On Inch by Inch Garden Progress and Small Steps that Take You Places

I started this post with the idea of showing you a few of the recycled items I’ve repurposed in my back garden – junk pile gardening I thought we could call it. That was about three months ago now and my idea went pear shaped when I realised the extent of the mess going on in my back yard. There was no editing it out, there was no disguising it and then the need to keep things real around here got the better of me.

So here’s what I might have shown you had I stuck to the plan

Here’s what I wouldn’t have shown you.

Spot the difference?

Now if you have a garden you’ll know one thing –  if you turn your back on it for five minutes it gets away on you and any longer than that it goes completely mad. Weeds take over, things fall apart, the rabbits dig holes, the dogs chew stuff up and in the blink of an eye the grass is suddenly up to your knees and the bush growing against the back fence has taken over a third of the yard.

Its not the first time its got away on me.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked out, looked around and asked myself

  1. How in heck did it get so bad so quickly?
  2. Who on earth lets there garden get in such a state? I do apparently. Me along with one husband, two kids, three chooks,  a couple of dogs, two rabbits, a guinea pig, a lizard and a pumpkin plant thats hell bent on growing under the fence from my neighbours yard and taking over mine.
  3. And thirdly how for the love will I ever ever pull it straight again. And do I have the energy? There’s no team of gardeners waiting in the wings, there’s no week off work to throw myself at it, there’s no  budget put aside.

So, after the initial shock and the “I should be ashamed of myself”  type statements theres nothing else for it but to do what I always do and that’s start where I am with what I have.

On that day it was about thirty minutes focused attention on one small corner of the yard, – yes start small on something easy I say –  and it happens every time that I’m always, always, ALWAYS !!!! amazed at what you can get done in a shortest space of time. And then you come back and do it again the next day or the next week or whatever you’ve got and you keep coming back to it and the shocking mess transforms itself into something not quite so shocking at all in the end.

I still go back to these words

 – – –  small steps will often keep us going when we run out of steam with the grand gestures.   Leeana Tankersley

Sometimes small steps are the only thing you can do when time and money, energy and ability and plain old priorities count the “grand gestures” out for the time being

– – – and sometimes taking one small step can seem like the grandest gesture of all.

Here’s what I did that first day in a small area between the far end of my back verandah and the side fence.  It was the least of my worries compared to the rest of the garden but it was a nice easy place to start.





We had some old fence palings that Ken had cut up for firewood  but I thought them better suited to garden edging.




A bit more of a clean up, two bags of $3 wood chip, a good sweep and hose down and it’s looking not too bad. So nice to see my little paved area again too.

Doing one small area made me feel less overwhelmed and reminded me again of the value every single time of taking simple small steps. Small steps will get you on your way and nudge you closer to the transformation your looking for while grand plans and total makeovers are crying in the corner.

Heres what I love about small steps

  • there the ones I can do
  • they cost next to nothing
  • they don’t take long,
  • you can just use what you have
  • they keep the creativity flowing
  • they make me feel better, like I can do a thing or two
  • one step sheds light on the next step
  • they add up
  • they keep me moving forward
  • they get me further than I ever think they will

When you’ve lost the plot, feel stuck, in a funk, hemmed in, powerless to change, far from where you want to be. Take one small step (and the tiniest step will do), do something, start something, then take the next step and then the next one. Remember this gem.

Three months on where does that leave me with my runaway garden.

Making incremental progress and celebrating tiny victories thats where.

Twenty minutes here, an hour there, sometimes two hours on a Saturday afternoon but mostly less. It’s been slow but steady progress.

I’ve been putting off showing you though because I wanted to have some totally amazing AFTER photos to show you so we could all have a “tadah”  moment. Maybe a few of them. Well we may still have the odd one but this is me and we are a continual work in progress around here so what your far more likely to find are:

  • truly shocker before shots
  • in progress along the way shots
  • a whole lot better but not perfect shots
  • and a few “I’m happy with this for now till the grass starts to grow again” shots.

So the main area I worked on is along the back fence and dealing with the hugely overgrown bush in the corner. I planted it so I’ve no one else to blame.







Now  I was sure I’d need some sort of brush cutter or front hoe or back hoe or whatever – something big and forceful that had a motor that could rip it out and chew it up. Well none of those were available on the Saturday afternoon I had a mind to tackle it.

But I did have these.

It took about an hour and a half and by the time I had cut away everything I could with these little snippers, which was very therapeutic and satisfying I might add, there wasn’t that much left of it at all.  I could see the corner of my yard that I hadn’t seen in years, I could see the state of our decrepit fence and I found a pumpkin ready to be picked.

At that point Ken arrived like the Cavalry with the chain saw and a ladder to do the final cuts that I couldn’t do with the snippers. That didn’t bode well.  A chainsaw, a ladder, a husband with a bung foot and a sense of balance not as good as it used to be – I could see it all unfolding, the nasty accident, the tourniquet, the ambulance.   Ladder was removed and big strapping son came out – yes covered shoes, gloves, protective eye wear – and saved the day. A few cuts with the chainsaw and it was done.

