Archives for category: Small gardens

Sometimes I forget that our main motive when building Treetops was to downsize.  With both our children living in London and two of us rattling round in a rambling home, it was time to ‘contract’ somehow.  It wasn’t all about size.  Over time, there’d been a growing awareness of excess, for want of a better word.  For taking up more space than we needed to; using more electricity and water than we needed to; in general, just having more all round than we needed.

We’ve been fortunate to have had no regrets.  Sometimes I drive through my old neighborhood, just a couple of kilometers from where we are now, and I’m alarmed to see   the changes there.  And that is in itself ironic because in moving to Parkhurst, we were seeking a more urban lifestyle; a neighborhood  where we could walk to parks and nearby stores, cafes and restaurants and that is an aspect of living here that we thoroughly enjoy.

Silk ‘n Swag, above right, specializes in Annie Sloan paint effects and can transform anything.

But the urbanization I’m seeing in my old neighborhood is different.  Huge office and apartment blocks are pressing up against the beautiful old garden boundaries of the lovely old homes there.  Passing my old road last week, I was saddened to see that at least 4 gracious houses in old, established gardens have been completely demolished to make way for what seems to be a huge new development.

Downsizing did come with some challenges.  Some things were difficult to part with but I must admit to missing nothing other than one or two old books I’ve looked for without success.  They must have gone the way of charity shops but if I really, really need them again, there’s always the library or if necessary, new copies.

I derived much satisfaction out of being able to re-use some of the fabrics and other items from my old home in new inventive ways.  My sister got a table cloth made from damask curtaining and a friend’s housekeeper has done wonders with our old dining room curtains too. She proudly showed me covers she had made for her sofa in her township home.  One of my silk bedroom curtains looks beautiful re-invented as upholstery on a little bedroom chair.

From a gardening perspective, I derive more enjoyment out of this much smaller garden than I did from the almost acre of ground I had before.  It was a lovely, old established garden but very difficult to maintain and a whole day’s work in it made little impact.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of this property has been its width.  This stand is 55 meters long and only 15 meters wide.  This has meant that there are narrow pathways down either side of the house and an even narrower ‘service area’ down one side of the guest suite which is above the garage.  And this is where I have found mirrors to be absolutely invaluable.

The picture on the left above shows the site from south to north, and the one on the right from north to south. They give some idea of the width of the property and looking at them now is enough to give me nightmares.

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The little picture above shows the narrow alleyway on the east side between the house and the boundary wall.  This was particularly challenging to deal with.

While the rooms in this house are bright and light, they are also more compact than what we were used to and careful use of mirrors has helped to reflect and bounce light around, giving some areas a sense of being more spacious than they actually are.

 

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Main Bedroom View Looking North

Having the lovely view above from the main bedroom, I disliked ‘losing’ it if I were facing the other way.  Bringing in the mirrors below has solved that problem, meaning that I catch glimpses of the park from almost anywhere in the room.

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Below is the view I was presented with when standing at the scullery sink. This window faces out onto that narrow path on the east side  Granted, having the walls painted grey is an improvement on the dark alleyway appearance in the  earlier photograph, but this wasn’t at all inspiring.  Like most things, I knew exactly what I wanted to do here, but it took some time to get around to it.

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Below is the outlook with which I am now presented from the same position.  The ‘window-like’ mirror is mounted directly opposite the scullery window and reflects a shelf mounted below the outside window sill and two wall-hung pot plant holders on either side of the window.  This is possibly the most satisfying result I have had using mirror reflections so far.

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Then, when going up or down the stairs, I felt the alcove leading into the guest toilet needing brightening.  The mirror there not only reflects light, but also offers another view of the Behero baskets under the stairs.

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Below is a mosaic of the main en-suite bathroom showing before and after mirrors.  The third photo is taken into the mirror on the toilet wall.  It is high enough not to reflect the toilet itself when one is actually seated on it, but positioned where it is, it is able to ‘give back’ the view of the shrubbery outside.

We spend a lot of time on the veranda, regardless of the weather and I soon found that sitting on the ‘west’ side of the table gave one a very limited outlook.  It was time for another mirror.  This one throws back aspects of the veranda behind.

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Then, another table and another dead space. This time to the south….

