I went down to Bridgetown to write a book on stretching and look after a house and cat for two local artists while they where away for about three months painting. I planned to take a bit of time off from my job as an Osteopath in the busy city of Perth and do something different. When the artists returned from holiday I moved into another house. The house was situated at the top of a steep hill and had a fantastic view over the valley. It also had a fantastic orchard and over the summer months that I spent there I was able to enjoy the bounty of fruit the orchard produced.While I was house minding I started looked at houses for sale in the area with an idea of perhaps setting up an Osteopathic clinic. I saw plenty of houses that I didn’t like or were unsuitable for turning into an Osteopathic clinic but when I saw the house that is now atop Bridgetown Hillside Garden I immediately knew it was the right one.
The house I bought had to be structured in such a way so the reception and Osteopathic clinic were at the front of the house. The view from the house over the valley below was stunning and this also influenced me to buy the house. The entrance to the house and garden was at the top of one of the highest hills in Bridgetown and the bottom of the garden was at the bottom of one of the lowest valleys – it went almost down to the Blackwood River. The steep drop however meant it would be particularly difficult for growing anything on. This was not an ideal place for a garden but I like a challenge.
February to July 2010
My partner and I bought the property in February 2010 but could not move into the house because tenants were renting the place. We had to wait until July, when their lease expired, to move in. I used the time to look at aerial maps of the property and familiarise myself with the topography. I thought about what I wanted and where it would best fit in with the hill and developed a rough plan so that when I moved into the house on the 1st July 2010 I was better prepared.
Worked out the direction and angle of the sun at different times of the year and the different contours of the hillside.
Did test drilling and took soil samples in different locations.
Took the minimum and maximum mid winter temperature of the soil at the top of hill and at the bottom of the hill. See the results at the bottom of the chronology section.
Moved in and set up the furniture in my new house.
Contacted various tradesmen – electrician, mini excavator driver, and irrigation people and discussed plans.
Dug out four large craters with a mini excavator and used the earth to built banks for four ponds and two connecting streams.
Cut zigzag pathway down the western side of the garden with a mini excavator.
Dug two terraces into the hillside with mini excavator and dug other terraces using manual labour.
Dug a trench from the house down the east side of the garden to the bottom garden for irrigation, pond water supply and electric power. Filled in trench and levelled ground to create an access road for a 4 Wheel drive vehicle to the bottom garden.
Constructed boundary fence between the middle garden and bottom garden.
Began work on the waterfall.
Dug trenches for burying pipes to take water to top of ponds and waterfall and dug trenches for taking underground electric cable from power point to ponds.
Filled bog pond with blue metal, sand, soil and perforated pond liner and covered everything with bark mulch
Removed large White Gum and Tasmanian Blue Gum from area behind house
Moved ‘cubby’ house from top garden to half way down western side of the middle garden and rebuilt it under the large white gum as a small office.
Dug swales and channels for water management down hillside.
Planted about 40 fruit trees, 10 berry bushes, 10 native trees, 30 native shrubs, 20 marginal plants, 10 aquatic plants and about 50 groundcovers.
Replaced sand in child sand pit with soil and started a vegetable garden in the top garden.
Dug up and carried rocks to waterfall and built prototype of waterfall
Compacted soil around ponds and modified the shape of the ponds
Put carpet liner into ponds and then added pond liner.
Set up irrigation so smaller pipes went along the terraces and fed the fruit trees via drip lines.
From the logged trees I made mulch with mulcher and spread it around trees, sawdust for the path, bark for the bog pond, logs for fire, sliced logs for steps around the bog pond, drilled out logs for habitats for small animals.
Placed sand around edges of ponds, smoothed it level and then covered it will carpet underlay and pond liner and then laid concrete slabs.
Carved a bird bath out of the White Gum tree stump.
Put carpet liner into streams and then added pond liner.
Built a patio in the southeast corner of the bottom garden.
Planted orchard along terraces, a mixture of fruits, especially dwarfing varieties and nuts and berries.
Planted a row of trees along the bottom of the garden and shrubs in various locations around the bottom garden.
Had delivery of sawdust and spread sawdust over zigzag pathway.
Over 40 mm of rain fell on Bridgetown in one hour resulting in the destruction of the bog pond wall at the bottom of the garden.
Began by building rock pool, swales and channels to reduce water flow, direct it away from vulnerable structures and allow it to safely leave my property.
Buried soft irrigation pipe to protect it against UV damage.
Dug a row of plastic gutters into the ground in front of the ponds and streams to prevent dirty water getting into ponds.
Built fences around fruit trees to keep out the sheep.
Installed strainer posts at the end of each terrace and attached strainer wire for support branches of espaliered trees.
Planted marginal plants in the bog pond.
Got two metal bridges made and installed them over the ponds.
Worked on widening and levelling pathways
Painted little house and installed table and chair.
Cut steps into ground down the north side of the ponds
Began cementing rocks in place on waterfall.
Had second delivery of sawdust for paths.
Completed cementing waterfall
Dug more swales in key locations where the water collects down the hillside.
Finished installing pipes connecting plastic drains to take water around bottom pond to outlet.
