Our Lemon Tree



You may have spotted a little lemon tree in a square pot pictured in some of our previous posts.  

This poor lemon tree has been standing guard over our back yard ever since we moved into this house. We couldnt stand to leave it behind when we moved a couple of years ago, so we had it trucked over with the rest of our belongings(solid effort by the removalist). I was able to dig up some old photos of our previous yard – same square pot, same tree 



We purchased this lemon tree about 7 years ago. It is a Dwarf Meyer Lemon variety which is designed to stay small and produce a decent yield of full sized fruit. After protecting it from frosts over the first two winters, we did get a few good seasons of produce from it. The lemons were well sized, not too sour and full of juice – very yummy and refreshing.   

Under under ideal conditions it should grow to a maximum of 3metres / 10feet high and about 2 metres wide, but unfortunately it has been stuck in this same pot since day 1. Its never been able to live up to its full potential.

One of our aims is to set this lemon tree free and plant it in the ground where it can spread out and reach its full potential! cant wait for that day!

Part 3 – Lawn Edging

With the Shed paving done, the Lawn edging will be the next job to get done. This will really frame out the backyard and we will finally get to see some of our plans become reality.

I must say, these edging pavers really are fantastic value for money. We were looking at getting square cobble stones or something similar for a fancy look but the cost was way too high. These will do the job and look great for a very long time. The exact charcoal edging paver we used can be found here.

Part 3 – Paved area for the Shed

Today we will finally start some of the paving work that will give some structure to the whole job. We were in long discussions about what to start with next and this made the most sense – starting right from the back of the house and move to the front.

An order of a full pallet of pavers(about 500) was made so we could get all of the jobs done without having to go back for more. We did buy more than needed but our landscaper said he will buy them back at cost to reuse for other jobs if necessary.

All pavers and steppers for our job will be purchased from binkpavers.com.au (support your local!)

Enough pavers?

Irrigation system essentials – main lines

The following is a list of all the essential irrigation pieces we used to run and connect the main lines. The main lines we used were were 19mm or 3/4″ Poly Tube and joined together with appropriate sized connectors.

We will write another blog post with the different items we use for the lawn, trees/shrubs and vegetable beds as we proceed.

Poly Tube

Basic irrigation poly tube that you can pick up at any hardware store

Joiners

Part 3 – Laying out the main irrigation lines

With the lull in activity from the landscapers, we got busy laying out the main lines for the irrigation system that will help keep our garden nice and green. The irrigation system is something we are hoping to do ourselves to help cut down on costs and ensure we get exactly what we want from the system. 

We got an idea from work colleague of having a fully automated system with valves, timers and WiFi. He has this type of setup in his house and loves being able to sit back and use an app on his phone to stop and start all the irrigation zones. Being a gadget guy(and lazy) im all for it!!  

For now, everything will be built in manual and we will work up to installing the automation.

We started by running a couple of lines to the side and front yards and capped them to prevent dirt getting inside.

Another line was run for the new lawn area, the shape of which roughly followed the outline of where we think the lawn will be installed. We also ran a line to where the garden beds will be installed.

The pipe we used was standard 19mm poly tubing and all of the connectors and clamps are what you would get at a local hardware store – nothing too fancy here. 

There is a tap installed around the back of the house and we will be using this as the point where the entire irrigation system will be connected and controlled. 

Now to do some research on automated irrigation systems!

Part 3 – Planning update

In our previous post, we outlined the a plan or design that would be used for the next phase of this project – Part 3 will focus on turning the blank canvas into various zones and usable areas.

The key jobs are as follows:

  • Garden Paths – One path will run from the front of the house and will end at the gate / entrance to the back yard. Another path will connect the entertainment area to the utility area at the back of the home.
  • Lawn edging – Something simple to keep the lawn and surrounding areas separated and distinct from one another.
  • Lawn – A beautiful lush green lawn to enjoy all year around.
  • Irrigation system – The irrigation system will be essential to keep the garden looking great especially during our hot and dry summers. The preference here is to have everything that needs water covered by this irrigation system so that the need for manual watering is reduced.
  • Raised Garden Beds – A couple of raised garden beds will be built primarily for growing food during the warmer months.
  • Extended Entertainment area(Concrete slab). The current entertainment area will be extended to give us more room to move.
  • Paved utility area – A paved area that will form the foundation for the shed and give us some space for a general utility area.
  • Garden Shed – No garden is complete without a Garden Shed.
  • Planting – Not sure exactly what plants we will get but we will likely include a Hedge, a couple of trees and a few shrubs.
  • Mulching – Finishing with mulch for water retention and protection of the plants from weather extremes

Starting any day now!!

