A second floor for the treehouse

Last year I built an extension to the kids’ treehouse, more or less in the nick of time given they’re quickly outgrowing the first floor.

So, here’s the starting point, when I climbed up the tree with the children on the established floor below, to carry out the initial ‘survey’.

Man up tree above two children in treehouse in lower branches

I don’t remember this very clearly (and it seems rather implausible that we were actually all up there) but the children apparently followed me.

Man up tree with two children

Happily I was able to make most of the platform from the cast offs from our loft conversion or things I’d lifted from a neighbour’s skip.  It’s a little hard to show it from the ground as it’s generally screened by the upper branches of the tree, but here it is a little while later.

A treehouse

And the approach to it.

A ladder leading to a treehouse

Ladder and underview of the floor of a treehouse

And from the inside:

Treehouse floor

Treehouse floor

And finally, the kids actually up there.

Two children in a treehouse

 

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Compost

Yesterday I dug out the first usable compost from our compost heap. It may look run of the mill to you, but to me it was a revelation.

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Anyhow, it’s something to be out and working in the garden: it’s invigorating, sustaining and therapeutic. And I’ve needed a bit of therapy. In fact, I’ve started to develop a theory about last year’s perpetual rain – that it was at least partly to blame for my descent into depression.

I grant you, blaming the weather for depression is probably stretching credibility. But I would go so far as to say that overcast skies that made a summer evening look like something close to night don’t lighten a dark mood. And lacking the ability to walk across my lawn barefoot or pull up my own veg robbed me of one of my chief ways of slinking away from anything getting on top of me.

Anyhow, I’ve just this hour left my last psychotherapy session and am now officially antidepressant and psychotherapist free.

Those two were crutches really: essential to my continuing ability to hobble on, but then (once I’d regained my mobility) a hindrance and a nuisance in themselves. So I’m glad to be rid of them, though I owe them both a debt.

I should really be invoking some kind of compost-based metaphor here, but what the hell, what really marks my exit from depression is the ability to find joy in small things again, so no metaphors, just plain compost and, here, our first ever asparagus crop.

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Hello 2013

I didn’t blog a lot in 2012. This was largely due to the disastrous weather and total washout in the garden. To sum it up: nothing grew and we barely went outside because it rained and rained and rained. This picture sums it up.

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There’s something simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking at my children’s British refusal to let the rain ruin a summer.

I say nothing grew, but we did have a good crop of peas, and the spinach did pretty well too. But my appetite was dulled when I went to gather spinach and recoiled at a slug brazenly oozing across a leaf as I went to pluck it. I mean, in a normal year they at least wait until after dark to come out.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. In a realisation (like something from a sci-fi film where a human encounters an alien pupa and then the frame cuts rapidly to wider and wider shots to reveal not one but hundreds of the things) I looked across from the offending slug to realise that our entire crop was bending under their weight, all black and glistening in the perma-rain. I went off the spinach after that.

But no matter, because we have high hopes for this year. Top of my list is building a proper treehouse for the kids, in the crown of the apple tree and work commenced today when I put up the scaffold, cut out the clutter of branches in the heart of the tree and mapped out the floor structure using bamboo canes.

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We planned it all out after seeing The Swiss Family Robinson. This one will have walls, a roof, a telescope to look into the park, a rope ladder from the apple to the pear tree. I’d like a spiral slide down from the pear tree, but no luck so far on ebay.

Oh, and I need to get this one complete by summer, as Kate and I have a pact that she will buy me a course in making your own pizza oven for my birthday, if I make her a pizza oven for her birthday. The clock is ticking.

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A treehouse for the kids

I’ve been promising the kids a treehouse for a while now.  JZ did the plans, which not only artfully represented a castle in the sky, but included a handy reckoner of the order in which to do things (“sters furst”).

She was a little underwhemled at first, as what I built is more of a crows nest than a princess castle, but nevertheless I’m suffused with pride at my creation.  Here it is:

Steps to a treehouse

The steps to the treehouse

Two children in a treehouse

MrF (delightedly) to us: “Hello down there, little children!”

Two children in a treehouse

Kings of the castle

The kids look a little like extras in a Tim Burton film, but that’s just because they’d been eating cupcakes with blue icing.  Normally their lips have a more vigorous tone.

I’m planning an upper floor in the crown of the tree now…

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A plan comes together

So, the plan was to make a garden that weaves together a playground, vegetable garden, somewhere to relax and, ideally, something that looks good.  Still working on that last one – the structure is in, but big areas like the pergola or fences are still bare and will be for a while.

But the rest seems to be coming together.  Here are the kids commandeering some gymnastic rings to practise being monkeys:

Children swinging on gymnastic rings in a garden

Children swinging on gymnastic rings in a garden

With the deck at the end of the garden catching the morning sun, we retreat down here at the start of the day and playing, gardening and reading the paper can all happen more or less on top of one another, rather than in separate parts of the garden.

Here’s the rather bare pergola and then some Easter painting:

Garden pergola

Children on a wooden deck

And woven in amongst the playing, we’ve fruit blossom across the garden and perennials like asparagus and cardoons charging ahead:

Pear blossom

Pear blossom

Blue flowers and a cardoon leaf

The cardoon soaring over flowers: we'll be eating this soon

Asparagus spear

Asparagus spear: not to be eaten any time soon

Unfortunately we are still not allowed to eat the asparagus.  Will report back this time next year…

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The lazy guide to gardening

It’s proving difficult to be a hands-on gardener with two young children, so we took the approach of throwing money at the problem and got someone in to make progress for us.  Having built our first deck myself, it was a painful decision to allow someone else to do the next one.

It’s all a bit stark and shiny new at the moment, but the front garden is no longer a horrible wilderness.  Unfortunately we do have faint footprints on the approach to the front door: our lodger apparently thought the path was dry and, having set off, decided on discovering it wasn’t not to let that worry her.

Oh, and the wet concrete also sent Mr F into a spiral of despair and tears.  Much hugging and cajoling later, it became clear this was because the instruction, “You can’t walk on the path”, set him to thinking that no one would ever be able to visit us again, we having omitted to explain that concrete dries.

Continuing the foodie theme, the front garden has a dwarf cherry and three half standard currants in it.  It does look bare, so our intention is to add half standard roses, though perhaps we should consider something else edible?

Meanwhile out back, the ‘office’ is now a ‘playhouse’ complete with deck.  Before all this is a King of the Castle mound (cruelly described by others as looking like a burial mound).  The truth is, though, if I were going to bury people in the back garden (plenty of candidates) it would be under the vegetables, not the lawn.

Unfortunately the before pictures are lost, but here’s the after:

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Battening down the hatches

Autumn is definitely here now, heralded by mushrooms growing in the lawn.  We should be well on the way to preparing the garden for a winter sleep by now, but my pneumonia got in the way.

On the upside I spent some of my convalescence working through the remaining produce.

It turns out that curly kale, which takes a fair old cook when you buy it from the shops, starts out as tender as spinach and eventually ends up as tough as old boots.  Eventually our guests, who have not developed our own bovine capacity to chew through fibrous leaf matter, were rejecting our chard and kale.

This called for a change of tack, so to pestos it was.  I’ve been blanching huge quantities of kale, and whizzing it up with raw garlic, parmesan and pine nuts or walnuts.  It pretty much takes the top of your head off there’s such a bitter garlicky salty kick.  But that makes a change from run of the mill autumn food.

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