When you live somewhere as extreme as we do, here on the wild west coast, there is nothing like experience to teach you what you need to know. More often than not, it comes after you complete a project with the best intentions and what you believe to be the best approach, after thorough research and planning. Just as you stand back proudly to admire your handiwork, nature comes along and laughs at your efforts.
Sometimes, you need to make adjustments and improvements several times in order to get it right, but time is the real test to see if you have succeeded and it isn’t measured in months or seasons, but years. In the grand scheme of things, we haven’t been here that long so I’m just hoping the constant tweaking will result in long term success.
One of the biggest challenges I face is going up against the wind. So, it makes sense to create a windbreak. And the wisest advice is to always put up a windbreak before you start anything in a windy spot. Easier said than done. Firstly, the initial excitement of a new project means the wisest advice is often ignored in favour of the more interesting heart of the project. It just takes a storm or two, for nature to undo all your hard work and remind you the wise advice is wise for a reason.
To be honest, the windbreak to the front side of the house, intended to slow the wind off the ocean was a bit of an afterthought. There was quite the wind tunnel racing up the hill and into the garden. The eventual plan was to grow native plants to create a beautiful stand of hardy trees that would slow the wind and protect our privacy from the property across the driveway.
It seemed simple enough. I did my research and found a load of plants suited to the area and popped them inside a couple of fabric windbreak walls. Our first mistake was our choice of wooden stakes for the fabric windbreak was woefully inadequate and had snapped within a week of installation! So more sturdy metal warratahs were used that have stood up well to the elements. The fabric not so much. Held in place with just cable ties, they coped for a while but after a couple of wild winters become tattered and ragged, flapping in the breeze like a defeated pirate flag.
The plants also suffered and there were deaths – many deaths. Some of this was down to the failure of the fabric, exposing the young plants to more weather than they could handle. But a lot of it, much to my shame was my fault. I had come from a swamp situation where you just planted things and you could pretty much leave them to their own devices in a do or die attitude. A few died but most did really well. But here is completely different and while the plants I chose for the wind break were hardy, they still needed care, a lot of care – especially in the summer. It wasn’t until last summer that I began intensive watering in the windbreak – once a week, turning on the sprinkler – even when our water levels were precariously low. But for some plants, it was too little too late, after suffering from the effects of a failed windbreak.
Not discouraged, I have renewed my efforts and have just completed my latest attempt to establish a beautiful native windbreak on the front side of the house. Lessons have been learnt. I upgraded the plastic-coated washing line wire for the fabric frame to actual wire – a good thick gauge to give the frame strength. Then instead of cable ties to hold the fabric in place I have used proper windbreak fabric clips, and loads of them, to spread the wear and tear weak points. I did use cable ties to secure the ends to the waratahs, to stop that feathering of the fabric at the edges.
The plants came from an impulse bargain buy on the internet I saw when I wasn’t even looking for them. But with the heading ‘Tough as nails combo’ I couldn’t really turn it down and was sold by the description “A mix of tough natives that will thrive in almost any conditions, will look great with minimal care and will withstand a battering from the elements.” These were the plants for me! I placed my order and received five of each of: Hoheria populnea – Lacebark, Corokia x virgata – Geentys Ghost, Olearia avicennieafolia – Mountain Ake Ake, Dodonea viscosa – Purple Ake Ake, Olearia dartonii – Twiggy Tree Daisy.
They were tall plants, but only in 7cm pots with roots poking out the bottom. Wisdom would suggest dropping everything and planting them, but I wasn’t ready, or at the very least repotting them into something bigger. But I knew if they were in bigger pots the urgency to get them in the ground would dissolve and there would be every chance they would die at a ripe old age in their pots. So, I heeled them into to a large container with some compost around the base of their tiny pots and they filled me with guilt every time I walked past.
Finally, the fabric wind break was repaired the grateful plants were freed from their constricted pots and this latest attempt is underway. Let’s hope this time we meet with nature’s seal of approval.
Come again soon – loads of things are being crossed off the ‘to do’ list.
Sarah the Gardener : o)