Flashback – the orchids that nearly stopped our project

We’ve at last got round to building the garage – which reminds me about the great orchid crisis of 2008. What triggered the flashback was that we’ve just spent a week digging up all the turf on the site of the garage and ferrying it in wheelbarrows to the other side of the garden. The turf is packed with orchids.

It was this issue, looking after the orchids, that brought our original project to a halt for nearly half a year in 2008 because our planning permission required us to pay for a survey to check whether rare orchids were present on the site.

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Consult planners before you apply

Other preoccupations, not least the virus, have distracted us from working on the building, though the list of jobs remains long.

In the meantime, we have moved forward on a plan suspended 10 years ago, the construction of a proper outbuilding. You can’t accuse us of rushing things and, as often happens, delay improves an idea.

We had planning permission for a garage and cart lodge, which is valid indefinitely rather than expiring after three years, because we started the work by building a concrete slab for a new entrance from the road plus hard standing with a turning area inside the garden.

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2012 repairs – pond, well, patio, drainage

New brick patio, with the well protected by a steel over with limestone slabs on top.
New brick patio, with the well and electric pump protected by a steel cover with limestone slabs on top.

  • The remaining pond mud, piled in the garden – perhaps 80 tons – was removed and used for landscaping adjustments, and grass was laid.
  • The well was properly capped with a steel cover, screwed down, on which limestone slabs were relaid.
  • A steel structure was built by the same people to make loft access safer.
  • A brick and stone patio was constructed outside the kitchen with a channel for the power supply and hose of an electric pump for topping up the pond. The flow rates were tested. At the worst of the 2011- 2012 drought, when the well was at the lowest level we have recorded, it produced more than 2 cubic metres of water a day which would be adequate to top up the pond in a summer drought. At other times its productivity was much higher.
  • The shallow trench round part of the house, which had been dug roughly to prevent damp earth lying against the brick footings above the inside floor level, was redone more carefully. A low brick retaining wall was built, the bottom of the trench the was lined with geotextile, and several inches of gravel placed on top. It stopped the damp coming through the lower bricks and discolouring the limewash on the inside of the brick footings.

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New stairs and a restored pond – 2011

  • Felix Oliver, our next door neighbour, replaced the old stairs with a new oak staircase to a similar pattern but much better finished. The design was negotiated with, and approved by, building control. The result has been widely admired. It fits perfectly at the top to a very uneven sloping floor. Felix is a professional wooden boatbuilder as well as a specialist in oak-framed buildings – see this link to  Suffolk Timber Frame Buildings – and his boatbuilding skills show. He also installed 3 new oak studs to replace the rather agricultural – and recent – softwood posts that had been there before.

    New oak stairs
    New oak stairs
  • Insulation was put in the roof above the north bedroom, bathroom and landing, but only on the flat surfaces – the side sloping surfaces were too difficult to access. Part of the the loft area was then floored so it could be used for storage. We discovered that modern polystyrene insulation had been laid under the tiles of the roof when it was redone about 30 years ago and it seems to be intact. There is still a substantial airgap round the rafters, which is reassuring.
  • The south and east walls were limewashed, pending full re-rendering. All the external window surfaces were oiled with linseed. We couldn’t decide what colour to paint them and linseed oil seems a very good wood preservative and water repellent, so we may just keep coating them for a year or two.

    Limewashing
    Limewashing
  • The pond was cleared, removing hundreds of tons of mud, using it to landscape the garden and shrink the overall size of the pond back to where it probably was before the banks were broken down – see the blogroll link to the pond blog for all the details. This took from July to nearly the end of the year so very little was done on the house during this time.

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