I’ve lived at Clove House for the last two years. The name comes from the street name, Clovelly Avenue, at Christies Beach.
Clove is a small asbestos house, close to the beach, covered in a beautiful vine. The garden has developed over this time and changed with the seasons.
I’ve become quite attached to this house, and want to record my memories of being at home here.
The house is almost completely covered in a Boston Ivy vine. The vine loses its leaves in winter, leaving the house naked. For a few weeks in the autumn the leaves becomes bright red and purple, then drop to be transformed into mulch for the garden.
The shading and insulation value of the vine is impressive in the summer. Last year, before the vine had made its way around to the north side of the house, my bedroom wall felt hot to touch (on the inside) when the sun was shining on the outside. The room became too hot to want to go in there.
Since the vine has grown around, the sun doesn’t hit the wall, making the whole house much more comfortable.
Now I let the vine grow over the windows in the summer, to prevent the amplified heating effect of sun shining on windows. I cut it back after the summer to let the sun in.
The yard is filled with fruit trees, which were planted a few days after an investment from the economic stimulus package. The 21 trees were chosen to suit the climate and give us a variety of fruit in different seasons throughout the year. The trees also provide shade, beauty and habitat. Slowly the fruitful forest is growing, and an ecosystem evolving.
The yard is 13m x 8m, and contains 21 fruit trees (with a few colonising the side nature strip)
Feijoa x 2
Grape x 3 varieties
Pepino x 3
Pepino is the easiest to grow and most productive. It’s a spreading vine, which can be a groundcover or directed up a trellis. It has dark leaves which hide the fruit underneath. The large white fruit have purple stripes, and taste like melon. The most exciting part is that once you have a plant, you can share it with anyone by taking a cutting. Pepino can be planted under trees, and used to fill any empty spots in the garden. I’ve planted some on the side verge with the hope of it taking off down the street.
When we arrived the only plants in the garden were an almond tree, the poplar round the side, and a few scraggly roses up the back. The roses were quickly sent packing, and the whole yard covered over with cardboard and a thick layer of newspaper, to prevent grass from growing through, then compost, then straw. A garden of all manner of leafy greens was quick to make itself at home.
The greens are blended every morning into green smoothies, which both nourish and give us an opportunity to explore the emerging forest that we have co-created.
Composting materials and mulch for the trees and garden are gathered from around the neighbourhood. I gather long grass from mown empty blocks, and ask the neighbours for lawn clippings. The poplar tree and the Boston Ivy vine generously donate all their leaves in autumn, and then do it all over again the next year.
For most of my time living at Clove House, I’ve shared it with two friends and three bantam chickens.
The chickens were named Ek, Doi and Teen (Bengali for one, two, three). They were sadly lost to a fox, or maybe a cat, several months ago, and haven’t been replaced.
They gave us many hours of entertainment, recycled our food scraps into rich compost, and laid eggs which fed us many a pancake breakfast and omelette dinner.
The chickens occasionally made their way out of their run into the vegie patch, scratching up newly planted seedlings with the best of intentions. The fence around their run improved slightly after each occassion.
There was one incident where they found themselves out of the yard entirely, and somewhere down the street. This was on a windy night, during their phase of sleeping high in the almond tree. A few wanted signs in the street: “have you seen our chickens?” soon returned them home.
They were gently encouraged, with a long stick, to sleep in their shed after this one.
When the clothesline broke and needed to be dug out from the middle of the yard, we were left with a large hole which became the obvious place for a pond. A liner, a few water plants and tadpoles later, our pond was welcomed with a blessing ceremony of floating candles.
Now the pond edge has become a preferred home for edible weeds – mallow, fat hen and chickweed – which have grown so well that the pond is no longer visible.
I recently got hit by the idea of cooling beer in the pond in summer. It’s quite effective on moderately warm days, although during heatwaves the water warms up so much that it’s not worth the effort.
On the west side of the house is a tall poplar tree, or something that looks like a poplar. It shades the top and side of the house from the afternoon sun. Its one of the larger trees in the neighbourhood, and the house would be a whole lot hotter in the summer without it. On hot days, I know that it will be cool under the poplar.
