Monday, March 19, 2018

My home on the hill...

It's been a season for anniversaries. March is my birthday month, but this year, March also marks twenty years since a publisher rang offering to buy my first book. And it's also thirteen years exactly since we bought our little place on a hillside in the country.

This is a glimpse of how our home looks these days. But it was quite different at the start.

At the time of purchase, the dwelling was little more than a shed on a bare hill with a lovely view and we only thought of it as a weekender. Perhaps we should have known we would fall in love with living in the mountains and we'd want to move here full time.

Back then, at the start, when we returned to our city apartment, we hurried straight to the library to take out books about gardening and landscaping. We knew the Tablelands' high rainfall and volcanic soil were ideal for gardening - but among the first books  we devoured was one about making dry stone steps and walls. We were immediately entranced by the idea, and my husband raced off and bought some of the necessary tools, almost before we got anything else - even a spade!!.

I have always admired the work of EdnaWallingwho was a famous Australian landscape designer.
was very fond of country style cottages with leafy natural gardens and her designs nearly always involved the use of stone in walls and steps and paths.

I can't show you a picture of Edna's work without invading copyright, but our aim was to create something simple and rustic, not unlike the pic above. At the same time, Elliot and I began transforming our shed into a cottage - with the help of a builder, of course. We had fun scouring through secondhand shops and demolition yards, finding old windows and doors to give our home that nostalgic country feel. 

And we also followed up on the urge to make some dry stone steps. We were raw amateurs, of course, but here are some pics to show you how "we" went about it. :)

The picture above is of Elliot digging out the site. I was very impressed by how professional he was, using stakes and string to mark the area! And then, laying the first, all important stone.
I was foreman and chief photographer - which meant I worked out which stones went where, I carried them to the site and shovelled the sand that was used to build them and generally bossed my poor hubby around. We erected a tarp to keep the site shady while we worked.

Here you see where the steps fit into the general scheme of things here - part of a bank that we hoped would one day be covered with interesting plants - and that gorgeous view in the background.

And this is the original, final product, which looks pretty higgedly piggedly but we were insanely proud of ourselves. We hoped would look so much better when the banks on either side were planted up with greenery to soften the stones. We christened the steps that evening by sitting on them and having a glass of wine while we watched the sunset. Unfortunately, while the jacaranda planted at the foot of the steps grew quickly, it fell victim to Cyclone Larry.

And as you can see from these photos, over the years, the garden has indeed taken over, so these days it's more about subtracting and cutting back than planting.

Since the step building project, we've discovered the wonderful Jana, an amazing young woman who laid the rest of our stone paving and built this retaining wall. 

I'm afraid Jana was a tad dismissive of our less than professional steps – but we still love them. And I think dear old Edna might have approved.


Anne Gracie said...

Barb, I loved this account of your early years in your lovely home. I've always loved stone, especially stone steps and dry stone walls, and I think you and Elliot did a splendid job. And it's a lovely home.

Congratulations on your 20 year anniversary of being published. What a wonderful legacy of lovely books you've achieved — with many more to come, I hope.

Trish Morey said...

Oh Barb, what a transformation you've made! Your home is gorgeous and your garden sublime. (And I adore your steps:))

And let me add my congratulations on your 20 year anniversary! Please keep the books coming.


Barbara Hannay said...

Thanks so much, Anne. Yes, I wonder whether those dry stone walls are somehow in our genetic memory from our ancestors, although of course, we've been lucky enough to travel and see them for ourselves.
And thanks for the congrats. So lucky to have a job I love. xx

Barbara Hannay said...

Thanks Trish. It was wonderful to have you here. Wish I wasn't quite so far away. :)

Sue Gerhardt Griffiths said...

Oh, your cottage is gorgeous, Barbara! What a lovely description of your house/garden reno's through the years...and those steps, beautiful.

Barbara Hannay said...

Thanks Sue. So glad you like it. We're currently having so much rain, we're in danger of being washed off the hill. :) Bx

2paw said...

Twenty years? It seems like just yesterday I was reading your first books. Time flies. What a lovely story about your cottage and the stone steps. No matter how wondrous your new stone work is, I’ll bet the ones you made yourselves are your favourites.

Barbara Hannay said...

You've been the most wonderful supporter all these years, 2 Paw and I truly value you. In fact I'm dedicating my next book to readers like you. And I think you were following this blog when we built those steps, bless you. xxx