18 February 2013

Setting up your garden as a safe haven

Last week I wrote about vegetable garden preparation, maintenance and production but there are many other parts of gardens that are interesting enough to write about. All gardens are a complete little ecosystem and if you want to plant, make the area productive or just sit, you need to take in what goes on out there. Gardens are safe havens for birds, reptiles, spiders and insects. In suburbia, gardens provide useful watering holes, hollow spaces for living, shelter from the weather and hiding places from pets, other wildlife and people.

You can hardly see them here but there are two tiny finches drinking from this container we keep filled with water for the birds.
When Alex and Jamie first started walking, the backyard was where they both wanted to be. Here you can see Hanno showing Alex through the garden.

If you have children, the backyard can be one of the best playgrounds. When my sons were growing up, they spent a lot of time in the backyard swinging on ropes and a homemade swing, watching the chickens, riding bikes, playing games, camping in the background and, on the rare occasions when it rained, running like super charged maniacs through the water that would pool in the backyard. I often think they were lucky to be born when they were. They had an old-fashioned childhood like I did, full of exploring, physical activity, camping out, riding bikes and playing with their friends. Later on in their childhood, computers came into our lives and from the age of seven and eight, there were computer games, but they were so basic and primitive that they didn't keep them glued to the screen. They were just a small part of life.

Now, with our two beautiful grandsons, we're setting up for children again. Hanno built a sandpit that is covered when not in use and we bought a standard little wading pool for the very hot days. The water from that comes from the tank, and when the swimming is over, the water is transferred, via watering cans, to the garden.

We share this land with a family of about 11 kookaburras. They often visit and watch us as we watch them. There is a family of magpies as well, they sneak in and eat Hettie's food when she's not there.

One of the many things I hope to show Jamie and Alex in the coming years is the amazing variety of insects, spiders, reptiles and birds we have in our backyard. Of course, we'll talk about their safety, as well as the respect, gentleness, water and food these creatures need. Much of it we can provide for them in a natural setting. There is a strip of remnant rainforest running along the creek and that provides habitat for many creatures that visit our backyard. We often hear the cries of Sacred Kingfishers and whip birds and sometimes we'll see a water dragon sunning itself on a tree stump. We must teach our boys not to be afraid, to be wary and respectful and that we share this land with all wild things.

When we first came to live here, we had to orient ourselves to the rising sun in summer and winter, take notice of where strong winds, rain and violent storms came from and, in the hottest months, where the shade and the coolest parts of the garden were. Our chooks taught us both of those places because that's where they went when it was hot. Our chooks live in a fairly secure coop that is rain and wind-proof so their backyard environment is comfortable and safe.

When it rains heavily, watch to see where the water pools and runs off.

Before we set up the garden, we had to know about our soil and where the water pooled in heavy downpours and prolonged rain - something we hadn't been used to in our last home but is quite common here. Hanno did quite a bit of work putting in underground drainage that ran down to our creek. When we moved in we knew the creek hadn't flooded into our backyard in living memory, but we had to live here for a few years before we knew we were safe because the overflow on the other side of the creek was much lower than our side and the flooding rains went there into paddocks instead of into our backyard and home.

Above is our bush house and the water tank we put in when we first came to live here. Below is a 10,000 litre tank we installed a few years ago.
Very early on we decided to put in water tanks. We thought that if we were going to plant a garden that we should be responsible to collect water to irrigate it, so our first tank went in soon after we arrived. A few years ago we added another tank, double the size, and soon we'll add another space saving, narrow tank that can butt up against the wall at the side of the house. With the average amount of rainfall we get now, those three tanks should do us for the front and back gardens in the foreseeable future.

In the bottom left of this photo you can see part of the bench Hanno and I sit on to watch what's going on in the garden. When the sun fades into the west, this is the prime location in our garden.

Backyards can be so many things but one of the most important parts of ours is a place to sit, relax, think and observe.  We don't have enough seating areas but we're working on that. My main seat at the moment is a simple bench Hanno made from recycled timbers, that is under the elder tree. It faces the vegetable garden and chook house so whenever I sit there I have more than enough to look at. Soon we'll move a cast iron table and chairs over near the sand pit so whoever is looking after the littlies will have a table on which to put a sippy cup or a cup of tea and maybe a magazine or seed catalogue. One thing is for sure, a good garden evolves into being its best. You don't move in and buy everything you need in one hit. It takes a few years of observation and living there to see what the garden needs and what to leave alone. And when you get it set up, don't be afraid to change it. Our backyard changes when it needs to. We've put in fences, taken them down again, started with a smaller garden than we have now and, no doubt, that will change in the future. We also bought things when we could afford them. You and your garden will change with your seasons and nature's seasons.

So if you're about to set up a garden in your backyard, or if you have one that isn't working as well as it might, take some time to walk around and observe where the shade is, where the sun rises and sets, where the water pools in the rain, where the natural runoffs occur. Make sure you check your fences and boundaries because runoff from a neighbouring property might cause a problem in your yard. Having a productive backyard is much more than just planting seeds and weeding. Your backyard is a haven, not only for the wildlife but for family life as well.