We’ve never got any almonds from the almond tree, as the birds always get in well before ripening time. The birds are fun to have around, there’s lots of different ones and they move through with the seasons. The dropped almond shells, leaves and bird droppings add to the organic matter to the soil.
Although the tree isn’t giving us almonds, it useful in lots of other ways. It’s a needed shady place in the garden.
On the north side of the house there is no eave, which means the sun shines directly in the kitchen window. Lovely in the winter, but hot and glary in summer.
A few wires have been strung across at eave-level, with the idea that the grape vine below will eventually grow along the wires to give a leafy summer shade, autumn colour, and winter sunlight. The grapevine is a few years away from reaching this height, so in the meantime a bedsheet is pegged over the wires in the summer. This makes a huge difference to the amount of light and heat coming in to the porch and kitchen in summer.
Clove House chooses to live without a fridge. Greens are kept alive in a dish of water. A zeer pot, which is a home-made evaporative refrigerator made from terracotta pots, is used to store dairy products and leftovers. The zeer pot took an hour to make and cost about $20 in materials.
A wire trolley in the kitchen stores fruit and veg. By having all this food visible we are always aware of what needs using, when food is getting low, and what’s ready to return to the earth via the compost bin.
The fruit and veg comes from various sources, gleaned from supermarket dumpsters and neighbourhood fruit trees, home grown, swapped, or donated by people who have excess, but never bought.
Seeing the trolley full of a variety of produce always gives me a good feeling about the effectiveness of this method of obtaining food, and seeing it getting low reminds me to give some attention to manifesting further sustenance.
The pantry was once a wine rack. I bought it at an op-shop for $20. Again all the food is visible, so nothing gets forgotten at the back of the cupboard for years.
One corner of the kitchen bench holds greens in a dish of water (lettuce, celery, broccoli, spinach, beetroot, leeks all keep well this way). Also here are sprouting jars and sauerkraut fermenting. All these things need to be checked regularly: sprouts need rinsing, greens need their water dish replenishing, sauerkraut needs squashing.
By keeping them right by the kitchen sink, but not in the way of anything, these tasks are easy to remember, don’t take much effort or thought, and I can enjoy the view from the kitchen window while I’m there.
Sauerkraut is a simple and convenient way to store excess vegies, especially in a refrigerator-free house. All it needs is chopped up vegies (usually cabbage), salt, and a large jar to squash it into. Keeps for several weeks, and adds nutrients to the food through the fermentation process.
We tend not to use the flush toilet, using instead a bucket in the bathroom to collect toilet waste which is then composted. No smells, no water wasted, no cleaning required. The compost that is produced after a few months decomposing is impressive. I threw it round the base of a few fruit trees that were looking close to dead, and within a few days they became tropically lush and sprouted new shoots. The compost has no smell or appearance of what it once was, it becomes rich black earth with the forest-after-rain smell that lets you know it’s doing the right thing.
Laundry water gets bucketed out to the fruit trees and veg patch. Integrated clothes washing and garden watering. Means I don’t have to remember to water.
I’d like to make better use of water around the house. The gutter in the side street gathers all the rain that falls on the street, and a small cut into the concrete would direct all this water onto the guerilla garden on the verge. This garden tends to get forgotten through being beyond our back fence and out of sight. It’s also under the almond tree, which doesn’t let much rain through. A concrete cutter could sort this out in minutes.
The outlet pipes from the bathroom and laundry could easily be cut and redirected to water the trees, rather than wasted out to sewage. An outdoor shower with the hose would be even easier. I’m thinking to ask the uphill neighbours, who don’t have a garden, about directing their greywater onto our garden. Then I’d never need to water anything.
A rain tank collecting from the bike shed could be plumbed in to the house, and we’d never need mains water at all.
The house is becoming its own ecosystem, with water, nutrients and human energy moving around in a way that feels natural and easy. Nothing is an effort and little is wasted.