As it's Spring, my thoughts have increasingly been on the garden, and gardening in general. Early this year I contacted my landscape designer as a redesign of the front garden was required (this had not been designed by her, but rather by me). The front garden was installed only 4 years ago, however a number of problems meant that a redesign was in order.

The sick magnolia tree, stunted hedge to the right.

Firstly, we have as a central focal point by the front path a dying Magnolia tree. It didn't like the construction of the new front fence and has sulked by dying back year on year. Branches show disease and rot, and despite a lot of TLC on my part, it was obvious after nursing it along for the past 4 years that it was time to farewell it as it was a shadow of its previous magnificence.

The last of the magnolias

Secondly was the fact that the first landscaper that did the initial landscaping works did not prepare the soil properly. I had at the time emphasised the importance of the soil preparation - with all the construction works of the veranda and new boundary walls the soil was very compacted from earthworks. However I was unable to supervise the landscaping works adequately - at the time my mother was very ill in hospital for 6 weeks, and I was spending my days with her. It all looked fine at the end of the job, and the plants initially flourished, but that all stalled a year later when the compacted soil in one section of the garden was alternatively a bog in Winter or bone dry in Summer, and I would unearth very large rocks buried 30cm below the soil level that had not been removed from the construction of the wall from the other end of the garden - I can remember on one afternoon alone I dug up 13 30-40cm wide rocks while trying to plant roses. The hedge along the front fence also grew very strangely - one side is flourishing, and the other is half the size.

The third issue was to correct a rookie error on my part. Gardens are no different in many ways to Architecture, and scale is important. While I know how to do this successfully in buildings, in the garden I doubted what I'd read (garden beds should be a minimum of 2m wide, and ideally at least 3m) and instinctively made the common mistake of trying to maximise the feeling of space in what is a very narrow front garden by making the garden beds narrow and the lawn part as large as possible. It just doesn't look right - the garden feels like it's shrinking up at the sides and it emphasises the narrowness of the garden as a result.

So, the shorter version is that it's all coming out, and the new garden will have no lawn (no longer needed as we have a fully renovated back garden and living area for the children to play on), and will instead be almost entirely garden, with some gravel to soften the margins between veranda, front path and plants. Thank goodness I did in fact scale the front path well - it is very wide, which works well with the scale of the house and so it will not be changing.

Bronte House, Sydney. Photo via Bumble at Home blog 

Bronte House, Sydney. photo via Bumble at Home blog

"Possumwood" garden designed by Miles Baldwin

The style for the front garden is that of an early colonial Australian garden - I want it to look original to the house. In essence this means that it will rely on interesting plant combinations, rather than geometry (a formal garden with hedging) for interest. Colonial gardens were largely experimental - finding out what would grow in the Australian climate from plants collected from all over the world, and with a combination of plantings that emphasised textural contrast (grasses/ sedums/ meditteranean palms/ salvias) and that required little water.... It won't be a 'dry' garden as such, but it will have a good mix of grey/green leafed plants and will rely on interesting planting combinations, such as my inspiration garden images above. All the existing plants in the garden will be reused (they will be lifted out so that the soil can be adequately prepared first), and the focal point on one side will be a Victorian style fountain.

Cast Iron fountain circa 1890 at my Dad's house. (blurred out) photo of my children by Shona Henderson

I have searched high and low for a decent fountain - there is one main style of reproduction fountain available in Adelaide and it is a two tiered fountain with either swans or dolphins at the base. I wanted something different - so I've found instead a good selection from a foundry in Castlemaine, Victoria and have chosen a bronze Acanthus leaf fountain (not quite on the scale of my Dad's fountain!).


Billman's Foundry Acanthus leaf fountain

Acanthus leaves were a motif commonly used in Classical Architecture, and ferns, palms and Acanthus leaf motifs were popular during the Victorian era, so I feel it will suit my house style and the overall style of the garden. Then there was the pond part. I didn't want it to go into a new build pond with stone edging. I wanted it to go into a cast iron Victorian style pond surround, similar to my Dad's original fountain located in his garden in the photo above. Well, no one makes them anymore. Apparently you'd need a crane to get one into your garden at any rate… but I did manage to find a reproduction fibreglass pond surround that will look the goods. The fibreglass is high quality, so bears no resemblance to the cheap pebbled ponds you might find at the local garden centre, and it's still a 3 man lift, so it's solid and substantial enough that I think it will work well. It also came from Castlemaine.


