Monday, April 28, 2014

The Constant Gardener

Coming back here to live presented me with a challenge - namely 89 pot plants from large to small on the balcony, many of which were destined to be planted out in the garden.

Before they could be planted, garden beds needed to be created.

I am proud to say that one has been (with two to go). G and I worked over the Easter break to dig a bed one metre wide and 22 metres long along one boundary of the property. It curves in front of two existing mature camellias, one of which is the same age as I. G was in the throes of a head cold and the hard work just about did him in (thank heavens for life insurance in case it did!).

We had to clear a couple of metres wide and deep full of fishbone fern on the left hand end. Well, I did, while G ripped out some Morning Glory. Mistress of the Mattock, me. Fishbone fern leaves horrible little balls behind it, the seeds for more to come up, so I had to mattock it out chunk by chunk then sift through the soil to get the seeds. In short it took eight hours to weed that patch over about three days.

In the middle of my mattocking I got 'bitten' by the neighbouring palm. Cutting a long story short, two of my fingers swelled like sausages, I had to have a ring cut off, I was on antibiotics for ten days and a week after the event I pulled a 7mm thorn out of one knuckle after it had festered satisfactorily. I was so pissed off about the whole thing I got the tree fellers to get rid of the bastard.

The tree fellers also took out two japonicas which had grown into an ugly mound (covered in Morning Glory too), an under performing wisteria which had flowered maybe ten years out of the last fifty, and a Carissa which was doing OK but frankly I had other plants I'd sooner put in there.

After the tree fellers had done their stuff and Sam the Stumpy had ground the stumps, we got stuck in with mattock and shovel, digging up turf for the beds. Our lawn used to be all buffalo but over the years some crap grass has started to take over. We threw the crap grass in the green bin and reused the buffalo turf on other parts of the lawn.

In the meantime I'd been to a plant collectors' fair and bought seven hydrangeas, six salvias and a collection of other useful, pretty or edible plants such as Cordyalis, Cat's Whiskers, Campanula, Omphalodes, Liliums, Broccoli and Cauliflower, all for the new garden bed. You see, I may have 89 pots on the balcony but they aren't all destined for this particular garden bed. The six roses will have their own bed, the four or five pots of bearded Iris will be in a third bed, and my orchid collection will be staying on the balcony.

I was able to move a number of pots from the balcony down to the new bed:

  • 2 miniature fruit trees, a peach and a nectarine
  • 1 Camellia Sasanqua Paradise Vanessa
  • 1 Camellia Japonica Black Magic (red flower)
  • 1 Hibiscus
  • 1 pot of Melissa (lemon balm) which divided into a number of smaller plants
  • 1 Brazilian Cherry. This was quite large and we lowered it over the balcony with thick rope. Digging the hole for it nearly toppled G.
  • 1 Tibouchina Jules
  • 2 Hydrangeas - Ayesha and Endless Summer. Ayesha was in a big tub too.
  • 1 Nellie Kelly Blueberry bush
  • 1 pot of Patchouli
  • 6 pelargoniums, some scented, some just with pretty flowers
  • 1 Deutzia
  • 1 Japanese Windflower


Because I'm too lazy to photo stitch a panorama together, here are three images showing the new garden beds.
Left hand side

Centre, with my two mature Camellias and the two fruit trees in front of them. Lots of veggies planted here!

Right hand side. The Brazilian Cherry is the biggest of the plants in the new garden and stands nearly 1.5 metres.

The overall colour scheme is white, red, blue and some existing pale pink (i.e. the mature camellias). I love strong colours and the red and blue salvias should look truly striking when they grow and are in full bloom.

This afternoon I planted some dwarf peas in the right hand side of the bed. All the salvias etc planted there won't grow enormous overnight but I'm hoping for good things by springtime, by which time the peas will all be harvested. And I can plant tomatoes there then.

This is exciting for me. I love gardening. I love growing things. We are hampered as the garden is built on sandstone; parts of the lawn only have about 20cm of soil under them before you hit bedrock. Mum never wanted big garden beds, even though she was a keen gardener too. She had some shrubs along here, but I think the whole area will look fab when the taller plants grow at the back and the salvias and metre high plants grow in front of them, with annuals, veggies and smaller perennials at the front.

