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Monday, July 21, 2008

taming the wilderness

home sweet elderly home. she's 78 years old this year, with hand hewn beams supporting the floors. i know that's not much of an age in many places, but here in northern Alberta, that's a very old home. this was one of the earliest homes built here; she had no running water or power when she was first built, and she's one of very few of the earliest structures remaining. my realtor buddy tells me i'm a sucker for old stuff. he could be right. the front yard, seen above, is quite shady. there's a line of mature pine trees along the boulevard, and on the right of the shot above, you can see the trunk of the manitoba maple that holds court over the southeast corner of the lot. with much coaxing i've managed to convince a few lavatera and delphiniums to survive in the shattered clay soil along the foundation. only a few anemic dandelions were making an effort to live there last year.

also last year, the back yard, seen in the next shot, was a lumpy expanse of overgrown wild grasses and ruts. there was a swooning old coal shed crumbling into heaps of broken glass, old car parts and splintered wood along the alley. gradually, i've cleared away the mess, filled the ruts, run my old reel-type push mower over the grass, and there are raised beds sprouting from the ruins. i layered the beat up cardboard boxes from the move on the ground to smother the grass and clover, then parked the beds atop them and filled them with a mix of earth and sand. they're planted with beans and lettuce, tomatoes, chard, carrots and peas. and flowers. the plan is to layer more discarded cardboard, etc between the beds, and heap it with straw or sawdust or whatever's available to make the paths between beds as low maintenance as possible. and a few more beds as i can manage them, till there's no grass left. i don't like lawns. with the dry weather we've had, the grass isn't doing well, so the deep rooted clover that was skulking beneath it now has the advantage. i procrastinate about mowing now. the bees love the clover blossoms, and so do i. i don't think the neighbors are quite as fond of it as we are.


Cicero Sings said...

That clover ... has its own beauty but it sure does take over. D just spent his last few days off shift yarding it out of the front yard ... or at least trying to tame it ... those roots go to China! Our goal too, is to pare down the grass to a bare minimum. All things in time.

Kind of nice, living in an antique. Oh the stories the walls can whisper to you in the night!!

Our kayak is only a cheap inflatable. The Tahiti classic it is, only in green:

We would like to upgrade to a better inflatable. D has been researching this but I don't know which style or brand he is leaning towards at this present time.

Inflatables are great for packing around and storing!! No roof racks required and in winter, down in the crawl space they go. Ours takes less than 10 minutes to inflate and deflate. We did buy an expensive, light-weight oar to go with ... the one it came with was kind of pathetic. Let me know if you go with an inflatable ... if you just want to puddle jump, we think they are the way to go!

susan said...

Beautiful garden and what a great way to get rid of the grass without actually trying to dig it out. I'm not fond of lawns either - a stupid invention that's maybe okay if you've got sheep or goats but

We owned an old Victorian farmhouse in the midst of a former seaside village near Providence. Our yard stretched from the front street to the back. I hated cutting the grass
and Jerry was amusing himself with his first computers so, except for the little front bit, we let it grow. There was too much sand in the soil anyway but the wildflowers were beautiful. One day, our neighbour, who had a daycare called out to me and I was quite worried she was going to demand we cut everything down. Instead, she asked if she could bring the children over for a nature walk in our yard. Just goes to show you should never make assumptions.

Be well and enjoy the honeyed days.

Gary said...

Really lovely pics and story - my current house was built in 1927 and has lots of character (and drafts and cobwebs too)

gfid said...

cicero - the house is a dear old thing... i'm quite fond of her now that i've peeled and scraped off the layers of filth and bad taste she was coccooned in. i'll look into the inflatable kayaks.... i'm hankering for one, but don't know much about them.

susan - i didn't mind takeing care of a lawn when i had a yard full of kids playin on it - it gave them a soft place to land when they fell out of a hammock or a tree. but i agree, in most circumstances it's pretty useless. i'm going to have to break down and mow this evening, i fear... unless a neighbor rushes over and begs me not to cut the clover ;0) it's a glorious honeyed day today... looking forward to the weekend immensely.

gary - i think Nelson in general is older than most of northern Alberta. my old girl isn't terribly drafty, but there are a lot of spiders. i kind of like spiders.

lindsaylobe said...

