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A Garden in the Adelaide Hills, Australia

We bought our home and garden in the Adelaide Hills 35 years ago. The house is a farmhouse cottage subsequently made larger to fit generations of children. When we came here there was hardly any garden, just rough pasture grass, a large Lombardy poplar, a huge Ponderosa pine, two ancient holly trees and two equally ancient camellia trees, a row of five mature walnut trees and a small apple orchard. We are down to the walnuts, one apple tree and the hollies and camellias, plus what we have done ourselves.

The garden is on a gentle southerly slope with a western exposure so it is sunny for most of the day. The soil is very thin loam with shales, quartz pebbles and ironstone nodules underneath and sandstone bedrock below that. Most of the topsoil was bulldozed off by a previous owner and sold to landscape contractors. We have to work with what little was left behind. The soil saturates quickly with winter rains and dries out equally quickly in summer. Fortunately the rocky, fractured subsoil enables tree and shrub roots to get a foothold and they can sustain themselves on the small reserves of moisture trapped there.

We get reasonable rainfall but all in winter with a very occasional summer storm. As everywhere, our rainfall is decreasing. In our case this decrease is from an average of about 30" a year, as shown by historic records, to around 24", and the rainy season is contracting so that our hot, dry summers are getting longer. In the house we use tap water from the public supply. Our garden gets all the grey water from the house via two long and deep drainage pits on either side of the house which have been in place for at least 100 years. The septic system outflow also soaks away via a sump in another part of the garden so we count ourselves very fortunate that previous owners didn't modernise to deep drainage. In 2007 we turned about a third of the garden upside-down to install two 30,000-litre rainwater tanks that collect rain from the roof of the house. That water is used to water my greenhouse and the old-fashioned 'dry' pot plants we love to grow. Plans are afoot to harvest rain from our garage roof too. This water will go to our vegetable patch.

Since the house was begun in 1846 we try to keep the garden fairly simple in a cottagey kind of way. There are no grand features. Most of the interest is created by plants supplemented by pots, tubs and topiaries. A long driveway has been planted with trees to supplement the walnuts down one side, thus creating a long shady tunnel that is so welcoming in summer. Our swimming pool has been decommissioned and decked over to make an outdoor living space. Underneath this decking the pool still holds rainwater which from time to time is pumped out over the garden, though not in any organised or managed way. It's enough to saturate the subsoil and keep the trees in good shape when heatwaves lasting 10 days and more dehydrate everything. In recent years we have had a vegetable patch, not large but sufficient to grow a variety of useful food: tomatoes, chillies, herbs, pumpkins, zucchini, rhubarb, broad beans - just the things we really like and use often.

Above all the garden is for relaxation and pleasure and having fun with plants.

Standard wisteria in late spring with grass slowly yellowing,
lumpy clipped Japanese box.

Topiaries in winter to relieve the impact of deciduous
Rosa pomifera
‘Duplex’ and Persian lilac.

In my tomato patch, early summer.

Agastache mexicana contrasts with red BBQ.

Pot plants by the back door including golden-leaved
dwarf pine and miniature cyclamen.

Peucedanum multiradiatum - an evergreen
umbellifer from the Canary Islands.

General view of the decommissioned swimming pool, now decked over
and my new greenhouse for growing 'dry' plants from South Africa,
Madagascar, and the Americas.

Ground works prior to installing two new
rainwater tanks.

Persimmon and flowering yucca - Autumn.

Cotyledon orbiculata - tall form.

Tall bearded irises in red, brown and purple show off with
Cotinus coggygria
'Royal Purple'.

Golden bay tree in a pot with Lantana ‘Gol-Gol’
in front (also in a pot) with seed heads of
Allium schubertii
showing. Rosa ‘Mons Tillier’
in the background.
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