So far most posts which we have written and were related to our house were posts regarding the garden. Of course, it was way easier to write them: I had already written them for a gardening forum and all was required was simply copying them and translating them into English. At some point we had to start with the repairs inside the house. However, before getting into that, it is logical to present what we started with. So here are picture we took in Spring 2009 while the former owners still lived there. The idea is to introduce the extend of the work we have to do...
I expect I'll be able to post a few plans to accompany the pictures at some point. For now we only have paper versions and I'll have to scan them first...
Regarding the repairs we intended to do we chose to get some help from a general contractor to help us define exactly what we intended to do, choose the companies who would do the work and manage the day-to-day oversight of the project. In the end here is what was planned (roughly):
- install a rain water collection tank
- change the kitchen French window, which wasn't of the same model as the others on the ground floor of the house
- install insulated doors in the basement
- install new doors on the 1st floor
- plaster works:
- in the basement, insulate the ceiling and create a new room which would become the server room
- on the ground floor, remove the wall between the hall and the living room, add walls to create cupboards in the hall and the 3 rooms
- on the first floor, line the vertical parts of the walls to increase the insulation and add new walls to fit with the new plan
- replace completely the whole electric installation of the house
- add network cables to connect the whole house for either computer network, phone or TV
- install a network distribution rack in the future server room
- change completely the heating system (boiler, heaters and network)
- install a new bathroom on the first floor
- connect the house to the town gas network
- set up the rain water network
- replace the old water pumps in the basement
- replace the ugly tiles in the hall, living room, dining room, kitchen and ground floor corridor
- tiling of the toilets and bathroom on the first floor
- tiling of the new server room in the basement
- repair and painting of the walls and ceiling of both staircases
We asked for the estimates in July 2009, signed them in September 2009 and actual work by the various contractors started in October. So you can guess there are plenty of opportunities to describe how it went !
Tastes, colours... Individual choices, really. In the colours category, at our place, there is the flashy blue, and as far as tastes are concerned, there are the garden gnomes... There weren't just a few individuals which were haunting the garden but a whole army...
A typical setting, in all "flower beds", looked like that:
Out of curiosity, let's count: there were 5 scattered on 2m²...
Here is a more hidden one... Did you find it?
And yes, yet another garden gnome on the edge of the Stonehenge flower bed... And the barbecue is quite sexy, isn't it ? (yes, yes, these are in fact flying garden gnomes )
Please, just admit you want more...
Let's also consider the famous "twit with a jug" and its lighting posts which don't function properly and on which... terra cotta frogs are glued. The frogs can very well be regarded as honorary garden gnomes...
We will add the cherubs...
...and the lions...
... to the list of honorary garden gnomes.
I'm not a FLNJ (Garden Gnome Liberation Front) activist, but the extent of situation almost makes me feel like joining them !
In any case, our personal liberation took place last August for the most part. Some people chase after eggs at Easter, we chased after garden gnomes in August... A whole 100L bag: wow ! However our approach was different from the FLNJ's: the garden gnomes were freed at the waste collection centre... They even ended up in the rubble skip. Let's try and remember this fact: when you'll be driving on Maine-et-Loire roads, at some point, below your wheels, as part of the embankment, there will be a garden gnome. How moving !
Anyway in August 2010, the next large work after the hidden garden gnomes hunt was the fall of Stonehenge:
By the way, the twit with the jug was way heavier than expected ! And we were quite nice with it: it didn't join the rubble but went on holidays in the South of France in the garden of one of Manu's parents' friends.
The second phase took place in December: cherubs and lions left Angers to join the twit in the South...
- No more lions:
- And no more cherubs:
In the "lots of work" category for this year, there's something I hadn't posted yet but that was still worth a look: the flower bed above the water tank.
That's what the corner in front of the house at the left of the garden's gate used to look like:
... basically a privet hedge (some of which were either dead or dying), a hydrangea and a snowball tree - very lovely in Spring according to the former owners but that had two major downsides: it was covered in scale insects and was partially blocking sunlight to the window just behind it. In addition, the area was covered in various weeds.
In August 2010, we started removing the privets, which were replaced with yet another hydrangea (that used to be in what is now the vegetable garden), a mahonia and a snowberry. Two other hydrangeas (also from the vegetable garden) were planted behind the snowball tree.