78 years young appeals to me! I am of no doubt its construction is sturdier and much more solid in many respects than most new homes built to day! And you have it looking beautiful l!

On the question you asked in connection to housing
(Habitat for Humanity in nearby Grande Prairie) I think governments avoid the rather obvious solution to escalating housing because they feel electorally is has no advantage.

People generally like the idea of their homes gaining in price, and would be aghast if prices were to fall or even stabilize as a consequence of a government sponsored initiatives.

But there is nothing to stop Governments in consultation with provinces or local governments or instrumentalities from acquiring land estates and assisting with infrastructure so that the land released for housing is at greatly reduced prices.

This would have the effect of reduciing the price of housing as you reduce demand. You could start off in small way, have the land leased and occupants only pay for infrastructure over say 30 years etc at low rates f interest.

In fact that is how we acquired our first home, way back in 1969; it provided so much opportunity then for people to start out with only small deposits and to borrow very modest amounts for smaller homes. Later on we paid out the lease and bought the land at its original price, without interest. You also had that option of continuing the lease in perpetuity. You could also sell the property with a freehold title or as a lease at a reduced price, it was optional.

The escalating cycle needs to be broken in resource rich areas, so its benefits
are shared with its community.

Best wishes

Lee said...

Funny you should mention your mild distaste for lawns proper: there was an interesting peice in the New Yorker a couple of weeks back that (very briefly) chronicled the birth of the intention and even notion of 'lawns', with an interesting and perhaps perjorative outlook on the idea of status and now status quo of one's lawn.
I have paths mowed in mine with larger circles by the tree swing and the fire circle and the kids absolutely love it. My wife and I admire the maturing flora as well as the skittering and perching inhabitants.
I think what you're doing is marvelous. Kudos!

susan said...

We read a book called the History of the Lawn some years ago. I only remembered it when I saw Lee's comment about the article in the New Yorker.

One afternoon while out for a drive with my dad in the farmland 30 miles or so north of Toronto we stopped near to a big sloping field that was being cleared for a housing development. Graders were there scraping up the topsoil which was being trucked away. When I asked why they were doing that my father told me the soil was valuable and would be sold. There wouldn't be soil for gardens with these new houses - just unrolled lawns like carpets on the clay.

gfid said...

Lindsay - something we're looking at is sale to the home owner at cost. as much of the goods are donated, and much of the labor is by volunteers, this could be as little as half the market value. the purchaser's input is pro-rated with the market value. if and when the property is sold, the profits are shared accordingly between HFH and the owner. in essence, Habitat remains a silent partner in the ownership of the home, and the homeowner benefits from his or her initial investment according to the market increase. HFH benefits from the market increase as well. this eliminates the 'problem' of people getting a home for less than its value, and reselling at a huge personal profit. this has been done by certain unscrupulous homeowners in other affiliates in the past.

Lee - maybe that's why i don't like lawns. i'm not good at status quo. i really like your idea of mowing paths and play areas and lettig the rest be habitat for critters other than humans. and kids love to play in tall grass too....

Su - very sad, isn't it, that a homeowner can't assume that the topsoil is included in the purchase of the lot. no wonder new neighborhoods look so desolate and unhealthy.

granny p said...

Old houses are best! Usually better built too. A lawn? What's that? (Living where I do.) Nothing wrong with clover, though. Bees love it! - So good for them.

gfid said...

granny p - i prefer old houses too. ...what's a lawn? an unhealthy obsession,i think. i've toyed with the idea of hiding a small beehive somewhere in the yard, where fretful neighbors won't notice it. some people get very funny about bees.... but i have a friend who raises bees, and i'm pretty sure i could talk him into bringing a small hive for a share of the honey.

Zee said...

I thought I had left a previous comment to this lovely post - but I didn't! I guess I have to put your link into my sidebar, I am getting old ...

susan said...

Hello, my friend. There's a blogging award waiting for you at my place - post of August 16 in case you're not around right now. Take care.

gfid said...

Zee - thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the kind words. a lot of things about getting older are pretty great, but it has some less desirable qualities too.... my joints and i aren't really good friends anymore. they complain too much.

Su - wow! thanks! yes i have been away... will post about it shortly. it was a very excitiing time.

clairesgarden said...

I love the garden! it looks fabulous!! my house is relatively new one, built in the 1930's......old Scottish villages!!