.

    But as you said, native plants will respond, it given the chance...

    With again, much work in preparing the way for them. Since "their way" has been obliterated by the rape of the land.

    Amazing, what vision and work, can do.


    1. Indeed. And, at the time, I attributed no labels to what I did. Nor do I like to still.
      I simply listened to what nature cried out for, and hoped that I could work in tandem with her to give back just a little of what man tries so hard to destroy.

  6. OMG! Vicki!!!!!!
    You have SO much vision!
    Every Fall I say that I'm done with gardening, that I just don't have time and then every Spring, I'm sucked back in.
    I always have grand plans but they never seem to develop into what I want, or I change my mind or something derails me.
    But to see what you did just stuns me.
    I don't know why it should, I mean I know that you are amazingly creative but Whoa!
    You should be a landscape designer!
    That must have been so so hard to leave. But I can understand the pure satisfaction of creating magic for all the wildlife.
    A true gift that you left for them.
    I just know that your next move will take you someplace that is perfect for you.
    Some place that will allow you to create another fabulous garden, something that will bring you great joy.
    I'm going back now, to look at all the photos again
    and make sure I missed nothing.
    Pure magic!
    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing!

    PS- I love that pond so much but my dogs would never be good like Jack and stay out of it! LOL!

    1. Dear Cindi, you work so hard taking care of animals at work, as well as your own sweet fur crew, and then, there's your fabulous artwork that's taking off! There's a lot on your plate right now.
      I think the time will come when you'll feel totally inspired to work on your garden and create your own oasis - let it happen when the time is right.

      Jack never entered the pond the whole time we were there. He's a 'fraidy cat when it comes to water and hates getting wet - especially baths, dear old thing he is. But he did love watching the large goldfish swimming around leisurely, and they would come up to watch him too :)

      I would love to be a landscape designer, but no one would take me without a horticultural degree, sadly.
      Never mind. I look to the future, and hope it presents another wonderful opportunity, so that my thumb can go back to being green again :)


  7. Vicki, what a beautiful garden you created from a man-made disaster. Did the lizards and birds come back? I hope so...and I hope whoever has that beautiful garden now is taking care to maintain it. What an oasis you made!



    1. Thank you Victoria. Yes, lizards and birds - of all varieties would come by to visit. The lizards loved the edge of the pond.
      I would spend time watching the birds sit on the fence and call out to their friends to drop in :)
      The red and white tailed cockatoos were very scarce, and the trees weren't tall enough then. But, I hope the odd one is sighted there now.
      I'm sure the wildlife has multiplied in great numbers by now, as long as the people look after the garden.

  8. You are an amazing inspiration!! I have been lucky to move into houses over the past 20 years that had nice enough yards, not what I loved or really wanted but they were ok enough. I never felt inspired to put forth the energy that you obviously put in to your city place, because I always knew we would move again. Instead I created that environment inside and made it cozy. I now long for a permanent place where I can create an outside to match the insides I create. These photos will be an excellent reference for me one of these days when we find that home we are looking for!!

    1. Thank you Tracey :)
      And, I so look forward to you finding that special place to create your haven – it’s out there waiting for you... and you'll make it beautiful.

  9. It's so beautiful! How could you bear to leave it?
    I had similar plans for my first Adelaide home, a pond, vegetable garden. The veggie garden at least , was begun, but not properly planned and failed to thrive, hubby and I weren't "together" in our planning, then other things happened and the dream fell apart.
    Now I'm trying a different style of garden, succulents and other hardy plants in a very small patch. As I watered it early this morning I noticed several plants that had new growth going on. One more year and I'll know which empty spaces I'll need to buy plants for to fill in.

    1. We knew we wouldn't be there for more than a few years. But, I couldn't leave it the way it was without doing something about the exterior - it was so desolate, and I was determined for it not to be another Stepford property, with chemically fertilised lawn and no soul.


Hello! Thanks for stopping by. I would love to read your comments and will reply as soon as I can :)