Since my last post in October, we’ve done an awful lot. The time from October until we moved in in December (formally at 12:12 on 12/12/12) was a desperate rush, trying to get the new house habitable before our rental contract in Broadwoodwidger expired on 15 December. We achieved it, but only just, and we’ve now been living in the house for just over 3 months.
We have contracted with Matt Verney’s company, MV Gardens,to landscape the front and back gardens, working to an updated version of the scheme we submitted for planning permission. Matt did some preliminary work to allow us to move in, including levelling the driveway and laying compacted crushed stone (‘803’ – a magical substance) so that we could get to the front steps, doing the same outside the kitchen door, and fitting a temporary balustrade to the steps leading down to the front door. That was just enough to let us move in, and a bit more levelling allowed me to move my Porsche from Broadwoodwidger into the garage here.
Then it was Christmas, and with it, a continuation of the biblical rain we’d had seemingly throughout the build. The garden still resembled the Somme, as in the picture above, and we resigned ourselves to continuing to live on a building site while we sorted out inside the house.
A lot has happened since, not all of it visible.
Managing our own Niagara
All the storm drains from the gutters in Westcroft Road find their way to the top corner of our site. Before we started building, the water simply ran down a ditch by the bank, into the river at the bottom of the site. As we built retaining walls and so on, we landed up with a substantial waterfall – the sound of rushing water was clearly audible in the living room! One of the early jobs was to put in a big (225mm diameter) drainage pipe to collect the rainwater and carry it down to the river. The picture shows Matt and Ben (in the background) putting the pipe in place. This has dealt with the storm water problem down that side of the site.
Our Very Own Somme
Matt’s next job was to lay 803 for the paving behind the house, and to move loads of spoil from the front of the house, and around the back garden. He set out to hire a 5-tonne excavator, and a 3-tonne dumper to help with this. In the event, Eagle Plant could only supply a 3.5-tonne excavator (not much of a problem), and a 9-tonne (!!) dumper – normally seen building motorways. It was HUGE. The picture shows me indulging big-boy fantasies when Ben needed help to drag it out of the mud where it was stuck up to its axles.
The rain continued right through December and most of January – and the garden continued to have that Somme look to it. At Christmas, the Germans cancelled the football match because of the state of the ground.
The cats, who had been in the cattery Cats in Clover while we moved were let out in January, after I’d fitted a (large-size) cat flap in the utility room door. They were not too impressed with the mud, but condescended to go out, then to come in and spread muddy footprints over every surface.
A lot more 803. We are well over the 100 tonnes now – for a time, we seemed to see a truckload every 5 minutes! Ben spent ages racing (?) around in the mega-dumper, slalom around the drain inspection covers, distributing piles of 803 around the garden ready to set out the patio base. Then we spent an hour or two in the pouring rain with Matt and a can of spray-line, marking out the outline of the patio behind the house. The goal was a single, sinuous curve right across the back of the house. I spent a couple of hours playing with Autosketch (the spline curve fit was useful, as, being an engineer, I can only draw straight lines by hand). Then Ben spent happy days spreading the 803, and compacting it with Matt’s ancient vibrating roller – he could only use it for about 20min at a time, then had to take a break for the vibration in his hands to fade away.
At the end of January, the sandstone slabs for the patio were delivered. Another huge load, delivered this time on a 40-foot artic lorry. Fortunately, the delivery truck came with its own fork-lift, and the driver spent a (for us) amusing hour whizzing from the lorry, parked half-way up Westcroft Road, to the bottom of the site with pallets of stone slabs. In the rain, of course! A couple of weeks later, and Paul (another of Matt’s men) came, to cut some of the large slabs for the steps at the front of the house, and to distribute the other slabs. He spent a Friday on the work, then came back on the Saturday with Sylv, his estimable wife – five-feet nothing, but carrying slabs around! They started at about 9 on the Saturday morning, using the powered track-barrow Matt had hired. At about 11, the track-barrow shed one of its tracks, and Paul and Sylv spent the rest of the day carrying slabs with no more mechanical aids than a wheelbarrow.
Tubs found that, when the sun finally came out, the sandstone was a good place to sunbathe.
Most recently, a further 32 tonnes – this time topsoil.
Paul has spent the last couple of days distributing soil over the bank outside the kitchen door. This will be planted with ‘Native Shrub Mix’. Matt refers to it as ‘Supermarket Car Park’, but the virtue is that it is low-maintenance, and will attract birds and pollinators. Matt has now laid about a third of the patio, enough to see that the sandstone will look terrific against the house brickwork, and Ben is now back at work, so the blockwork retaining walls are coming on again. The sloping path behind the garage is now started, and the weather is starting to help!