Saturday, December 18, 2010

Random stuff

This is a bit of a random collection of photos and ramblings, in no particular order....

The Christmas tree looks a lot better than last year, thanks to the addition of some new decorations. Swapping a four-foot tree for a seven-foot tree and changing colour schemes meant we had a lot of empty space on the new tree.

Thanks to the trusty $2 Shop, I have these...

...and these...

...and these...

Plus these from K Mart...

...and these from the Reject Shop....

Add some coordinating wrapping (of course, because I'm a bit OCD), and it's looking almost perfect. Still room for some more bead garlands next year, plus more lights, I think.


Of COURSE, now that we've had our shade awning installed, ready for the blistering summer heat...there isn't any. It's done nothing but rain for the past few days and more rain is forecast pretty much for the rest of December. Great.


I bought this tower of gift boxes about five years ago from Target to use as a Christmas table centrepiece.

It came filled with different kinds of lollies, which of course were nought but a memory by the time New Year rolled around. I kept the boxes though, and after much nagging by The Baby, decided to refill them today.

I may have to do an audit each night to make sure they last more than a week.


Remember way back in winter, when I pruned the weeping mulberry and it looked like a stick? Here, I'll refresh your memory:

I'd never really grown a weeping tree before. Well, there was the cherry I put in at the old place, but we sold before I saw the result of my one and only pruning experiment there. So I was a bit terrified that it wouldn't grow back, or would turn out looking a bit mental. I needn't have worried:

Awesome gardening skills, or what?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Q & A

I had a comment on an old post that included a question. Replies can get lost when the post is from way back when, so I thought I'd answer it in a new post instead. Maybe it might even be helpful to someone else wondering the same thing. :)

Q: I do have a question about your mulch near the slab of your house. Do you find moisture a problem being in contact with the slab? And do you have direct sunlight to the front of your house? I love the vegetation in front of the house, but I'm getting advice from pavers not to put anything near the slab. ( due to the fact I have no direct sunlight to the facade either).

A: I've heard a few people say that their builder told them that they shouldn't construct garden beds directly against their house, but these are some of the points we took into account when making decisions:

- Our garden beds, including mulch, are below the damp course in our brickwork. Building anything or heaping up soil past that point, especially over the weepholes, is a big no-no.

- Termites aren't generally a problem in this area. If you're in a termite-prone region, you might want to get expert advice and/or install a reticulated termite barrier before doing any landscaping against the house. We never saw a termite in 22 years at our old house, and termite damage is pretty rare around here, so we're a bit blase about it.

- The soil here is extremely reactive (which means it expands and contracts a LOT depending on rainfall), but our slab has been engineered with that in mind. We paid a premium for the slab to be upgraded to Class-whatever, so it had better be damn well built to withstand a bit of moisture....

- If you use the right kind of mulch and you've prepared your soil well, the soil ought to stay damp, not the mulch. That's a whole other post though.

- What the hell else are you going to do around the edge of the house if you don't build garden beds? Circumnavigate the building with solid concrete? Over my dead body.

- Apart from said concrete, anything you put against the house will get damp in wet weather; soil topped with mulch, soil topped with pebbles, toppings or gravel, whatever... consistent rain will penetrate the top layers and it'll be wet underneath.

The house has been completed for two years now, and we've had very minor movement - probably as much from the frame timbers shrinking as the slab moving - resulting in some small gaps opening between walls and skirting boards and walls and cornices in a few places. All perfectly normal and nothing a bit of No More Gaps and paint can't fix.

I think that as long as you make sure your damp course is above the soil/mulch line and your weepholes are clear, you should be fine.

As for the direct sunlight thing, yes, the front of our house faces south-east, so it gets morning sun. Depending on climate, especially if you have high rainfall, a true south aspect might be a different story.

Of course, I'm not a builder or concreter or any other kind of expert, so taking my word for it may not be the smartest move you've ever made.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The blind man came!

Our folding arm awning was installed today. At last...some much-needed shade for the sliding door:

The frame comes in limited colours, so we've matched it to the stone beige window frames. The cassette is available in the full range of Colorbond colours, so we matched that to the spouting. I chose the dark blind fabric just because. :)

Because of the western aspect, we've had the awning angled downwards, right to the top of the fence, to block out maximum sun.

Apart from a couple of hours in the evening, the glass should be well shaded most of the day. You can see in the above photo that the sun angles in from the side - once my feijoas grow, that should be less of a drama though.

I'm sure it's going to be much more pleasant in here this summer.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Holy cow!

Look at this growth!