 

 

Landscape planning and layout

In hindsight, it would have been a better idea to start this project with a plan as opposed to starting with only a few ideas in my head. We had a vision and some basic concepts of what we were after and so far we have seen good results and progress. But now that its getting into a more detailed phase of the project, we need to start working against something tangible so that our landscapers see what we are aiming for.

In our down time, we have been sketching some ideas on paper. 

Here is my attempt to translate those paper sketches into a PC image file that can be printed out and shown to the landscapers.

Yard Plan

There are probably better ways to do this but I dont have the software or skills to draw it up properly.

The main concepts are still there but now with some additional details including:

  1. An outline of the new lawn area
  2. A kids play area
  3. Garden beds to grow our own food
  4. Footpaths 
  5. A hedge(and probably a few trees and shrubs) around the front, and
  6. An area for the garden shed

Now that we have a plan on paper, we will start to mark out the areas to see how will look before finally committing to the work.

Part 2 – Earthworks update

Over the last 4 days, we have seen considerable transformation of our yard. We finally got rid of that old ‘lawn’ and its been replaced with tonnes of new soil which has provided us with a blank canvas to work with.

During the week, the dingo and trucks were working hard all day to get rid of the old, and bring in the new.

After the initial rip up and removal, Luke worked on getting several tonnes of back fill onto the property and then worked it all the way to the back to create the new ground level.

There is still a slight but deliberate fall from house to fence for water run off(about 15cm) but nothing like the previous 50-60cm we had inherited. 

Finally,  a topping of approx 10-15cm of rich top soil was added which will provide us with a great base from which to plant our trees, shrubs and lay a new lawn.

Below are some are some progress shots we took during the work.

Once we get to the end of this stage, we really need to start thinking a bit more about the layout of the yard. We have some plans in mind but there is going to be a bit of a lull in activity while we think, plan and formalise the next phase.

 

Part 2 – Earthworks

Ever since we bought this place, one thing we really disliked was this weed infested lawn in our back yard. It wasn’t usable at all, and all I could do was just keep the weeds down(and the kids away from it) while we were waiting for this job to start.

The day has finally come where we will be ripping it all up and starting again!

Today we had breakfast to the sounds of some machinery getting unloaded and driven into our back yard. These guys are early starters and they were getting on with it at just after 7am.

 

Here is a photo we were able to sneak before heading off to work.

Dingo getting it done - looks like fun

During the day they were busy clearing off all the grass and top soil so that they could gradually start to back-fill and level over the next few days.

At the end of this phase, the aim is to have a uniform ground level that goes all the way around from the front all the way to the back. In addition, with some of the current soil being removed and replaced, we are going to take the opportunity to improve the soil quality by bringing in good soil loaded with rich organic content. 

Below are some photos taken after the initial days work:

Very impressed with how much was done in a short period of time. it will be interesting to see how this progresses over over the next week or so.

PS: besides the noise and general mess, the other down side to all this activity is that we were advised to keep all of our windows shut to prevent everything inside being covered in a fine layer of dust!  

Part 2 – Fence finished, now onto the earthworks

In our previous post, we mentioned that the height of the fence was a bit of an issue as it looked too high and didn’t line up well with the other part of the fence we had already installed.

We decided that it had to be cut down by about 30cm and it now looks a lot neater – another milestone completed and we have a new fence that should last ages. We have also finally gained complete privacy in our back yard without losing any of the views out over the valley, a great result and something we have been looking forward to for a long time.

 

In our previous home we had a cream coloured fence which would reflect the sun and was overly bright during sunny days. This colour blends in to the background, and when we finally plant some greenery it will pop against a the dark background.

