Rehabilitating the Garden (Part 2)

The Lawn

The main lawn was never particularly good. The underlying soil quality was clearly not first-class and there seemed to be a variety of different grasses growing. It was never soft, or lush, when walking upon it and quickly turned brown in the summer, with patches of bare earth. A few particularly hot summers and a new gardener who cuts the lawn very low conspired to cause areas of lawn loss that gradually expanded significantly.

This autumn, with some nice warm days, I turned my attention to placing low barriers at intervals down the slope that we intend to lawn, to prevent wash-away of soil and seed. Over a period of time I had been adding organic matter and then transported large volumes of soil back from the bottom of the slope to these sections. Thereafter, I sowed Kikuyu seed. This is not a popular choice among many gardeners because it can become quite invasive if one is not vigilant, but it seems that other than Sir Walter buffalo turf, Kikuyu is probably the only grass that stands a chance of resisting the combined effects of summer and traffic over the grass (dogs, kids, me). We have kikuyu in the garden anyway, mostly in the flower beds where it seems to grow feverishly. I have taken large numbers of runners from there and planted them in the bare areas. Hopefully with care, watering and improved soil quality, these runners will also take and repopulate the grass.

For the time being, the dogs are being kept off of the garden to give it a chance. I will continue to be vigilant with soil quality.

The lawn when we moved in. A¬†decent bare patch by the flower bed, plus lots of other bare patches that do not show well on this image. On the plus side, the Eucalyptus in the corner looked much healthier than it does these days. Possums ravage it ūüė¶
The back garden
2011: The lawn was similarly patchy around the back of the house. It remains so today and will be the basis of a later project. One lawn at a time I think.
Spring 2017: Being immediately post winter, it looks better than it was, with tufts of green here and there. Just in front of the dogs are two patches of grass that have remained and persisted, come what may. I am trying to cultivate around them and improve the soil to encourage them to spread.
This week. I have worked on establishing lawn at the top of the garden, to bind the soil and reduce the effect of water and soil washing down from there. Similarly, I concentrated on the borders with the patio to try and prevent run off of soil on to there. The window of planting has pretty much closed now ahead of winter, but in early spring we will try to join the patches. Hopefully, in the meantime some natural spread will occur with runners etc.

Rehabilitating The Garden (Part 1)


“You can have a nice garden, or a dog. You cannot have both”.

Leonard Savage, my late Grandfather, on several occasions.

The garden of the house we rent is far from straightforward to manage. Gardening in general can be a thankless task in Australia, with the extremes of climate, most acutely high summer temperatures and little rain and also quite poor quality soils.  This garden drops at least six to eight metres in elevation along its West РEast axis, with the most acute drop just behind the house.  When we first moved in, the lawn was present but comprised a variety of grass types, plenty of weed and was quite threadbare in places. During summer it would appear to die off, then stage a fight back come spring. In recent years though, the combination of drought and dogs has wreaked havoc.  As patches of grass disappeared completely, soil erosion via rain and wind conspired to prevent the spring revival. A few aborted attempts to resew grass failed under the paws of Schaefer in some cases, or in one case of unfortunate timing, a heavy rain storm the same day washed the new seed and soil down to the bottom of the hill. One of the achievements of the garden had been the slope we look out upon, underneath a large old gumtree. Come summer, it would be a sea of various greens that was always great to look at as the sunset, with light dancing off and shining through the foliage. Alas, the dogs got to that too.

Gardens in Australia have traditionally attempted to emulate the European ancestry of much of the population. The long drought in Victoria during the first decade of this century, with the necessary water restrictions, led to a greater interest in using native, or indigenous Australian flora to populate the garden.

Our intention is to try and retain the plants that are in the garden, including some beautiful roses and agapanthus, but as far as possible only add native flora to give it the best chance of success. An obvious exception will be the lawn, because native lawns are extremely difficult to cultivate. If there were no financial considerations and it was our lawn, we would definitely consider wallaby grass or similar.

There are three key elements to the plan.

  1. Rehabilitate the lawn
  2. Restore the work Carolin had done on the upper slope
  3. Create a bushland feature on the back slope.

The main constraint is budget. We are renting and at some point, we will have to move on. Therefore, we need to be careful about how much of our money we put in to the project.