So, with those plans in place I'm just waiting on the landscapers to arrive, which will be Monday. In readiness they came and sprayed off the lawn to kill it. However this was done a little prematurely in my opinion - we have been looking at this scene for the past 10 weeks. I can't even begin to tell you how much I am desperately wanting the yellow grass to be gone. It's a very depressing entry at the moment to the house.


In other parts of the garden however things are flourishing. I've put in a lot of hard yards over the past couple of months fertilising, weeding and pruning in readiness for Spring - not the glamorous part of gardening that's for sure. I've had a few questions about the hedging in the side garden and how I've gone about with this radically different method of growing a thick hedge (advice given to me by my hedging man).



Rather than tip pruning and getting the vase shaped bush that is common, he suggests pegging or tying down any long leaders you get to spread out the footprint of the bush. You then get new shoots out of the horizontally tied down branches and the bush is much thicker as a result. I've used galvanised irrigation pegs that I bought from the hardware store. You can air peg the branches if necessary (so that you don't snap the branch if it is more brittle by pushing it right onto the ground), and after around 3 months the branch has changed its direction of growth enough that you can remove the pegs and reuse them elsewhere. Alternatively you can tie branches from plant to plant together with something flexible (I use old stockings for this). While overall the hedges that I've done this to are shorter than the ones I haven't, they are only marginally so, and by contrast are double the footprint of the normally grown type. I highly recommend this method, and I'm now doing it to all the bushes. It's also being done along the front fence hedge (particularly the side growing poorly) to help thicken it up.


If you look almost directly at the centre of the image you'll see the peg holding the branch down

Kind of flattened out into the gaps


Back corner of the garden

The other thing my hedging man did was to test the ph of the soil. I've actually never done this before, but it's very alkaline, so we need to add Acid to bring it back to a neutral Ph. Not having neutral ph means that the plants can't take up nutrients adequately and it stunts their growth and makes them susceptible to disease. So Mr AV and I have spent a lot of time lugging around elemental sulphur and digging it into the soil to correct it. It's not been a lot of fun. Actually, the day we did that I was pretty grumpy….But the back garden is rewarding us - the crabapples are in full flight, the forest pansy is in blossom and all the other trees have leafed up nicely. I've planted out a lot of roses around the bocce court, some of which I've successfully transplanted from the front garden in readiness for the landscaping works.

Forest Pansy

And I've been busy growing new things for the front garden and to fill in the gaps in the back garden. Lots of salvias, echiums and sedums. Some from cuttings, some from seed (via the Diggers Club who have the more unusual varieties you can't buy from nurseries).

Seedlings waiting for the front garden….

So I'll be posting hopefully in a couple of weeks with a radically different looking front garden. Happy Spring!

44 comments:

  1. Good for you. When I return from Paris, plan to make a detailed list of everything that needs to happen next Spring! Thought of you last night; we had a wonderful meal with a delightful couple from Melbourne and discussed Australian politics at length! CNt wait to see how your garden turns out!

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    1. That would have been a very long explanation indeed with what is currently going on in Aussie politics!! Our 5th Prime Minister in 6 years or something like that… enjoy Paris I'm v envious!

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    2. Funnily enough I was heading home unusually early from work last Monday on a beautiful spring afternoon, planning on sneaking into the garden for an hour or two of weeding and feeding when the call came through that the Prime Ministerial spill was on. Garden abandoned, I finished work at midnight ! Darn politics.

      Loving the forest pansy. I am seeing them everywhere. They seem to be the hot new thing here in the leafy east. Cannot wait to see the front garden - love to see it all coming together so well.

      x

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    3. I'm sure while it was an exciting news item to cover the late night wasn't appreciated by many journos! I think you should definitely try the Forest Pansy Ann - it's a great small ornamental tree, which is probably why you've seen so many of them on your walks. The leaf colour in Spring/ Summer and Autumn is particularly lovely. xx

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  2. Gardening in a small area is often more challenging than a larger one and we sometimes hold on to trees as it seems wasteful or a shame to pull them out but they don't always work. I think what you are planning sounds very exciting and you should be encouraged by how your side and back garden is growing. Love the fountain it will look great in that area. Look forward to the final results xxMarilyn

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    1. It was definitely more of a challenge than having a bigger space I think Marilyn - I think also the shape, a very thin rectangle that is wide on either side, didn't help in that regard either. The magnolia used to be quite spectacular, however it's a marginal tree in Adelaide anyway due to our heat, and as it's died back I now feel no guilt about it's impending date with the chainsaw! xx

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    2. my garden is teeny and I find it VERY hard. It is now a sort of formal arrangement but I am hoping to TROPICAL/COTTAGE/TROPAGE it up.

