Before photo of backyardWhen I bought this house, I bought it at around $15-25K less than the market value.   Someone actually tried to gazump me…but I prevailed.  I felt like that was fate…and this house was meant to be mine.  I love this house. But that’s a whole other thing.

The reason why I got this house cheap, was because the walls were painted a dirty grey, there was a dark purple feature wall in the dining room, the master bedroom had a hot pink feature wall and the curtains looked like they would be quite at home in a whorehouse.  The carpets were a dirty grey and the tiles, well the best you could say is that they were ‘inoffensive’.  I’ll try to dig up some photos.

I could see past all of that though, and saw that the house had good bones and a lot of potential.  It’s a big house, with big bedrooms for my (then) pre-teen kids.  It has two large living areas, plus a dining room.  More space than we needed, but it was a bargain, and knew I could make money on it.  Some paint, window coverings, carpet…profit to be made.

The biggest downside, however, was the garden.  Huge, 900+ square metre block, that had barely had anything done to it in the 12 years the house had been standing.  When I was younger, I moved from house to house, improving and upgrading each time, selling at a profit each time. When you’re young and on a high income you can do that.  It’s much harder as a single mother with a disability and no reliable income.  I knew  improving the garden would add a  lot of value to the house though, and there was opportunity there.

But I am not a gardener. I have tried many times, and cruelly murdered many a beautiful plant that deserved better than either being smothered with love and too much water, or being forgotten about and later discovered as a shrivelled up dry bunch of stalks and leaves.

Not my thing.  Plants really need to be able to scream out if they’re going to survive in my garden.

And yet, to improve this house, and increase the value, I need to establish a simple, but attractive garden. Something easy to maintain, and not too expensive to put together.

Good idea, right?  Except the aforementioned ‘I know nothing about gardening’.

photo of disgusting shrubsSo it’s time to learn.  But to give you an idea of what I’m dealing with, I thought I’d show you a ‘before’ of the backyard.  The garden beds originally had several of the big, ugly, yellow shrubs.  I didn’t think to take a picture of those, I’ll try to find a picture of them in all of their horrid glory.

I took a picture of one, before I hacked it out of the ground with a pick axe.   Imagine three more of those.  Ughhh.

It was very hard work.  Harder than I thought.  I suspect that, once again, I have bitten off more than I can chew.  Still, that’s how I achieve more than most people expect that I could in my situation.

I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, which affects every joint, and Spondylitis which means I have severe back pain.  I spend most of my hours lying down because the pain and fatigue are extreme.  But before I got sick, I had always been a gym junkie, so I was fitter than most, and stronger than most people who have arthritis.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have severe RA, I do.  But I also have a lifetime of gym work and cardio fitness behind me, and that gave me a very good base to deal with a painful and disabling disease from.  I’m determined, strong, very used to pain and I love a challenge.

Also, I don’t care how long it takes.  As the saying goes, the time will pass anyway.  I don’t get overwhelmed by the size of a job (maybe sometimes I should).  Instead, I do little pieces…a little every day.  And in time, the job gets done.  It makes people doubt the severity of my illness, but really?  So what.  People will believe what they want to believe.  They see me swinging a pickaxe and think I’m pain free.  They don’t see me recovering for three hours, and they’re not with me that night as I lie awake with every joint on fire.

But these are my choices.  Lie on the couch and be in less pain, or attack that garden with every tool I have at my disposal.

I’ve never used a pickaxe before, but it’s the same action as swinging a kettlebell, which I do all the time, so it didn’t take much time to get used to the action.  Technique is key to not causing injury, although its impossible for my hands to not ache from the impact.

photo of pulled out shrubsIt took me two days to cut back the shrubs and then dig out the endless roots.   And hours to drag the branches and roots to the side of the house.  There they will stay until I find someone who will take them to the tip for a reasonable price. I don’t have a trailer.

It is, however, very satisfying to have empty beds to work with.  A clean slate.  Endless possibility!  I can plant pretty shrubs, flowers, maybe even vegetables and herbs.   That’s my idea of a cool garden, one you can eat!

I have a time limit, because it’s now the end of March and by the end of April the ground in Canberra will be rock hard and planting will be impossible.

And I have a physical limit, in that I can only do about 30 minutes of physical labour a day.  Some days I can do two lots of 30 minutes, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon.  And the inside of the house is suffering while I toil in the garden.

So why don’t I just pay someone to do all of this?

Two reasons.  First, the obvious. I don’t have the money.  People try to charge $60 an hour just to pull some weeds.  I can’t imagine what they’d want for heavier work.  Secondly, I’ve tried to get a few quotes and if people actually show up to look at the job, they never seem to get around to quoting.  Or the quote that arrives is so high that no reasonable person would pay it.

I believe those ridiculously high quotes are a direct result of my disability.  I believe people see my wheelchair and my walking sticks and they watch me struggle to walk, so they think I have no other option, that I have to pay whatever they ask.

Well, they’re wrong.  I won’t pay.  I can’t.  Instead, I’ll just chip away at it, 30 minutes at a time, a little bit each day.  And I will get there.