Monday, February 26, 2018

The Sleepout #9 – Stormwater Drainage

If I was ever going to address the issue of stormwater drainage under the sleepout, then NOW would be the best time to do it. In view of all the decking I’m putting around the sleepout, once the decking’s in place it will be too difficult to deal with it later.

So, after figuring out where my posts for the decking would go I dug a trench between them which continued under the sleepout in a downhill direction.

There is always a lot of water seeping through the soil after it rains so I opted for nova-coil piping which has lots of little holes in it which will act as a kind of sieve so all the water can drain out of the soil and escape down the pipe. The free draining volcanic scoria will also help the water to drain away. The aim was to create a kind of soak hole outside the perimeter of the sleepout which will collect any of the water seeping through the soil. Then, by means of a vertical section of drain connecting to the nova-coil the plan was to finish off with a layer of concrete shaped like a dish to collect any surface water and feeding it down the same pipe. 

This required a bit of support by means of a small retaining wall which would essentially act as a dam holding everything in place. 

I also dug a trench under the sleepout using more nova-coil pipe and back filling with scoria. I made sure there was a reasonable gradient on the trench so no water would sit and pool anywhere but instead would drain away quickly. Hopefully this will reduce the amount of moisture sitting around under the sleepout and this will contribute to keeping the sleepout warmer and dryer than before. 

Finally, I created the concrete dish on top. Now I can carry on with completing the deck.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Alphabetical Index to Articles

This is my 100th blog post.

With that many articles it is difficult even for me to keep track of everything I’ve written. And also because I sometimes like to go back and update articles I’ve written, I decided to create a detailed index with links to various subjects to help make finding stuff easier. I hope you find this helpful, although it is by no means complete and will likely be updated frequently.

Flowering Plants:
Potted Colour

Fruit Trees:
Plums (3)

Capsicums (Red)
Capsicums (Green)
Winter Crops

Building a BBQ
Building a Sleepout (8)
Retaining Walls

Garden Layout:
Raised Gardens
Retaining Walls
The Archway
The Rockery
The Pergola

Garden Essentials:
Worm Farming

Garden Inspiration:
Auckland Botanic Gardens
Auckland Winter Gardens
The Great Greenhithe Garden Tour

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Sleepout #8: Six years on...

Note: This article is part 8 in a series of articles about the sleepout I built in my back yard back in 2011. If you want to read the whole series of articles from the beginning start here

It’s been six years now since I first got the idea of building the sleepout and I have absolutely no regrets. In that time it’s been put to continuous use, usually for visitor accommodation and/or storage.

Admittedly, it’s not ideal for use all year round. Auckland’s weather has something to do with that as we get a lot of rain and despite the fact that it’s well insulated it does get a bit cold in the winter.

But as anyone in NZ will tell you, Auckland has a serious housing shortage, a problem that’s been growing for some years now, which has caused a real problem with availability and inevitably the cost of housing has gone through the roof.

For me personally, (as some readers of this Blog may know) my life was turned upside down soon after the sleepout was built, when my wife of 27 years passed away following a 3 year battle with breast cancer. Since then I’ve remarried and between my new wife and myself, we have 6 daughters between us, mostly all grown up thankfully, but each one of them has had their difficulties finding (and keeping) a suitable roof over their heads.

Hence the sleepout is getting more use than it’s ever had. So this year I decided to focus on this part of the garden and do what I can to make it more comfortable and more usable. It was always my intention to do something along those lines but now there’s a need to shift it up a gear.

So, the first thing I planned to do was build a deck that goes all the way around the sleepout, in order to create more outdoor living space. Unfortunately, the guidelines on sleepouts prevent me from enlarging the sleepout itself. As you would expect from a keen gardener like me, it was important to ensure it blends in nicely with the garden.

So, the first job was to dig out the area where the deck would go, cutting into the bank sufficiently to create a reasonable space for the deck. That also meant there were 2 Pungas (tree ferns) that needed to be removed which I relocated to other parts of the garden. There were also 3 Lancewoods which were surprisingly easy to relocate. In the picture above one punga has already been removed with one still remaining. The Lancewoods are the 3 skinny trunks on the right of the photo.


I figured getting rid of more of the vegetation from around the sleepout may let more light in which will help keep the sleepout warmer and drier. Besides that, they were simply in the way.

I decided to continue with Keystone for the retaining wall, so after measuring everything out I figured out where I needed to install a couple of timber piles and a beam to support the deck. I was careful to ensure the height was just right so the new decking would be flush level with the old decking. Then I continued framing it up with 150x50mm joists.