  1. Oh!
    "Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
    Merry, merry king of the bush is he
    Laugh, kookaburra, laugh, kookaburra
    Gay your life must be!"

    We learned that in American grammar school and I still remember it! It was nice to see the photo of him. :)

    1. I remember singing this is 5th grade! I then sang it to my kids when they were growing up! Fun!

  2. The space you've created is so beautiful - a haven, most definitely!

  3. what a lovely post Rhonda, we are still setting up our yards (both front & back have veges growing), our chook pen is a work soon to begin, & I too want my beautiful grandbabes to see & enjoy the wonders of nature in our yard, moving to Mt Tambourine has allowed us to enjoy the native wildlife that has moved out of surburbia (which I'm sure its due to crows & the lack of trees) the birds here in particular are so lovely to hear, Deb M

  4. you are such a wealth of information, beautiful photos,

  5. Great post, Rhonda. We have been in our home for 7 years now and although we are very aware of the natural elements - sunrise/set, water flows (a big issue for us) and prevailing winds there is still much to do.

    One of the first things we had done when we moved was to have a staircase built from the verandah. The obvious and real real choice for the vegetable garden was visible from the kitchen window, however, the only way to access it was from the staircase at the far end of the house.

    The vegetable garden is in the right area but is constantly evolving - permanent fencing is the next thing on the agenda followed by more raised beds.

    We also have a paddling pool for when our granddaughters visit in the hot weather and we are planning to set up a swing for them, too.

    Gardens and backyards are such an important haven for everyone (family and wildlife).

    Looks like good weather for planting the cucumber seedlings.

    Best wishes.

    Fairy xx

    1. I found the cucumber seedlings right where the fairy left them at the gate. Thank you!

  6. Strange thing when my oldest son was in his first year of college. He was in his anthropology class he was the only one who grew up with out cable type of television. The professor liked him to share his life with out cable television.
    Right now hubby and I trying to figure out what we want in our vegetable garden. This year we're going to try shallots for first time.
    Plus we're trying to figure out where we want our orchard fence. The biggest problem is white tail deer.
    Coffee is on.

  7. Last week you talked about getting the garden ready for the main planting season - we are a little behind you, but I still found myself this weekend heading out to spread compost and cover it with mulch so the worms can do their work. It is such a nice feeling that we will soon be eating some produce out of the garden.

  8. I enjoyed reading this post Rhonda, as your post about gardens last week, inspired me to get out in mine on the weekend. It had been sort of abandoned for some time, for various reasons.
    But on the weekend, we whippersnipped and mowed and generally tidied up. I might manage to get my neglected veggie beds spruced up enough for some Autumn plantings. That would be great.

    I agree with you, the garden should be sat in, and pondered in, which I do when there is a semblance of order out there. It brings a sense of calm.

    Thanks for your encouragement.


  9. Hi Rhonda,

    I can just see the newest little boys growing up in your beautiful garden. What two lucky little fellows they will be!

    We have had so much fun with our grands in the garden as when their parents were growing up, we didn't have a garden. There are seven of them and while not all of them have a love of gardening, a couple of them do. Christopher wanted seeds and a watering can for his birthday...Nana was happy to oblige, plus I threw in a couple of alpine strawberry plants so that he could have a little snack all summer long. His green beans were delicious. This love of growing things from a ten year old who is much more computer savvy than his grandparents, yet loves to be in the garden just as much as spending time on the computer.

    Mary Grace loves to pull carrots. She is also the one who tells her brothers not to step on the planting beds and launches into why it is important that we have worms in the garden. Mary Grace is my daughter's child. Her mother was squeamish most of her childhood about bugs and worms. It thrills me to watch her gently pull worms out of the earth and thank them for their hard work! She and my other granddaughter, Leah, will be here in April to have "Nana Camp" when we'll officially start this year's garden. We'll also be lashing poles for a green bean teepee we'll plant and hide out in later on!

    Rhonda, my garden is not nearly as expansive as yours, but the grands are thrilled with it nonetheless, so everyone needs to know it doesn't take a large space to inspire little ones to enjoy being in the safe haven you've so wonderfully described. I love so much that you're starting another generation of gardeners. Can't wait to see pictures of your two little guys digging, growing, harvesting and hanging out in the garden this year.

    Diane in North Carolina

  10. Hi Rhonda, love your blog, just discovered you and am thrilled to find another "soul sister'.

    Gardens are a gift to the universe. We moved into our home 2 year ago, and have been transforming a large amount of suburban lawn into raised beds filled with food, herbs, flowers and fun. We have met several hundred people who drive and walk by, all curious about the rainbarrels, the raised beds, the prayer flags, and the new crazy neighbors working so hard to create a welcoming green space.

    I wish you a wonderful green time!

    Sarah in Olathe, Kansas USA

  11. I always love to see your garden. It inspires me each and every time. We have lived in our home for almost thirty years, and as you said, our gardens have changed quite a bit over the years. There is still and always room for improvement.

