Monday, December 3, 2018

Fantail Cottage – Bathroom Facilities DIY

Despite the fact that this is supposed to be a blog that’s all about Gardening, there have been quite a few DIY projects that have been dominating my time lately. But it’s DIY in the garden I've been busy with, so I’m sure my gardening readers will forgive me. Most avid gardeners will know and acknowledge that there is always a need for a certain amount of DIY, whether it’s making up tomato stakes out of a few bits of old decking or building a garden shed... basically, doing whatever’s needed.

Following on from my last post about “Fantail Cottage” and our plans to make it available to paying guests, we realised for it to work properly I had to do something about the bathroom facilities.

I built an emergency bathroom quite a few years ago with toilet and shower that has been barely adequate – a typical gardeners bathroom that has seen many of my muddy boots over the years so not really suitable for paying guests to use. The bathroom is located about 10 metres (up a few steps) from the sleepout as shown in the above picture. The bathroom is through that door on the right. So the plan is to extend it making it bigger and more comfortable to use.

However, nothing is quite as simple as it sounds.

Before I can do anything about enlarging it, there are a couple of quite big jobs to do first. Like getting rid of that big pile of clay (on the left in the above picture). All that clay got piled there years ago when I excavated the basement of the house. There was nowhere else on the property to put it so it just sat there eventually becoming part of the back lawn, so now getting rid of it was going to be a tricky, time consuming and heavy job.

I made a start months ago and using a wheelbarrow took it down the steps, over the bridge past the sleepout and up the other side of the gully to the very back of the property and then disposing it somewhere out of view — a  total of some 50 odd metres up and down steep slopes, and Auckland clay isn't light. I could only do a half dozen trips before I was completely exhausted, so it was going to be a long, slow job doing it that way. Surprisingly, what I’d done in the above pic represents about 30 odd barrows full as it expands considerably when you break it up. The picture above shows how far I got before I realised I had to come up with a better plan.

As it happens, there’s an access ramp I built years ago that enabled me to get up and down into the gully with wheelbarrows and lawnmowers, etc.

I’d built it out of landscaping grade Macrocarpa and it was beginning to rot so it would need replacing at some stage. So I decided to demolish the ramp and build a retaining wall in its place, then I could fill the cavity created with all the clay.

I hasten to point out that this was Marie’s idea and a rather good one as it turns out.

So thankfully the job of shifting the clay became so much easier, and now I’m already starting to sense a feeling of space having now created a large flat area to work with.

There are still a few jobs to do before I can start on the bathroom. I need to rebuild a keystone retaining wall to hold the remaining bank up plus I need to remove those 2 punga ferns next to the bathroom.

The current problem is the weather as it’s been raining for the last week or so and there’s still several days of rain forecast, meaning I can’t do much more until it stops. So it's going to take another month or more yet before anything resembling a new bathroom will start to emerge.

In the mean time, I've been getting a few supplies together including a second hand steel bath (a really nice one) and a bunch of second hand glass bricks. I want one wall of the bathroom to be all glass so as to catch more natural light. The existing bathroom, which is little more than an outhouse currently, is quite dark and gloomy.

Watch this space.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Fantail Cottage

Rolling out the Welcome Mat...

Many visitors to my garden who discover the sleepout nestled in the midst of a thicket of bush and fruit trees, comment on the lovely setting. They imagine it as a beautifully quiet place to retreat to which it is. There are relatively few houses in the immediate vicinity as it backs onto a reserve on 2 sides. Hence there's a lot of birdsong from native Tuis and Fantails, not to mention the odd Rosella, Wood Pigeon or Pukeko. It really is a lovely place to hang out especially from spring to autumn.

Many express surprise that such a place can be found so close to Auckland city. It’s only a couple of minutes drive from the Auckland harbour bridge and is close to public transport, shops and cafes. You could cycle to the bridge in about 5-10 minutes which will be great when the Skypath (a cycleway across the harbour bridge) finally opens in a couple of years time.

Coupled with my experience over many years of hosting homestay students from all over the world, it seems only natural that we would think about making the sleepout available to paying guests, especially with the growing popularity of AirB&B these days. So that is what we’ve decided to do and we’re calling it “Fantail Cottage”.

The sleepout itself is only small so it will probably only suit a single person, perhaps an artist, photographer or a writer seeking some solitude for a few days, or simply someone travelling on their own. There is still a bit of work needed to get it ready for guests and when the time comes I’ll add a link to a website where it can be properly viewed and where bookings can be made — watch this space.

