Restoration Diary – 4 Weeks In … The Garden

With no rain this week, a fair degree
of actual gardening work was able to be done
(as opposed to removing bricks, concrete,
and other ‘building-type’ debris;
along with the horrific amounts of rampant Hedera
that has been mentioned previously.)

My first ‘paid’ gardening job was in 1966,
at the Botanic Gardens in Belfast:
where my grandpa, a senior gardener,
taught me that there was only one thing needed
to have lush, full plants …

I have followed his advice for over 50 years,
and once again – as when living in Ireland, Scotland, and Italy –
have demonstrated the integrity of those ‘old methods’
which run so contrary to the chemical dumping-ground mentality
that is advocated in the modern age.

The soil in this particular part of the world is,
very observably, almost pure Sand which is
(as noted previously) bereft of any life:

Not a single worm was seen during the past three weeks
of digging out the first eight feet of the garden.

Unable to get ready access to well-rotted horse manure
(my grandpa’s constant admonition to me, for any garden),
the addition of cow manure during week two,
not only transformed the soil from rust-coloured tan
to deep brown (see below)

but brought – to the same section of earth,
two weeks later – the gardener’s best friend …

Rich, friable soil attracted the attention and presence
(wherever they had been hiding) of worms
to a portion of soil where there had previously been
no trace whatsoever.

Completely enclosed by a six-foot chainlink fence
hidden amongst a collection of shrubs and cedars,
the garden has (as one faces the house)
a gate to the right of the house,
and a second gate to the left …

In order to systematically
work through the entire garden,
I chose to begin right at the left-side gate
and work through the main garden,
finishing at the corresponding gate on the right.

Hoping to complete the project by April,
good progress was made this past week –
forming a Walking Path; digging, enriching,
and cleaning the beds; removing and relocating existing shrubs;
and planting the first 12 of the 78 shade plants
that we brought with us to this house …

A far cry from the mess that greeted us three weeks ago …

… which was horrible to pull, dig, coax, and untangle
from the soil and shrubs that were left to fend for themselves
in this portion of the garden.

A wonderful surprise was found – initially obscured
and choked by the strangling Ivy:

a variegated Pieris with an almost Bonsai-like
twisting of branches, which we subsequently cleared
and re-cut after the Bonsai style …

A very pleasant discovery indeed !

By 3:00 o’clock, however, the air begins to chill notably.
After checking that the fish’s pond heater is on,
it was time to stop for the day,
and sit down for a meal and several cups of tea.

At some point, we shall have to figure out
how to work the ‘BluRay’ machine
in order to see the ‘All Creatures Great and Small’
discs that we ordered. But for now, tea, a book,
and an early night are sufficient for us
to close the week …

The garden, and any further surprises, await
(all being well) … in the week to come.

P Livingstone
10th December, ’17

Restoration Diary … Hardest Part Finished

Week Three … With cleaning, repairing, and painting
in the 1920 house now completed, should there be anyone
who shares my interest in old houses,
a few photos to show the house as it looks now …


After basins of constantly changed, piping hot water
and Dettol disinfectant,
filling nail holes and sanding rough areas as we found them,
a fresh coat of paint seemed to cheer the place up immensely.

Anything that was original wood
received a generous coat of Danish Oil.

The actual “Nanny’s Kitchen” is upstairs: this would have been her part of the house …

There are two larger rooms –
the smaller, we understand to have been the nanny’s bedroom;
the other is simply a large extra room …

These we will get to later on, all being well.  For now, back downstairs …

The kitchen is one of two modern additions: the other being the office attached to the sitting room.


This was the nastiest part of the whole house …

Every inch of wall space was festooned with horrible, rough planks that served as shelves … nails and screws protruded everywhere, and a full day was required to clear the walls.

Four carloads (right to the roof) of debris –
wrapped in a tarpaulin, were taken to the local dump.

A laundry room and large, finished basement room
completes the lowest floor.

Scrubbed and with the debris now removed,
the garage is clean enough, and spacious enough,
to house the two little Toyota cars
that we bought during our first week here.

The hardest part now finished, any subsequent dry days
will allow us into the garden, which awaits …

PL,  3rd December, ’17

Restoration Diary – Week 2 … Into the Garden

On Day 11 – finally – A chance to look at the Garden.

Under a dark, grey sky, with everything absolutely soaked,
the first efforts in the garden have involved
pulling back the mass of Hedera that blankets
the ground almost entirely.