Then, in Autumn, big problem: when the various contractors were getting ready to do the work we needed them to do, we discussed the location of the water tank with the master builder and the earthwork contractors. And that lead to a change of plan: it would be more appropriate for the tank (which was initially supposed to end up buried under the carport) to be located... under the snowball tree (because this is were the rainwater pipes are). So, we had to move everything we had planted there so far, and give up on the snowball tree: it was too big to be relocated. As for the hydrangea which was already there, we couldn't unearth it, as most of its roots were under the concrete path. The rest (mahonia, snowberry and hydrangeas) was put into pots.
That's what they installed:
I dug the soil in March. It was horrible: huge pieces of slate everywhere, along with some concrete blocks and some mostly unidentifiable junk. Anyway, I was able to plant the hydrangeas and the "hedge-to-be" again. I added a few rhododendrons that were vaguely surviving in other parts of the garden.
I started adding more plants in early April: a variegated foliage rhododendron, a fuchsia (f. magellanica), a creeping ceanothus, as well as some small(ish) perennials: moss phlox, wood-sorrels, spiderwort, astilbe, maiden pink, daylily, pasque flower, carex buchananii and globe flower.
The idea was to do that over some time:
It was definitely looking better in mid-April, and everything I had planted had survived.
It improved rather suddenly after that, as a colleague of mine gave me a bunch of rosebushes which had to be planted as soon as possible. Five of them ended up above the water tank!
I added some ground cover a few days later: tickseed, gypsophila, crossworts and Convolvulus sabatius.
It is definitely looking better now:
Now I need to wait until everything's grown a bit to know whether I need to plant a few more things or not.
When we moved in, the only fruit bushes we had were a white currant and a blackcurrant, both more or less ugly.
The former owners did not even bother with gathering the fruits and the neighbour explained to us that she was the one who did, in order to make some marmalade.
So we kind of had to set things straight. I started by clipping both bushes and by "feeding" them. We also expected to remove the hedge which was much too close to the white currant. Right now they have (green) berries, but the white currant is being aggressively assaulted by aphids (I'm nice so I didn't treat it).
We'd still like to have more, however, because marmalade is just lovely! We decided to add a few more fruit bushes on the other side, behind the garden shed. Sure, there's a clothes line, but there's still some space between it and the neighbour's hedge. So, first step, adding some raspberry bushes I procured from my grandfather. Only problem: it's the middle of August and digging results in this:
After quite a lot of effort, that's what we ended up with:
We added even more fruit bushes in November:
- additional raspberry bushes:
- jostaberry bushes:
- a thornless blackberry bush at the end of the path, which was planted inside an old poplar stump (according to my father-in-law it should "devour" what's left of the stump, in time - let's have faith )
That's how it turned out (mid-April 2011):
- Raspberry bushes:
- Jostaberry bushes
- Thornless blackberry bush:
And in early May, everything looks fine except for two raspberry bushes. There are even a few raspberries growing (hopefully they won't abort because of the drought) and the blackberry bush seems to be willing to flower!
There's a balcony leading to the door on the front side of the house. When we bought it, there was a "clump" under that balcony- or, more realistically, an area covered in weeds and small, ugly shrubs that survived there for some reason. The only relatively notable items: a forsythia and some variegated ivy that covered the wall.
The main problem with the forsythia was that there was another on the other side of the path, and when both were growing merrily, it was impossible to pass without a machete! In addition, I like forsythias, but having two of them roughly at the same place was a bit of a waste. So, the first thing we did in the area last August was cutting off the forsythia that was close to the balcony.
I must admit that I didn't do anything more there until Spring, as we had a lot to do inside the house. But at the end of March, I motivated myself to do some digging - which led to a few trips to the waste reception centre as I dug out various bottles (plastic or otherwise), bags, and even a few shoes... Then I installed various plants that had been more or less surviving in jardinières for years: a rosemary, a miniature rose bush, a skimmia, a carex, an oxalis, a moss phlox, a dianthus, an Aegean wallflower, as well as some trailing iceplant. I then bought a few more plants: a gaura, some Graham's sage, a lyre-flower, yellow bellflowers, a mazus, a nierembergia, a Grecian windflower, some doronicum, a blue fescue and a white and magenta hydrangea.
I also planted a few bulbous plants: lilies, gladiola and crocuses that used to be in a jardinière as well.
