Archives for posts with tag: Gardening

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 »

I had planned to write a garden update this morning but will postpone that until today’s dust has settled.  This post is coming to you live from my sofa and I am writing it with the sound of a burglar alarm ringing in my ears – and no doubt in the ears of most of my neighbours.

Parkhurst properties tend to be narrow with not much space between homes.  This means that trees planted on the boundary lines often encroach into neighbouring properties.  In this country, we are allowed to trim branches that overhang our fences and interfere with our roofs or gardens.

So on Friday morning I sent text messages to both my left and right neighbours, letting them know that we were expecting tree fellers here today to cut back branches on our boundary.

This is what I said:

“Hi there.  Just want to let you both know that we’re expecting tree people on Monday, hopefully in the morning.  They will be cutting back branches that are over our walls/touching our roof.  I’d very  much appreciate it if you’d switch off your electric fences while they’re working. Thanks. Jacqui”

I had a perfectly polite and co-operative response from my neighbour on the right while neighbour on the left took a different approach.  While I’m sorely tempted to include her message here, I’m not in the habit of peppering either my speech or writing with four letter words, and I won’t start now.  Needless to say, I did not take the trouble to reply and the tree men arrived, as arranged, about half an hour ago.

It would seem that we’re never going to be forgiven for building this house and changing this…

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View from the street

to this….

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I shared the message with Julian of Treeworks so he knew what to expect.  The electric fence had of course not been turned off so the alarm goes off each time the smallest branch lands on it and I suspect her armed response company must be calling her every five minutes.  This also means that the tree fellers are unable to pick up any debris that might have fallen into her garden and they have had to access all the trees from my side.  Ironically the trees are all either privets or syringa trees and if I’m not mistaken, both are regarded as ‘alien invaders’ in this country.

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Can you spot the man high up in the Syringa tree? He has carefully avoided the live electric fencing.

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Fellow workers looking on.  The white post to the right is part of the electric fence.  The man on the wall is standing on the wall we had to build a foot into our property, having been prevented by our neighbour from building on the common boundary.

This type of attitude is a mystery to me. There is no concern whatsoever shown for the men who are working around and above the live wires of the electric fence.  I have had several calls on my phone from an ‘unknown’ number (which I’ve ignored) and my husband has had one message left by our neighbour’s attorney requesting that he call back to discuss ‘damages’.  It goes beyond belief.  Fortunately Julian remains unruffled and his attitude transfers itself to his workers who appear faintly amused by the all the goings on.  If you live anywhere around here and especially if you have tricky neighbours, I can highly recommend him.

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I have maintained a fairly low profile but Julian tells me he has been on the receiving end of a verbal lashing from my neighbour who came back from her office especially to deliver it. He is unfazed.

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Our right hand side neighbour has obligingly switched off her electric fence.  Here they are trimming the poplars.

And now, to add insult to injury, a massive storm has broken over Johannesburg and we have had to hastily recall all the men in trees…  This is the first rain we’ve had in many weeks and probably the last we’ll have for many months.  The weather men have been taken by surprise as we’d been told not to expect any more rain until the summer so this is some – welcome – late relief.  Just a pity for us it has chosen today to fall and it’s bucketing down.  The men have taken shelter and it seems likely that this little drama will have a second instalment.  In the meantime we wait for a lawyer’s letter from our neighbour who insists that her electric fence was damaged earlier this morning. Julian doesn’t believe it and frankly, neither do I.  And if she’d switched it off for just one hour, as requested, all would have been well.

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A late and welcome – if inconvenient – storm breaking over Johannesburg.