A shared space for all

THE backyard is the chameleon of all the areas surrounding a house.

One day it has to be entertaining the mayor and local dignitaries for an afternoon of high tea and croquet, and the next it will be a runway and surface for the plastic slip-and-slide.

The old backyard will have more portfolios than most front bench ministers will have in their careers, except that the backyard won’t be promised a hefty retirement plan, foreign diplomat position, book deal and the occasional appearance on panel news shows for its thoughts on the current political crisis.

Watch the video for Gherkin's golden rules on using some common garden machinery.

So how do you maintain a backyard that has to be everything to everybody?

The simple answer is; you don’t have to. A few years back I was contacted by a family in lower Eppisvaile, just outside of Melbourne, who were having problems with shared usage in their backyard.

I implemented a share-lease system. Basically, for Summer, the backyard was designated for sports and water play for the children; in Autumn, it was used solely for alfresco dining and dinner parties by the mother; in winter the yard was sub-leased to a local vegetable grower looking for land to grow winter crops; and in Spring, the father had rite-of-access for vehicle restorations and “blokey” barbecues.

Some family members questioned my insistence that a large, lockable fence be constructed around the yard with only the person(s) who had access rites for that period, be given a key.

It became a little more complex with the vegetable grower coming and going between the hours of 11pm and 3am on his tractor equipped with a boom-sprayer for chemical application, but everyone adapted in their own special way.

For the father, “adapting” meant moving out of home for six months of the year, while the kids adapted by dropping out of school and either finding work out of town or spending time in detention facilities.

Good old mum stuck it out though with some help from friends she referred to as “Jack, Jim and Bundy”.

Perhaps this shared usage plan could work for you?

A simpler solution might be to ask the question: who will be using the yard after I’m finished?

For instance, if your hobby is creating pieces of walk-through artwork from abandoned train carriages, it might be an idea to clean up the scrap iron before someone wants to use the same space for their live Lord of the Rings re-enactment, or mum’s “Wine and Whine Club” meeting.

Alternatively, reduce all backyard usage options by dedicating it to one use only, such as an ice-skating rink or an industrial chemical waste refuse facility.

This will stop any arguments about whose turn it is to be in the backyard.

However, it may create some arguments from council and neighbours.

Just as the definition of family differs so much these days, so does the definition of what a backyard is.

There are no hard and fast rules about what it must contain. (Thankfully the Federally endorsed Birdbath Act of 1962 requiring all Australian backyards to house a birdbath of some capacity was repealed a year after its introduction.)

Make the most of your shared space out the back, embracing your own piece of Australia. (Unless you are renting or in a housing commission house, in which case it’s best to just keep the lawn watered and never step outside.)

Tip of the Month: Drainage is costly to install and maintain. Why not buy some potted palms, potted ferns and toy goldfish, and position these around the pools of water that form in the yard, to create an instant pond or water feature?

Gherkin Jarvis is a columnist for Australian Horticulture, Australia's premier national nursery and garden industry publication. Pick up your copy each month in all good newsagents, or to subscribe, contact 1300 131 095.

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Better Backyards with Gherkin JarvisSelf-proclaimed gardening expert and carpet enthusiast, Gherkin Jarvis, brings you his thoughts on Australia’s great lifestyle tradition, the backyard.

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