Ultimately, the intention is to create some outdoor living space that is also weathertight, so I needed to install some posts and beams to hold up the roofing which would tie it in with existing roofing on the sleepout. This was all bolted to the framing for the deck which could only be done before the retaining wall was properly finished off otherwise I couldn't drill the holes and get the bolts through as the retaining wall butts up tightly to the decking.

I’m pretty sure this will eventually create a nice outdoor space especially from spring to autumn, and that bank will look nice once it’s all planted out. 

The next job that needs doing involves a bit of storm water drainage. Part of the project so far has included re-positioning and levelling a large water tank that collects stormwater. The gully where the sleepout is situated is a natural water-course. Up until now I have not done anything to address all the water that flows directly underneath the sleep out following a heavy downpour. 

That's my next job. Read about it here.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Surprise Gift Provides Needed Inspiration

A good friend of mine named Tovio rang me one day last summer to ask if he could drop something off at my place. I had no idea what it was or what I had done to prompt him to do this, but I was delighted when he arrived with a planter box he’d made and wanted to give it to me.

I absolutely love it and I found the perfect spot for it in front of my home office. I was so pleased with it I wanted to find an appropriate plant to put in it as soon as possible. I eventually decided to buy a new hibiscus which is another tropical plant that seems to do quite well in Auckland and I was sure it would do well in this spot which is very hot and sunny in the afternoons.

I was very interested in how Tovio made this planter, which he had put together using some surplus materials from a job he had done where he installs imitation stone as cladding on houses, fireplace surrounds and other garden features, including letterboxes. The more I looked at this planter box the more I realised how well this material compliments the style of my house which has a kind of colonial character to it but also the material would lend itself nicely to the tropical garden I’ve created out the back. So I started thinking about how I could incorporate this concept into my garden.

One area that has been bothering me for some time is a little garden space at the back of the house where the back garden begins. I put this in years ago using ‘half round tanalised timber edging’ which despite being tanalised has slowly rotted because of an overflow pipe from a hot water cylinder which constantly drips water into this garden. So I decided to ask Tovio if he could install some of his imitation stone into this space, which he was more than happy to do for me.

After installing some tanalised plywood into the space (on both sides) it was ready to have the stone attached to it. If you look carefully in the picture (above left) you may notice how I also added an extra timber rail above the space as the thickness of the stone material would protrude beyond what was there originally by about 50mm. I thought it would look better if the top edge of the stones were concealed.

At this point Tovio set about installing the stones, which are actually made of solid concrete, using a special waterproof adhesive. After that he pointed all the gaps with a cement mix to which he’d added a charcoal colour. If you live in Auckland and you'd like something similar done at your place, why not get in touch with Tovio. Learn more about Tovio's Stone Cladding Service here.


After the stone work was completed, I made a custom fit box which I lined with black polythene to sit in the garden where the pipe was dripping and planted it out with a Maiden-hair fern, which had previously been growing in this part of the garden. There should now be no issues with rotting substrate and I know the maiden-hair will thrive in this position. I also added some mother-in-laws tongue which I felt also worked well in this space. (Picture above right shows the plants thriving after just a few months.)

To complete the effect I laid a couple of flat stones in the garden on which I would sit a couple of pot plants, the large bright blue one creating a feature in this area with a Plectranthus ‘Velvet Elvis’ to compliment the colour of the pot.

Although it appears to obscure the stonework, you get glimpses of it as you walk past, in between the pots. I added some white pebbles to finish it off. I’m very pleased with the stonework and I’m keen to use more of it around the garden. I’m already cooking up a few ideas on that — watch this space.

Monday, July 17, 2017

More Retaining Walls

One of the most challenging aspects of my property is the hilly contour of the land. The property rises steeply off the road, flattens out where the house sits and then descends into a deep gully before rising steeply again to my garden which in turn, sits on the edge of a cliff! All of this has required a tremendous amount of time, energy and expense building retaining wall after retaining wall. I’m pleased to say that most of the work has now been done except for one last area which is in the gully itself, where I built the sleepout a few years ago.

Over the years since I have been at this property I have acquired a number of palm trees and other tropical plants which have now outgrown their pots and need to be planted in the ground. However, while the gully seemed to be the most appropriate place to plant them, the bank where I had the most space was simply too steep, hence the need for more retaining walls.

The space I refer to is in the lower right corner of this picture (left). If you look carefully, you may be able to see 2 big tree stumps which I would need to work around.

If you want to see what this area used to look like a few years ago when the trees were still there click here


I opted to build with timber as all the tree roots in the way made any other option seem too difficult and also rather impractical. Timber is also a cheaper option. Having said that, getting up and down to the actual worksite with ANY material was always going to be difficult. After climbing up and down with what seemed like dozens of buckets of concrete, the job seemed to take forever.


