Plots and Plans // Windbreaks

Plots and Plans is a series of posts in which I daydream about ideas we have for our garden. Unless noted, the images in this series are not mine and have been found around the interwebs - all are clearly linked to their original source by clinking on the image and by clicking the links at the bottom of the post. 

We are pretty used to the "August winds" at Widgetopia - every year, right on cue, we spend the month of August making the most of any lulls in the crazy buffeting to go outside, and then dash inside to bunker down when it picks up and drives us mad for most of the day and night.

I'm reasonably confident that this year has been the most windy yet. I suspect that is partly because we lost a lot of the garden and all of our trees which previously diverted the wind nearest to the house. But I also think it has just been a much windier August (uhum, August, you ended weeks ago! Cut the winds already!).

Anyhoo, the upshot is that hubby and I have been talking windbreaks.

It seems extremely likely that the winds will only get more intense and last for longer stretches in the years to come. We don't want to spend the rest of our spring days hiding inside, so we have to think about how best to manage this issue. Obviously the simplest answer is planning and planting windbreaks - the trick is, where and what to plant?

In our region, large farms utilise windbreaks really well to help with erosion and crop and livestock protection. There are loads of beautiful examples of huge, acres-long breaks around here. However, most of the windbreaks we see are native trees (eucalypts) and shrubs (casaurina, acacia and grevillea, mostly), or huge pine trees or conifers. All wonderfully beautiful - and all highly flammable. Absolutely not going to happen here. 

So, we are exploring alternatives that are viable in our garden.

Last weekend we put in a line of bare root poplars (Populus simonii) along a fence line in front of the parking area and shed. We are hoping this helps to prevent the parking area from turning into an impenetrable dust cloud, and make accessing the shed a little less fraught on windy days. It should also provide good shade onto the shed and act as a last line fire break should a future fire come from the west again.

We are planning on putting in a deciduous forest below the bottom terrace of the garden (but within the backyard fence line) over the coming years. This will be a mixed, informal planting of deciduous trees that do well in our area - like robinia, tulip trees, ashes, elms, birches and the like. Think: lots of autumn colour and summer shade. It'll take a long time for these trees to reach a height to provide us with a windbreak for the house (which is on the top terrace), but they will hopefully help to make the bottom of the garden more useable in windy weather, even when they are small. Not to mention, of course, they will have excellent firebreak potential. We plan to underplant the "forest" with lawn first, but over time as the trees reach a full canopy, we hope to underplant with flowering bulbs and shade loving ground covers like violas, vinca and hellebores (to maximise bee forage). Something like at Kiloren, a garden in Crookwell originally designed by Edna Walling (you can find my full garden ramble post on that garden here).

We are also thinking about using well-placed hedges and small shrubberies to provide pockets of shelter throughout the garden. Hubby spent a few hours over the weekend moving soil onto exposed patches of the backyard which we will seed with grass, and with all that time pottering on the tractor he was inspired to make a plan for the rest of that area. At the moment it is a sad, wasted part of the garden - it adjoins the Coopermarket, right where the lovely chook coop was before being destroyed in the fire, and has been a bit too depressing to tackle until now. He sketched up his idea last night and I love it!

Sketch of garden.png

You can see the recently planted poplar row on the left of the sketched image (they look a little forlorn and, quite ironically, wind beaten). Now to tackle the line of shrubs he has sketched on the right... hubby was thinking of something less formal than a neat hedge, which would require a level of maintenance we are just not willing to commit to. I think we could use photinia here, but allow them to be more rounded and free form than often seen when used as hedges. It would have to be the newer variety, Photinia x fraseri 'Red Robin', because Photinia glabra ‘Robusta' makes my tummy turn (it's that super stinky photinia that is planted all around Canberra suburbs - ugh!). 

We would like to include hedges and shrubberies like these at various places around the garden, to give us lots of smaller breaks. We can certainly replant the terrace garden beds with this in mind too, underplanting larger shade trees with mid-height shrubs to provide one continuous block of foliage.

Restarting the garden is such a lot of work to contemplate, but one thing at a time - let's get a few windbreaks in and allow them time to grow, to protect the garden (and us) in the years to come.