Rebuilt rock pool adding new pond liner and installing rocks
Built more swales at the bottom of the middle garden and took pipes from swales under path to allow water to escape when the swales become full and to protect the sawdust path during heavy rain.
Did winter pruning – espaliered trees so they grew along the length of the terrace.
Hung juice bottles filled with water over branches and tied branches with string to pull them down into horizontal position
Planted deciduous Chinese elm and a snow pear trees to provide shade over patio in summer.
Hired brick cutter and cut concrete slabs into triangles for placement between full slabs and placed them around all ponds.
Thickened walls around ponds with additional soil from hillside
Put aquatic plants in pots and placed them underwater in the bottom pond
Planted groundcover plants as soil stabilisers on the banks of the hillside and ponds.
Pruned fruit trees along terraces.
Installed a large rainwater tank was inside the shed to collect rainwater
Strengthen wire fences around fruit trees against sheep.
Put metal grills over water outlet drains going to rock pool.
Leveled and made minor changes to terraces
Bought statues of animals, a Roman urn and a few wooden seats and placed them around the bottom garden.
Installed a hose connection point half way down rural pipe for manual watering of the berries
Installed additional lighting points in bottom garden and made fixtures more weather proof. Installed LED and solar lighting in and around ponds and waterfall and along pathway. Also set up spot lighting around bottom garden.
These aerial photographs of the garden were taken about 2009 and the coloured lines drawn on the photographs in early 2010. Click on the image to see full size photograph.
Aerial views 1 to 5 are oriented with north at the top, south at the bottom, west on the left and east on the right. They show the house at the top right and the packing shed at the top left of the map and the boundary of the property line as a fine yellow line. The fine yellow line running north south down middle of the map along its length of property represents the boundary between the two separate land titles.
In Aerial view 2 the fine white lines represent the division between the top garden, the middle garden and bottom garden. Aerial view 3 shows the different slopes in degrees and described in words. Aerial view 4 includes the proposed sawdust pathway as a thick yellow line, irrigation and water supply as a thick white line and ponds as blue circles.
Aerial view 5 shows the same features as Aerial view 4 plus the proposed power supply to the bottom garden as a thick red line, power box as a black rectangle, native trees as a thick dark blue line, streams as fine dark blue lines and waterfalls written in yellow as Wvv. The waterfall at the bottom right of the map was not included in the final design.
Aerial view 6 is oriented with east at the top, west at the bottom, north on the left and south on the right. The map show the house and packing shed on the left of the map and the title boundaries as a fine yellow line. Above the map is a topographical representation of the garden showing the slope of the hill in different parts of the garden and the angle of the sun in winter.
Aerial view 7 is oriented with north at the top and shows the the waterfall as yellow Wvv, irrigation and water supply as a thick white line, ponds as blue circles and connecting streams as dark blue lines.
The hillside is covered in large and small rocks and a mixture of hardy grasses. The grasses could withstand months of drought. On average it rained for about six months and the grass was green and for the other six months of the year there was no rain or very little rain and it was hot and dry and the grass was brown.
When I arrived on the property it was essentially made up of two areas – the top garden and the hillside. The top garden was about a quarter of the property and contained the house, shed, lawn, and mixed native plants and non natives like roses, conifer trees and rosemary hedges and a variety of trees. The hillside was about three quarter of the property and contained some large gum trees, a wide area of grass and some rocks.
I divided the property into three parts – top, middle and bottom gardens. In my plan the top garden would remain the same as we inherited it except for the addition of a vegetable garden, berry bushes and dwarf citrus trees. The hillside was to be divided by a fence into the middle garden, containing an orchard, access road and zigzag pathway and the bottom garden containing a natural area The middle garden is about half of the total property and the bottom garden is about a quarter. All the fruit trees in the middle garden and the entire bottom garden are fenced off against sheep. A 3 metre fire break around the edges of the property is included in the design.
There are no trees down the eastern side of the garden and that made it the obvious place for an access road for a 4 Wheel drive vehicle. This is the most direct way up and down the hill and I considered putting steps down the side of the access road. But it is very steep here and I decided that a more leisurely route up and down the hill would be better. So I decided on a zigzag pathway predominantly down the western side of the garden.
The zigzag sawdust pathway starts at the beginning of the middle garden and because it is relatively flat at the top of the middle garden it goes straight down the hill and past the chook pen. After the chook pen the hillside drops steeply and so the path has to take a zigzag course down the west side of the garden. At the little ‘cubby’ house under the large white gum tree the path crosses from the east side of the garden towards the west side, then zigzags around the nut trees to eventually arrive at the east fence. It passes down the east side of the garden and through a gateway into the bottom garden and after another small zigzag around some rocks the path crosses from the east side of the garden to the waterfall on the west side. The path curves around the top pond and then crosses from the west side of the garden to the brick patio on the east side of the garden.
Conception & Goals
My design of Bridgetown Hillside Garden was based on information from books and the internet and using logical reasoning. I applied the knowledge I gained from studying Permaculture design many years ago. I also consulted locals who knew about the area and experts in various fields of geology, erosion permaculture, landscaping, gardening, water systems, soil chemistry and plant biology.
