The perils of living in the country

Hi All

When you are an urbanite and have a lovely idealistic vision of how lovely it would be to live out in the country you really don’t understand just how treacherous country living can be. It’s not just the obvious snakes, biting insects, leeches, ticks etc. it’s all of the other things that you have no idea about unless you actually live in the country. Popular magazines are full of people with fanciful ideas about moving out to the country, living sustainably, having chooks, fruit trees and living off the land. Lovely ideals but hardly the reality. There are moments of bliss out in the country, but they are usually when you have managed to survive a flood, drought, mass pest infestation or held off a hillbilly revolt or when you have worked so hard you can’t remember your name, you are covered in weed seeds and that first beer tastes like nectar. Idealism has NO place in the country apart from keeping you going when you would otherwise give up.  We are warily watching the back yard for the first appearance of Mr Snake, our inherited little slinky secret that dad never mentioned to us when he lauded the lifestyle out here.  Then there are things that would otherwise be completely benign in the city, that become a problem out in the country. Trees. We love them. The world couldn’t survive without them, but in the country, where they spend most of their time, they reveal another side to themselves. Aside from being the oxygen givers, greenhouse gas takers and shade bringers (habitat for wildlife…nitrogenous fixers…YEH ALRIGHT their benefits outweigh their negatives, but their negatives can be doozy’s!) trees drop branches, drop their seeds, drop leaves and occasionally drop themselves in the most inconvenient places. That is why country dwellers need to ensure that the trees that they surround themselves with are appropriate to their situation.

Our neighbour to the rear of our property has not endeared himself to us since we inherited Serendipity Farm. We were unable to move out here for 6 months after my dad died because we had to do a lot of study, a lot of tidying and a whole lot of soul searching before we made this move. Our neighbour Glad is a wonderful example of what country living can do for a person. She is 88 years old, strong as a mallee bull and still gets out and mows the lawn. She is also very bright and witty and hopefully my future holds some of what Glad has been soaking up since she moved to her property some 40 odd years ago. On the other side we have Frank and Adrian. They built a massive architectural home covered in glass and steel. Beautiful in its own right but an obvious sign of their wealth (to their detriment if you have read my post a few days ago). Aside from their obvious bourgeois tendencies they have accepted having a pair of aging penniless commie students living next door with considerable ease and grace. We are not intrusive and are clearing up the mess on our side of the fence so I think that has gone a long way to assuaging Frank’s angst. The neighbour to the rear has not been so easy to like. In the period that we were not living here and had a caretaker looking after the place, the neighbour to the rear attempted to get the caretaker to remove all of the trees on our property down to the lowest fenceline to improve their view of the river. We arrived to what looked like a logging coupe down the fenceline that borders on Glad’s property and were decidedly NOT happy campers. Aside from clear-felling our trees, the wood from this clear-felling had also disappeared and so when we heard that our neighbour to the rear had been dropping one of the few remaining trees on his property so that he could install some more grass and irrigation and said tree had taken some retribution by dropping itself on his nonprofessional arborist self and rendering him hospitalised. I can’t say that the word “karma” didn’t flash through my head along with my outward sympathy. Steve and I were clearing out some of the weeds growing in the lower garden when we decided to return to the shed to get some more fuel for the whipper snipper and heard an almighty crash. The weeds must have been holding up one of the eucalypts and it fell straight down into the garden where we had been clearing only minutes before. It was a lesson in how dangerous it can be simply existing in the country. We have since cut up the wood, and the large stand of bamboo halted the tree canopy doing much damage to the garden so we were incredibly lucky.

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How clever are we eh? We worked out how to put a slideshow in for you all! Don’t tell me that this technophobe isn’t willing to go the extra mile for her constant readers…

These pictures are somewhat self explanatory. 2 of them show the results of that tree falling. It wasn’t actually a tree, it was some adventitious growth from the bottom of 4 large trunks. I would imagine that this eucalypt had been cut to the base at some time in the past 30 years. It had regrown and no one had dealt with it from that point allowing it to grow 4 very large trunks. The odds are that these trunks will also fall down in a strong wind. Adventitious growth is the regrowth on stumps and where branches are cut and is the trees mechanism for survival. Survive it will, stick to the tree in a strong wind it won’t! You can see it isn’t an inconsequential lump of tree to be falling and you can also see how lucky we were to be out of this area when it fell. The bamboo held the canopy and we have cut some of it (mainly the bit that was over the pathway) up for future firewood. The jungle you see in these pictures is the second garden area. Once full of some lovely Eurpopean shrubs and trees, now full of weeds. This is on our New Year “to do” list. Goodbye honeysuckle…goodbye periwinkles…goodbye forget-me-not’s (till your seed bank sprouts and its “Hello!” all over again :o). You can see, in the slideshow, how plants have an amazing will to live. You can see a prime example of adventitious growth on the Syzygium species (Lilly pilly) stump that Steve had to cut down because it was in the wrong place. Allowed to grow, this adventitious growth will be fine kept pruned into a shrub, but if we let it go and allowed it to become tree like, this growth would be too weak to support its own weight after a while and would be prone to breakages on a regular basis. The Hellebore growing through the logs is a prime example. These hellebore’s haven’t seen very much light in the past few years but we have been selectively thinning out shrubs and trees to allow some light into this area and everything is thriving and rewarding us with lovely new growth and upturned happy leaves. It’s like rescuing a dog from a bad home, feeding it up and loving it and receiving maximum slobbery kisses in return and undying love. Hopefully our garden likes what we are in the process of doing. There are still 3 of those adventitious trunks just waiting to judge us should the garden find us wanting!

