It has been one year since that fateful afternoon when, at around 1pm, we fled our house to escape a bushfire which tore through our property and many hundreds of acres of land around us. One year! How absurd! As per the cliché that is often reported but never seems explicable, time has flashed past and yet it seems like just yesterday. So much has happened in the year since 17 February 2017, and still I can feel that afternoon in my bones, as if it happened moments ago... minus the sudden, gasping-for-air sobbing that kept randomly bursting out of me, thank goodness!
When hubby and I were talking this morning about how I might write about the past year on The Tree Diaries, we broke it up into what we have done well / what we still want to do / what we've done badly. The conversation got stuck on our failures and all the things we should have done better, sooner, more professionally. It was more than a little disheartening. I have decided not to include those thoughts here. Yes, absolutely, we have "failed" in many ways in this past year. BUT - and it's a justifiably big BUT - we have come a long way in the past 12 months, and I genuinely think we should be chuffed with our efforts, no matter the shortfall.
Our house is back to being fully functional (which took a full 11 months, and ours didn't even burn down!), and our garden is looking really rather lovely. Different, to be sure, but quite lovely. All in all, things are pretty great. The photos I have included in this post perhaps don't do it justice, being high (horrible) summer and all, but I've done my best to capture where the garden is at in this moment in time.
Since I last wrote about it on here, several trees we thought had survived ended up dying and had to be removed - including, sadly, almost all of the ornamental pear trees. Amazingly, six trees we thought were dead actually recovered. They had to be pruned back to just above the graft in some cases, but we decided that if their roots were strong enough to survive a bushfire, it didn't matter what shape they ultimately took, shrubby or not. These included two birch trees, a gleditsia, a liquid amber and a tulip tree (which is a sad specimen at only around 20cm tall!). However the most significant of these surprise survivors was our claret ash. I can't even begin to explain our joy in that! The claret ash on our top terrace has been a treasured marker of time and experience in our garden. It was originally planted outside the fence line in our (ridiculous, in hindsight) attempt to plant trees all around the property with no way to water them. It received a lot of love from me and my watering can, but ultimately it was clearly doomed and I pulled it out and potted it up. We managed to keep it alive for another year like that, barely, until we finished landscaping and put it in the first garden bed we made. It was virtually ringbarked by kangaroos, it was straggly and tiny... and within the year it became the focal point of the garden! After the fire it seemed unlikely to recover, but we kept water up to it and fertilised it heavily on the advice of a family friend. Come spring it was showing signs of life, so we cut it back hard, allowing every bud plenty of room to grow. The plan worked and that ash is once again the focal point of the garden. I still have to pinch myself every time I look out and see it there - the perfect symbol of resilience.
Apart from the claret ash and some amazingly vigorous carpet roses, the whole top terrace is new. We decided early on in spring that we couldn't face tackling the whole garden this year, so we focussed our efforts on the top terrace and the back-front garden, the only part of the garden to have survived thanks to air waterbombing. We have invested a lot of time and money into those spaces, including making the fairly risky decision to buy a few advanced trees in the hope of getting instant shade and boosting our spirits. So far it has been a good gamble, and we have no regrets about investing into these spaces to make living here more bearable in the face of scorched everything. We haven't rebuilt the cubby house (which was hidden in the maple grove), but last autumn we built the kids a small sandpit next to the new-and-huge trampoline, and have slowly built a brand new garden space around that. It is now one of our favourite parts of the garden, where it used to be dry and neglected.
In truth, everything else has been more or less ignored, or our half-hearted efforts have been largely unsuccessful. Sadly that includes our attempt to replant a smaller version of the maple grove but, as I mentioned earlier, this is not going to be a place to dwell on our failures, so let's not go there!
The Coopermarket (vege garden) has been part of our 'ignore-for-now' plan. The garden beds are rebuilt, but we haven't yet refitted the plumbing into that part of the garden and the whole large space remains empty. We intend to get to that this autumn (I hope!), and the kids and I have already started making plans for a small winter crop of veges. We are all still missing the chooks too, so a priority for the coming year is to rebuild the Taj Ma Fowl - the most epic of hubby's creations - and get some more feathery friends to share our garden with.
The orchard is similarly absent. A dear friend of mine popped round with a few fruit trees in the weeks after the fire, and we planted them and have enjoyed watching them grow since, but haven't made any plans to plant more at this stage. I suspect we will actually one day replant an orchard within The Coopermarket instead of the main garden, but it is not currently on our priority list.
My personal pet project for the past year has been to try to fill our garden with flowers and, by extension, insects and birds. My bee hives were destroyed in the fire and we haven't seen many foraging bees in the garden this year, unsurprisingly. But we have had an epic butterfly and bird year! I have become completely obsessed with sightings of winged friends - I even take notes of sighting dates and locations: #twitcher ! Just yesterday I saw the first supurb blue fairy wren outside my bedroom and I think I squealed! We had a swallowtail butterfly the size of a tea saucer around for a few days, although it was much too flittery for me to capture on film. I did catch some shots of our first scarlet jezebel butterfly on the fading buddleia though. It has been a total joy to see life come back to our garden, slowly but surely.
Anyhoo, I'm sure I could go into much more detail about what we have and haven't done in the twelve months since that awful afternoon, but I think my time would be better spent getting out into the garden and being optimistic about the year ahead. It seems inevitable that we will experience another bushfire here one day - part and parcel of making a home in the Aussie bush - but I am desperately hoping that we can get another decade or two of gardening and growing time in before it happens, in the hope that much more survives next go-round.