Our latest adventures Out and About...

More slopes and steps – new food gardens in Rosslyn Park, Birkenhead and Wayville, a sweet little Rainbow arch, plus fruit tree protection at Findon and Rostrevor.

Rosslyn Park garden beds

When we first visited this steep terraced back yard in Rosslyn Park, we were delighted to find that the owners knew one of our recent clients who had planted the seed in them (no pun intended) of growing their own veggies.

They were all super excited at the possibility.

Location, location, location

With their charmingly cute 2 year old in tow, we wandered around the yard, chatting about the pros and cons of timber versus galvanised, and examining the potential spots that would receive enough sunlight to grow veggies as well as being protected from radiated wall heat.

Sometimes there is a perfect spot.

Sometimes there is not a perfect spot.

Sometimes there is a perfect spot, but it is not one that the householder is willing to give up!

At first it seemed that the back fenceline on the northern side of the lawn was the most practical site for raised garden beds, however a row of tall bamboo trees had been planted here which would soon shade this area.

On the very steep eastern slope, rows of white walled terraces step up to the top of the property. This was also not a practical location for veggie garden beds.

We were left with the lawn area and the back steps.

Respecting that the lawn is an important play area for their active 2 year old boy, we came up with a creative idea for putting in raised garden beds. We’d build 2 garden beds on the main steps and 1 bed on the lawn area below the steps where the two concrete retaining blocks had been placed. This way, the lawn area would be retained as well as covering up the odd concrete steps.

Nobody knew why these concrete blocks were put there. We were not about to move them. Instead we would build a garden bed over the top and enclose them!

Work commences

Now you can imagine the logistics involved in making garden beds on steps.  Add to this the weight of one side panel of a garden bed made of 3 hard wood sleepers (approx. 75kg), and you’ll understand our excitement (not!) at carrying the panels up the steps. 

So…let’s just begin, and take it one step at a time…

We started by making and placing the side panels for the upper bed.

Two panels are in place, held together with a clamp. The tops of the panels are perfectly level.

Next came the tricky part, building the two end panels to the shape of the step and attaching the panels with steel corners, an exercise in precision woodworking and perfect sequencing. Roger loves this kind of challenge!

Having mastered the unique shapes of the end panels, the next challenge was how to soften the front face of the beds. Thinking that three hardwood panels on the front face may make the raised beds look daunting, we suggested inserting a strawberry bed to soften the face and provide extra growing space.

Here you can see the space where the strawberry bed will go. Roger is working out the horizontal dimensions.

With the two beds in place, next they had to be completely lined with black plastic, not something we normally do, but here it was to prevent water from discolouring the steps. Fully lining a garden bed is not recommended. If soil becomes waterlogged, the space between the soil particles collapses and the living soil becomes starved of oxygen. It can then become putrid and toxic to micro organisms and plants.

So to compensate for lining the beds, we inserted a special drainage system. 

This unique garden installation required one innovation after another, after another!

The top bed has the black liner inserted.                   Some creative irrigation, with one pipe to                                                                                              let water in and one pipe to let excess water                                                                                       drain out

Raised bed around retaining steps

Our next challenge was the final bed. Not only would it be built to enclose the concrete retaining steps, it would be built on sloping ground. On steep slopes like this, we will make the front panel 3 sleepers high (60cm) and the back panel 2 sleepers high (20cm), but to get the front and back panels level across the top requires some precision laser levelling.

Sally recording measurements from the                Digging out the soil, ready for placing the 4
laser level to fine tune the exact depth of              panels of the garden bed.
excavation needed for each side of the final
garden bed.
Excavating the grass and ground to a precise depth underneath each side panel is essential prior to placing the panels. Once we put those massive panels, we don’t want to move them again!

Black plastic covers the entire base of the bed, including the retaining steps, to prevent invasion from the kikuyu grass.

The third bed is easily filled with soil using the digger’s bucket. The two upper beds on the steps are now lined and large rocks have been dropped into one side to assist drainage. 

Filling the two upper beds on the steps was not quite as easy as the one on the grass! Neither digger, nor wheelbarrow can help us here. Roger had to fill up a series of buckets with the soil, climb up the steps and manually drop it into the beds.

The four buckets of soil are sitting in the digger’s bucket. Extension arms for the digger are now on our bucket list! (Pun intended)

With all three beds filled, it’s time to run the drip irrigation lines across the beds and then comes our favourite part, planting out the new garden!

The newly planted garden.

Although not a huge garden, this was probably the most technically difficult one we have installed to date. Every step seemed to present at least one or two more challenges and the challenges spiralled exponentially as the job went along. From cutting timber and steel corners to match the steps and odd angles, to levelling the tops of the beds, attaching lining to the beds, water drainage, filling the beds with soil, and even the placement of plants to match the shallow soil and deep soil on either side of a bed…the list goes on….