So now I'll be a constant gardener. Having created this lot it's my job to keep the weeds out of it. I need to mulch it. I also need to build a little wall to ward the grass off and stop it encroaching, but that will happen when we build the second garden bed in another part of the garden, as it will be a raised bed with a retaining wall. Until then it'll be me and my trusty lawn shears. I don't trust G with the whipper snipper, he's just as likely to behead the broccoli. 

Stay tuned for close up pics when we get a nice sunny day. It's been raining on and off since we planted out, which is a good thing for the young plants and those older ones who are probably shuddering in shock at being transplanted.

My gardening jeans are standing up by themselves with the dirt in them, my gardening gloves stink. Stink, I say! I'll have to wash them too. During the week it took to dig and create this garden I worked an average three or so hours a day, some days more, and it wasn't girly stuff with a trowel, it was mattocking or pulling out Morning Glory (bastard of a thing) and poisoning it. I was hauling pots and tubs down from the house and being happily, exhaustingly active. After the second or third day my muscles stopped complaining and I reckon that mattock did wonders for the bingo wings. Beats working at a computer any day!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Mid-Century Modern House - the Kitchen

I love a blue and white kitchen - there is something fresh and cool about cooking with restful blue around you. This is the kitchen I have known for most of my life. It was fitted out in 1960 and the only major things that have been replaced are:

  • the wall oven - replaced in 1985, and the current one is still working
  • the fridge - replaced in the 80s and then in 2002
  • the dishwasher - replaced twenty years ago
  • the floor covering - replaced in about 1970 with a repulsive golden vinyl with specks of gold glitter in it (which was a bugger to wash and polish), then thankfully thanks to a water leak and a subsequent insurance payout, replaced eight years ago with something much fresher and more classic
  • the original extractor fan was replaced with a range hood in the 1980s
  • the original in sink disposal unit (which could gobble up pieces of glass, a favourite party trick of my Dad's apparently) died a death and an Insinkerator was installed in the 80s. I have never tried to put pieces of glass through it!

So… I still have the original stovetop:
Here's the stove in situ. I need to repaint all the cupboards and drawers. The cats have scratched the bottom ones here and there, and the colour I chose - Dulux White Birch, because it wasn't stark white - has turned too creamy. I'll repaint in… a stark white!

And look at this! It's the panel for the original dishwasher. We left it there as the middle knob controls the Insinkerator.

Over this side are the posh glasses and dishes in a display cabinet. More posh stuff in the cupboards and drawers below.

The walls had their original paint until 2002 when I repainted them in much the same colours. I used a darker blue on the centre servery. The original paint on the centre column and bar was two-tone, where you paint a dark colour first, then a light colour, and rub off the light colour on the textured bits. I tried that and failed miserably! Here's the centre servery area - the drawer which is pulled out is the everyday cutlery drawer, and it's a two way drawer, so you can load clean cutlery in from the sink side and pull it out on the kitchen table side. Clever thinking from my parents!

  Here are some kitchen vignettes - the original plant stand  - love it!

Here's a wider view of our kitchen dining area. Nice floor vinyl, eh?

My Mixmaster, a perfect retro fit.

This little donkey has been around for longer than I have and has always lived on top of the fridge. You can put a little pot plant in his wagon but we never have. I think he was a gift from my paternal grandmother.

These oil bottles are well cool! Aren't they cute? The cork is a bit buggered on the French one but I can still get it to work. I don't remember Mum ever using them but I intend to for parties etc. They are too good to leave on the shelf.

More funky late 50s kitchenalia, a lovely big salt cellar and more oil bottles. They are made here in Australia. I don't know if they may have been wedding presents in 1950. They are glazed and unglazed ceramic.

We have a number of feature tiles studding the walls, all of Australian native plants. 

More smart design - a pullout chopping board, proudly showing the signs of age. A huge (for the time) utensil drawer is underneath.

I have friends who keep pestering me to get a new kitchen, but honestly we can't afford it and this one still works. True, I have to replace a handle on one of the big drawers as it's broken off, and there is one big corner cupboard we call the TARDIS as it's amazing how much you can fit into it, which needs slamming very hard to close. But hey, I'm used to it. 