Remains of the  unwieldy shrub were now sitting on top of the trampoline and in other piles all over the yard and gradually over the following weeks as the greenery died off I had a series of lovely Saturday afternoon yard fires. All the dead and dying plants were removed from the fence line slowly along with the old pergola frame and all the old fence palings revealing the fence behind – sturdy and in one piece even if none too glamorous.




We are talking two months later now cause it took a while to get through that mountains of offcuts but then a bit of a clean with the broom and two coats of charcoal paint later and she’s looking not too bad.

These from after I mowed what’s left of the lawns

And after a bit of rearranging of pots and benches and prettying up.

I  reused the old bricks I found laying along the fence line to cap the raised corner garden bed we hadn’t been able to get to for years.


img_5584And the the old pergola posts were reused here to make a little garden bed

And here where I used the top beam to make a totally unnecessary but very grand entrance to our humble little chook yard. The two side posts were already there, we just had to even then up and add the top “trim”. I even moved my two sandstone urns to in front of the posts so my “arbour” looks even grander now.

A quick Before pic – doesn’t show the posts but they’re left and right of where I’m standing.


And after


So maybe it did turn out to be a post about junk pile gardening after all.

I share it with you – even the ugly bits – because this is my right now life and these are the small steps I can take right now to do something within the limits I have. The principle applies to any area of life not just crazy gardens and my hope as always is that it might encourage you in your “right now” life with your small steps.

I’ll be sharing a few more Before and Afters – the slow progress kind – from the other areas of the garden on Instagram over the next few weeks so take a peek there if you like. I’ve miles to go so there may be a few.

I’ll leave you with this. I recently ordered a book on writing. There was something about the title Bird by Bird that grabbed me – here’s where the author got that title

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’

Amen to that xxx


That Old Thing – Fence Paling Planter

IMG_2817I like bits of old wood.

I found these in my garage on the weekend.


Someone has lovingly put these together out of fence palings I think but I have no idea who. In my push to de clutter everywhere including the garage I almost threw them into the recycling but they have been made in such a perfect pot plant shape and the wood –  just treated pine I think – but so nicely weathered that I just couldn’t. The thing is I have absolutely no idea where they came from ? My only thought is I may have picked them up from the side of the road as I do with things sometimes but even that’s not ringing a bell – they would have been in my garage over 12 months now though so I got them out to either do something with them or send them on to another lover of old things cleverer than me.


IMG_2781From their shape they just  look like they  should have a plant poking through the top – so I started thinking about some sort of simple hanging planter with a big emphasis on simple. I ended up finding some wire netting left over from some animal enclosure project no doubt and cut it roughly to shape with scissors as no tin snips to be found. I laid it over the back and nailed it in place and  only  hit my finger once with the hammer.

IMG_2785IMG_2789Thinking none of it would be seen I wasn’t too careful with my nailing or with the finish but as it came together I thought it might be nice if the wire basket side faced out. The next thing was something to stop the potting mix falling straight through the wire – I tried some hessian but didn’t like it so I pulled some fibre from the trunk of our palm tree in the front yard. I’ve used this before in pot plants – its thickish and strong and stretchy – – so I lined the basket, filled it with potting mix and went looking for something to go in it. I ended up just just taking some seedlings and a few pieces of succulent from the garden and watered them in. Hoping they will settle in, take root and be lush and happy in a few weeks time. To finish I screwed in metal eyelets each side and tied on thick twine to hang it.


IMG_2793IMG_2791As no rocket science was involved putting it together took very little time. Sourcing all the various bits and pieces needed and nursing my sore finger took a bit longer.

This is how it looks now hanging on the garden fence after watering.


This is it with the “right” side facing front.


I think I like it better this way.


I thought I could also add some little pieces of succulent in through the netting at the front to make it more three dimensional  but haven’t got that far yet.


IMG_2815IMG_2817Cost – as I had all the stuff $0. Time all up about 1 hour.

Finding old stuff I can make things out of – works for me. Succulents that don’t mind being broken off and stuck into dirt elsewhere works for me too.

Found anything interesting in your garage?

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A Good Twenty Minutes

A Good Twenty Minutes  www.waterintowineblog.comThese day’s the winter sun keeps calling me outside  – so with some phone calls to make I headed out into the garden. Difficult phone calls made easier by the sun on my back.  What I noticed though were the weeds taking over the garden beds, the Guinea Pigs forlorn because their cage was a mess and various bibs and bobs sitting around my verandah left over from painting it the week before – things that should have been put away – yep a week ago.

I was so tempted to just ditch everything else I had to do and spend the afternoon out there in the garden setting right three months of neglect. Everything else I needed to do that day ? – – – – well it just wouldn’t have got done and yes you can  get away with that occasionally but it’s what I do a little too often. Speaking from past experience it creates a ripple affect that has me playing catch up for days. No fun.  So instead –  I set my iPhone timer and  gave myself  20 minutes to see what I could get done.  When the timer went off the Guinea Pig cage was clean – not perfect clean but a whole lot better clean, the brushes, buckets, drop cloths etc from our painting project were put back in the  garage and I had dug all the onion weed out of one small patch of garden  – the one near the front steps that had been annoying me for so long. The rest of the garden still has it’s weeds but there was a whole lot of satisfaction in seeing the guinea pigs smiling, my veranda cleaned off, and one garden bed weed free.  A good 20 minutes. My day still intact. No pressure to have to do more. I can leave more for another day and another 20 minutes.