Beneath the tangled mass, the sandy soil is carefully dug
and turned around the roots systems of dying cedar hedging
that are trying to find nourishment
from soil … that has none.

There are no worms to be found
in any portions of the garden that a shovel has turned.

The property is completely enclosed
by a six-foot chain-link fence
with locking gates to front and rear:
complete security, yet one that lets
the garden be seen by passers-by.
It has been a genuine pleasure to speak to those
who stop for a bit of a chat.

After removing weeds and Ivy,
horse manure has been forked in, and the first
ferns and hostas were set in place today.

Ferns Polystichum munitum along with the beautiful,
red-stemmed Athyrium japonica
moved into their new home along with two
hosta ‘Blue Mammoth’, Hosta ‘Blue Blush’,
and a delicate Athyrium felix-femina ‘Tatting Fern’.

The first 16 feet has been cleared, forked over,
composted, and planted.

Evidently recognised for the ‘soft touch’ that I am,
I was joined today by two very large Grey Squirrels
that have taken to sitting on the covered porch,
ands staring until breakfast is set out for them,
the Chickadees, and a small assembly of black-headed Junkos.

The fish have been spending the week
in a child’s paddling pool, which has been regularly
filled to overflowing from the heavy rain
that characterizes winter here on the Pacific coast.

Today, they got a much-deserved home …


‘Bone-cold’ from 4 hours spent working
in the 5-degree temperature and persistent rain,
the trimming of the liner, general tidying up,
and addition of rocks to the pond surround
will have to wait for a day or two.

At least – like us, the fish now have
somewhere nice to live.

P Livingstone
21st November, ’17

Restoration Project: House and Garden

On Saturday the 10th of November,
we moved into a large house that would have
been instantly described (where I grew up)
as a “British Colonial House”.

Built in 1920, it is very much in keeping
with British ‘Residences’ seen in photographs
and documentaries on places like Kenya
and India, in the 1930’s.

When first walking through it with the realtor,
I was overwhelmed with the constant notion
that I was in an historical house that was
open to the public or, part of some museum-type
“Heritage House”.

It certainly did not seem like a house in which
we might possibly be able to actually live.

Although my principle interest lay in the
Japanese Garden, I confess to being
equally fascinated with the dark wood
and glass door-knobs; the ornate windows
and ‘old’ style layout, which transported me
back to my childhood.

We brought to the new house,  ninety four
5-gallon pots of select ferns, hostas, and other perennials
which I look forward to planting in the new garden.

The first week, however, will be given over to
cleaning every floor, wall, and window-sill;
having the heavy carpet in the stairs and hallways
chemically cleaned; and filling nail-holes, dents,
and imperfections in the walls prior to sanding
and re-painting.

Whilst hoping that there may be one or two folk
who might be interested in a series of bi-weekly pictorials
summarising the work in the garden …

… I thought to present a few photographs of the house

(as it was on the day we received the keys,
and again, as the cleaning and painting is completed
in each room)

in the unlikely event that there might be anyone
visiting this Internet site who would share my
fascination with the history of old houses such as this.

Land around the house itself had been
– some years ago – sold
and a development of “Over 55” townhouses built
in a square around it, to form a community
of like-minded, peace-loving folk.

The private garden, subsequently, is completely enclosed
by a six-foot high chain link fence which is
successfully hidden from view amidst the cedar hedging,
Acer trees, and various shrubs of the garden itself.

Complete security in a community of folk who – like us –
desire a quiet and peaceful life.

Whilst (for me) the garden will be the principle project
– trees and shrubs ‘browning up’ from lack of adequate water;
soil that appears lifeless and barren; and beautiful plants
that require a great deal of pruning and ‘medical’ care,

it is anticipation that will have to wait
until the house has had a thorough ‘going over’.

For any visitor who might share my interest
in historical houses, a few photographs
have been presented above.

Our current home sees us located on the Pacific Coast
of Canada, which, in winter, means Rain –
– and a great deal of it.

While no real gardening can begin until March,
the fish will need a pond; and I do hope
to move a few plants from their pots,
into garden soil over the next month or so.

Having absolutely no interest in entertaining
those who regularly arrive here, take one look,
and leave again without the civility of an “hello”,
thoughts and photographs over the next few months
will simply be placed for the one or two folk
who would like to ‘join me’ in the garden project.

For interested and congenial visitors,
I shall do my best to provide photographs
along the way.

P Livingstone