Saturday, October 19, 2013

House and Garden Ideas

I am sure that most of us adapt a house, flat or garden to suit our way of living in it, making each abode unique in its way.

            I have loved the houses in which I have lived and, in adapting them, have created items of interest to buyers when I have had to leave - and in doing so made a good profit on each.

            So what ideas embellish where Margreet and I now live?

            Starting at the far end of our small garden, there are anti-cat and –fox defined boundaries. From where the animals might leap or land there is a coating of car grease mixed with hot chilli powder. Sometimes there are anti-pigeon spikes. It seems to work – if occasionally unsightly.

            By a short length of late Georgian wall at the end of the garden we keep a small pile of garden growbags. These are light in weight and will fit snugly across our inside front door in case of floods or flood warnings.

            A lidded compost bin (emptied annually) at the end of the garden is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and flies. So, in warm weather, before adding kitchen waste or a little sifted garden soil (excellent), I lift the lid momentarily, and spray in insect killer. In a minute or two all is silent inside. Then waste may be added.

            Every so often, compost in the bin is cut through with a coarse-toothed saw. Cut several times and in two directions, the compost is thus aerated and chopped. The result when the lower part is emptied into a holding bin or on to the garden in early springtime, is fine, crumbly, loamy compost – beautiful to smell and handle.

            A mirror on the back wall of our small, octagonal shed (summerhouse) reflects and multiplies one candle power of light from the mirror and five glazed sides in evenings when we eat, drink and relax with our season-changing garden in front of us. When it is raining, and the drops fall on to the roof in staccato fashion, there is cosiness and magic in the air.

            We peer out of our “shed” through a grapevine arbour which offers shade in summer and where bunches of wine grapes hang in autumn.

            This arbour of reinforcing rod and galvanised wire is seen in perspective from the house. Its nearby arches are more rounded than the flatter ones beyond. And they are positioned nearer together the farther they are away. This all goes to give a false perspective, making the arbour seem much larger than it really is. And from the shed end, this configuration of arches seems to magnify the garden – rather like looking through binoculars or a telescope.

            We like to burn incense (joss) sticks outside our shed to ward off insects and scent the evening air. Some lovely clove-scented examples were once on sale in a Hilversum market, in Holland, but no longer. So I took bland ones and coated them with my beeswax/white spirit painting medium (polish, too) and rolled them in powdered cloves. It worked, but, in reality, mostly in the imagination, as the original coating on the stick gave off the more dominant scent. This might be an idea to tinker with, but now we have found clove sticks on the Internet.

            A hand bell beneath the arbour summons birds in winter when I proffer food. This means that they can forage elsewhere and know that they will not miss getting their fair share of my offerings.

            A tall, earthenware strawberry pot failed for its initial purpose, and now has pelargoniums (geraniums) growing out of its orifices instead of strawberries. On top rests a large, rustically crude, Chinese (I think) dish that makes a fine bird bath and place for them to quench their thirst. When watering the pelargoniums after temporarily removing the bath dish, I found that water rushed out of the upper holes and left the lower plants unwatered. The remedy was to drill holes in a plastic flowerpot and sink this pot into the strawberry pot’s earth. Now, when the plastic pot is filled with water to overflowing, all pelargoniums with root systems at varying heights in the pot get a drink.

            Painted to match the London stock brickwork of the house are bird, bat and insect boxes that seem to be part of the house, and cater for creatures that may or may not want to share their lives with us. Made from discarded wood on rubbish skips, and painted with my own ground colour and beeswax medium, they are just as I made them some 15 years ago, with no visible signs of deterioration in either construction or colour.

            A kitchen window and glazed door to the garden have string pinned across them to tell birds that the reflection of blue sky in them is just reflection and not real sky. This was done after a pigeon crashed through window glass into the kitchen on a clear day.

            Once inside the 1830s house there seem to be fewer ideas as you pass by black olives maturing in dark olive oil and salty, stoned green olives, coated in a mixture of lemon juice, coriander seeds, pressed garlic, thyme and olive oil. These jars are upended as often as I remember to do it. 

Due mainly to lack of space, whoever is cooking in the kitchen has everything at hand within 1½ pace. Cooking is thus ergonomically arranged, but allows only one cook at a time to be at work (we take turns to cook every other week).

In the kitchen is a new leaf tea “bucket” for cups and mugs. This has now been re-designed with a copper wire loop so that fingers are not scalded when it is being extracted from a large teacup.

Also in the kitchen is a radio-controlled clock. They are on other walls as well as this modestly priced clock not only tells the time to the millisecond, but also alters time automatically when clocks have to be put forward or back. And each works for a year on a small battery.

            Wine, held in wooden bins on a wall, is sometimes blended before being served. If a good and powerful red wine is too high in alcohol for its own good (14% or more), it is mixed with a lighter, less alcoholic wine.

            Dishes and pots are soaked in sink water overnight, washed by hand, rinsed and left to dry in a rack. If well organised, this method of washing up actually saves time, energy, water and space.

            A home made wooden salt box needs only one hand to extract either cooking or sea salt.

            There are no drawers or cupboards. Almost all wants are stored visibly – including knives, forks and spoons that lie in open bins as in a restaurant.

            Wine and cider vinegar, made by mothers of vinegar in 5 litre earthenware pots, is emptied into bottles for home use and gifts, each leaving behind an active live mother after her old and dying companions have been extracted and discarded. The cider vinegar mother was obtained in Normandy from an hotelier who had many a request for female company, but never for a mother.

            A candelabra of 5 candles, suspended from the ceiling on a chain, can be raised or lowered with the use of butcher’s meat hooks.

            When Christmas arrives there is a connection between the warm house and cold garden. I decorate the part-glazed front door with many (rather vulgar) flashing coloured lights and tinsel. Now that I have managed to grow mistletoe on an apple tree in a pot, this will also be harvested to decorate the doorway – its magical properties (being pagan) adding balance to the season.

            Pictures, that almost cover the internal house walls, making re-decoration unnecessary, are changed, added to, or stored constantly, so they are noticed and seen anew.

            Handles on the stair well are positioned accurately so that climbing or descending is made easy for both the agile and infirm.

            Rainwater passing around an inward opening window at the top of the house (I’ve never managed to stop it) is channelled, and drips through a tube into a bucket, ensuring a dry wall beneath - and making a nice noise as it does so.

            On top of our standard mattress lies one of firm rubber, topped by a very soft thinner one. The result is not only a comfortable bed, but also one that has been raised to a convenient height.

            When on holiday I have noticed what a strain it can be to get out of a bath. A handle, screwed to the inside of a dormer window, makes getting in or out of our bath an easy matter and, like the handles on the stair well more helpful as one gets older.

            The base of a lightweight aluminium ladder lies above a trap door to the loft space. The ladder is taken down to provide access to the loft, where pictures are stored, and for a high cubby-hole where paint is kept and demijohns of wine are left to complete their full and malolactic fermentations before being bottled in the new year. It is also used in the garden for pruning vines and harvesting grapes for winemaking.

            Items and ideas such as those mentioned go to make the house and garden easier to run, and to fit in with our way of living. In time to come, I hope that others will appreciate them.