But the final outcome is a stunning arrangement of garden beds, that is perfectly functional and an aesthetic complement to the contemporary design of the house.

In time, these karri hard wood beds will fade from their natural red colour to a silver grey and in doing so, they will age like a fine wine, settling gracefully into their new environment.



Birkenhead front yard

A typical Adelaide front yard, if there is such a thing, consists a lawn area, a couple of trees, some bushes down the side fence and a few ornamental flowers. But as people are becoming more informed about health and environmental issues, they are now utilising all or part of their front yards to grow food. 

Introducing food producing plants into the front garden landscape can be as simple as installing one or two raised beds and this is exactly what our clients at Birkenhead did. They identified an area in the front yard that could easily be renovated. This area, along the southern fence line, receives plenty of sunlight and although the shape of the space isn’t a perfect rectangle, two simple timber garden beds placed end on end seemed like the best option.

A perfect site for a raised bed food garden.

Tree roots


What appeared to be a simple job of clearing this small site turned out to be more onerous once work commenced. When we started digging the irrigation trenches, we found the soil was thick with millions of capillary tree roots, which made digging a very hard job. 

As this small area sloped down from the fence to the path we had to consider whether to level the entire area or not to level. Roger decided to retain the slope and compensate by digging out trenches on one side for the garden beds so that they would sit level within the sloping ground.

The ground work - digging up tree roots and digging trenches for the irrigation pipes and the garden beds.

Making the garden beds came next, and as you can see from the muddy ground in the image below, we were working in some unusually wet December weather that interrupted our work schedule for a few days.

Weed control mat was laid over the entire area and cut to shape to prevent the very active tree roots from invading the soil in the raised garden beds,.  As an extra precaution, once the garden beds were in place we also lined the bases with heavy duty root control barriers.

Sally is laying the weed control mat and cutting it to fit the space. You can see that the two raised beds have already been made and are on the pathway.

With the weed control mat down, the garden beds were placed on top and levelled, then the root barriers and worm farms placed in the beds.


Filling the beds

Soil time had arrived, and our beautiful soil was waiting in a heap on the footpath.   

The front gate prevented us from using the digger to move the soil, so Roger constructed a ramp up onto the garden beds. This was a wheelbarrow job and you’ve got to be pretty fit to push 50 barrow loads of soil up a ramp then tip them up and over into the beds without losing balance. He didn’t falter once!!!

The front bed is half filled with soil and the ramp is placed ready to fill the other half.

Finishing off

Towards the end of an installation, there are lots of little jobs to finish it off to a high standard. 

Timber borders were inserted along the pathway to help contain the gravel. The original bushes that had been removed and placed to one side were re-planted around the base of the tree by the front gate. Gravel was distributed and raked out. Seedlings and seeds planted. Stakes and netting erected for climbing beans. And a solar powered owl was attached to a base to deter the local birds…

The final touch? Our Vital Veggies plaque on the end of the front bed.

The finished food garden at Birkenhead.

We hear that many neighbours wander past and comment on this simple food garden. It is superbly functional and beautiful. The owners are learning about how food plants grow, they are harvesting fresh, delicious, organic food, and they are so delighted at the abundance of produce that they are now sharing around with their family, friends and neighbours. It has become a natural sanctuary from their busy lives.

Wayville food garden renovation

It’s a recurring story in our line of work…people ring and say they have been trying to grow their own veggies, the first season was great but the plants just don’t grow well any more!!!

Occasionally it’s to do with poor positioning of the garden, but most of the time, the problem is with the soil.

Our clients in Wayville had two high galvanised garden beds full of old soil and some sad looking plants. When we dug into the soil to see what was going on, we found it was full of tree roots – another common cause of spent soil. 

You can see the large tree roots that have invaded these garden beds.

Our job was to dig out the top 40cm soil from the two garden beds, line them with tree root barriers, install a drainage system for excess water, fill the beds with our Vital Veggies soil and inground worm farms, install a pump on the rainwater tank and connect up irrigation lines to the garden beds, then plant out the beds with new seedlings ready for summer.

Gravel is used as part of the drainage system when beds have to be fully lined with tree root barriers.

We were also asked to cover some trees and vines with netting to prevent birds and possums from stealing the fruit and to install a couple of compost bins.

Netting is fastened to fully enclose the grapevine that is growing above the sandpit.

Apart from having to dig up some pavers for the irrigation pipes, the renovation process went as planned and the owners now have a super productive garden again that we are caring for on our fortnightly service visits.

 The finished beds with their new soil and new plants…with 2 new compost bins in the background.

Rainbow Child Care Centre arbour


Hidden away up on the third floor at Westfield Marion Shopping Centre is Rainbow Child Care Centre, a lovely nurturing haven for children whose parents are working or studying.

Despite being surrounded by towering walls and concrete, Teng and Treena are committed to creating a natural environment for the children and educating them about the miracle of how food grows.