My aim is to create an erosion stable and environmentally sustainable, low maintenance, productive, and aesthetically pleasing garden. I want to create a garden that once established would be relatively easy to maintain and had low water usage. I didn’t want to be a slave to my garden. My goal was to be a land steward of a mixed orchard and nature area. I want to create a garden that once established was water efficient and relatively drought tolerant.
Soil tests and temperature
When I arrived I drilled a few test holes to determine the depth of the soil and if I could reach bedrock. I frequently hit rocks but I think these were just loose rocks and not part of the bedrock. The maximum I was able to drill into the soil was half a metre but I suspect the soil was much deeper.
The type of soil varies in different parts of the garden. It is sandy loam at the top of the garden and a clay loam at the bottom. In other places it is heavy clay or combined with stones and rocks. Clay loam is fine for many plants but for some plants such as avocado trees and blueberries it was problem. Tightly bound clay particle in the soil needed breaking up so that water could penetrate and reach the roots of the plant. This required certain soil additives applied in the correct ratio. Things like dolomite, gypsum, lime, sulphur, basalt dust, manure, seaweed/fish emulsion and blood and bone.
Mid winter maximum and minimum temperature of the soil at the top of hill and at the bottom. At the top of hill the maximum temperature was 18 deg C and the minimum was minus 2 deg C. At the bottom of hill the maximum temperature was 16.5 deg C and the minimum was minus 1.4 deg C.
The soil is slightly acidic with a pH of between 5.5 and 6. The wind direction is from west to east but variable. The winter sun maximum angle is 33 degrees and the summer sun maximum is 82 degrees.
Robyn Francis taught me Permaculture design in Sydney in 1985.
Assessments and reports were done by Adrian Williams of Pendragon Dryland Management Services and another one by Troy Dowling of You Dig? Permaculture Design and Nursery.
Advice on plants and garden from Phil, Helen and Carolyn
Aerial map provided by the Shire of Bridgetown-Greenbushes
John May cut the zigzag pathway and dug out the holes for the ponds and Ivan dug the trench for the power and irrigation.
Collin Jeffery (Fencing Plus) rebuilt part of the fence and instructed me on how to set up strainer posts on orchard.
John Hall built the metal bridges that pass over the ponds.
Mick Watson delivers sawdust and other materials to the bottom of the garden.
Workers assisting with digging, rock moving, wheelbarrowing and other labouring jobs include Aden, Alan, Allen, Bob, Bret (Spider), Cam, Darryl, Feral, Ivan, Jayden, Jenny, Joe, Julie, Kim, Phil, Shane, Sean, Sharon, Simon, Steve, Stuart, Ted, Tim, Travis and Yohei.
Material suppliers: Rich Feeds (Rick, Liam & Matt), Bridgetown Elders (Peter), McCays Solutions (Mitre 10 Stores) (Paul, Diane, Cindy, Helen, Leanne & John).
Plants: Parkland Garden Centre, Bunbury (Liz & Paul), Boyanup Botanical, Boyanup, Hillview at Bridgetown Garden Centre (Carolyn & Jenny).
Watergarden Warehouse, Osborne Park (Matt Stafford) supplied pond liner and pumps.
The Right Stuff (Chris, Peter and Stephanie) installed the irrigation system and helped with information on waterfall and pond building.
David of Batsford Electrical, Keith of Bridgetown Electrics and Bob of Blackwood Valley Industries all worked at different times on the electrics for the bottom garden. Marie-Clare advised on LED lighting. Rob advised on safety regarding waterproof electrical fittings. Jeff Nugent advised swales.
Australia is one of the oldest and most eroded continents on Earth. Millions of years of wind and rain have worn down mountains has left a dry flat landscape and soils that are infertile and require minerals and fertilisers to make them productive. The area around Bridgetown is uncharacteristically hilly which is refreshing in a country that is so flat.Two hundred years ago forest covered the landscape. Only the steepest parts of my garden may have been without trees. The area around Bridgetown would probably have been a mixture of forest, grassland and wetland for thousands or millions of years.When European settlers arrived in the middle of the nineteenth century it was quickly logged and turned into farms. In the early to middle part of the twentieth century and right up to about 1970 the land was turned into apple orchards. An orchard owner or manager would have lived in my house and used the shed next door for apple collection, storage and transportation. But the hillside on my property is so steep it probably had never been used for growing apples. So hopefully it would not be contaminated by residual chemical pesticides and herbicides.The property including the house, shed and garden is about 200 metres long by 56 metres wide and covers an area 11200m² or just over 1 hectare.
The South West of Western Australia has a Mediterranean climate, with dry summers and wet winters. Almost all of the rain falls between May and September. Mean maximum daily temperatures range from 16 °C in July to 27 °C in February. Bridgetown gets very cold in winter mainly due to its inland location. It is the coldest town in Western Australia and in winter can get down to minus two or three degrees Centigrade. The coldness allows it to grow fruit that require a frost as part of a seasonal growing cycle especially stone fruit such as peaches, nectarines, plums and cherries.