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I really didn’t like that small blank square above the little display table…  It didn’t seem a good place for a painting but a visit to Block & Chisel – one of my favourite interior stores – solved the problem:

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Now, when sitting at the dining room table, I can see bits of both sides of the garden, north and south.  It is much more satisfying and I love the ‘porthole’ effect of that round mirror.

But sometimes there are ‘errors of judgement’ which brings me to the guest suite above the garage; the space I hope to one day list on Airbnb.

There are two small windows behind the galley kitchen.  With hindsight, I would probably have bricked them in, but I suppose, if anyone was to cook in that kitchen on a warm night, it might be good to have the option of opening them.

Only, the outlook was dire – straight on to a roughly-plastered grey wall about an arm’s length from the windows themselves.  Undaunted, I decided to try mirrors.  I found two round ones which I thought would encompass the space and with considerable difficulty and husband-help, I got them hung…  It was not a success.

Below is what you saw before the mirrors…

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…and this is pretty much what you saw after them…

IMG_7932I remember reading an article many years ago suggesting that mirrors should only be used where they reflect something attractive or interesting.  This experiment proved that point.  I changed tack.

Today the mirrors came down and pot plants went up in pretty wrought-iron holders from Garden Bleu.  This is far more satisfactory but left me with two circular, mosaic-surrounded mirrors with nowhere to go.  They are not my usual style but tucked away up there, they could have worked.  I moved my attention to the garden…

The first time I tried a garden mirror was in our small Cape Town garden.  It is a compact garden, enclosed by high walls and just by way of experiment, I mounted a long mirror on the shady back wall.  It worked in that it did offer an oblong of light in a dark area and gave the illusion of a gateway leading to another space.  Some visitors to the house were taken in until they got quite close to it.

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The mirror is the narrow band of light behind the birdbath.

So it didn’t take long to decide to try one of the round mirrors on a garden wall here.  The garden is looking a little wintry still, but once the leaves on the various shrubs have come out and the plants in the container below have gained height, I think it will be fun to have ‘window’ glimpses through the foliage.

Once again, I like the ‘porthole window’ effect.  We’ll wait to see how it blends in over the next few months.

On reflection, downsizing and small gardens can be fun. Read the rest of this entry »

Spring has a way of approaching Johannesburg tentatively.  Much like many first-time visitors to this city.  It is usually a case of two steps forward and then a big step back which is why I only took the cover off my little camellHia bush two days ago, although the temperatures haven’t been much below 25 during the day for the past two weeks.

The first official day of spring in the southern hemisphere being today, it feels like a good time to introduce you to something special in my garden:  See if you can spot the difference between the two photos below:  This one…

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I’ve always had a thing for swings.  Old school friends tell me that when I was a little girl I was a hopeless party guest if there was a swing anywhere in sight.  I would plant myself on it and refuse to participate in any party games.  Not much has changed.  If I see a swing that’s fit for grown-ups, I’m on it.

So I was absolutely delighted to receive a very heavy Xmas present from my sister in England last December and to find inside it, a very special swing.  It came complete with ropes and has a solid oak, inscribed seat.

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Needless to say, it was quite a substantial addition to my luggage on the flight home but it was well worth the extra bag required.

There was much debate about where to position it in such a small garden and in the end I decided it should line up with the bay window.  It works this way from both inside and out:

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I swing on it almost every day and when my sister came to visit in March, she swung on it too…

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I plan to grow a climber over the frame but am still trying to decide what will do best.  It is a very sunny, hot position for most of the day.

Friends and family who know about this particular penchant of mine, have taken to sending me photos of beautiful swings in other parts of the world.  My daughter took the photo below at a villa in Tuscany where she did a cooking course at Tuscookany in June.

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Now I’d like to go there too…

Other variations of  swings that have found their way into this house are this basket one which lives on the upstairs veranda.  With its lovely views over the park, it is my favourite afternoon tea spot….

And this painting by Abe Opperman who features swings in much of his work…

 

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And finally, being Spring Day, it seems like an appropriate time to look back on what the garden looked like a year ago on the 28th of August, 2015.

 

And today, it looks like this:

A year ago the driveway looked like this:

And today it looks like this:

So it does seem as though some progress has been made.

