Country houses for sale

Sandy Mitchell: Weather prevents landscaping

The landscapers have broken the news I was dreading. They are downing tools and won’t be back until ‘sometime in the spring’. The ground around our house has grown so waterlogged and muddy that they have no choice. So they say. As landscape schemes go, ours was hardly on the level of Versailles.

The main change we wanted was the removal of an ugly concrete turning circle in front of the house and its replacement with flat lawns, separated from the pasture beyond by a ha-ha. We could then enjoy an unbroken bucolic view over pasture, dotted with knobbly oak trees, rolling to the horizon. Not exactly what the departing land scapers have left us with. I have witnessed scenes of man made devastation on this scale before, but only in the picture gallery at the Imperial War Museum.

When they began, in early October, the workmen assured us they would be finished by the end of that month. They started out with gusto and must have trucked in a couple of hundred tons of black earth. Then November came with its rain, and Christmas with more rain, and since then, most of the soil seems to have been carried bit by bit out of the garden and into our house with its brand new pale limestone kitchen floor, beige carpets and limed oak floorboards on the shoes of our young children. (Note to self: never, ever start ground works in the autumn.)

The study where I am writing this happens to overlook the worst of it a good 40 yards of rutted mud that ends in a deep scar of orange clay, the beginnings of the new ha-ha. This freshly dug trench, with sheer sides at least 6ft deep, is half-filled with brown water. We may have accidentally invented a new kind of landscape feature here. Not so much a ‘ha-ha’ as a ‘boo-hoo’.

It is only now, as we are starting to spend weekends in the house, that we are discovering our restoration project has been of interest to others outside the family. Local eyes have been on our house. One neighbour, whom we had never met, knocked on the door and boldly asked if she could have a look round. Happily, she described the results as ‘wonderful’, but not everyone is as keen. I found this out when I was planting some hawthorn hedging in the field behind our house and noticed a figure striding along the footpath that rims the field.

I introduced myself with a friendly hello as the new owner. ‘My girlfriend and I live in the village and walk this path almost every day,’ responded the man. ‘We have been watching your house watching as you added one bit after another to it. We have been wondering what on earth you were up to.’

Taken aback, I explained with strained politeness how my wife and I had devoted our recent lives to rescuing the heap from mouldy dereliction, and had made sure to liaise with the council’s conservation officer at every step. His eyes narrowed into slits and, with a noise that sounded something like a hiss, he slithered off down the path.

This article was published in Country Life magazine, January 26, 2005

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