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  3. Your plans for the front garden sound wonderful - particularly the fountain. Love your dad's fountain. We have a large eucalyptus tree in our garden... perhaps a former owner was from Australia. My sister in law's parents (from Melbourne) were visiting last week and they said that it looked incredibly different here (read healthier) because of the wetter climate presumably! So, in its own way our garden is a bit colonial. x

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    1. I'm quite excited to get the fountain going - there's nothing really in the garden at all that's a 'built' element (aside from the pool) - no sculpture, ponds/fountains etc. So interesting about the eucalyptus - it could well be one that is from colder parts of Australia, like the Alps or Tasmania, some of them definitely prefer the cooler temps (and no doubt the water!). I wonder who planted it though? xx

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  4. Trying to get the garden right is a challenge. I know how you feel I've dug, weeded and mulched. Did a lot of work on the front yard in Autumn and it is paying off. The back yard has been late winters work. Just to complicate matters there going to start cutting down the 50 year old pine trees directly behind us next week. This should really impact us as there roots have invaded our garden and pipes.
    Love how your garden is coming along and it really compliments the house. I have no doubt the front is going to look special. Really love the idea your running with.

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    1. I think the thing with a garden is the constant change… and if you take your eye off it (or let it go for a while) it's hard to claw it all back! That's going to really change your back garden though with the pines going, both with the roots and the shade (presumably) and their water consumption. I'm very excited about the front garden… it's been good to have the 4 years in a way to really develop the idea I'd initially had about how it should look. x

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  5. FF, Romey and Pammie will be green with envy

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    1. I'm definitely going for green - anything to blot away the memory of the dead grass! But Romy, FF and Pammie each have beautiful gardens, vastly different from each others and mine too, so doubt there'll be any envy involved.

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    2. Me too! Have turned quite viridian with envy. My small garden isn't beautiful - I just have some pretty plants that are at their best in spring. No beautiful garden design/architecture and space like yours. Great tip about pegging out the hedging plants. It will just get better and better every year! Can't wait to see the new front garden - and love the fountain. Pammie

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    3. I have seen the photos Pammie, and you have some absolutely divine roses. I am excited for what the garden will look like in around 4 years time, when it's all had a chance to grow! xxx

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  6. Well considering I have only barely managed window boxes and pots and even then with help I must say this is way above my pay grade hehe! I am sure love and attention will sort everything out xx

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    1. I'm sure you'd have been able to manage the dead grass ;) but I've seen your window box pictures and they look pretty good to me! I'm looking forward to having it all sorted, although it will all take a couple of years for the growing and filling out… things are going to be fairly stunted initially. xx

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  7. Your garden is spectacular and I cannot wait to see the renovated front garden! I know I say this in every comment, but I just love your taste. I think you seamlessly weave textures and form and time periods together in a way that is unique. But unlike many "unique" designs, yours is so harmonious. Love that tip on bulking hedges. What perfect sense that makes. Your dad is lucky. If I were his kid, I'd send him on a weekend trip and have that fountain dragged out piece by piece and reinstalled at my house :)
    Magnolias are magnificent but oh so temperamental. There are many spectacular large specimens here but often their bloom lasts only hours. It's not uncommon for a cold snap to shrivel up an entire bloom. The best spring ornamental tree here is called an American Redbud. It blooms in vivid violet and those blooms last through frost, snow, surging warmth, and high winds. Wonder how they'd do for you.

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    1. Stephen Andrew - that is just the nicest thing to say. Thank you so much!
      As for Dad's fountain it's fairly safe - God only knows how much it weighs. After my discussion with the foundry guy about the cast iron pond surround and the crane requirement we had a discussion about how on earth it was placed in Dad's garden pre cranes - it's half way down a hill. Maybe they rolled it somehow?! It's certainly not coming back up easily.
      I'm going to look up your American Redbud to have a look. It may not be available here, but it sounds like the perfect tree if it will battle the elements like that. Definitely a good tree for Australia!

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  8. Your garden is looking gorgeous. Our wisteria around the front door is a little slower to bloom than some others in the area but I can't wait for it to fully bloom.

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    1. Thanks Kris, I can't tell you how much enjoyment I get out of the garden. I'm sure your Wisteria will be rewarding you soon, you must post a picture on the blog when it does - going around the front door sounds divine.

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  9. Thanks for the tips on thickening up the boxwoods. I should try this myself. As for the unfortunate Magnolia, I hear you! Mine is not doing too well either and I think it is because it is line with hurricane force winds. I may have to look at relocating it and planting something a little more sturdy in its place.