Now that this is done, its time to move onto the earthworks. We discussed this next step with out landscapers and they are going to need access into the back yard for their machines(dingo, bobcat and trucks), therefore have delayed installing the small side fence and gate until they are done.

 

Access thru here

In preparation for the first part of the earthworks, Luke has asked us to cut down the lawn to as low as possible so that his machines can get in and work efficiently to remove the current grass and soil before starting with the back-fill. We have done this in preparation for them commencing early next week.

Part 2 – Frame of the fence is up

Yesterday we received a delivery of fence posts and panels which will make up the remainder of the fence and side gate.

This morning the gents were at it by running string lines before installing the fence posts and bottom rails. The fence posts will connect directly into the steel posts that were installed for the retaining wall which provides strong support. The way the fence is integrated into the wall allows for the fence and retaining wall posts to line up perfectly. It will look a lot better on the eyes than having the fence posts and retaining wall posts out of sync (lines everywhere).

After seeing how the string lines were set initially, the top of the fence initially looks way too high, especially when you look at it from the footpath that runs down the side of our block.

The fence we bought is the standard height of 1.8m. If you add to that the 50-60cm of retaining wall underneath, the total height is running at about 2.3-2.4 metres.

Another problem is that the corner where the new fences will be joined doesnt line up nicely and in general looks bad visually.

Ill have to see what it looks like with all panels and gate installed before making any final changes but I really do think we are going to have to shorten the fence a little – 30cm or 1ft.

Here are some shots of what it looks like looking out from our backyard:

We will need to decide tomorrow on whether to shorten the fence or leave it as is – if its cut that’s it. 

The landscapers want to finish this part quickly(2 days maximum) so that they can move onto the earth works.

Guide – prepare and seal the concrete retaining wall

The following is a short list of products that are similar to those we used to prepare and seal the concrete retaining wall.

The list is very basic – Sealant, Stiff bristle brushes to clean the walls, and different types of paint brushes and rollers to apply sealant to the concrete sleepers.

Preparation – Scrub Brushes

Get the cheapest possible stiff bristle brushes you can find. The bristles need to be strong enough to scrub off any dirt away from the concrete sleepers. This will help with getting a better outcome from sealing the wall. If you try to seal over a dirty wall, it will not absorb and cover the wall properly meaning you may have to re-seal earlier than expected.

Heavy Duty Scrub Brush

Concrete Sealant

Concrete sealant comes in three finishes – Gloss, semi-gloss and clear. We selected semi-gloss which gives a slightly wet look without being overly shiny. We used about 50L of sealant for our concrete retaining wall. What was surprising is how much sealant gets absorbed into the concrete before you get to a point where you start covering the surface – you will need more than you think.

 

EnduraSeal 100% Acrylic “Wet Look” Semi Gloss Concrete Sealer Solvent Base – 5 Gallon

Paint Brushes and Rollers

Wide paint brushes 

We used a lot of wide paint brushes to cover our concrete retaining walls. These were great in getting the sealant into the corners and in between the stackstone pattern. Try to get something that is heavy duty as the course concrete and the chemicals in the sealant will destroy cheap brushes.

 

Heavy Duty 3 Piece(4,5,6 inch Professional Stain brush, Paint brush)

Paint Roller

If you have a flat surfaced concrete retaining wall, you can save yourself hours of effort by using paint rollers instead of brushes. We used rollers on the back side of the retaining wall. No need to spend a lot of money here as we got some of the cheapest ones available and they did the job.

 

You will need 2 coats

The instructions on all the sealants specify 2 coats, with about a 2 hour drying time in between coats. 

Our sleepers looked terrible with only 1 coat and its recommended to go with the manufacturers advice. Plus, you can see all the bits you missed and go over them again to make the wall look fantastic. I repeat – you will need more sealant then you first thought!

 

Part 2 – Retaining wall almost completed

Roughly two weeks after starting, the retaining wall is nearly completed! Another important milestone on the journey.

I cant state how difficult this job was, and its something that I definitely could never have done myself – certainly a job best left to professionals. The guys worked some big hours in the heat and moved literally tonnes of sleepers, posts and cement to get it done.

The retaining wall has finally given the front yard a bit of shape and some street appeal which it has never had before. Initial observations are that it is an extremely solid structure which will easily take the load of the soil which will be back-filled behind it. I have to catch up sealing the remainder of the wall but ill get to that when I have some free time.

