In yesterday’s post, I shared with you my ultimate dream landscape from my former residence in San Francisco. However, the great thing about landscaping, is that when you live in different countries, you find different plants that thrive or are indigenous to each region. Today, I’d like to share with you my landscaping of my home when I was in Sydney. I love stuff like this, and I’m totally nerding out just recounting it.
My gardens are my happy places. I love outdoor spaces, but given my chosen profession of auditor/accountant, I need shaded areas to maintain my fluorescent lighting tan. So when I got to Sydney, and saw that just about every home had its own outdoor living space (it’s just part of the culture), I tried to take full advantage.
In Sydney, there is a noticeably different climate from California, all around. There is this phenomenon I learned about, and I don’t know what it’s called, where the west coast of a country is dry and warm, but the east coast is humid and green. So in Perth, Australia, located on the west coast near the Indian Ocean, I felt right at home, with its western facing sunsets over the ocean (like they should be.) Perth was dry, arid, had brown grass and was not humid when I visited. It was November though, which is like the May time frame in California when it’s in the southern hemisphere – it’s quite beautiful actually.) Sydney is a lot more like maybe Atlanta? Or Florida? It doesn’t snow during winter as it doesn’t really get that cold. It does get downpours, thunder and lightning (it’s really beautiful – I’ve never seen lightning storms like the ones that hit Australia’s east coast,) and occasional hail. Most days it’s mild, and not as chilly/cold as San Francisco can get in the winter.
First off, my living situation in Sydney was much healthier than buying a house with a soon-to-be ex and living there post-breakup. I met my flatmate through a mutual friend. He’d been living with someone less than ideal and was looking to move just around the same time I landed. I quickly called the real estate agent (Australia is a bit backward this way – I needed an agent to secure a rental, but people go full throttle without an agent to buy a home), and let her know my preference was for a 2 bedroom not a 1 bedroom, and that was that. I wanted a place in the gayborhood, similar to San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood. The equivalent of the Castro in Sydney is Oxford Street, so I chose a 2 bedroom 2 bath in Darlinghurst, which was a 10 minute walk from Oxford Street.
He and I got on amazingly well, but for the occasional tiffs. All in all, if I had to live with anyone after having lived alone, we did as well as I could hope for. Living with him was a close second, and it was kinda nice not to be alone in a new country. He is a lovely guy, and we had fun together. Peas in a very drunk pod, we were.
Our apartment was beautiful. It was a tri-level apartment, on the top floor. The elevator had weird buttons, though. The lowest level was Lower Parking, or LP. Then there was Upper Parking (UP), where our unit actually had an allocated parking spot, but neither of us kept a car. Then C was the courtyard level. 2 was the street level, and 5 was the top floor. So you could hit the UP button, and technically go down. So if you hit the 5 button, you’d get to our floor. From our apartment door, the door opened to a small umbrella area on the right, and had about 8 steps immediately to get to the first level of the apartment. We had in unit laundry (so spoiled for the likes of San Francisco, where you’re lucky to have coin-operated laundry in your basement), a nice open floor plan with a living room, dining room, and dining room balcony (sliding glass door to the outside) all visible from the kitchen. In Australia, your apartment does not come with a fridge, which was odd to me, but it’s standard there. And our apartment came with a wall mounted dryer, but we had to buy a washing machine. My flatmate did a great job finding a cheap $60 washing machine on eBay (we named it Homer; it was a Simpson brand appliance.) I bought the fridge outright, as I couldn’t make a case for a fridge rental with monthly fees.
Anyway, the dining room balcony was the first of our 3 outdoor spaces. It was great for watching rainstorms, having parties, and general lazing about. We put some potted plants out there – agapanthus was a big player in our gardens at Kensington Palace. That was what we called our apartment. We had some smaller plants on that dining room balcony – the star jasmine featured in yesterday’s post, as well as some smaller agapanthus plants. At one point, my flatmate had a nice white rose topiary on that balcony, before he took it as a gift to one of his family members. I had a conifer tree on that balcony, as well as some dwarf bamboo (that too was in my San Francisco backyard plant selection.)