In the mean time if you’re planning a visit to Auckland in the near future this may well be an accommodation option for you to think about. If you need an excuse, why not come and watch some of the America’s Cup yacht racing which is due to start next year. We’re only a 5-10 minute bus ride from all the action.

I welcome any expressions of interest, feedback or questions you may have in the comments section below.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Growing Avocados

One thing I’ve always wanted to do is to try growing Avocados. I love avocados and they seem to be getting more and more expensive to buy in NZ. The price of avocados has been going up steadily over the years to the point where they're now so expensive there's a black market in Avocados. They can cost anywhere from $1- $4 each!

The problem with growing them myself was I never seemed to have enough space, with so much of my garden devoted to growing vegetables, etc. Over the years I’ve had several Avocado trees pop up all by themselves from an avocado stone that was thrown in the compost. Some have even grown to a reasonable size but then never fruited. Aside from the fact they were always in the wrong place, they generally don’t do well unless they're a proper grafted tree.

So, I finally decided to have a proper go at growing them, but first I had to commit to sacrificing some of my vegetable garden. (The position I chose is against the plywood fence in the right hand pic in the above banner image) I would need enough space not for one, but for two trees side by side — 2 different varieties — the Haas and the Fuerte varieties which are complimentary to each other from a pollination point of view.

The first thing I had to do once deciding on the best place for them was to make sure the soil was right. Regular readers of this blog who’ve read my posts about my other fruiting trees will know that I have a lot of solid clay underneath my topsoil. So I had to get rid of it by digging 2 huge holes where I would plant my 2 avocado trees.

Avocados have very sensitive roots, so the soil needs to be very light and able to drain away freely. They also have a tap root that goes down quite deep. So after digging quite a deep hole I also dug a drain that went even deeper then filled the bottom of it with scoria. I also buried a perforated Nova Coil pipe to ensure that any excess water could escape.

I mixed some of the existing topsoil with a mixture of compost and fine gravel (gap7) and gradually refilled the hole.

 Avocados are also gross feeders so I also added whatever slow release fertilisers I had including half a bag of sheep pellets and half a bag of Osmocote – the blue granules.

Any and all clay from the hole was discarded which was about 80% of what came out of the hole. The best time to plant is when the soil temperature is warm so I planted them in late spring after a few warm days. They get a bit of morning shade, but over the warmer months they’ll get a good amount of sun in the afternoons.

So, now all I can do is wait and hope that I’ve given these 2 trees the best possible start in life. It’ll be a few years before they’re ready to bear fruit.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

DIY Outdoor Kitchen

One of the things I had in mind to do when I built the decking around the sleepout was to provide some kind of sheltered kitchen facility, that would save the occupant from having to come all the way up to the main house if all they wanted was a quick snack or cup of tea. So I decided to build a kitchen bench starting with whatever timber I had lying around which included a few lengths of 4x2.

Knowing what the dimensions should be was a critical first step.
So my starting point was with a laminated bench top I saw at Bunnings for under $100.

The first thing I did was build a frame slightly smaller than the bench top itself which would become the top of the carcass. I made it smaller to allow for a small overhang.

I glued and screwed everything together making sure everything was properly straight and square. Then, using more 4x2 timber lengths I made a few more legs for the frame of the carcass.

I ripped a bit of old decking in half on the table saw, length ways to create a couple of rails which I would use to attach the legs. Also, the plywood base of each cupboard would attach to these rails.

     I positioned 2 of the legs to accommodate a couple of drawers which I had salvaged from an old cabinet we no longer needed. At this point because the cabinet was starting to get rather heavy I moved it into a position nearer to where it would finally reside and continued attaching plywood to create the individual cupboard compartments.
I hasten to point out at this stage that I have very little if any cabinet-making experience, other than a few wood working projects from school nearly a life-time ago. So I was basically making this up as I went along, although I had a very clear idea of what I was aiming to produce.

The next thing that was needed were some cupboard doors which I made out of plywood attached to a light timber frame for each door. This was the most challenging part of the job in view of my limited cabinet making skills, but I was very pleased with how it was all coming together at this point. In the mean time I added a couple of shelves and continued to cover the entire cabinet with plywood to finish everything off nicely.

