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.