Do you think a garden “knows” when you care about it? They say that plants can feel things. I get the feeling that they can as our garden is responding to what we are doing in a most excited way. There is an Araucaria heterophylla otherwise known as a Norfolk Island pine down in the teatree garden. When we first got here it was stunted, yellow and very unhappy. We have since cleared out some of the teatrees (ostensibly to let in the light but if we are being honest, we are using the poles for all sorts of things) and kept the forget-me-nots and periwinkle under control so that the trees are getting a whole lot more light, room to grow and nothing is competing for their soil moisture and nutrients. This little Norfolk Island pine is going mad! It is reaching for the sky; it is now a lovely dark green and is repaying our minimal efforts with an amazing ‘thankyou’. One day this Norfolk Island pine will be a landmark that people will see from the river. It’s a survivor, as we all are out here on Serendipity Farm and the more of these little pockets of survivors that managed to keep going despite all of the odds against them, the happier I get. Every little azalea that has hung on; every rhododendron cram packed full of blackberries that flowers amazingly each year; every tall weedy tree craning for the light is going to be rewarded with their hearts desires…light, water and nutrients. We can’t do much about their soil, but they have been shedding their leaves over the years and making their own soil so we don’t have to feel too guilty about where they are situated. It’s up to us to now ensure their ongoing survival and positive growing conditions.

I am going to have to pay for that library book sometime soon. I can keep taking it out of the library every 3 weeks and thus put off the $70 that I owe the library till mid-January. I wonder if they would take Earl as part payment. They wouldn’t need a paper shredder and they would never again have to pay someone to pick up their old cardboard boxes. He would guard the library, eat all of the leftover lunchtime scraps, scare the money out of errant tardy book lenders and would generally make sure that everyone going into the library knew who Earl was. I have been taking out Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall handbooks since I discovered his bread book. It’s like everything else with me…I start off looking for one thing in my research efforts, and end up compiling a mountain of future side research projects to undertake! When studying, Steve totally despairs of me. I am supposed to be looking for 1 thing, and end up with 14 PDF’s about totally unrelated things that “might come in handy in future units” and take much longer to finish the actual task than I might otherwise take. I can’t help being a magpie and collecting. The bluer and shinier the information is…the more excited I get! I have to keep it in Word docs…acres of them. I have CD’s full of word docs jam packed with recipes for things that I wanted to remember. I could write recipe books with them all! I don’t know what it is in my makeup that causes me to hoard information, but I am just really glad that it hasn’t translated into physical hoarding or poor Steve would be insane by now. We are just off now to Exeter. The home of the happy dog (walking) and the happy Steve (Nigel’s Gourmet butchers) and the happy Fran (the library and the thrift shop). I have some books to pick up and one of them “The Veg Patch” by one of Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall’s compatriots is going to hopefully point us in the right direction for installing our raised beds and getting started on our new found love of growing vegetables. Wish us luck!


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Das Wree
    Dec 16, 2011 @ 10:17:07

    Now you know I am not one to engage in Schadenfreude (hee hee hee) I find the tree felling incident very amusing. You should send him a copy of ‘The Happening’ at the hospital.

    Take a little of my luck, but I need some for the next few weeks!


  2. Kym
    Dec 16, 2011 @ 11:02:34

    Luck! lol


  3. Mum
    Dec 16, 2011 @ 12:47:58

    That slideshow was good Pen. You are finding all sorts will come up, & yes, gardens do know when you are looking after them properly too. Look at what you are finding now eh ? You have a long way to go with it all yet, but, you have also come such a long way so far. It will always be an interest for you both. You could start a compost pile further down the garden with fallen leaves in Autumn too, though I find it saves double handling by raking the leaves & putting straight under trees & shrubs solves it all. Any half decomposted leaves etc, just heap around the trees & shrubs. The worms do a marvellous job, & handfull of blood & bone around gives a boost too.We’ll start another spud patch or garden when I come over.


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