I have been documenting construction of the entrance to our new house at Blackheath, in the Blue Mountains. It was a huge project, involving a retaining wall, sandstone steps, a lawn and a paved driveway. Guiding us through it all has been Grant Maundrell, a landscape architect from Little Hartley.

Much of the labouring work has been done by my partner Rob. Like an iceberg, there is a great deal hidden below the surface. With climate change in mind and severe weather events, he has put in an extensive drainage system.

SO MANY CHANNELS AND PIPES!

The retaining wall is stepped. I might add some pots one day.

THE STONE WALL REPLACED AN OLD ONE OF ROTTING RAILWAY SLEEPERS

One of the spare blocks has been used as a garden seat below a large daphne bush. I should mention that the new house is set in an established garden.

Rob designed the steps, working on the stove top in the studio we have been living in above our double garage.😎 He says the light is good there. It can make cooking dinner quite difficult!

Designing the steps.

It was interesting to see tape marking out his vision, which was inspired by the old stone wall you can see in the next shot. The steps in the background led to the original fibro cottage, since demolished.

Marking out the new steps.

The sandstone for the side walls of the new steps came from demolished buildings around Sydney’s Circular Quay. They had been stockpiled on a property in the Southern Highlands. Grant and his crew were our stone masons and did a wonderful job. I was tempted to read Edward Rutherfurd’s Sarum again. 😍

Recycled Sydney sandstone blocks for the steps.
THE STOCK OF SANDSTONE

We lived in Sydney for thirty years before moving to the Blue Mountains, so it’s nice to have a reminder of the city we still really love.

My associate Editor Des is pictured here helping with ballast for the steps. There is no shortage of rocks here, I unearth them every time I dig a hole.

COMING TOGETHER

As you can see below, we are nearly there with the steps. Still to come are handrails, and hazard lights which will be installed and connected in the holes you can see.

We agonized over which surface to use for the driveway, which was originally clay. Gravel was considered, but we worried it would wash away in storms. In the end we used recycled bricks, in colours that blend with the original sandstone wall and steps. I’m happy with how it looks and it will be easy to rake when autumn leaves fall.

The arrow points to support poles for a car port.

A new lawn was next on the agenda. It’s only a small space, but we felt it was important to retain one patch. Weeds and moss were removed as best we could, given that the ground is full of azalea and maple roots. It was bordered by bricks then built-up with new soil.

BASE GOING IN

The turf was laid in pouring rain. It’s Fescue, which is supposed to be shade tolerant and suitable for our acidic soil. We also cut back the overhanging maples and the surrounding azaleas to increase light and sun, so we will see what happens.

POOR GRANT AND SIMON WERE DRENCHED

Well done boys.

MISSTEPS!

Well, after that Christmassy photo above was taken the rain continued and as I write (mid-March) it’s still coming down. It’s too depressing to show you a picture of how that turf looks right now, but it’s pretty dire! 😰

The garden I planted under the old stone wall beside the new steps is struggling too. It was difficult to choose plants, because I didn’t want to completely hide the wall. As for colour, well I wanted silvery greys and blues to complement the soft apricot Crepuscule rose.

Crepuscule rose on the old wall beside the steps.
CREPUSCULE IN FULL BLOOM AGAINST THE OLD WALL

Of course English lavender was not the right choice to plant during a La Nina weather cycle! Never mind, I adore lavender, and so do bees. If these plants drown I’ll just have to replace them. There is also woolly yarrow along the front edge, silvery grey lambs’ ears (also for the bees) and several low growing native correas for the birds.

I intended adding some spring bulbs this autumn, but the weather has been so dreadful I fear they would rot in the ground.

New garden bed by the steps.

There are still more stone steps to build and other areas of paving to be laid. Oh yes, and decking to be extended. WATCH THIS SPACE.

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