It was one of those perfect spring days; 28 degrees, not too hot, no wind, a stillness that allows the birds to sing. And they did.
The hedge trees, an upright but not too tall species of cypress, Thuja occidentalis had been sitting by the ornamental dam for weeks, and they were starting to get me down.
Spring had sprung and we haven’t got all our trees, shrubs and grasses planted.
So Gary and I got out there and measured up for the hedge, placed the trees and dug the holes, or some of them. That was yesterday.
Today we were doing the planting. It was an exciting, if laborious task, but it would define a section of the garden that had been a sort of no man’s land between the driveway where we have planted Manchurian pears in a bed of indigenous grasses to replace the towering pine trees that lined the driveway for the past 50 years.
They didn’t always look this gloomy. I thought they were majestic. But after the February 2009 bush fires, when strong winds fanned flames on a 40+ degree day that skipped kilometres, killed 173 people and burnt out in excess of 2000 homes, these trees were like the world’s biggest wick and it lead straight to our house. So it was time to go.
Tree loppers removed the 60 trees in a very dramatic operation over eight days that spanned a month. The two men, had been doing tree removal for years. One, Gary Jones, was a fifth-generation tree removalist and had actually designed the equipment he used. He was extraordinary to watch. He snapped massive branches off the trees with the clasp on his machine as if they were matchsticks. His offsider Rob acted as a ‘monkey”. He would clamber up more difficult to access trees with the assistance of spikes on his boots and a belt around the tree for safety, the chainsaw dangling from his belt. He removed limbs as he moved to with in about six metres from the top, then he chopped the top off.
They downed trees, manoeuvring the massive trunks around fences, with the precision of a surgeon. The trunks were taken away to a mill for use as timber and the offcuts piled into a bonfire the size of a house. As they left at the end of the day, they would set fire to the bonfire with the confidence of an old timer saying, “She’ll be right”. We were left to look after them and make sure our house, our neighbours’ or the plantation didn’t go up in flames also. I don’t mind admitting Gary and I had about eight sleepless nights during that time as we doused flames and flying embers to stop them spreading.
The other problem we encountered was our property was covered with an irrigation system most of which we knew about, but as trees were felled often a branch would pierce a pipe, which meant we had no water to manage the fire. After they removed the tree from the offending spot, Gary (hubby) would have to rush over, with spade and repair equipment in hand (he got this down to a fine art) and repair the pipe. You could imagine our relief when the water was restored!
One day I arrived home from work to find Gary in the middle of a smoking, surreal landscape trying to repair a pipe. A pine tree had been felled over the latest bonfire and pierced a pipe below it. Gary Jones used the claw on his machine to pull the smouldering pile apart to reveal the pipe. Gary (hubby) was in there among the hot ash trying to repair the pipe – which, of course, subsequently melted from the hot ash. It was a very frightening, surreal scene.
The worst night was when Mr Jones came up to me just before leaving one evening to ask me to check the overnight wind conditions. He had just built a particularly large bonfire beside the road (opposite a plantation of pine trees), and he was a little undecided about whether it would be safe to light it. I checked with the Bureau of Meteorology website which forecast 40knot winds. I urgently relayed this information to ensure he wouldn’t set fire to it, to which he looked to the sky, flicked a match at the bonfire and said, “She’ll be right”.
That night we had cars stopped down the road to photograph this terrifying sight of a column of sparks shooting into the sky higher than the pine trees around it.
You can probably see why we were very pleased to put the pine-tree-removal phase behind us and start on our new gardens.
The removal of the trees had not only left us with a mess, it had also created vistas across the lawn, driveway and golf course that were quite a shock to us. We could see cars driving down the road for the first time.
After much deliberation and research, we workout what we wanted to plant and how we wanted the property to look, because it was looking very different.
We had settled on the driveway plantings, and peppercorns, gums, sheoaks and grevilleas across the front of the property that would attract the local birds and create a natural screen. Now we were up to the tennis court.
We wanted to put in a hedge to define the tennis court as a private area. At the moment, when you play tennis you are exposed to the road. It was very exciting to be getting the cypresses in.
It was a hot, sunny, still day and we got off to a great start.
But after planting half the trees, Gary had a problem with the water, so he went off to investigate and I took the opportunity to rest for a minute by the ornamental dam. We often stop at the dam for a moment of contemplation and recuperation while in transit to the next job, but this time I had a little more time on my side.
I hadn’t really spent much time at the dam lately to really notice the animal life there apart from the ducks, which visited annually to have ducklings. Timid Dusky Moorhens had also started visiting, which were quite entertaining.
Dragon flies zipped across the dam stopping at flowers and reeds. I realised I had to do something about the bull rushes, which were taking hold again. We resorted to spraying them a few years ago after our attempts to pull them out and burn them off had failed. I was contemplating the spraying when I looked down and noticed the water just below the deck was dotted with tadpoles of varying sizes.
What a great sight to behold. I couldn’t possibly spray now. I’ll have to think of something else. I was contemplating dead-heading the remaining bull rushes when, just below a stick floating on the surface, the light revealed the body of a freshwater turtle floating just below. What I took to be a stick, was its head soaking up the sunshine.
Over the years we have found turtles on the road and rescued them by putting them in the dam, but they had not been spotted since. I started to look more closely at the other “sticks” I saw floating on the surface and found three turtles. You have to look very carefully to spot them.
When Gary returned, with two drinks in hand, to reveal the water pump had blown up, even this couldn’t dampen my perfect day.