  12. Love my little patch of dirt and everything it supplies.
    It's a constant wonder to me.

  13. Fabulous information, thanks! :) And as usual what wonderful insight your lovely images give!

  14. It's such a different approach to spend time getting to know your land before making landscaping decisions! Makes me sad when I see all these new housing estates with bare lawns and baking concrete! It's been a year and we are no-where finished our landscaping, but it will be well planned out and thus have greater joy in it for us, as well as being likely to be more successful too!

  15. rhonda, what do you do about rats? we have rats invading our garden at the moment- they ate our small pumpkins and the only watermelon we had growing :( i have just planted heaps of seeds ready for to plant as things cool down as bit, but i'm worried about the rat population, which i think has recently exploded...

    1. We're never had a rat problem in the garden Amy. Sorry I can't help.

  16. I am in love with your blog, and your life! My partner and I are currently looking for houses and I am very keen to have a full and productive garden. Coming across your blog came at perfect timing, I know what I am looking for!! Thanks so much, you've inspired me to no end :)


  17. Hi Rhonda, we're expecting to move sometime over the next 12 months, hopefully into a property that we own ourselves (if you ignore the bank owned bit!). One of my essential criteria is that it has a yard big enough for our chooks, a proper vege garden and some room to play. Starting from scratch will be daunting, but you make it sound very possible! Thank you :-)

    1. It is very possible, Dillpickle. Just start with one thing and take small steps. There's no rush.

  18. I think that gardens are in a constant state of evolution just as we are as human beings. I love how your garden is now evolving once more for grand children. You and Hanno are a perfect example of how people grow and change with what is going on around you in a positive way and your grandchildren are very very lucky to have you both.

  19. Thank you for yet a other very interesting post, enjoyed it very much. The Kookaburra...my gran's favourite bird...she was Australian and ended up in the far north because of her husband. She used to sing to me: Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree...memories :-) hope your week is a good one, Pam :-)

  20. Our back yard was a play yard for your children and the neighborhood kids too. Then that whole group grew up and got married and the grands loved our yard. Now the grands are almost on their own and so the yard is revolving again. Life is always changing things. We have never had a yard as big as yours but there was and is still plenty of room to have vegetables and fruit trees and flowers and seating etc. Years ago there were swings and play areas and pools too ! :) We had to stop and plan out where the veggies would go and where we could rightly tuck in the trees and such but it was doable. I understand when you say you need to stop and observe your property and how the sun and weather affect us before you settle into garden beds or other things. Gardens like families change over the years. Yet some things like the sun pattern stay the same. Your grands are going to really enjoy all the hours of fun they will have in your yards!! Sarah

  21. Hi Rhonda,
    This year weather seems to be the predominant precursor to changes in the garden.
    I was just telling my husband last night about the strange things happening afoot in our garden right now. Trees are flowering when they shouldn't, fruits are bearing 'out of season' and there are insects about that I haven't seen for a while and some that seem absent when they shouldn't be. Temperature felt different as well.
    I did a check through our house diaries which we have been keeping for 4 years now and things truly are a little off this year.
    I remember in recent years farmers complaining about having to guess now about when to plant as traditional seasons have gone askew but I never really noticed it personally until this year (Although we did decide to put in another water tank last year because the year before had been so dry).
    We have also had unusually high seas and cold strong winds for the year thus far, so fishermen are also being affected.
    Have you experienced any tangible changes that have affected your produce?
    Trinidad & Tobago

    1. Not so far Vicki but I think we will have in the coming years.

  22. What a lovely article; and yes, I remember the Kookaburra song as well; I live nowhere near Australia. And up until this morning,I had never seen a Kookaburra. They are darling birds.

  23. When we moved into a new house built by our employer everyone said how wonderful it was to have a blank canvas for the garden BUT we had moved from a house that had trees that were at least 30 years old and we came to nothing! After 5 years we still do not have shade nor shelter from the winds as it is not our property and we were limited.
    In June we move to a new farm. The things we did plant here are being removed as they are not wanted by the new folk moving here. It brought me to a place of sadness to have to dismantle all the vegetable and flower gardens and not be able to plant another crop before we move on.
    In our new backyard their are lots of trees incuding a 30 year old peach tree that is loaded with fruit every year. I plan to put a couple of chairs under that tree come Summer and sit in the shade of its branches. The gardens are well established and once again I will be able to put my "mark" on the gardens that surround the home :-)
    Karen - NZ

  24. I love this post! We've always tried to abide by this bit of garden wisdom we heard once that its not about eliminating all other critters from your garden, but finding a balance for all life--bugs, birds, humans, etc. It really is a ecosystem!

    And thanks for all the photos of the birds! I love birds. My your magpies look different than ours! Those kookaburras are amazing looking creatures!


I welcome readers' comments. However, this blog never publishes business links or advertisements. If you're operating a business and want to leave your link here, I will delete your comment .

Blogger Template by pipdig