That's what it looked like in early April:
And that's how it looks like now:
It should be nice in a few years!
When we finally bought the house last July, the flower bed in the garage slope looked somewhat like this:
Let's just ignore the old frame that used to hold some portal (but that just stayed there after the portal was removed), the ugly concrete fountain, the concrete slabs weighting about 80 kg each, the area covered in white gravel and the grape vine that had never been cut and that was so old it didn't produce any grape at all... Let's also ignore the garden gnomes, and the stairs that lead nowhere (well, they do - they lead to a glass panel that's part of the canopy... and that glass panel doesn't move at all). As for the paved area, that's another epic story.
The topic of this post is the flower bed on the left in the garage slope. It looks lush. Looking closer, however, it turns out that it's mostly thistle, dog's tooth grass, violets and mint! Also, you'll notice the really lovely frosted glass panels that close it on the side of the carport.
Here's what it looks like after a rather brutal cut into the grape vine:
We removed the glass panels during summer:
It looks cleaner now, but it's still rather ugly.
Manu tilled the soil and added compost, horse manure and loam in September and October. Only a few violets (which were close to the border and therefore rather hard to remove), a lily and a very rickety rhododendron survived. In November, I bedded a few more plants given by my in-laws:
There's a crape myrtle, and quite a few other plants I don't know the name of I'll need to have someone identify them for me.
I added a few other things this Spring:
Another rhododendron that was in another area of the garden:
A heath, a Cupid's dart, a larkspur, some aubretia, candytufts, wood-sorrels, another yucca, a cotoneaster, an herbaceous peony... and some Summer-blooming bulbs also ended up in the flower bed.
I happened to have a box of vegetable seeds given by my grandfather. A lot of the boxes and bags it contained had holes in them, so the bottom of the box contained an arbitrary mix of unidentifiable seeds. I sew them in the flower bed as well.
So yeah, I'm going to have a few salads and carrots in the flower bed. A little weird, but whatever.
I am planning on:
- repainting the carport because that particular shade of blue... ew! We already have the pain, but we haven't taken the time to do it yet.
- trying to grow a few climbing plants near the pillars (I'm thinking of some kind of jasmine and a rose bush), but that will have to wait until Autumn at the very least!
- adding even more plants to the flower bed itself, depending on how what is already there grows.
Since you're all waiting impatiently for the next episode of our garden-related work (I am being swamped under massive amounts of fan mail... wait, why don't you believe me? :p), here it is: a compost story!
Waste recycling, sustainable development, good food for plants... Whatever. We want to make some compost. In our family, compost production is rather primitive: my father-in-law uses a heap, and since we're following his advice, well, we're going to use a heap as well. Still, we need to chose a location for the heap. The "logical" location for that (in our specific kind of logic, anyway) is behind the garden shed, because it's not visible from the canopy. However, that's the location we'd used to store the wood from the dreaded thujas.
Ok, so we moved these away. But then, while it's nice to say: "so, let's make a compost heap!", you need stuff to "feed" it. Hence began the first, rather epic stage of compost-making; between July and late February, we were still living in a flat, roughly 15 km away from the house... So we had to use a second bin to sort our organic waste in our very, very small kitchen. Guess what was on Manu's knees in the car every week-end?...
Anyway, between the organic waste from the flat's kitchen, various weeds and small branches, the heap started to look somewhat like, well, a heap:
While it worked in terms of "making compost", it wasn't really too handy: it dries really fast, tends to damage the shed, and a lot of it is wasted when the heap needs to be turned over. Because of that, we dug a small trench and used some of the numerous concrete slabs left over by the former owners to make something more appropriate:
Still, you got to admit that it's definitely not too aesthetically pleasing... As it happens, I'd planned on planting periwinckles on the right side of the shed's door:
I'd added some iris bulbs in Autumn. However, some climbing plant was definitely required to hide the compost heap. In addition, various animals enjoyed digging into the heap a little too much, so there was still a lot off waste as they threw some compost out of the pit, onto the grass in front of it. We "fixed" these two problems in March:
We added some more concrete slabs in front of it (in order to make it easier to put whatever the birds and cats extract from the pit back into it) and a winter jasmine on a wooden lattice to hide it from the path (it still needs to grow though).