It seems I may have underestimated just how steep this bank was, because even after building the wall to 1.5m high (the maximum allowable without a permit), the slope was still too steep to create the effect I wanted, so I decided to carve a flat footing into the bank and create another small retaining wall using keystones, all the while trying to work around the huge tree stump that was in the way.

After finishing off the keystone wall and back-filling with garden mix that part of the garden was ready for planting...

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Going Potty

I recently discovered 2 of the largest Garden Centres in Auckland. They each carry an unbelievable amount of stock that if combined would fill several football fields. They're on the northern and southern fringes of Auckland and as far as I could tell when I visited, had only one person running each store. Needless to say,  the presentation at their stores was a very low key affair – a kind of second hand junk shop/wreckers yard style of Garden Centre.
But what they lacked in presentation they more than make up for in unique items for sale including plants, statuary and pots. And when I say pots, I mean a GIZILLIAN pots in every colour, shape and style you can imagine. I was like a kid in a candy shop.

At first it was a little overwhelming. With so many choices, I had to think really carefully about what I wanted to achieve. I've already got a nice collection of pots around the garden which I've collected over many years but none of them are particularly big, mainly because the bigger they are the more expensive they get.
But there's something special about pots in the garden that you just can't capture any other way, so it was time to splash out and get a few big pots.

Lately I’ve been getting all inspired and thinking about Babylon. I saw the movie Alexander recently too and was intrigued by the depiction of ancient Babylon with its infamous hanging gardens. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about that with reference to my garden but I was reminded of it and I reckon that would be a fitting theme to try and create when selecting my pots, especially for the gully in the middle of my property.
So when I saw this set of 3 pots with this dimpled relief pattern, for some reason it made me think of Nebuchadnezzar’s beard and the ornate surroundings of his throne. So that was that... I had to have them!

At this stage I’ve got a vague plan of how I want to use them in the garden and where I want to put them. But it wasn't until I got them home that I realised there’s a bit of preparatory work I need to do to achieve the effect I’m after... like levelling the ground where I want them to sit, because they won’t look right if they’re not level and for that I may need to mix some concrete. They're pretty big and heavy especially once they’ve got a big plant in them, so they'll need a solid base to sit on.

Anyway, the picture above left shows what I did with the smaller one. A large buxus topiary or spherical hedge that I got on a subsequent visit to the same store creates quite a feature in front of the house. As you can see the plant is in a plastic pot inside the ceramic pot, so that if I ever decide to change things around I won't have to upend this heavy pot and break my back (or the pot!) getting it out later.

I managed to find a couple of bigger plastic pots to use as ‘liners’ for the larger ceramic pots too. Into one of them I’ve repotted one of my Bungalow palms, which will eventually get quite big. I’m thinking of having a pair of these, one on either side of the entrance to the garden at the top of the wooden steps, which will create a kind of palm grove in this part of the garden.

I’ll post more on the pots later...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Garden's calling me...

I haven't written anything on here for almost a year!

It's been just over a year now since Izumi died and I haven't lived in my house for several months. Needless to say the Garden has been the last thing on my mind for quite a while so it's still looking rather neglected. I have many fond memories of the garden and I often find myself thinking about it. I miss it. Especially do I enjoy the pleasantness of a nice cold beer in the garden over the summer months.

With the arrival of Spring and a brief visit to the garden recently I am starting to feel like the garden's calling me, not only because there's so much work that needs doing, but there's a few encouraging signs  of growth that have recaptured my interest.

About this time last year I planted a miniature climbing rose and have been gradually training it to grow over my galvanised iron archway. I've tried growing several things over the archway in the past but this is the first time I've tried growing a plant whose sole purpose is to produce flowers.

It's just starting to flower for the first time and will be part of an interesting new direction I intend to take for the garden, with more attention given to flowering plants than previously.

As you can see in the background, the garden is still a jungle of weeds. By the way, that's a Feijoa tree I've planted on the back boundary by the fence, which I planted in about March/April earlier this year. I'm still keen to have lots of fruit growing in the garden.

So you can imagine my delight when I discovered I've got a new peach tree growing, which self-seeded next to the compost bin without me noticing and is now taller than me and currently in blossom.

It's a completely different variety from my other peach tree with large pink blossoms so I'll be interested to see what (if any) fruit grows on it this year. It's not growing where I would've thought to grow it as it's not in full light, but it seems to like it there so I'm just going to leave it. At least it won't be in the way as it's right on the edge of the bush.

I'm planning to return to the house at the end of the year. Hopefully by then I'll be ready to roll up my sleeves and get stuck in.