This is, sadly, the last episode in an eight part series chronicling Bob & Jack as they brought an 18th Century farmhouse into the 21st Century. As far as I’m concerned–they are the reigning Kings of DIY! Make sure you check out their antique business at the Millerton Antique Center and on-line at doodletownfarm.com – Joan
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Episode Eight: Where There Was Mud
During the earlier episodes, I focused a lot on putting the old part of the house back together as much as possible. This “last” installment of Doodletown Farm’s renovation saga will focus on an equally important restoration project: putting the landscape and gardens back together to help settle the house back into its surroundings. After all, this poor old house has been through quite a lot.
I mentioned earlier that the established flower gardens, large ancient trees and rolling lawns were what had most attracted us to the property when we first saw it 7 years ago.
Beautifully varied, mature English-style flower beds with heirloom variety perennials had been planted by a series of previous owners going back about 50 years. The most beautiful of these perennial beds surrounded the back of the old house–unfortunately too close to avoid the impending bulldozers and back hoes.
So the spring before the demolition began, Jack began the herculean task ( yes, I helped) of digging up, sorting and dividing loads of daylilies, phlox, hollyhocks, bee balms, peonies, asters, coreopsis, irises (not to mention bushels of unidentified bulbs and tubers) and transplanting it all from the doomed beds to a large temporary holding bed out of harm’s way. There they stayed for one summer. And then another.
In the spring of 2010 when all the plows and backhoes and contractors were gone, the garden restoration began. We had excavated quite a bit to position the new rear addition low enough so that the new roof-lines would not be higher than the original house in front but had not fully realized how much the excavation would alter the levels and contours between the house and the stream.
Re-grading of the rear lawn would now be needed to correct the four to nine foot drop that had not been there before. We had tons of great topsoil that we had scooped aside and saved (don’t throw anything out) during the foundation work and used it to make a long, sweeping, semi-circular terraced flowerbed that would cascade down toward the stream and the screened-in porch.
Here Jack re-transplanted (no, I didn’t help) all the perennials from the holding garden and added about 3000 spring bulbs just in case things didn’t survive the trauma of a second move. Kindly, many of our neighbors, seeing the vast expanse of spring mud we needed to cover and feeling pity, offered up many great perennials to the mix from the thinning out of their own wonderful gardens. When Jack gives a tour he tells you the name of the flowers. I call them “Abby”, “Malcolm”, “Marsha”,“Carol”, “Sophie” or “B”.
Despite the heat this summer, I’m happy to report that most things have now re-established themselves. Jack dreams that Vita Sackville-West or Vanessa Bell would perhaps be right at home with the “wild and full character” of our perennial jungle. I tend to think more of all the gardeners they had at Sissinghurst and Charleston Farm that we don’t have here.
Once the lawns and flowerbeds were done we turned to the muddy courtyard that was created between the house and the new workshop. This presented a challenge because the courtyard gets full sun almost all day. Lots of experimenting was done but we found that if we planted along the sides of the buildings we could guarantee at least some shade during the early and later hours. We altered the soil mix here adding more compost and sand and planted a range of spring bulbs, mixed among zone hardy heirloom climbing roses, climbing hydrangea, heat-tough herbs and drought hardy perennials like Russian sage. We planted coneflowers, catmint, monardas, black eyed Susans along with other more experimental additions such as clumps of a fantastic old heirloom English red crocosmia. So far, (every finger crossed) things seem to love it there.
We decided to put in pea gravel walks. Pea gravel is the official stone of Columbia County. Well, not really but thanks to some geological goings on millions of years ago, gravel is one of our town’s biggest natural resource. So it seemed like the right thing to do. One path would be our daily “commute” from the house to the workshop; two others would lead out to the back gardens from the house and augment the symmetrical layout of the courtyard. In the center of the space, we dug a shallow pool, lined it with left over stone from the workshop and piped in water.
A lot of drilling, banging and hidden tubes transformed it into a gurgling fountain in the center of the courtyard. With time it will be covered with moss. We hope. One of my favorite things about the shallow pool is that it is home to an ever multiplying colony of emerald green frogs. They drive our Springer Spaniel crazy who doesn’t know quite what to make of them but thankfully leaves them alone.
The final outdoor project (who am I kidding?) was the terrace under the new arbor off the kitchen. We debated packed pea gravel but ruled it out as too messy. Bluestone slate was too dressy. We looked at all the warm yellows and browns and rusty grays in the local stone of the workshop and decided to use a similar stone mix for the terrace paving.
No, the hewn surfaces of the irregular blocks will never be absolutely, positively 100% flat but we could live with the organic unevenness of it. Besides, after a cocktail or two would any guest even notice? Or better yet, if they did notice we could blame it on their cocktail or two.
It will probably be next summer before the grape vines, wisteria and trumpet vine converge to cover the arbor but once that happens I will defy anyone to guess that this whole place was a big mud hole 12 months earlier.
This is the last of the episodes covering the adventure of finding the property to finishing the renovation. Thank you for reading along over these past months and the kind comments that have come our way.
We hope to be back on hammertown.com from time to time when interesting events happen here at Doodletown Farm. And if the last seven years are any indication, they will. They will.
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