Why your farm gar­den will keep get­ting big­ger

One of the nicest things about liv­ing on a block is hav­ing the space to do in­ter­est­ing things.


You might like big sheds, big gar­dens, big trees, what­ever takes your fancy, and liv­ing on a block means you have room to in­dulge your­self.

I lived the first years of my adult­hood in Auck­land where I was un­com­fort­ably used to see­ing peo­ple ev­ery­where. For any­one who prefers soli­tude, that life is a hard one to sus­tain.

Gar­dens around the sorts of dwellings in which I could af­ford to live were ei­ther non-ex­is­tent, shared, or so over­looked that spend­ing time there was never a pri­vate act.

What I like about liv­ing on a siz­able bit of land now is that while it doesn’t re­move all of the annoyances of liv­ing near other peo­ple like noise and air pol­lu­tion (which can travel a long way), you can re­move your­self from be­ing over­looked by any­one else or from see­ing other peo­ple or their dwellings.

Here on the farm I can wan­der, and if I am more seen than I know (by tres­pass­ing hunters on oc­ca­sion, per­haps) it doesn’t bother me.

While run­ning a block can be a big re­spon­si­bil­ity in terms of weed con­trol, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and so on, hav­ing do­min­ion over a chunk of na­ture can be very sat­is­fy­ing.

I clearly re­mem­ber the thrill I felt when I first took over full re­spon­si­bil­ity for the cat­tle on this farm. I opened a gate and I left it that way be­cause it was my de­ci­sion to make. I didn’t have to obey the “leave a gate as you find it” rule be­cause the gates were mine to set, or not, as I liked.

Apart from the re­spon­si­ble things one must do to main­tain land and an­i­mals, hav­ing space also al­lows great scope for fun.

One of our favourite projects has been the con­struc­tion and reg­u­lar ren­o­va­tion of a gazebo to pro­vide shade near our swim­ming pond. When we built our first shade struc­tures they were sim­ple per­go­las over part of our deck, with kanuka poles as the frame­work with fresh kanuka fo­liage thrown up on top to pro­vide cool shade. Each year we’d con­struct a dif­fer­ent ver­sion, with slight im­prove­ments on the previous it­er­a­tion, un­til even­tu­ally trees took over the pro­vi­sion of shade in the gar­den.

So we moved down to the pond with a big­ger and bet­ter plan! This is where space to do things came into play in another way: when you have space, you can keep use­ful things for later re­pur­pos­ing. In this case, an old tele­phone pole, lon­gago made re­dun­dant when ca­bling went un­der­ground, be­came the cen­tre pole for a hexag­o­nal gazebo. This time the struc­ture was built with more per­ma­nence in mind, since its con­struc­tion took a bit more ef­fort and its use was long-term.

Five years on and some of the outer

Hav­ing do­min­ion over a chunk of na­ture can be very sat­is­fy­ing

kanuka poles have col­lapsed and are be­ing re­placed by treated poles which were for­merly part of a big chicken run which is no longer in use. A grapevine is grow­ing over the frame­work and will hope­fully take over the job of pro­vid­ing liv­ing shade which doesn’t need to be reg­u­larly re­placed, and then there will be grapes hang­ing down within reach of the shade sit­ters. Bliss.

It’s not a civilised struc­ture, not re­ally some­thing you’d put on a sub­ur­ban lawn as it’s rather scruffy-look­ing from the out­side with the green­ery piled onto the frame­work to pro­vide the deep­est, coolest shade pos­si­ble. Lots of many-legged crea­tures live in it and dried kanuka leaves do tend to fall into your drink or pep­per the bar­be­cued food, but it has cre­ated a de­light­ful place to sit when the weather is sunny and warm. When you're sit­ting un­der­neath its cool shade, look­ing across the pond, there’s no bet­ter place to be.

Many peo­ple mov­ing onto a bare block ap­pear to think it's im­por­tant to cre­ate the de­sired land­scape for a beau­ti­ful house and gar­dens as a pri­or­ity. We sim­ply never had the money to take that ap­proach, so things evolved over time and I think that’s made it all the more sat­is­fy­ing, more our own, rather than some­thing we paid for.

Grow­ing na­tive seeds which have turned into size­able trees has given me great plea­sure, and ne­ces­si­tated the con­struc­tion of a green­house in which to ger­mi­nate and grow the seedlings. A na­tive tree area be­low the house has been en­larged as we planted it out, by mov­ing the orig­i­nal fence and tak­ing away a bit more pad­dock, sim­ply for the plea­sure of join­ing that area to a sec­tion of stream­side and bush re­serve.

Many seedlings have been planted out around the farm, to pro­vide shade along ex­posed north­ern bound­aries of some pad­docks or over the graves of an­i­mals which have been dear to me, and on stream banks which needed sta­bil­is­ing to pre­vent their be­ing washed away by flood wa­ters. Such plant­ings in­creas­ingly make their pres­ence known as they grow and change the land­scape around us. Since we have am­ple space, there’s never any con­cern about how big a tree might grow, and for many of the species I’ve grown, their lives will be mea­sured not in decades, but cen­turies.

