A water-saving front yard


During the Summer of 06/07, water restrictions in Melbourne hit my front lawn with a vengeance, so much so that most of the time it was either dead or overgrown with golden oxalis (soursob) weeds. Kim and I decided to do something about it. The previous year, my father, Adam and I built a white picket fence around the frontage which stopped the local riff raff from cutting the corner (we live on a corner block) and walking across the yard. The fence was nice and sturdy, and cordoned off the area, so now we could landscape the yard.

Knowing the predictions regarding climate change and the likelihood of reduced rainfall in our area, we decided that the lawn was a waste of precious water and effort. A Native and drought tolerant planting would be the way to go, with one exception. Kim wanted an Ornamental weeping cherry tree as part of the planting, and I didn’t condone the idea, but had a funny feeling that it would struggle to survive with limited love and attention.

We chose a concrete type of paver that would be laid as the garden bed border. In hindsight, I should have used recycled bricks for the edging because I now know that the process of making concrete is a large producer of GHG.

Kim and I started early in the morning as we know it was going to be warm in the afternoon. We had to dig a level trench about 12 metres long, and it was very hard work, mainly because part of it was under a large eucalyptus tree and the roots were very shallow. So out came the axe and mattock to cut through, as I knew that a few copped roots would not harm the tree. It took six hours to dig and lay the border, and by the time we were finished it was 36 degrees Celsius! It was definitely time for a swim in the pool. It was a tough slog but worth it.

The next day we planted a row of Photinia around the fence line ensuring that there was a good handful of blood and bone fertilizer in each hole. Then we laid weed matting and pine bark to top it off as mulch. If I remember correctly it got to 40 degrees that day and the plants were well watered in for the next few days and then once a week to ensure survival. We were so tired after this weekends work, we didn’t do any more work for a month. In fact I was so put off by the whole thing, that Kim suggested that some professional help would be in order.

We had been recommended by friends a local guy who ran the “Grey Army” franchise. Greg was a nice bloke who quoted a decent hourly rate and all we had to supply was the materials and plants. Seven more garden beds later, and many loads of soil, all of the plants were in the ground and well watered. All that remained was the 3 cubic metres of Tuscan style pebble to finish off the paths around the beds. We decided to elicit the help of Amy, Amy’s then boyfriend Shaun, Megan, Kim, Ben and myself, and do it all without any outside help. Over the course of the next weekend we laid the weed matting to inhibit weed growth, and all the pebbles. Boy, were we tired after all of that, but what a sense of achievement! It looked fantastic.

Kim and I were really impressed with our handy work. Sixteen or so months on, the cherry tree died and so did some of the smaller plants, however the remainder are surviving well. It all grows on limited hand watering, and mainly survives on the limited rainfall we now receive. I fertilize with blood and bone once a year and keep the beds well mulched to about 5cm. I only hand water if we have a long dry spell over summer and leave it be over the other seasons.

By drought proofing the front yard, we have halved our home water usage based on previous years usage, which was a great result. The project cost us about $3500 all up (including Greg) and was well worth the effort. I never have to mow the lawn again! I have had many positive comments from passers-by when I was first watering in the garden. I am very proud that we did it as a family (except Adam. I can’t remember where he was).

Special thanks go to Kim, Amy, Megan, Shaun, Ben and of course Butch.

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