I am currently trying to grow a few annual plants near the left part of the pergola: some morning glories and nasturtium (the morning glories have already germinated). I have to wait until next Autumn to replace them with perennial plants. On the right side of the pergola, there is yet another clematis (a white "Gladys Picard" this time) and a red climbing rose bush given by my father-in-law (I have no clue what its name is). In front of the clematis there's a curry plant that will hopefully help protect the lower part of the clematis' from direct sunlight... but it will not happen any time soon: for now the curry plant must be at most 5 cm high, as I obtained it from the school's lawn, where it grew on its own and ended up getting mowed a few times. It's a survivor, so I'm hoping it will be happy there.
As for the bricks and pieces of plastic and cardboard, I'm trying to use them to get rid of the grass as I want to make another flower bed there.
When we started thinking about how to organise the garden, we considered it would be logical to create a bed of aromatic plants near the canopy, as this is where the kitchen's door leads (yes, we are lazy and we don't feel like having to walk around whenever we need three sprigs of chive). So we choose to do that on the other side of the path relative to the garden - the area with red-ish, brick-like borders on the picture.
In its original state, the area in question more or less included a cherry tree, a rhododendron, some sea thrift and a lot of houseleeks, and it was covered with pine barks, as usual. Near the cherry tree, there were also a ceanothus and another rhododendron. Oh, and there was some kind of huge, quite rickety and rather scary concrete "cup" - an accident waiting to happen really. And a drip for the cherry tree. Yes, that white, vertical thing near the trunk is actually a pipe which was used by the former owners to water the cherry tree... which had been there for 6 years... in an area that used to be a swamp... :s
Of course, the gas tank's removal did not help either. Let's just say one of the rhododendrons did not enjoy being rolled over repeatedly by a trailer truck.
We started clearing the area: removing the brick-like borders, the pine bark and the scary cup. The base of the cup went 50cm into the ground, so it was definitely not easy, especially in the middle of a dry August; removing the cherry tree's drip wasn't much easier, and indeed there's still a little chunk of PVC pipe somewhere below
Then I started adding plants from various window boxes I'd had for years: aromatic plants of course (thymus, rosemary, savoury, chive, etc.) as well as a few as various flowers such as daylilies, carnations, Christmas roses, columbines, perennial geraniums, violets, lily-of-the-valey...
I planted a few stonecrops and houseleeks near the head of the cherry tree, as the area is really dry...
I added some bulbous plants (yellow grape hyacinths, irises and tulips), as well as a "The President" clematis and a "GoldFlame" honeysuckle to cover the pergola, in Autumn.
I added a few more aromatic plants and some ornamental plants my father-in-law gave me in November:
And here's what it looks like now:
... and a few lovely pictures:
The columbines are starting to bloom, so is the honeysuckle (although its flowers are rather ugly as they started blooming right before Winter), and the clematis is budding...
It looks nice, but there were a few screw-ups.
- There used to be a bottlebrush (a layer from my father-in-law's), but it did not survive the Winter.
- There's lesser celandine everywhere, and I'm afraid I'm going to have a hard time getting rid of it.
- The light green plant at the front is devil-in-a-bush, unless I'm mistaken. There's a lot of that growing everywhere as well, and I'll need to find a way to "segregate" them (I like the plant, but it's a tad invasive).
- I was hoping the black and white tulips would flower at the same time... as it turns out, the white tulips bloom earlier than the black ones.
- It's a little bland right at the beginning of Spring. I need to add daffodils and more tulips.
- The honeysuckle got invaded by aphids; most of them have died out now, but the leaves were badly damaged.
In my "Introduction to the garden" post, the plan is in French, and some of the names are rather obscure (and that is even for someone who reads French). Clarification is therefore required.
The "tas d'horreurs" (heap of horrors):
The picture is somewhat misleading - the heap looks really small. The thing is - do you see that tree stump? Well, it's nearly 1m in diameter. As for the heap itself, I've been trying to convert it into mulching using clippers; natural decay also helped. At some point it was as high as the hedges!
Left of the "abri-voiture" (carport), walking towards...
The "pissenlits" (dandelion) flower bed.
Some might suggest it's a nearly endless source of salad ingredients. Still, in order to do that, thinning the flower bed would be needed - see the little green thingies on the picture? Well, they're not small wallflowers, as one might think... It's just even more dandelion!