An an­nual Gar­den Sa­fari event run up here as a fundraiser by the Rid­ing for the Dis­abled group of­ten in­cludes some sig­nif­i­cant lo­cal gar­dens that oc­cupy ar­eas which were once farm pad­docks. Nei­ther Stephan nor I are avid gar­den­ers, but if we ever do feel so in­clined there’s the space to do what­ever we can imag­ine in fol­low­ing those ex­am­ples.

Our lat­est project evolved in the same

Things have evolved over time and i think that's made it all the more sat­is­fy­ing

hap­haz­ard way. Four years ago we were adopted by a lost budgeri­gar which, when our cats died and we chose not to re­place them, be­came the be­gin­ning of a new phase in pet keep­ing. We were cat peo­ple but now we’re bird peo­ple.

One budgie needed com­pany, then a cheap sec­ond-hand aviary was too tempt­ing to pass by and three bud­gies be­came 18 when some oth­ers needed re­hom­ing and you can see where this goes. When the first re­sult­ing chicks were ready to join the adult flock, I could see they needed more room. Over a few days we threw around some ideas, made sev­eral draw­ings, and Stephan started set­ting out string lines on the back lawn. Down came the elec­tric fence so the trac­tor could do the ground work which then led to the re­moval of half a huge clump of flax plants.

If there hadn’t been suf­fi­cient room there, we would have pulled a cou­ple of fence posts (per­haps a bit of dig­ging to get a strainer out), moved a gate, re­lo­cated the gar­den fence, and pinched another slice of pad­dock to make the gar­den big­ger. You just can’t do that sort of thing in town.

Now I have a fancy aviary, twice as many birds, and a lot more work than I an­tic­i­pated in car­ing for them all, but it’s a fun thing we’ve been able to do on a whim. Ad­mit­tedly, this project has ac­tu­ally in­volved spend­ing money on ma­te­ri­als but there was no dif­fi­culty in find­ing some­where to build it.

If, for any rea­son, the aviary is one day not re­quired any more, no doubt it will be turned into some­thing else or the con­crete pads will be lifted and dragged away to form the base of some other struc­ture.

I’m not sure why I get such a kick out of do­ing this kind of thing. Per­haps it’s sim­ply the sense of pi­o­neer­ing in one’s own space. We both get tremen­dous plea­sure out of us­ing things which some­one else couldn’t, like the fan­tas­tic wa­ter slide into the pond which was con­structed from a lovely smooth bit of guttering which had been or­dered in er­ror by a con­struc­tion firm and was on its way to the dump. Some care in en­sur­ing the slide’s ro­bust con­struc­tion and safety for ev­ery­one from small chil­dren to the groups of adults who slide down it (in train) has made it a prime at­trac­tion for vis­i­tors of all ages. A fly­ing fox looked sim­i­larly promis­ing but that idea is still on the design board. So much space, so many pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Much of what we cre­ate is not per­ma­nent. It’s a bit like go­ing to Guide or Scout camps and mak­ing fab­u­lous fur­ni­ture from lashed manuka branches, like a plat­form to keep your suit­case off the ground in the tent, the wash-stand for a bowl and the dish rack for drain­ing washed dishes, all made with care and skill and en­joyed for the time they are re­quired.

Around our farm there are struc­tures cre­ated in the same spirit by vis­it­ing young­sters. Bivouacs of var­i­ous sizes and shapes un­der trees, some­times stand­ing there for years, while oth­ers – too eas­ily ac­cessed by the cat­tle – soon re­turn to piles of sticks.

We do some se­ri­ous farm­ing here, but we bal­ance that with a con­sid­er­able amount of fun thanks to the op­por­tu­ni­ties this won­der­ful en­vi­ron­ment pro­vides.

There are var­i­ous ex­ter­nal bod­ies which reg­u­late some of the larger-scale things you may want to do on your land. Check with your lo­cal au­thor­i­ties if any­thing you plan to build falls into that cat­e­gory. ■

I'm not sure why i get such a kick out of these kind of land­scap­ing projects.

Hav­ing space to dam a stream and know that no­body's go­ing to come and knock it to pieces be­fore you come back is great fun (un­til there's a huge flood, of course.)

A back lawn is an ex­cel­lent place to build an aviary. We dropped the elec­tric fence wires and got the big tools on the job. The wa­ter slide, a huge hit with ev­ery vis­i­tor, young and old. Mahi­namoki, Matariki, Muri­wai and Stella dur­ing a birth­day visit.

The aviary with its wide glass win­dows pro­vides a lovely place to work and look out over the farm. The pretty es­capee sun­flower grew from a seed washed out through a floor drain.

Top: Build­ing tree-huts and bivouacs which can stay there for the kids to re­visit for years.

Above: The com­pleted aviary with two flights and a work-room, lots of space for birds and Ruth to play. Traps are set out­side for feral cats, stoats and rats, all of which have been seen since the birds were in­stalled.

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