November 22nd:


In other news, I discovered that we have a community garden nearby - walking distance, in fact. I went on a fact-finding expedition this morning, only to be foiled by locked gates, so I'll be making a phone call Monday to find out if we can rent a garden bed to grow our own veggies.

We really don't have much room here, and we miss our old veggie garden. We used to grow tomatoes, several varieties of lettuce, cucumbers, snow peas, chillies, and various herbs, among other things. While I've managed to fit in a few fruit trees here, I'd love to have access to the orchard that's apparently been planted for neighbourhood use.

Stay tuned.

Curse this crazy weather!!

We've had weeks of completely nutty weather; not just Melbourne, but the entire east coast. Rain, storms and wind have been the order of the day. Rain is great, especially after a prolonged drought, but you can have too much of a good thing...

While the sub-tropical species I planted are loving the warm, wet conditions, some of my plants are not so happy. Remember this cactus from last year?

Well, this year it sprouted three flower buds. I noticed the tiny bumps early this week, and as usual they grew very quickly. All three decided to open fully at the same time - on the wettest day we've had so far; Thursday. I left work early to beat the combined horror of heavy rain and peak-hour traffic, and made it home just before the heavens opened.

I remembered my cactus, and wondered if it would maybe hold out till the next day to bloom. I pressed my face against the sliding door and peered out at them in the pelting rain, and discovered that nope, it was way too impatient to wait. The flowers were open, but soggy and droopy. The next morning, this was how it looked:

Very disappointing. :(

On the other hand, the feijoas are mighty happy:

Let's hope we get some fruit in autumn/winter.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The test

The bar had its official first run last weekend, with two parties back-to-back and it stood up to the test very well.

Friday night was The Middle Child's 18th birthday party. We put on a BBQ and the bar was a huge hit with the young people. Saturday night was my 50th birthday party and we partied hard as fifty-odd people descended on the alfresco area for finger food, drinks and some live music. I crawled into bed around 3:00am (and I'm still recovering...)

In honour of the special occasion, I added some decorations, expanding on our Balinese theme with temple flags and decorative umbrellas:

The weather had been woeful all week, with heavy rain almost non-stop. So because more thunderstorms were predicted over the weekend, we rushed out and bought an emergency shelter thingy for the bar... which then wasn't needed, since the weather was perfect. Oh well, it was easy to assemble and no doubt it will come in handy for future outdoor parties.

Beats wrestling with poles and so on - this thing just unfolds and when you're finished with it, folds up and goes right back into a smallish bag for storage. Anaconda, people, if you need one....

Anyway, the outdoor area was perfect for both parties - all of the teenagers who were here on Friday night apparently want to move into our house, and the adults on Saturday were very complimentary too. :)

This area will be well used over the summer... I foresee plenty of BBQs and alfresco drinks over the next few weeks.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

DIY Outdoor bar

I posted a few photos of our new outdoor bar on Facebook, and both Bike Boy and I have shown them around at work as well. The feedback from women has been very complimentary, but the mens' reactions have unanimously been along the lines of "Wow! Hmm, where could I fit one of those in my back yard?" So I thought I'd share a few details of the construction process, in case anyone cares to have a go at something similar.

I can't take credit for any of this project - it's all the work of my husband, Bike Boy (aka The Mad Brewer). I did contribute one teensy design detail, and do the timber finishing work on the counter top, but the rest was all his hard work.

We had the bulk of our landscaping professionally done in February-March this year. We didn't fancy laying 70-odd square metres of paving, or constructing planter boxes and so on, because we're just too time-poor (and frankly, waaay too old for this crap now. Funny how these things never seemed a big deal when we were in our twenties). Our budget was limited though, so some of the things we wanted to include had to be put into the "do it later" pile. An outdoor bar for our BBQ area was one of those things. But finally, the time had come to do something about that particular project...

The bar was built in two sections - once finished, it was incredibly heavy, so it was easier to build the two pieces of the "L" and then move them into place before joining them up and attaching the counter top, all done using galvanised brackets. I don't have many photos, unfortunately, since I was at work while most of the construction was going on.

The photo below shows the main section. The frame is treated pine, the cladding on the front blueboard (heavy!) and the end piece a sheet of ply. The counter top is made from two pieces of kiln-dried hardwood. Luckily my brother-in-law has mad woodworking skillz (and all the necessary tools) and was able to biscuit-join the pieces, then get busy with his router, to create a nice rounded edge.

The counter top was given two coats of Merbau stain, to match our timber feature screens. Then I got stuck into it with my sandpaper and clear outdoor sealer to give it a beautiful smooth finish that would withstand the weather.