All the cupboards and drawers are solid wood. The drawers are dovetailed. The quality that went into building this kitchen, which is built, frankly, like a brick shithouse, is amazing. I couldn't afford to replace it with the same level of quality, even though new kitchens have some fab pantry features. It's lasted 54 years and fingers crossed will last many more. New kitchens are designed to last 25 years at the most, and who needs the expense of replacing a kitchen every 20 years or so?

Like much of this house, the kitchen is original. As I don't intend to sell in the foreseeable future, I can live quite happily with my 1960 world.

A place where's it's usually 1973 - Radio Daze II

Two years ago I wrote a post called Radio Daze, which chronicled my radio stations of choice since childhood. Reading that post again today I giggled at the second para. I quote:

"As a child, Mum had the kitchen radio tuned to an easy listening AM station (2CH). This was the 60s and very early 70s so I was barely aware of the Beatles' existence until they had split up! Although I believe the easy listening station played Obladee Obladah occasionally, and Mum quite liked that one."

Why I giggled is that now I too listen to 2CH. I also giggled at my awful use of English. I should have started the para with, "When I was a child, Mum had…" But I digress.

This post is about radio, and how I'm listening to the music from my childhood and teens for the most part. Here's a station which plays The Beatles, The Monkees, Elvis Presley, Leo Sayer, Abba, The Beach Boys, Van Morrison and a whole lot of other oldies-but-goodies. There is the odd old classic from Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, too. Sadly, because it's an easy listening station, I don't get a cheerful earful of Suzi Quatro, which is a real shame. There are some songs from the 1980s and a few from the last twenty years which make it into the playlist, but the amusing thing is that for much of the day I can hear the same songs I was listening to forty years ago. If I'm having a black day with the computer a blast of Abba's "Waterloo" can cheer me up no end.

The choice of playlist is interesting in that 2CH will play a maximum of two upbeat numbers you can bop around the kitchen to, then slip in something slow and often, dare I say, boring. I think there is a real underlying reason for this. The station caters for seniors, and wouldn't want to be responsible for a listener bopping a bit too hard and having a heart attack/falling and breaking a hip.  Viz: Leo Sayer's "One Man Band" was playing 30 seconds ago. Now it's the Hollies with "He's Not Heavy, He's My Brother."

Songs on the playlist have a long life, too. I wonder if this is because those listeners heading towards the autumn years don't have the memory they used to! F'rinstance "Little Green Bag" by the George Baker Selection has been on the playlist for a good six weeks. Nancy Sinatra's "Sugartown" had a good run lately too, and there's another… but I can't remember it! D'Oh! What was I saying about memory?!

Given the target audience, the ads are shockers: retirement villages, wills and guardianship from the NSW Trustee, home help for the elderly, care alert alarms… I mentally tune them out for the most part, because I'm light years away from their core audience.

Because 2CH is affiliated with the Council of Churches there are regular religious announcements urging us all to turn to Jesus, but that's a small price to pay for a playlist which is, on the whole, pretty good.

Excuse me, the radio is playing "Everlasting Love". Remember that by Doug Parkinson? It's time to dance around the kitchen.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A potted (or binned) history of rubbish collection

I have lived in this house for most of my life. I came here when I was six days old. Seven years ago I left for a sojourn in Sydney's west, and now I'm back. And I'm pondering the changes in our Council services which have taken place over the years. It's a wet afternoon, and I can't get out and wreak havoc on the weeds in the lawn. Besides, the green bin for garden waste is full. Overfull. There are two bin-sized piles of garden rubbish either side of it and I think the only way I'll ever get rid of them is by a trip to the tip.

When I was a kid there was no such thing as a green bin. You had a traditional old-fashioned garbage tin of galvanised tin or plastic, which was emptied twice and week, and everything went in it. Lawn clippings, paper stuff, dog poo, glass bottles, food waste, you name it. You crammed as much as you could in there and if necessary sat on the lid. (This of course made the lids jam on the galvanised bins, and if they jammed too hard the bin men wouldn't collect them.) If you had a plastic bin with two clips at the side you smartly rammed a stick between the two clips so the neighbour's dogs didn't open your bins in the wee small hours and strew your rubbish all over the lawn or worse, the street. Many are the times I was embarrassed to see my used sanitary napkins, half-chewed, obviously with the best blood-soaked bits sucked out of them, in the middle of the street. Neighbours back then were a bit more lax about locking their animals up at night, I should point out.