    Absolutely lovey photograph of the children by the fountain.

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    1. I can't remember who it was that said you're not running a hospital for sick plants in your garden, but it's true! I have felt guilt at losing the tree, but really it just looks awful, and so it has to go. Sounds like yours might meet the same fate. Try the hedge trick - it really does work.

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  10. am so excited to see the new front garden- my own garden is tragic atm- just a few lily pilly hedges and mondo grass and of course mean thin garden beds which I hate. Before the garden was destroyed making the house different I had wide garden beds no lawn and lots of trpocal plants- now it is small garden beds, grass and destruction/devastation.

    I LOVE Bronte House garden- stunning.

    Stunning fountains too, good luck x

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    1. It will come back! These things take time - I can't believe I've been here for almost 5 years in this house, and still the garden is going on. But I'm glad I planted some of the trees when we first moved in, it's made all the difference in the back garden. We've planted something like 39 trees (plus 10 pencil pines) since we moved in, as we only had 3 to start with.
      Am forever thankful you put me onto Bronte House book in early blog days. I love rereading it. xx

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  11. Hello Heidi
    thanks for the excellent tip about using a layering / pegging technique to encourage a hedge grow sideways. I will try it. In the past, when I have had a new hedge to establish I have used the technique of regularly pruning the top and the SIDES of each plant. The aim being, of course, to promote both upward and sideways growth. This has worked well for hedges which I hope to grow higher than say 1 metre. But I think that your layering idea is excellent for shorter border hedges - say up to .half a meter.
    PS - re front garden design and fountain choice .... I always admire the depth of thought and research you put into each decision. It shows real determination to get the right outcome.

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    1. I think the big difference is there are absolutely no gaps at the base - I've got a tall lilly pilly hedge and the base still has a few gaps from where all the growth refuses to grow. Am going to try rectifying it with this technique. I think my earlier garden design that I did myself (and made a few mistakes with) was getting at the overall look I wanted to achieve, but now that it's been refined a lot more with my garden designer I think it will have a much, much better outcome and be closer to my original vision (for lack of a better word!) that I didn't quite manage to achieve.

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  12. Oh Heidi, I have always loved this style of garden but have never known what it was called. Now I know: colonial garden. It will be just wonderful! Thought you might like too now that my 11 year old daughter is engrossed in Antiques Roadshow as I write! K

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    1. Antiques roadshow is the best! My children love it too due to the stories about the items (and the amounts of money involved!). I just want to create a garden that looks a little bit relaxed about the planting and original to the house…. hopefully it comes together well!

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  13. Looking gorgeous Heidi and I’m sure the front will be beautiful too once all done. I was just looking at our garden this morning and marvelling at how quickly the new bits have taken off. We ripped a few plants out (a matter of scale once the crab apples had grown) and underplanted with ground cover which has established really quickly. We both worked really hard through winter too and it certainly pays off. Love all green grey/ plants which are a staple here as they blend the ‘formal’ garden area block into our native/natural areas.. My Forrest Pansies are looking pretty special too. When my landscaper first did the garden beds I thought he had made them way too wide and the lawn too small but turns out he knew what he was doing. Have fun - gardens are such special places and I know last this time last year when Mr T had major surgery, he was so glad to get home and sit under his grapevine and look at the garden. It was really therapeutic I’m sure. Looking forward to seeing the garden progress so keep us updated. Tonkath (Garden Tragic!)

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    1. I love writing garden posts and hearing from all the other keen gardeners in the comments Tonkath! I agree with you that the garden would have made such a difference to your husband's recovery. There is nothing more peaceful and soul restoring that being in a beautiful garden.
      I think also what you've experienced with the garden by ripping out a few things is the constant change in a garden - it changes as trees grow and microclimates develop… it's always evolving. I'm really enjoying the garden so much and Mr AV and I often say to each other how happy we are that we took out the tennis court and turned it into a garden, as it's just so much nicer! I just can't imaging the house without it now. xx

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  14. Heidi, It's all absolutely divine. Your mother would be so proud of you and all you've achieved. You have so much to look forward to as it grows and flourishes.
    Not garden related, but the Italian Film Festival is on in Adelaide as well as Canberra. This afternoon we saw the movie "Do You See Me?" (In Italian "Scusate se Esisto!" - which translates quite differently from the English) - it's about a young Italian woman architect and her struggles to establish herself in a job/career in Italy after time overseas. It's hilarious and feel good. Not a great movie or maybe terribly realistic but funny and heart warming (quite a welcome break after some of the depressing movies about the Mafia we've been seeing). If you have time in your busy lives you and N might both enjoy it. Pammie xxx