The animals all seem happy too…

The London Underground is not exactly a space where you’d expect to find inspiration but it is where I rediscovered the magic of poetry two years ago.  I’m not sure whether this post belongs on Home-in-the-Making or elsewhere, but since it ends up in my garden, I’ve decided to include it here.

Subways and crowded carriages are not my favourite places and until overcoming a lifelong struggle with claustrophobia a few years ago, I almost never used them. Consequently, to suddenly catch sight of a breathtaking line of poetry printed inside a carriage rattling far below London was an unexpectedly lovely experience, to say the least. In that instance, I was reminded of “how extraordinary it is that poetry can, over the course of one sentence, flood your circuit board with loss, or anger, or love” (The Independent) and to that quote I would like to add ‘joy’.

“The swallow are italic again”.  The brilliant imagery of that line held me spellbound.  On closer inspection I realised that this was not random graffiti, but a whole poem, printed on the inside of the carriage along with several others.  In fact, the inside of that particular carriage seemed quite festooned with poetry.

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I made a mental note of the poet, Owen Sheers, googled him the minute I got home and then set out for the nearest bookshop.  So far, I’ve not been able to find an anthology of Owen Sheers’ poems, but I did find a book titled “Poems on the Underground” edited by Gerard Benson, Judith Chernaik and Cicely Herbert and I bought it immediately.

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As you can see, it is already quite well worn.

To quote from the foreword of the book, “Poems on the Underground started life in January 1986 as an experiment by three friends, lovers of poetry, who persuaded London Underground to post a few poems in its trains.” I for one now look for poetry every time I board the tube and am disappointed when I don’t find it.  I wish all the carriages could become travelling poetry books.

“Swallows”, I’d decided, needed to find a place in my new home and then on reading “Poems on the Underground” from cover to cover, I came across another poem I couldn’t live without either.

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Returning to South Africa, I set about looking for someone who would be able to transcribe these two poems onto stone for me and, thanks to Google once more, I found just the perfect person in a small, southern coast village of Still Bay (or Stilbaai as it is more commonly referred to by South Africans.)

Si’mon Huber  (http://www.stone2stone.co.za) turned out to be exactly who I was looking for and in a matter of weeks, with only email correspondence between us, he had carved the first verse of ‘Swallows’ and the whole of ‘Tin Roof’ onto beautiful sandstone blocks and had them couriered to me in Johannesburg.  What a find!  It is not often that one orders something sight unseen and when the finished product arrives it actually exceeds one’s  expectations. While I’d have loved to have all three verses of ‘Swallows’ in the garden, I felt I needed to exercise some self-restraint so have limited myself to just the first verse.  It was, after all, that first line that had so captured my imagination.

The poems are now comfortably settled; one outside the front door and one in the front garden.

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With one of the criteria given to our architect being that our house have an ‘iron roof’, this poem, ‘Tin Roof’, has special resonance.

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Close up.

Once “Swallows” was in place, I felt it might benefit from some ‘illustration’.

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While developing this garden, I have rather fallen in love with a shop in our neighbouring suburb of Greenside.  Tucked down a little panhandle and quite difficult to find, is Garden Bleu. (http://www.gardenbleu.co.za)  It is a treasure trove of garden ornamentation and is becoming a regular haunt.

When I realised that most of their products are locally manufactured, I asked Sascha – who manages the Greenside branch – if she thought they could make a few swallows for me to mount on the wall.  She asked me to find a few diagrams on the internet to use as ‘patterns’ which I did and a few weeks ago I collected seven beautiful swallow silhouettes for the wall.

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I had asked for them to be made with short ‘posts’ which could be bolted into the wall so that the swallows would stand proud of the wall itself.  This means that at different times of the day, they cast beautiful shadows of themselves against the wall.  Bernard, our architect, taught me about shadow lines.  Had I not gleaned that from him I would have probably asked for shapes that could be stuck straight onto the wall and I don’t think they would have been as effective

Sascha told me that she’d had a few extra swallows made alongside mine and that they’d already been sold.  It’s very refreshing to have found such an enthusiastic young business where anything seems possible. And, as with the sandstone carvings, the finished swallows were lovelier than I’d imagined.  Before our big ‘downsizing’ exercise last year, I never knew that having a small garden could be so much fun.