Monday, December 4, 2017

The Sleepout #8: Six years on...

It’s been six years now since I first got the idea of building the sleepout and I have absolutely no regrets. In that time it’s been put to continuous use, usually for visitor accommodation and/or storage.

Admittedly, it’s not ideal for use all year round. Auckland’s weather has something to do with that as we get a lot of rain and despite the fact that it’s well insulated it does get a bit cold in the winter.

But as anyone in NZ will tell you, Auckland has a serious housing shortage, a problem that’s been growing for some years now, which has caused a real problem with availability and inevitably the cost of housing has gone through the roof.

For me personally, (as some readers of this Blog may know) my life was turned upside down soon after the sleepout was built, when my wife of 27 years passed away following a 3 year battle with breast cancer. Since then I’ve remarried and between my new wife and myself, we have 6 daughters between us, mostly all grown up thankfully, but each one of them has had their difficulties finding (and keeping) a suitable roof over their heads.

Hence the sleepout is getting more use than it’s ever had. So this year I decided to focus on this part of the garden and do what I can to make it more comfortable and more usable. It was always my intention to do something along those lines but now there’s a need to shift it up a gear.

So, the first thing I planned to do was build a deck that goes all the way around the sleepout, in order to create more outdoor living space. Unfortunately, the guidelines on sleepouts prevent me from enlarging the sleepout itself. As you would expect from a keen gardener like me, it was important to ensure it blends in nicely with the garden.

So, the first job was to dig out the area where the deck would go, cutting into the bank sufficiently to create a reasonable space for the deck. That also meant there were 2 Pungas (tree ferns) that needed to be removed which I relocated to other parts of the garden. There were also 3 Lancewoods which were surprisingly easy to relocate. In the picture above one punga has already been removed with one still remaining. The Lancewoods are the 3 skinny trunks on the right of the photo.


I figured getting rid of more of the vegetation from around the sleepout may let more light in which will help keep the sleepout warmer and drier. Besides that, they were simply in the way.

I decided to continue with Keystone for the retaining wall, so after measuring everything out I figured out where I needed to install a couple of timber piles and a beam to support the deck. I was careful to ensure the height was just right so the new decking would be flush level with the old decking. Then I continued framing it up with 150x50mm joists.

Ultimately, the intention is to create some outdoor living space that is also weathertight, so I needed to install some posts and beams to hold up the roofing which would tie it in with existing roofing on the sleepout. This was all bolted to the framing for the deck which could only be done before the retaining wall was properly finished off otherwise I couldn't drill the holes and get the bolts through as the retaining wall butts up tightly to the decking.

I’m pretty sure this will eventually create a nice outdoor space especially from spring to autumn, and that bank will look nice once it’s all planted out. 

The next job that needs doing involves a bit of storm water drainage. Part of the project so far has included re-positioning and levelling a large water tank that collects stormwater. The gully where the sleepout is situated is a natural water-course. Up until now I have not done anything to address all the water that flows directly underneath the sleep out following a heavy downpour. 

That's my next job. Read about it here.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Surprise Gift Provides Needed Inspiration

A good friend of mine named Tovio rang me one day last summer to ask if he could drop something off at my place. I had no idea what it was or what I had done to prompt him to do this, but I was delighted when he arrived with a planter box he’d made and wanted to give it to me.

I absolutely love it and I found the perfect spot for it in front of my home office. I was so pleased with it I wanted to find an appropriate plant to put in it as soon as possible. I eventually decided to buy a new hibiscus which is another tropical plant that seems to do quite well in Auckland and I was sure it would do well in this spot which is very hot and sunny in the afternoons.

I was very interested in how Tovio made this planter, which he had put together using some surplus materials from a job he had done where he installs imitation stone as cladding on houses, fireplace surrounds and other garden features, including letterboxes. The more I looked at this planter box the more I realised how well this material compliments the style of my house which has a kind of colonial character to it but also the material would lend itself nicely to the tropical garden I’ve created out the back. So I started thinking about how I could incorporate this concept into my garden.

One area that has been bothering me for some time is a little garden space at the back of the house where the back garden begins. I put this in years ago using ‘half round tanalised timber edging’ which despite being tanalised has slowly rotted because of an overflow pipe from a hot water cylinder which constantly drips water into this garden. So I decided to ask Tovio if he could install some of his imitation stone into this space, which he was more than happy to do for me.

After installing some tanalised plywood into the space (on both sides) it was ready to have the stone attached to it. If you look carefully in the picture (above left) you may notice how I also added an extra timber rail above the space as the thickness of the stone material would protrude beyond what was there originally by about 50mm. I thought it would look better if the top edge of the stones were concealed.

At this point Tovio set about installing the stones, which are actually made of solid concrete, using a special waterproof adhesive. After that he pointed all the gaps with a cement mix to which he’d added a charcoal colour. If you live in Auckland and you'd like something similar done at your place, why not get in touch with Tovio. Learn more about Tovio's Stone Cladding Service here.


After the stone work was completed, I made a custom fit box which I lined with black polythene to sit in the garden where the pipe was dripping and planted it out with a Maiden-hair fern, which had previously been growing in this part of the garden. There should now be no issues with rotting substrate and I know the maiden-hair will thrive in this position. I also added some mother-in-laws tongue which I felt also worked well in this space. (Picture above right shows the plants thriving after just a few months.)

To complete the effect I laid a couple of flat stones in the garden on which I would sit a couple of pot plants, the large bright blue one creating a feature in this area with a Plectranthus ‘Velvet Elvis’ to compliment the colour of the pot.

Although it appears to obscure the stonework, you get glimpses of it as you walk past, in between the pots. I added some white pebbles to finish it off. I’m very pleased with the stonework and I’m keen to use more of it around the garden. I’m already cooking up a few ideas on that — watch this space.

Monday, July 17, 2017

More Retaining Walls

One of the most challenging aspects of my property is the hilly contour of the land. The property rises steeply off the road, flattens out where the house sits and then descends into a deep gully before rising steeply again to my garden which in turn, sits on the edge of a cliff! All of this has required a tremendous amount of time, energy and expense building retaining wall after retaining wall. I’m pleased to say that most of the work has now been done except for one last area which is in the gully itself, where I built the sleepout a few years ago.

Over the years since I have been at this property I have acquired a number of palm trees and other tropical plants which have now outgrown their pots and need to be planted in the ground. However, while the gully seemed to be the most appropriate place to plant them, the bank where I had the most space was simply too steep, hence the need for more retaining walls.

The space I refer to is in the lower right corner of this picture (left). If you look carefully, you may be able to see 2 big tree stumps which I would need to work around.

If you want to see what this area used to look like a few years ago when the trees were still there click here


I opted to build with timber as all the tree roots in the way made any other option seem too difficult and also rather impractical. Timber is also a cheaper option. Having said that, getting up and down to the actual worksite with ANY material was always going to be difficult. After climbing up and down with what seemed like dozens of buckets of concrete, the job seemed to take forever.


It seems I may have underestimated just how steep this bank was, because even after building the wall to 1.5m high (the maximum allowable without a permit), the slope was still too steep to create the effect I wanted, so I decided to carve a flat footing into the bank and create another small retaining wall using keystones, all the while trying to work around the huge tree stump that was in the way.

After finishing off the keystone wall and back-filling with garden mix that part of the garden was ready for planting...

This was the perfect spot for another one of my palms which had outgrown the place it was in, elsewhere in the garden. It was also a good spot for some of my bromeliads. I’m really pleased with how this area has turned out and is another step closer to the tropical oasis I’m trying to create.