I’ll call this area the upper slope. This photograph was taken within a few days of us moving in back in 2011.
The main lawn. This was Feb 2011 and looks a bit better than it actually was. The large dead patch was replicated in various areas.
June 2015. Ripley the Ridgeback had come to stay.
Looking down the lower slope. Spring 2017. Difficult to appreciate the nature of the gradient from this angle.
Looking up the lower slope, back to the house. Featureless and barren, aside from the logs that Samuel had I have positioned to create small terraces and pockets for plant growth

Putting a Couta boat back in the drink

During the summer, I crew on a Couta boat for various races. Usually, the Twilight races at Mornington Yacht Club on a Thursday evening. The boat, C1992 Camilla Rose, has spent the winter ashore at Corsair Boats having a bit of work done, the annual out of water check-up if you like. Today, another crew member and I met Mark, from Corsair, and his colleague and between us we launched Camilla Rose.

A Couta boat has a significant amount of lead in the keel to act as ballast. In our case, between 1.5 and 2 tonnes. This takes the form of 7 Р8kg blocks. They all come out before hauling her out and all must go back in once she is afloat.  Then, the mast needed to be re-stepped and the boom and gaff replaced.

Thereafter, Darren and I motored her from Mt Martha up to Mornington Yacht Club, where she is now moored awaiting our further attention and racing. Before we can race though, we need to get the sails back on. Hopefully we will do this next week.

This picture is just after she went afloat, sans lead, hence she is sitting so high in the water.

Back in the drink

The Playing Field

Here is a film I made earlier this year. Whilst visiting family, I took my teenage son to the park he used to visit as a youngster. He wanted to have a play on the climbing frames he remembered so well.

It was a spring day, the sun was shining, but still low in the sky given the time of year. The light it cast across the park was quite special.

I had recently downloaded Filmic on to my iPhone 6 Plus and so, quite spontaneously, Joshua and I decided to shoot a bunch of scenes for a film. We lacked a particular concept, but as I filmed and then edited, thoroughly enjoying the control that Filmic offers, a short movie emerged that we think shows the wistful nostalgia of a teenage boy enjoying the climbing frame, the park and the trees, but knowing that a time of great change is approaching.

We hope you enjoy the movie and look forward to any comments you might have.


The Playing Field from Mark Savage on Vimeo.

Marine Mammals

Whale Watching from Mark Savage on Vimeo.

Back in July 2016, we went whale watching during a circumnavigation of Phillip Island. We were fortunate to see a Southern Right Whale on our excursion, as well as numerous dolphins.  It really was breathtaking to see these wonderful creatures close to and I look forward to repeating the trip next year.

Morning Sun

Spring Sun - Throwback

This photo means a lot to me.  I took it from the back door of our home in Attleborough, Norfolk, in May 2009.  I remember the morning very clearly.  It was a beautiful spring day.

Our home was a small, one and a half bedroom, starter home.  We moved there in 2003 with Samuel, Joshua was born the following year, then we left in 2010 when we migrated to Australia.  The house was so tiny but very cozy and we were extremely happy there.  We shared the home with Micky, the collie in the foreground who was the most wonderful and devoted pet for thirteen years.  Gina, just in front of him, was an independently minded cat that we had as a kitten.  We re-homed her before we left because the area of Australia that we now reside in has a ban on cats being outside.  It would have been intolerable for her to be a house cat, not to mention completely confined during quarantine so sadly we had to leave her.  Micky survived his flight and 30-day quarantine, and lived the last five years of his life here in Australia, enjoying trips to the beach and local walks.  He was truly a wonderful dog.

The Yukka tree in the pot and the Eucalyptus¬†behind the play house were my wife’s way of having bits of Australia in her British life. ¬†The Eucalypt was free¬†but later cost me money to have cut down when it grew taller than the house and somewhat more fragile. ¬†The climbing frame, playhouse and sandpit (under cover) kept the children entertained for many years and in some ways I still miss them. ¬† We did dismantle the climbing frame and transport it with us, but it never went back together as intended, stood in our garden for year unsafe to be used and has finally been dispatched.

The house is still ours. When we check it on return visits, we wonder how we managed in such a tiny place, but equally part of me hankers for the simplicity of a small house and a more minimalist lifestyle, the like of which is probably not possible with teenagers.

Ducks and Geese

Ducks & Geese

A few years ago, I stopped using Flickr for a while.  I had enjoyed photography immensely and become quite fascinated with it. I felt I was accomplished with the technical side, ISO, aperture, shutter speed etc., and reasonably proficient with post-processing in  Lightroom, but still my photographs lacked something.  As with music, it seems I am able to learn technical skills, but not artistic skills.  The artistic photographer, with a mediocre camera, will create something remarkable that I could not hope to capture with an expensive device, however well I set it up.