No photos though  and well you know I like a good photo – especially a before and after.  So  last Saturday I headed out to the back yard – sun again – with my phone  – (timer and camera in one) to see what I could get done  in 20 minutes  – – –  the results were surprising.

To fill you in a bit first though  – I’ve been doing these 20 minute spurts for a while now and this is what I’ve found.

  • You get soooo much more done than you think you will
  • It lasts longer than you think it will – I often  check  the timer because I’m sure the 20 minutes must be up  and usually find I still have  2 or 3 minutes to go.
  • You work faster with more focus because you know there’s an end point when you’ll get to stop, have a break and enjoy what you’ve got done.
  • Big jobs (like the garden) get broken down into small manageable bite size pieces.
  • Getting one thing done in 20 minutes is so much more satisfying  than getting 10 things half done in two hours.

IMG_2515So last Saturday I chose this border of Mondo grass that’s almost over run with onion weed (again) and a little area at the end of our paved area that I like to call my “secret  garden” – we have our fire pit and some seating in there and as the photos will show it was all in need of a bit of attention.


This is the Mondo Grass border  – the light green stuff growing long and lush is unfortunately the dreaded onion weed   IMG_2516My secret garden all sad and neglected IMG_2518 IMG_2519


IMG_2520IMG_2521IMG_2522IMG_2525IMG_2524Not perfect but a whole lot better – and because it’s Saturday afternoon and it’s beautiful out – I set the timer for another twenty minutes and got the last of the onion weed and most of the other weeds out from amongst the pebbles.

IMG_2526IMG_2530IMG_2528IMG_2529While still far from being ready to feature in Better Homes and Gardens  – 40 minutes of TLC means this little corner now looks a lot better and somewhere I might actually want to sit and relax – – – – A wintery Saturday afternoon, sun slowly starting to fade, a nip in the air – time to light a fire. IMG_2532 IMG_2537 And fire being the primal thing that it is, it wasn’t long before the menfolk got a whiff of it and came out of the house to do manly things like break up branches and chop wood. IMG_2555 IMG_2542 Some of the womenfolk too. IMG_2572 Livvy followed. IMG_2592 IMG_2597And marshmallows. IMG_2600 And me – taking photos and gazing at my mostly weed free pebbles and into the fire and enjoying the moment with us all together.IMG_2539

IMG_2604 IMG_2563IMG_2557And when the others drifted inside my boy sat down, put his feet on my lap and talked for a bit.IMG_2605 Surprising how something fairly mundane and ordinary can grow into something entirely different – something unexpected and lovely –   reaping a reward you weren’t even looking for.

A very good 20 minutes. Works for me.

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Signs of Life

Things are rarely as they seem – – – and every now and then we get a glimpse  of the quiet and invisible realities hidden within what “seems”.

You see the tree in my back yard looks dead – well and truly. Not just any tree – my favourite – a potted ornamental Ficus that has bloomed lush and green year round for at least 15 years. He’s survived all manner of insult and injury, heat and cold, dry and wet as well as my ungreen thumb to stand strong and tall, the handsomest of them all – in the corner of my “secret garden”. Seems he has a secret too – he’s not invincible.


About a month ago almost overnight the leaves just dried up brown and ugly and dropped off leaving me with bare skeletal grey branches – – –


I was horrified. My lovely tree – and the mystery, what had happened, what did I do, what changed, was it the heat, the cold, old age, neglect? No answers and nothing to be done so I made plans to wrap fairy lights around those lonely branches so he could twinkle through the Christmas season – one more moment of shining glory before I turfed him out and got something else.

And then – – –


 A few days ago I noticed this – beautiful fresh new leaves sprouting thick from the bottom branches !! – unbelievable – not dead after all. Recuperating maybe, getting over some awful shock ? Resting, shoring up, taking stock, healing ? but not dead.


In those dry and bare branches there is still a heart beat and there’s life coursing through those woody veins. Those tiny green shooting leaves – a lovely reminder of the sustaining rhythm and pulse of God’s life within every area of our life.


– – – even the dry and lifeless looking places – you know the places where grace seems to have all but evaporated – where we are all dried out and done – our dead losses and our no shows – His heart beats there too – isn’t that the place He can work a wonder even when we have given up on wonders – the place where He might do something fresh and new and surprising. We might despair over the dryness but don’t be making plans to lop it off and throw it out – – – not yet – – –  let it be – – –  give it some space and some room to breath – and in that place there can be a river of His mercy begin to flow and in it healing and restoration, strength and new life – He can show himself glorious there.

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”  Isaiah 43:19

It is within the very frailty of us that He delights to make His home and to reveal Himself strong and faithful and true.

“a thrill of hope the weary world rejoices” O Holy Night

My lovely tree – – – – I’m welcoming him back – I’m still thinking those fairy lights would look good though. See what I’m thinking about here

Anything interesting happening in your garden?

 Tracey xx