Gardeners from the novice to the professional invest a great deal of time and effort in their blooming creations. Regular watering is one of the most important steps to a bountiful garden. So what’s a gardener to do when faced with a lack of rainfall combined with municipal water restrictions in the middle of a hot summer?
More and more gardeners are turning their attention to an age-old method of saving for a not-so-rainy day. Rain barrels were used by our thrifty pioneering forefathers for gardens and bathing. The roof gutters drained into an old barrel at the corner of the homestead. (It is estimated that the combination of lawn and garden watering make up almost 40 percent of an average North Americans household’s water consumption during the summer months.)
In addition to being good for the environment and good for your monthly utility bill, rainwater will help your plants to flourish. The chemicals and hard water from many municipal water systems create an imbalance in the soil. Watering with soft, natural rainwater is a treat for your plants, avoiding the chlorine, fluoride and salts added to the municipal water.
By simply placing a barrel under a downspout at a corner of your house, you will be able to harvest a surprisingly large amount of rainwater from your gutters. Just a small amount of rain can quickly fill a barrel, providing enough to help keep your flower beds, garden, or houseplants well watered. The quantity probably won’t be enough to enable you to water your lawn, but it will be plenty for vegetable gardens, flowers and shrubbery.
Many municipalities in Canada and the US have rain barrels available at a reduced price for homeowners looking for a green solution to watering. The problem with most commercial water collection barrels, however, is that they are rather unattractive and detract from a traditional home’s landscape.
Your first step is to find a wooden barrel. Many can be found at flea markets or in antique shops or reclamation yards. There are several manufacturers in North America of new oak barrels for use in wine making, but they are usually fairly expensive. You will note that most barrels come with a bottom but no top. This is exactly what you want. The bottom will become the top of the barrel. Cut a round or square hole approximately six inches in diameter, or six inches square, in the top of the barrel. From the inside, staple (using stainless-steel staples) a piece of mosquito netting over the hole you have just made. This will keep the mosquitoes out as well as debris from your downspout.
Find a 30 gallon plastic barrel which will fit inside a 65 gallon wooden barrel. The tricky bit is to connect some PVC fittings from the bottom of your plastic barrel and out of your wooden barrel, to a hose-bib. PVC fittings come in a wide array of threaded fittings; see the schematic above for details. When purchasing a hose-bib, look for the threaded version to make it easy to disconnect when you need to remove the wooden barrel to service the internal plastic barrel, if required.
The more barrels you have, of course, the more rain water you can harvest. Place the barrels in corners where gutter downspouts are located. Dig a square area at least 18 inches larger than the barrel, to a depth of approximately 12 inches, and backfill with 1″ diameter river rock. Build a cedar crib to support the plastic and wooden barrels on-top of the river rock. A frame of 2 inch by 4 inch cedar set at 4 inches apart will act both as a decorative pedestal for your barrels and will allow overflow to run into the stones below. The weight of the wooden barrel should ensure that children and animals will not be able to enter the plastic barrel. You may want to drive several large screws into the side of the wooden barrel through the crib as an extra precaution.
Cut your downspouts so that the outlet is just over the hole you made in the top of the wooden barrel. Now simply wait for nature to take its course. Once your rain barrel is full, you can hook a hose (or soaker hose) up to the rain barrel to water your garden, a treat for your thirsty flowers and greenery and a fitting look for your traditional home back to your pioneer roots.
There was once a little boy who collected bottle caps and candy wrappers, baseball cards and butterflies. This was followed by stamps, coins and cacti. And later still, antiquarian books, collectibles and antique furniture. And, finally, buildings. The latter being the most interesting by far.
Now, at age 60, this same little boy; namely myself (Jody Bodnar), continues to collect – and hopefully with some purpose in mind now.
In 1987 I moved to Lynedoch to rent a home as a temporary residence. Now, 28 years later, I own that home (an 1890’s 2-storey farmhouse) and have created a series of grounds and gardens around that home interspersed with a few other buildings, which are really over-sized antiques.
These ‘other’ buildings I had relocated onto the property. They include (in order of appearance): a 2-seater outhouse (practical considerations first), a corn crib, a bank, a church, an ice house, and a hot dog stand. They all seemed to be charming in their own way and in need of a ‘safe harbour’.
Over the years, 19th century architecture has become an interest of mine – not that I’m very knowledgeable but more appreciative than anything. Nonetheless, if I can do anything to help in the recognition of the importance of these buildings, so much the better. Bringing buildings home to my own property has been a very gratifying experience, indeed, and something I hope to do more of.
Unfortunately, however, the collecting of buildings requires a lot of space. Secondly, it is usually a very expensive proposition – before, during and after the move. It really should be a ‘rich man’s game’. However, as in my case, these things are sometimes left to those of us with modest means but a keen desire to do our part, with any and all hardships taken in stride.
Buildings are not only a testimony and history of our past, but are part of our national treasure which, by the way, is not being stewarded very well. For better or worse we live in a society that fosters a ‘buy new, buy now’ mentality. And this, coupled with a disposable approach to living, (the idea of preserving anything is becoming more foreign all the time) makes it increasingly difficult to preserve our heritage.