The ply end-piece and some trim strips were also stained to match. You can see the shorter section of the "L" lying on the ground to the right there.

Before attaching the counter tops or any trim pieces, the blueboard was painted with Dulux Acratex, a textured finish that looks like render, but without all the mixing of cement and so on. This is messy stuff to work with! We had it tinted to match our Colorbond Ironstone spouting etc, which is the same colour we had the landscapers use on the rendered section of our feature screen. The render effect was my sole contribution to the design. :)

Nice match:

The inside has space for ice-filled eskies (that's coolers for most of the English-speaking world...), one to hold bottled drinks, and one for a keg of home-brewed beer. There's a spot for the essential gas bottle and a slops bucket, and some shelving will be added to hold glasses at some point in the future.

Brother-in-law came to the rescue again with some stainless steel he had left over from his kitchen renovation, which was used for a small splashback:

I must have done a good job of sealing that timber - it's been raining for days, and look how it's repelling water (be sure to admire the beautiful colour and grain while you're at it):

The built-in beer tap may seem a bit grand to some, but they obviously don't live with a brewing crazy craftsman... At our old place, we had a custom-built shed at the bottom of the yard. As well as providing storage, this was Bike Boy's brewery - he'd salvaged our old laundry sink, kitchen breakfast bar and fridge after we renovated, and had a nice little setup down there. He'd fitted a Guinness tap to the door of the fridge and kept his kegs in there. He actually drilled a hole through the side of the fridge to run a gas line to the keg, so all he had to do when he wanted a drink was grab a glass - No need to even open the door.

When we moved house, the beer fridge had a bit of a mishap and it gave up the ghost shortly after we settled into our rental. That was a sad day... So a crucial part of the bar design was a built-in tap. The local home brew shop owner sourced a font (the upright bit), and Bike Boy was able to resurrect the Guinness tap once more, and voila!

That's my almost 15-year-old, having a fun time playing barman. He's drinking Coke, in case you're wondering; the Bulmer's is mine.

There are a few finishing touches to add still - I've filled nail holes in the trim pieces, and need to give them one more coat of stain and then two coats of sealer. Unfortunately, I've been sick all week, and now that I'm feeling better, it's pouring rain. Hopefully there'll be a break in the weather so I can get it done before the big party...

Our old kitchen bar stools have been re-purposed and work beautifully out here - they need to be sanded, re-stained and then sealed with an outdoor product, but that can wait till after Christmas when I have holidays scheduled. Meanwhile, we'll just keep them under cover when they're not in use. The bonus is, I got to go shopping yesterday for new stools for our breakfast bar. Yay!

I'm linking this post to Remodelaholic's Friday link party:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Slowly does it

I've picked up another item for my family room - I wasn't all that confident that I'd actually find just the thing, but eBay helped me out once again.

This was the side table/chest from Kristine's inspiration board:

I knew it was a concept and that I didn't have to find that exact thing, so I was prepared to look at all sorts of alternatives. I looked and I looked and I couldn't find anything I liked. Until I saw this on a furniture website and got all excited:

The price nearly made me choke though, so I filed away the photo and kept looking. *sigh*

Finally, I spotted the perfect thing on eBay. Only thing was, the seller had a set of three and was offering them as a single lot. I figured that if I couldn't find a use for the other two, I could always sell them, so I lined up my bid, waited for my moment and....SOLD! This baby is now mine:

The timber is a little scratched, but I can fix that. The latch is also a bit skew-wiff, but nothing that can't be fixed with a pair of pliers (or possibly a hammer).

My only issue is that the bamboo is too green for my liking, so I'll have a go at staining it and see what happens....

Monday, November 22, 2010

My piece of tropical paradise

When we were planning our landscaping, I decided I wanted a gorgeous, lush, resort-style garden with a tropical feel. That led to a lot of research, hunting for plants that would give me the look I wanted, but which would stand up to Melbourne's winter. Most real tropical plants were ruled out straight away, because they don't like frost and cold winds, but I wasn't giving up.

Eventually I came across an online article - I think it was from the ABC's Gardening Australia TV show - that featured the gardens of the elephant walk at Melbourne zoo. They listed a whole lot of plants that would give that tropical feel, without being prima donnas about the climate. I also spent a lot of time looking around nurseries and stalking gardens that I liked the look of to come up with some ideas.

I did most of the planting between March and May, and six months later, it's all coming along very nicely.

By the way, I've completely forgiven the cannas for being all ratty during winter. In the past four weeks they've redeemed themselves in a big way....