Monday, May 07, 2007

Landscaping & gardening (mainly)


Last time we talked, we were well and truly moved in. Most of the lights, and, I think, blinds were up (yawn). Boxes emptied, kitchen and bathrooms fettled, wardrobes erected, larder full of food, cellar full of wine. Indeed, a myriad things had been done that help to make the house habitable. I'll add a few more recent points to the above list, and then get down to external business:

One of the idiosyncracies of living in a Huf Haus is that there're few flat walls to put bookshelves, wardrobes or any other cupboardy thing against. Our 3-axis house is a typical case, as just about every downstairs wall is made of glass. And then each of the bedrooms has just one 'normal' wall, and that's yer lot. They also offer a triangular-shaped wall 'cos of the slopey roof, which would be great if Ikea started manufacturing triangular-shaped cupboards. So our storage furniture options are somewhat limited. Claudia and I've been scratching our heads to find 'creative' ways of solving this or that storage problem in this or that room.

You would do, too, if it happened to you. As the song goes.

Now don't get me wrong here, we're not dealing with converted lighthouse or windmill levels of problem, but it does need some thinking about. We found a big white shelving unit for the kids room in Ikea, and some chromium-plated metal shelves for the nooks and crannies in the bathrooms. Existing wardrobes from our previous house swallowed up two of the available bedrooms walls. The bugger is what we're going to do in the living room. The cellar's a long way to go to find a CD. Ah well...

The last of the one zillion lights went up last weekend. These were the two long flourescent strips for the cellars, and both went up fairly easily. After forty odd lights I'm getting quite the dab hand at this. No more electrocutions, so I reckon I got off lightly; you might want to budget for taxis to the hospital when it comes to your own project. I also put up the five external lights a couple of weeks ago, so I no longer need braille when unlocking the front door late at night. One bit of good fortune is that we won't be needing those automatic security lights for our parking area after all. It turns out that next door's security lights're of Colditz specification: hyper-sensitive and hyper-bright. All we need is the barbed wire, sirens, machine guns and guard dogs. Anyways, job's a good un, 'cos a mouse coughing on our parking area would set 'em off.

Curtains and blinds're up... (yawn)... and the cellars're a chaotic mess. So we're pretty much back to normal, then.

So, onwards to the Outside.

If you recall, the landscapers did a good job of levelling the various bits of land, so that while it was still looking a bit, erm, bare, it was at least looking less like the Second Battle of the Somme. Cheapo concrete slabs were put down under what will soon be our wooden decking terrace, and boy have those slabs served us well. Our wee lads have had a ball throwing loose dirt, big and small stones, soil and sand all over the place, so those slabs at least gave us an area that could be swept clean of fallout. Something to consider when you've got small kids: a newly built house offers endless amounts of ammo to chuck at each other/the papa/the nearest windows.

A couple of weeks ago, the Bodendecke (literally, groundcover) plants were put into the steeper bits of hillside. These actually have a structural duty to perform as they'll be holding the hillside up come the monsoon season, so they're much more than a pretty face. A few more areas need the Bodendecke treatment, and there's still lots of soil around each of the plants, but for now it's a relief to see at least some sort of green. Sometime next year we should see the plants merge into each other, and any fool-hardy weeds strangled to a miserable death.

The 'safety' hedge has been planted up along the parking area. Dunno what type it is, but it's not a privet. The hedge already offers a bit of mental security, as the three metre drop doesn't seem quite so bad when there're a few plants between you and it. It is as bad, it just doesn't seem to be. Again, these'll take a couple of years to thicken up, but for now they'll do nicely.

And finally finally finally, the grass seeds have gone down. More or less at the same time the farmer reseeded his field (if you remember, our soil mountain sat on it for four months). I spent many an evening watering the 'lawns', and also chucked some water on the field to inspire the farmer's seeds to action. Then late last week the weather finally broke, and the rains descended on us big time. By yesterday lots of thin little grass shoots started, erm, shooting up everywhere. We're a couple of months from having a lawn (and field) we can walk on, but at least it's on its way.