Perhaps the Number Six issue of Edifice Vintage Home magazine reflects my sentiments best when referring to Mr. Jackson Downing (celebrated 19th century Architect and Landscaper), for whom I feel a real kinship, when I consider his philosophy of buildings and their landscape. The two create a wonderful marriage, and as in great marriages, certain synergies develop. Moreover, a wonderful building without a setting to showcase it is like a great painting without a frame.
Over time some of our best remaining architecture has lost much of its impact due to changes in the setting of the buildings. For instance, many grand homes of the 19th century had great sweeping lawns to help give them balance and harmony with their ‘natural surroundings’. Today many of these homes are squeezed in between newer buildings. The result – a ‘picture too big for its frame’.
Much more of our architectural heritage should be preserved with the utmost haste as it is priceless and irreplaceable. Oddly enough, even given our advanced skills and technology, we can no longer build to the quality and standards of even 100 years ago. The craftsmen and materials have simply disappeared.
As a gardening and landscaping enthusiast, I have amassed many hundreds of specimens of plant material, including woody trees and shrubs and herbaceous perennials, many of which are native and Carolinian. In and among this living landscape are the buildings, which can be said to be functional sculptures.
A landscape can be described as a ‘living river’ of natural materials slowly meandering around one or more buildings. Although the movement in the landscape seems almost imperceptible at first, little by little it begins to take on motion as our eyes lock into views and vistas. The landscape is always in a state of flux day and night, season by season.
So many things can influence the architectural landscape and these are limited only by the artist’s eye and imagination, resulting in some of man’s best creations. The best part about our landscaping efforts is that they are continually being ‘nourished’ by Mother Nature and Father Time, our metaphysical parents, so that eventually we get more than we bargained for – something akin to compound interest.
The trick to melding buildings into the landscape is in the juxstapositioning. When this is done correctly, and that is to say in what would be generally agreed to be a pleasing manner, then both building and plant material are enhanced and become greater than the sum of their parts. And with any luck a thing of beauty is created, and therefore, becomes ‘a joy forever’.
Although I have seen some absolutely stunning heritage buildings – both residential and commercial over the years, my personal favourite is the old post-and-beam barn. Perhaps it is because of its materials and construction, or the way of life that was associated with it. Nonetheless, I look forward to bringing one home someday.
And, as for those little boys and girls with their bottle cap collections – well, they could be on to something, too.
For more information about this beautiful site visit Jody Bodnar’s website: Cranberry Creek Gardens
One of my fondest recollections from my childhood is sitting on our old farmhouse porch swing. The creaking from rusty old chains, and red-winged-blackbird songs warbling from the banks of the creek which meandered through the separation of greening grass and freshly harrowed fields, was simply music to a 7-year-old’s ears. The snow was a distant memory and the buds were bursting on the willow trees which enveloped our little patch of paradise in the summer. I knew that soon it would be warm enough to catch tadpoles in the creek and marvel at the delicate wings of dragon flies. But for now it was sheer bliss to sit on that old swing and keep tempo with my winged friends.
Our porch was a dining room in the heat of the summer, a gathering place for relatives to visit, cool resting place for Pal, our dog, to announce his presence to traveling salesmen. I honestly can say that old porch was, without a doubt, the most utilized space in the house – simple practicality mixed with style and beauty.
The period between 1840 and 1870 was truly the golden age of the verandah. The Gothic Revival style gave way to fanciful millwork and fretwork which truly gave expression, form, and function to the houses they adorned. Many smaller workers’ cottages and houses embraced the American Carpenters’ Gothic which was a way of rendering their carved stone cousins in wood. Millwork and fretwork simply began life as a way to create stone embellishments and details out of wood, thus allowing this type of domestic architecture to become obtainable to the working class. The wealthier, however, began to take notice and to adorn their ashlar cut-stone homes with whimsical verandahs and porches as well. One can plainly see earlier homes which still have their wooden and very hearty millwork intact which resemble stone more than the frail web-like millwork found on late 19th century houses.
When rail service became more and more dependable and less expensive, millwork companies all around North America produced catalogs of off-the-shelf verandah components including a myriad of turned spindles, balusters and columns.
During this mass-production era of the grand Queen Anne Revival homes, any possible combination of fretwork and columns could be had for mere pennies – from a resurgence of the classical capitals, bases and columns to the free expressions of the wood turners’ imagination.
Most verandahs that are still intact date usually from the late 19th century, even if the house is of an earlier construction date, since wood rots from lack of maintenance and earlier designs become outdated. Certainly with the small cost of millwork at that time a facelift could be had for a house, with the addition of fresh millwork. Your best resource in researching your era of millwork and even design of verandah is to purchase reprinted pattern books and catalogs of the time. You will also find that most heritage sites in North America have kept very close to the period of construction of the house, and may well be a valuable resource by providing photographic documentation.
And now I leave you with these thoughts… there is nothing which better creates curb appeal, character and makes a house a home than a beautifully maintained and loved wooden verandah.