We have a special relationship with the staff and children here, having first installed two raised veggie garden beds on the outdoor rooftop play area 4 years ago. Since then we have maintained those veggie gardens and installed four more beds, growing fruit trees and a rampant passionfruit up there!

Rainbow children picking baby snowpeas                                               Passionfruit and young fruit                                                                                                                   trees along the side fence

We are always excited about installing beds at Rainbow. It normally involves arriving at the Westfield shopping centre in the dark early hours, and like a secret commando operation, we have to work fast and smart to get multiple wheelbarrow loads of soil up to the third floor before shopping centre clients begin arriving.

The new feature we were installing for the play area this time consisted of two garden beds of different heights, joined by an arching arbour over which vines will grow (with edible produce of course).


Construction over three days…

Monday: Roger made the side panels for the two beds off site, having first carefully measured that they would fit into the lift. He delivered them to Rainbow on Monday afternoon.

Tuesday: The panels were put together on site to make the two little beds. This was done in the place where they would be situated.

You can see that the first bed is higher than the second bed. This is a design feature to allow the passionfruit both extra soil space below and extra sunlight above.

After the beds were built on Tuesday, irrigation pipes had to be connected, and the steel arbour constructed.

You can see the arches for the arbour are in place and the supporting horizontal rods are on the ground waiting to be attached to the arches.

Wednesday was ‘D’ Day: Up at 5am, the truck and trailer were loaded with equipment and soil and we arrived at Westfield Marion at 6am with pre-arranged access to the locked lifts.

We parked in front of the shopping centre entrance with our trailer load of soil and two wheelbarrows. Sally was stationed in the trailer with shovel and soil, filling up the wheelbarrows and taking them to the lift.

Arrival time at Westfield Marion: 06.00…and still dark.

Another day, another 20 wheelbarrows full of soil…

Roger pushed the wheelbarrow loads of soil up to the third floor, into the child care centre, out on to the roof, up the ramp and then tipped the soil into the new garden beds.




Many times…

Swapping an empty wheelbarrow for a full one. Precision timing with the lift doors.

Up the ramp and into the beds

With all the soil in, we could then finish off the job: connecting dripper lines, painting the arbour black and getting the first plants in. Along both the inside and the outside of the lower bed, we attached low seating so the children can sit together inside or outside the arbour.

The finished raised beds and the arbour.

Pumpkin magic

In the deeper bed we planted a passionfruit, a pumpkin and a tromboncino (we love tromboncinos!).

In the smaller bed, we planted 8 strawberries, 3 tomatoes and some climbing cucumbers.

The pumpkin vines have started to climb up and over the arch.

We can’t wait to see this sweet little arbour in a couple of months, totally covered in leafy, edible plants with hanging pumpkins, cucumbers and tromboncinos.

What a delight it will be for the Rainbow staff and children!!!


Fruit tree protection at Findon

At Vital Veggies we are asked to do all kinds of jobs for people. Sometimes we just have to say no  to requests like “Could you please mow my lawn?”. But if it involves helping people to successfully grow food, we usually say Yes.

One particular client at Findon contacted us in November. He already had an entire back yard devoted to growing food, with some in ground garden beds, chooks and a number of fruit trees. We were impressed - it had been set up really well. He simply needed some tall hoops and netting constructed over a row of fruit trees so that the birds would not destroy all the fruit again this year.

As the trees had been planted in a row we suggested covering them in bulk, rather than individually.

Posts were cemented in to the ground, agricultural pipes arched between them and netting tied over the top.

Here is the result…a fully enclosed Non-bird-cage.

Although the bird netting is pegged down to the ground, there is a section through which our client can easily enter the No-bird- cage to pick the fruit.

We much prefer the black bird netting to the white netting as it looks more elegant and is less visually intrusive. What do you think?


Fruit tree protection at Rostrevor

This was a more serious version of fruit tree protection. Instead of vertical pipes with hoops we built the entire frame out of galvanised steel pipe.

After measuring out and marking the position for each post, we used a two person post hole digger to drill holes in the clay ground. Normally we’d use the auga on the digger but not today. Unfortunately, the first time the PHD hit deep clay, it got stuck and Roger had to get a giant wrench to untwist it.

Stuck hard!

As the entire ground area sloped downwards and we wanted the top of the structure to be perfectly level, the laser level came in handy to determine the different heights of each vertical post. 

Sally’s checking the post height position with the yellow laser level and the vertical alignment with the blue post level.

Each post was cut to measure under the carport, then fixed in place with cement. Next came the job of attaching the horizontal beams…great fun climbing up and down ladders in 40+ degree heat…NOT!

Installing an access door was essential for this structure, not only to allow easy access but also to maintain security so that their lovely groodle Miley wouldn’t be able to get in and steal the fruit.

Finally the black bird netting was affixed to the posts and it was finished.

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