The drainage system has been set behind the full length of wall and is now just awaiting drainage aggregate and back-fill (full details in this post).

Now with all that work completed, the next job will be to install the fence before moving onto the earthworks. 

Whats inside a Concrete Sleeper?

Have you ever wondered whats inside a concrete sleeper? I read that the Canberra Concrete Sleepers are reinforced with steel bars in the middle, but how can you tell if its really inside??? (not that I dont trust them!)

Well, during the work at our place, the landscapers had to cut a couple of sleepers and here is what we found inside:

Steel bars reinforcing the sleeper

There they are, two steel bars right thru the middle of the sleeper. Dense concrete surrounding it leaving little room for water to penetrate the sleeper
(Sealing the sleepers will protect it even more) . Colour is mixed right through the sleeper.

Above you can can see how the sealant was applied(needs another coat) and a cross section of the sleeper. So for all those that were curious to see whats inside a concrete sleeper, there you have it!

Part 2 – Good result from sealing the retaining wall

A few days after applying the sealer, it rained, and here is how it works to repel water away from the cement.

 

It really works, and the water beading on the surface is proof that it isnt soaking into the porous concrete.

 Hopefully this sealant will last a while and ill only have to re-coat the exposed surfaces every few years.

 

Part 2 – Retaining wall drainage

One of the more important, but often overlooked aspects of building a small retaining wall is the drainage. Without appropriate drainage, water will build up behind the wall causing erosion over time and loss of integrity.

  • Our landscapers are starting with a water proof liner on the back of the retaining wall
  • Then 200mm deep of drainage gravel will be installed immediately behind the retaining wall
  • Sitting on top of the drainage gravel will lie a 100mm slotted and socked PVC aggregate pipe which runs the full length of the retaining wall
  • The PVC aggregate pipe will be tested so that water will run down a small slope and exit near the end of our property close to drainage and natural ground run off
  • The aggregate pipe will then finally be covered with more drainage gravel before future soil backfill is delivered

This system is integral to protecting the integrity of the wall for years to come.

The diagram below is a rough example of what will be installed. Note, its not to scale but should have all of the key elements represented

 

Diagram of retaining wall drainage

Part 2 – Sealing the retaining wall

With the retaining wall being made from concrete, it should physically last for 20+ years without any worries or major maintenance required. 

However, a couple of minor issues related to the aesthetics do arise over time with coloured concrete, including:

  1. The colour starts to fade slightly
  2. Efflorescence caused by water and other material(fertilizer etc) can stain the wall

To prevent or reduce the occurrence of the above two issues, I sealed the wall with a concrete sealant purchased from the local hardware store.

 

To prepare, I used a strong bristle scrubbing brush to clean up the dirt that was stuck to the wall. After that was done, I gave all exposed areas two coats of the sealant, making sure I got to every little detail of the wall. I had to do most of it with a long bristle paint brush due to the nature of the patterned surface. I tried using a roller but it was just not getting to all the little nooks of the wall.

Needless to say it took a while, but I think it will be well worth it in the long run.

Here is what it looked like after applying the sealant. The sealant gives the wall a slightly wet look all year around and its not overly shiny. Here it is reflecting some of the light around sunset

 

I was able to apply the sealant while the landscapers were off site. With the weather being very hot and dry, the sealant dried in about 30 minutes allowing the second coat to be applied on the same day.

 

Part 2 – Its starting to take shape

It has been a week or so since starting this second job, and the guys have really got a lot done in a short period of time.

They are almost at the stage where the majority of the sleepers are set in place, and the drainage pipes can be dug in and installed.

The focus of the next few days is to finish the retaining wall and drainage so that they can move on to the framing of the fence.

 

Nice sunset

Got home in time to witness this beautiful scene from our backyard this afternoon. Nice way to end the day!

 

Part 2 – Some good early progress

A few more posts have gone in, which means that they have been installed all the way to around the front of the house.

They have also set some sleepers in place before levelling out and cementing the posts(next few days).

Each one of the sleepers weigh 45KG so its a bit of an effort to get so many set in such a short period of time. Great work so far.

 

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