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    1. Thank you for the movie tip Pammie! It's the start of school hols here, so I'll try to stage an escape at some point and an Italian movie sounds fantastic! Generally in the past all the movies featuring Architects have made me laugh hysterically (for the wrong reasons). One starring Richard Geere springs to mind. I remember him talking about the 'fenestration on the west elevation' in an ernest and self important manner which nearly sent me over the edge with laughter (no architects talk about fenestration in real life. We just say windows unless trying to be pretentious). xxx

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  15. our last home had one of those beautiful pink magnolia trees. boy i miss that. i love your gardens. i wonder how that one wall by the pool is doing where you were having a vine cover it? we are moving into our southern california fall which is so much like summer here. happy gardening! x

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    1. I did love the tree, but it really did look pretty sad for most of the year so it was time to go (and not be replaced).
      The vine is going ok - the Boston Ivy tends to take a year to get going, so I'm hopeful that this year it will start to spread out a little bit more enthusiastically. Hope you're enjoying being home in your garden janet x

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  16. Your garden looks amazing Heidi. Love the forest pansy ... so pretty. My husband has been "seasolling" everything in sight so our garden smells like the beach at the moment! The fountain at your Dad's is very impressive. Hope your children enjoy the holidays ... good luck with all the landscaping action at your place. Jo xx

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    1. Funny re the beach! Could be worse as the smell of dynamic lifter is definitely potent and not in remotely a beachy way! School holidays were fun but exhausting! Am trying to catch up now on work, life… blog! Hope all is well with you and your family x

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  17. I'm keen to put in a front fence and worried how it will effect the garden once I plant or if newly planted tress will effect the front fence over time. I REALLY need to try this hedge trick with my learners garden out the back. I've already made a mistake there with the standard icebergs planted too close together. But I think it's an easy fix. Just going to pull every second one out and replace with a lavender bush.

    Your front garden redesign reminds me of Patina farm. It is going to look fabulous!!

    You're going to have the best of both worlds. With you formal structured garden out the back. And your rambling curvy garden at the front!

    I'm mid discussion with my husband about our front garden. I put to put a big urn on a plinth in the middle of the lawn. He thinks it's a hazard for the kids and taking away their chance to run around. Deary me. I'll keep working on it.

    And THANK YOU with the mention of garden bed widths!!! Taking note.

    Only just getting into the garden now. . So much joy!
    Can't wait to be off work next year and have the weekends with family to continue on it.

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    1. I do love Patina Farm, and love the gravel and mix of plants so I'll be very happy if it looks like that. Roses are easy to fix though - wait until winter when they're dormant and then dig them up. I've moved mine a couple of times, and they're fine. Yes! Take note of the garden bed widths - mine were classic mistake. They garden is very narrow, so it didn't leave much room for gravel/ lawn, but it really does look a lot better with the wider garden beds now. I'll put up some photos soon x

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  18. Frequent reader, infrequent commenter. As others have said, you should write a book, refreshing to read thoughtful and informed commentary. Wondering if you have feedback on the bocce court you installed. Did you stick with official sizing, is it decomposed granite as base and do you use it? I've been thinking of installing one (we have 1.5 acres and don't want a tennis court but I like the idea of a smaller (and less expensive bocce/boules court) so interested in your views. Thanks x

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    1. Hello anon, sorry for the late reply. The Bocce court is granitic sand (so decomposed granite as you've termed it), and is not International competition standard, but I think it complies with national competition size (it's around 3.5 x 12m long). Not expensive to build compared to a tennis court, but good for an alternative hard play surface (kids do a bit of basketball on it). Thanks for your lovely comments! x

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  19. I don't have a garden and don't want one but I read this with a lot of interest whilst trying to teach my 8-month old whippet that I too have a life. He's on the sofa exhibiting wide-eyed sighing behavior which is, I think, a sign of tetchy disappointment and i'm on the other end writing this comment. My idea of gardening would be to call in a gardner and order-up, as it were. I do like looking at gardens, though, but the thought of all that work in the sun …

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    1. Puppies and Toddlers have a lot in common. Although puppies grow out of it quicker, so hopefully your Whippet stops destroying your apartment soon Blue! I do admit to a combination of landscaper and then my labour… it's too hard to do it all myself. I don't mind a bit of weeding and pruning, but the creating of the garden from scratch is a job best left to the landscapers!

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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