Then in the 1980s or maybe the early 1990s Otto arrived. Otto was a big green bin on wheels and got emptied once a week by a lorry with a mechanical arm which picked Otto up and gave him a damned good shaking into a hole in the side of the tanker area. Again you shoved everything garbagey into Otto but there was the bonus that the dogs couldn't get at it as Otto was too tall. At first there was some snorting resistance to Otto, chiefly I think because the emptying wasn't as often and also because - don't mention the war! - Otto was a German invention. One wit sent a cartoon in to the local paper showing an orderly row of Otto bins, each one sporting a Hitler moustache. The editor published it.

Once people discovered dogs couldn't open Otto and display their rubbish all over the neighbourhood, Otto gained acceptance. Otto came with a small black (nameless) open topped companion for recyclable glass, paper and plastic, which was emptied once a month if the dogs didn't sort through it first. We were now instructed to put our recyclable rubbish into the little open-topped container, which would then be hand sorted at a recycling facility. Mum, ever suspicious, kept up her twice-yearly illegal backyard bonfire in a galvanised bucket, burning things like old bank statements and utility rates notices; she was worried someone may steal her identity. She had never put private papers in the bin. Mum was years ahead of her time :-).

With the new system, we were now forbidden to use our 'general rubbish' bin for garden rubbish. There would be a quarterly garden rubbish collection. You had to chop up your rubbish to a maximum certain length and tie it in bundles with a natural fibre string or twine which would be biodegradable. This was bloody pointless for smaller things like weeds; how do you tie up a huge pile of oxalis, each little weed about 15 centimetres long? What about grass clippings? We did what everyone else in our suburb did. Put them in a bin liner and into the general garbage collection.

Around about the turn of the century our Council upgraded its Otto system. Otto became known colloquially as a wheelie bin, because the new bins weren't German.

They introduced a new bin-based recycling system, with a large blue-topped wheelie bin for paper and a large yellow-topped one for plastic and glass. As a result, the size of the normal general rubbish bin shrank, but you can pay more for a bigger one. In the years since I'd come home as a tiny, black-haired wailing baby product packaging had increased to an insane level and landfill was becoming a serious issue. Those little black open-topped bins weren't cutting the mustard as people had much more stuff to put in them than ever before.

Finally we got green bins for garden waste, taking the number of bins you have to store at your place to four. The green bins would be emptied once a month, which was a huge improvement on leaving piles of twigs and branches, tied in twine, somewhere in your garden for up to nearly three months.

About this time I moved to western Sydney, where my Council bins consisted of a general rubbish bin and a recycling bin which took paper, plastic and glass all together. The general rubbish, into which I unashamedly put garden clippings as there was no green bin available at all from our Council, was emptied weekly and the recycling one fortnightly. Both bins were economy-sized. We didn't often fill up our general rubbish one but the recycling one was always filled to overflowing. Why the hell just about every utensil, tool, or piece of hardware you buy has to come hermetically sealed in plastic so tough it breaks your kitchen scissors is beyond me. But I digress.

Now I'm back 'home' I'm delighted that our Council has this year implemented a fortnightly service for the green bin. It goes out with the yellow bin and there's a handy if slightly complicated chart about all this stuck on the side of our fridge.

Given my fanatical and enjoyable return to working in a bigger garden, fortnightly green bins services aren't enough. I'm actually considering buying a little mulcher which will turn my garden shite into useful garden mulch. And I'm looking forward to having a compost bin again, as I get the guilts about chucking veggie waste out when it could be composted into something good for my garden.

As for those old plastic bins with plastic lids and clips each side, the bins of my childhood… you can still buy them in hardware stores. We have one in the garage used as an overflow collection for the green bin and it's full of dry leaves. When it's empty it can double as an ice bin when we have parties. I find it touching that, considering every Council in Sydney must use wheelie bins these days, there is still a market for these old favourites. What puzzles me is that the manufacturer never came up with a more dog-proof solution such as a built-in stick to go through the clips.