Eventually, I reached an accommodation with myself, accepting that I would have to take photographs as best I can and be content with that. ¬†It’s better than not taking any photographs at all. ¬†The enforced break helped me to think about things and come back a little better in terms of how I ¬†approach cameras and photography.

This photograph is interesting on a number of levels that all relate to above.

Firstly, it is taken on an old (four years old at the time) iPhone 4S.  Not the Canon DSLR.

Secondly, it’s my second most viewed photograph on Flickr (after the Explore picture) and it went wild shortly after being posted, without actually making Explore. ¬†Sort of proves the point about the camera quality versus the picture.

Thirdly, I didn’t take it. ¬†My wife did. ¬†She would not be certain what an aperture or shutter speed is, nor particularly concerned about ISO. ¬†Which proves the point about artistry versus technicality. She is very artistic with a camera, paint or a musical instrument.

To give myself some credit, I enhanced it in post-processing.  The original had a reasonably exposed foreground, with poor white balance, no detail in the shadows and a blown out sky.  Not completely blown out, clearly, as I recovered detail, but significantly over-exposed.  Through Gradient Filters in Lightroom, I was able to create the balanced exposure above and an atmosphere that I really like.

I hope you like it too.

Country Fire Authority

Fire Station at night

It is my custom most evenings that I am not at work, to walk the dogs in the evening to settle them down for the night.  They have their main big walk, swim, play during the morning and this walk is a nice way to round off their day and mine.

We take a couple of short routes, either down to the fire station and back, or out along the highway a short way and back.  I have always loved night photography and the different colours and shadows that one gets when photographing at night.  Despite that, it rarely occurs to me to actually go and photograph at night, either because I am at work or happily tucked up in bed.

Although I am not in the fire service, I have always felt a degree of associate membership of the global firefighting community as my paternal grandfather, four of his five children and one of his nephews are, or were, firefighters.  Granddad served 38 years and finished his career in charge of his fire station.  He was a well respected Sub-Officer and had a distinguished career.  Dad was extremely passionate about the fire service and equally well respected as a firefighter and junior officer.  With the often found hero-worship that sons apply to their fathers, I dreamt of following in his footsteps and becoming a firefighter. My not insignificant myopia prevented me from achieving that particular ambition.

Fire stations and fire engines still hold the same fascination to the adult me as they did the five-year-old me. ¬†So walking past the station each night it quickly became my intention to photograph it. ¬†For this shot, I used my iPhone 6 Plus and tried out an app called “Camera +” which offers greater control over the camera settings than the standard iOS camera app. ¬†Using Camera + I could separately control focus point, exposure and ISO to try and create a clear, balanced shot. ¬†Unfortunately, on this particular evening two out of three engines were away, but in many ways, the actual engines were secondary to what I intended to achieve¬†on this occasion. ¬†Overall I’m comfortable with the final image, but attempts to reduce the ISO noise in Lightroom did cause some loss of detail.

If I wanted a perfect version of this shot, I would take my SLR and a tripod, it is really the only way to get good night shots. ¬†The biggest limitation to iPhone photography is the lack of aperture control, so I have stopped using Camera +. ¬†It was worth a try. ¬†If I take the tripod, though, my true anorak self will be revealed so I best leave the secret with you…..


Treasured instruments


This shot contains a few of my treasured possessions.  In the background is my Sigma Acoustic Guitar, purchased for my 21st birthday by my mother, back in the 90s.  I play it regularly and love it. I traipsed around Denmark Street in London looking for the right guitar and I chose well.

In the middle foreground is my all-tube, 1W practice amp. ¬†It has a nice tone for an amp so small, especially if played in our wooden floored, open living area, where it sounds much bigger than 1W. ¬†I intend to hook-it up to an external cabinet sometime, to see how it sounds coming out of something other than an 8″ speaker. ¬†I picked it up second hand at a local music shop a few years back.

In the foreground is my Telecaster/Nocaster. ¬†This was a lucky find when I was in the market for an electric guitar at the end of my medical degree as a little reward to myself. ¬†I was on the verge of buying a new Fender ’52 reissue, when I found this gem in a Cash Converters store for a fraction of the price. ¬†It plays very comfortably, although I am sure the sound could probably be improved with different pick ups. ¬†I have no idea what brand the guitar is, but it has always been about the sound rather than the brand for me.

I have been playing the guitar for almost 30 years. It is one of the few constants in life, given how readily I drift from hobby to hobby, or interest to interest.  I could be a lot better, given how long I have played, but I have rarely dedicated myself to study or persistent practice, preferring fun and playing with a smile on my face.