And on Friday/Saturday the landscaping chap will come again, only this time he'll be building our wooden sun deck. Just when I'd become used to sweeping the concrete slabs. Anyways, Claudia's all excited and I must say I'm also very curious to see how it looks. Just about every other bit of gardening on that side of the house's on hold until this thing's built, simply as the geometry of the garden'll change drastically. Hard to explain, and I won't even try. This is what yer get when yer write yer blog using the 'stream of consciousness' method; painted into visualisation corners. Anyway, once it's there we'll know where to put various bushes, big pots, the parasol, etc.

Oo oo! The parasol! Lots of recent discussion with regards to the parasol. Absolutely imperative at 730m amsl, 'cos the sky's very very clear. Often turquoise clear, which is a nice problem to have. We have to wear sunglasses inside our house, so yer can imagine how bright it gets out on the sundeck-to-be. One of the things we've found is that our spot can get very windy, in a sort of no-wind to gusty-blast sort of way. To put this into context, we're talking wanky Swiss wind here. Proper Manchester wind would laugh and point at weedy Swiss wind, but it nevertheless deserves a bit of respect when it comes to parasols; 'cos gusts and parasols don't mix well in my experience.

Anyways, we've found a sort of cantilever design that's supposed to be far more resilient to gusts, 'cos the umbrella bit just wobbles about on the universal top joint, thereby spilling the wind. One shall continue one's researches and then revert, but it looks very very promising. They have similar ones at an outside restaurant near where I work, and I recently had lunch there in a wind that was blowing the beer glasses off the table. Parasols just shrugged it off. Very neat.

There's also a cool 'new' system that looks rather like a horizontal yacht sail, and in fact is called a Sonnensegel (sunsail). This is typically a whopping big triangle of thick fabric that's anchored to yer house on two corners, and then yer bolt the spare corner to a very secure pole wot yer plant in yer garden.

I do hope I'm not being too technical.

Now this Sonnensegel concept has some possibilities as a parasol surrogate, although the cantilevered design's looking favorate at the mo' 'cos it can be swung in an arc to track the sun as necessary. However, the Sonnensegel people also do a super-dooper-thick-weather-proof-all-year-round-and-supports-rain-and-snow version. And it's this that I've got in mind for our carport.


Yes indeed. If I'm right, we'll end up with the coolest carport in Switzerland, at, erm, half the price of a real one. And believe me, we need to save a few quid right now. Again, will continue the investigations and then revert.

And the plants and stuff themselves?

Well, as stated earlier we've not committing until we see the sundeck in all its glory. The idea is that we have some japanesy-looking trees (red and green pygmy maples) here and there, plus the odd pampas grass thingy. We also fancy some bamboos for that cool oriental look, but've been advised that they'll rapidly colonise the rest of our garden, then the village, and then the entire mainland of Western Europe. Within weeks. Anyway, if there's a way of growing bamboo in big pots, then we'll probably go for it.

Elsewhere, we're plotting big and small ferns for the base of our retaining wall. Cool and shady there, so it'll likely be the practical solution anyway. Also fancy a patch of hostas, and think I have just the place for 'em.

What else? Ahh... the watering system. We bought one of those Gardena wheel things for the hosepipe on one side of the house. I also fancied their new system with an enclosed reel and have mounted it on t'other. Works very well. I toyed with the idea of installing an underground watering system (actually fairly affordable, if not exactly cheap) but have put that project on hold due to (a) the cost and (b) because I couldn't be arsed to tackle it just now. Two hosepipes'll have to do for the time being.

And finally... the garden shed.

There ain't one. Tools are either resting on the ground, against the house, or in the cellar. And there's no logical place for a shed, either. The 'hidden' side of the house has a rash of air-vents, heating vents and skylights along the ground which means there's no shed-sized area available. The only solution that offers itself is to cut a shed-sized step into the sloping hillside, shore up the sides with concrete slabs, and then half-submerge the shed like some military bunker. Needless to say, Claudia is less than enthusiastic, and my heart sinks just thinking about it. But the lack of a shed is already a pain in the harris, so once we actually have a garden it'll become impossible. It's not like we even have a garage to shove our gardening stuff into like wot other people do.

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