From that level, you’d go up another half flight of stairs onto the 2nd floor landing. This floor had our two bedrooms. I had the master with a walk through closet on the way into the ensuite bathroom. I also had a balcony with a sliding glass door of my room. My flatmate had his bedroom and separate bathroom on that floor too, as well as a small linen closet.
The balcony off my room had two wooden patio chairs, and my flatmate let me keep his little table out there. I liked to sit on my balcony to watch the bats fly west to Hyde Park in the summertime, every night around 8pm. I also loved to watch rainstorms from my balcony, or bring the bottle of wine out there and just relax. I had a view from my balcony to the northeast, nothing special to look at, but lots of trees and building and wide open space as far as you looked. It was definitely nice. On that balcony, because it stayed shady during winter and way too sunny on summer mornings, being east facing, I kept usually shade plants. I had some ferns out there, a peace lily, dianthus, and two mini white gardenia bushes. They smelled wonderful when they bloomed. That balcony was also a favorite for birds to land on, and crap all over. So I did my fair share of guarding it with my nerf gun and even got a bird once with the foam dart (don’t worry, it was more shocked than hurt), and managed not to lose the dart. I even once had a bird fly into my room, walk across the carpet and under the bed, crapping all over the rug, and under the bed. That was why I guarded with a nerf gun in the first place. I don’t pay rent for a bird bathroom. But I digress…
From our second floor landing, you ascended the stairs up to the 3rd level. We used the 3rd floor landing as a place for small storage, and for a twin size mattress guests would sleep on while visiting. From that landing was a glass door that opened onto our own private roof deck. It was a city dwelling gardener’s dreams come true.
My flatmate found us a great deal for a used patio set for $35 off eBay, and it had a table and 4 chairs. It was a bit ratty and used, but it was great because we weren’t worried about ruining it. The set held up to the rain and the scorching sun.
We also made trips to Bunnings (equivalent in the US: Home Depot) throughout our three years there for various fun stuff to put on that roof. At one point, we had a marquee, but eventually the winds took that right off the roof. We had fairy lights on the modern fence enclosure, and solar LED lamps interspersed throughout. We had a BBQ and we even had a hose with spray nozzle to make watering easy and pretty fun (I would also let people spray me in the warm summer months to keep me cool.) One year, I had a paddle pool for the roof.
And, ohhhhhh, the plants. My flatmate loved that agapanthus, so we had quite a few of those. He also got some cuts of two different kinds of frangipani (for you ‘Muricans, that’s plumeria, found throughout Hawaii). Or as I like to call it, frangi-panties.
We had a pink frangipani that smelled like vanilla, and white one that smelled like heaven. He also got a bird of paradise plant, a large beautiful white gardenia, and he swiped some rain lilies from somewhere too.
My contributions to the upstairs roof deck were more pink jasmine, more bamboo, and an after dark (this had dark leaves and when you ran the leaves between your fingers and in your hand, it smelled like eucalyptus).
I also had quite the array of hibiscus: I had a tangelo (orange with a different petal set, looked a bit more like a rose), cotton candy (white with pink center as a gift from my flatmate), yellow hibiscus, and an orange hibiscus with a red center. By far, my favorite was the orange with a red center.
I eventually moved the star jasmine from the lower balcony to the roof for better light. I had a nice palm up there as well. I even planted stargazer lily bulbs, and had one grow – I was pretty proud of that. It wasn’t a perfect shape, but I succeeded at getting it to flower.
We had many good memories of parties, and just simple everyday weekends at that apartment, and made sure to make use of the outdoor spaces whenever possible. If you could get over the cockroaches (despite how clean we were, they always surfaced) and spiders, it wasn’t so bad.
I did manage to do some growing in Sydney, as did the plants. I couldn’t possibly hope to bring a frangipani, or hibiscus, back to the San Francisco and hope for success in blooming. Too cold. But it was great to learn about them, and have them around, while I could. As it is with good friends, or most things in life, for that matter. My flatmate and I entrusted our friends and his family with the remnants of our gardens, and our plants continue to thrive in their gardens. I left a small legacy in Australia. Somewhere there is a peace lily wilting in the sun. And like her mama, when you give her a drink, she brightens right up and comes back to life.