Getting it to this stage I needed a few bits of hardware including hinges and door/draw handles so I decided to replace the existing handles on the drawers to make sure everything matched. In trying to match everything I also had to sand the drawers back to their original lighter colour, although I knew it wouldn't match perfectly, but I told myself: close enough would be good enough.The plywood I used was untreated so I was aware I would need to cover it with a protective layer of stain or varnish. At first I thought of using the same dark stain as I used on that planter box (on the right hand side in the picture above). I thought by doing that, I could hide the fact that there were different coloured timbers showing, but because it's such a light airy space I felt a lighter colour would be better despite the variation in timber colours. 

Because I used a stain, that only accentuated the different coloured timbers rather than hid the fact, but I'm not too worried about that. Finally, all that remains is to attach the top ... once I take it out of it's plastic wrapper, of course. But I have a few little jobs to do first. As you can see, I've had power hooked up for the space, which is intended for a little fridge and microwave on the left, and for a toaster and kettle on the right. But also, I'll be tapping into one of those plugs to run power to a couple of down lights over the bench. Once the wiring is installed I'm thinking of putting a splash back on the wall above the bench. I'll add more pics once it's all completed.

Monday, October 29, 2018

More on the Black Doris Plum

Several years ago I did a post about my disappointment with a Black Doris plum tree I'd put in (read here). It had been in this spot for about 7 or 8 years, but had done absolutely nothing, barely growing a few inches in the whole time it was there and never fruiting at all. It was obviously in the wrong place, so I eventually dug it out and replaced it with an Apple tree.

At the time, I decided to give it one last chance to redeem itself by planting it somewhere else in the garden. My options were limited and the only place I could find was a more shady position towards the bottom of the gully, a short distance from the other plum which is its pollenator. Even so, I didn't hold out much hope for it ever doing anything spectacular.

So I planted it in this garden and basically forgot about it.

To my surprise it started showing signs of growth within a season or 2, however I was still sceptical about it doing much else.


So, you can imagine my joy over the last couple of seasons seeing it blossom and finally beginning to bear fruit.

It seems my perseverance has paid off. In total it's taken about 12 years to get it to this point. I'm rather glad I didn't give up on it like I was very tempted to do when it didn't grow very well in its first location.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


If I could recommend any flowering plant for a shady garden like mine it would be the Clivia. They’re incredibly easy to grow and provide a great splash of colour in the garden at spring time.

I have 3 varieties or colours in my garden  – a strong orange, a pale orange and a pale yellow one. They have long leathery dark green foliage, make a good space filler all year round and contribute to the lush tropical theme I'm creating in my garden. The plant itself needs very little attention, however they do multiply like mad so may need to be divided up every now and then. One plant will soon fill a large space.

I feel a little bit silly having originally bought my first one from a garden centre, as they're so common where I live. The pale orange one was given to me by a friend who had too many in her garden and was thinning hers out. The biggest threat to the Clivias in my garden are snails who can make a bit of a mess of things sometimes although I haven't put much effort into controlling them so it's not a big deal.

The only down side for me is that they kinda resemble Agapanthus which I don't particularly like. Thankfully, they're nowhere near as invasive or weed-like. 
The pale yellow one's my favourite...

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Update on the Chooks

Chooks are funny creatures! And smart too.
They each have their own personality. One of the chooks is quite placid. The others are more adventurous and one in particular is quite naughty – a kind of ringleader – and is leading the others astray. We’re currently engaged in a battle of wits.

Over the months since we’ve had them I’ve had to modify their enclosure countless times, because they keep getting out. Not that I don’t appreciate the whole Free-range concept but when they get out, they leave their droppings everywhere and get into the neighbours veggie patch which I’m sure they don’t appreciate.

Each time I've managed to find the slight opening through which they’ve managed to squeeze out, but after checking all around the perimeter of their enclosure for the umpteenth time I’m totally baffled as to how they keep getting out. I thought they might be flying over the fence, so we clipped their wings. Next thing they’re out again! They even come looking for us in the house as if they’ve come asking to be fed. And yet they’re not that hungry. It seems they just like the attention... or the challenge.

Each time I walk them back to their yard they come scurrying after me like little puppy dogs trying to trip me up on the steps. They’d be quite entertaining if they weren’t so annoying!

Anyway, they're keeping us well stocked in eggs, laying about 4 eggs a day, and they’re good sized eggs too. Once one of them layed a freakishly huge egg that had 2 yokes!

They’re great entertainment for the grandkids when they come around. But if they don't wear enclosed footwear the chickens go after their toes, pecking them like they’re a tasty treat of deliciously fat huhu grubs.

Now that spring’s arrived I’ll probably spend a bit more time up in the garden near the chooks. Perhaps then I’ll figure out how they keep getting out and put a stop to it, before I get the garden cranked up again.