Archives for posts with tag: Garden Bleu

My mother’s bench has had several incarnations.  I cannot remember where she found it or what condition it was in when she bought it, but it was always part of my childhood gardens and featured in various photographs over the years.  It moved house a few times too as my parent’s lives changed, and eventually, when my mother died, the bench was shipped up to me.

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1980-something in my parent’s garden.

It survived the move from the coast to the Highveld and it survived our first house move too, but the next, involving three months storage in a warehouse somewhere in Johannesburg, proved too much for the antique cast iron and it was eventually delivered to Treetops in 3 separate pieces.

For the first year,  busy with settling in, establishing a garden from scratch and just generally finding our feet in our smaller home and new neighbourhood, I was able to put the damaged bench out of my mind.  But as time passed it began to reproach me from where I had hidden it behind the moonflower tree.


My sister, on a visit from England, was mildly reproachful too, having clear memories of the bench in its heyday.  I had asked a few people about the possibility of repairing the bench, including the metal workers who made and installed our driveway gates and the man who supplied and and installed our garden trellises.  Both had given me the same response:  While it’s possible to repair and weld wrought iron, it is impossible to weld cast iron.

I had also discussed the dilemma with Sascha at Garden Bleu in Parkhurst and she had confirmed this disheartening information.

Wrought iron, according to the OED and a few sources on Google, is a ‘tough, malleable form of iron suitable for forging.’  Iron that has been ‘wrought’ has been beaten out or shaped by hammering.

Cast iron is the result of metal, often mixed with other components like ground glass or sand, being poured into a mould while molten.  The end product is more brittle than wrought iron and can break or snap under pressure. Because it is not as ‘pure’ as wrought iron, it is extremely difficult to rejoin broken pieces.

Discouraged, I pulled all the pieces of metal and broken wooden slats out onto the lawn and studied them.  On close inspection, it seemed the metal had come apart cleanly in three places and I decided to have one last ditch attempt at finding someone willing to tackle the job.

I had also done some research on the history of the bench and concluded that it was worth persevering. It is a Fern and Blackberry Bench, manufactured at the Coalbrookdale Foundry sometime in the 19th Century.



I’m sure Sascha’s heart sank when I raised the subject again but after looking at the pieces herself, she agreed to bring her metal worker, Dirk Venter, to give an opinion.  Dirk was dubious.  He wasn’t sure if he would be able to get the joins to hold and he wasn’t sure if it was worth the effort.  But for me, it was.  I would have been happy if he’d only managed to wire the pieces together.

He loaded the pieces onto his truck and I watched that well-travelled bench disappear  up the the driveway and wondered if I’d ever see it again.

That evening I got a message from Dirk with a very reasonable quote.  He was willing to put the metal frame back together but I would need someone else to do the woodwork.

He sent me a couple of photographs of the bench while he was working on it. Besides putting it back together, he needed to  strip off all the existing paint – and rust – before repainted it.



Work in Progress

A few days later he delivered an almost unrecognisable bench back to me.  Restored to its former glory, I have not been able to find any sign of the repair work.  It looks magnificent.

It just so happened that we had a man called Washington here that week installing  cupboards in the garage.  He took one look at the seatless bench and offered to replace the slats.  A few days later I was able to send Dirk a photo of the bench, seat and all. He responded that it ‘looks like it came right out the factory brand spanking new Antique.’

Then there was the question of where to put it.  In the end the swallows had to be rehomed but they seem content in their new space.


Dirk’s company is called ‘Staalwerk.’ In English, that is simply ‘Steelwork.’  It was an absolute pleasure dealing with him.  After all the head-shaking and pessimism that had gone before, he was the one person prepared to give it his best shot and it was definitely worth it. I will always be grateful to Dirk for taking on this tricky, time-consuming project and to Sascha – with her endless patience – at Garden Bleu, who saw the potential in the bits and pieces.

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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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:


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…


…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.


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 »