Thinking Aloud on a Sunday

Gardening, and Houses

After tackling that long grass at the back yesterday, I woke up thinking about gardening today. Not just gardening, but houses in general, and the choices we make in life.

Before we moved to Norfolk, the idea of a big house and large garden had lots of appeal. Prices here are some of the lowest in Britain, and we could have bought a much bigger house at the time, had we chose to. This bungalow seemed to offer the right balance though. Small bedrooms, a large living room, and a kitchen-diner with enough space for a good sized table and chairs. The garden was certainly big enough for our needs, and looked easy to care for. We compromised on only one bathroom (something we have later regretted) as this place offered a garage, and driveway parking for three more cars, if that was ever needed.

Some people seem to take naturally to gardening. They potter about as if in a trance, and with what seems to be very little effort, they produce stunning gardens full of delightful blooms and plants. I am not one of those people. Early attempts at planting exposed my lack of knowledge immediately. Suitable soils, ph balance, acidity, and when to plant. I got all that wrong. I suppose I could have studied the subject, devoted my ‘golden years’ to learning a new skill. But I was interested in other things, like writing and photography. There was a dog to walk too. And weeds, they don’t tell you about those. Despite pulling and spraying, they come back with a vengeance every time, new ones arriving as if on weed coach trips. And that nice patio seating area. The cracks get full of weeds, and moss grows all over the slabs. The guttering around the house fills with leaves and moss too. But as there are no upper floors, I can at least use a short ladder to get up and clear those by hand.

The shade provided by the old oak trees is desirable, until you realise that the fall of leaves will have you slaving like a labourer for weeks on end, just to get rid of the soggy mess that appears in Autumn. So I soon settled for not being a ‘real’ gardener, and just trying to cope with what the previous owner had left behind. Some shrubs that need little attention, a decent-sized lawn area that must be cut, and the leaves from the oak trees that get everywhere, even inside the house, and into both our cars. And that huge expanse of leylandii hedge that provides us with privacy from the near-neighbours has become a fast-growing menace that almost kills me off when I have to attempt to cut it back.

And I got older of course. Less strong physically, and tired more easily too. We don’t think about that when we are excited to buy a new house, do we?

In the space of six years, jobs that were once relatively easy have now become what feels like a marathon task, a chore to be disliked and avoided. And we didn’t end up sitting out in the garden as much as we had imagined, oh no. Some years, what passes for Summer weather has been hard to find. And with months of rain not uncommon, our use of the outside space has been far less that we ever anticipated. And we never budgeted for employing someone else to do jobs. No spare cash for hiring a gardener to do the heavy or unpleasant jobs, or someone to clean the windows and clear the guttering. All of this is still manageable at the moment, but what of the years to come?

Based on my experience, I am going to offer some advice. A list of things to consider, before you rush off to buy that new house in the suburbs, or retire to peace and quiet in the countryside.

1) Think hard about how many stairs the house has. You won’t want to be walking up and down them all the time when you are 70, believe me. Don’t end up trapped in a downstairs room later in life.
2) Remember that a big garden takes a lot of work. Much more than you might imagine, I assure you.
3) Think about your ability to climb ladders, as you get older.
4) Keep money back, and invest it to be available to pay people to do things, like cleaning those top floor windows you can no longer cope with.
5) Really think about how much you will use that outside space once you are old. A small patio or courtyard might end up being all you will ever need, and easier to manage too.
6) Gravel driveways are a weed nightmare. Use some money up front to get them block-paved, or covered over properly. You may not have that money around later.
7) Get a home with a second bathroom, or a second toilet at the very least. People will visit, and problems will arise.
8) Be aware that things feel much heavier when you get older. They really do.
9) And also be aware that you won’t be able to work on jobs all day, like you once could.
10) Don’t buy a bigger house than you will ever need. You will never need it, I assure you.

If you are well-off financially, or anticipate an inheritance or windfall, then all of the above is meaningless. You will just pay for services, and sit back and admire the results. If you are considering downsizing later to a smaller and more manageable property, then my advice probably won’t concern you that much either. But a word of caution. Things rarely turn out like you imagine they will.
And if you are just an everyday person like me, with a fixed retirement income, and some small savings you are guarding, make sure to plan ahead carefully.

83 thoughts on “Thinking Aloud on a Sunday

  1. I can’t even get a window box of flowers to survive but I do like the idea of a garden to relax in. Yep I have some great parks near me but I personally can’t properly relax in them and always end up thinking some toe-rag is going to run past and grab something.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A good reminder for why I donโ€™t need to buy a big house with a yard/garden. Iโ€™ll probably get a condo once Iโ€™m on my own again. Right now Iโ€™m renting while Iโ€™m going through a career change/in graduate school. Thank you for this! Best of luck to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Weed Coach Trips!!! Bahahahaha! I was not blessed with a green thumb myself but your place sounds nice besides the one bathroom thing. I know the horrors of having 1 bathroom!๐Ÿ˜จ Especially being pregnant around 3 guys and 3 kids. Oh Gawd so horrible! When I had to Pete so much during the pregnancy I just started going outside. Lol

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great advice. My partner and I considered these things and more before moving to our current location. Neither of us want to be moving again if it can be helped. I think perhaps a lot of young people know that they will move again so perhaps they do not place so much importance on these things.

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  5. Great advice, Pete. I’ve recently sold my house and although I’m trying to find a small place to rent out here in Barcelona (or surrounding area, as prices here are sky high), the issues are different here. But back in the UK, I struggled with the garden, mostly because I was spending a lot of time travelling and it was never well-looked after. And the stairs, although not a problem for me at this point, had proven challenging for my father when he was not very well. I do love my books and these days are probably the things I own that occupy the most space, but I’m hardly ever buying books on paper these days and I agree less is more when we grow older. Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Olga. We did look ahead by buying on one level, but obviously underestimated the work required for medium sized gardens and general house maintenance. I know some 80+ year-old people around here who have to pay someone to do almost everything.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. Thanks very much, Jennie.
      It is so easy to imagine “I won’t be like that”, or “That won’t happen to me”.
      If just one person thinks twice, then I will be glad to have helped.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. (3) (7) and (8) are all very true. We refused to compromise on a second bathroom or toilet at least. But I wouldn’t give up my garden yet even though it seems an endless task at the moment. One day it will be as I want it and then we’ll probably sell up and move into an apartment!!! BTW you could sweep those leaves into a sack or even a plastic bin bag and leave them for a year – makes lovely leaf mould to put onto your borders. “The best quality leafmould is produced from the leaves of oak, beech or hornbeam.”

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    1. Thanks for that tip, Jude. To be honest, I had no idea just how many leaves could fall from two large oaks. I am sure there are more than the ones actually growing on the branches! I use the local council garden waste collection service. They make it all into compost, and use it on council properties, or sell it to people at a reduced rate. I don’t think I could bear to look at the stacked bags of collected leaves all year. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You really should move to Norfolk, and close to Beetley. I know some old bloke who has a few gardening tasks to keep you busy. ๐Ÿ™‚ (You wouldn’t need an allotment here, you could get a BIG garden) The only thing I know about ‘mulch’ is what happens if I leave my cornflakes in the milk for too long…
      Thanks for the tip, Lucinda.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Sound advice Pete. I love having a yard and garden and working outside, but only doing the fun stuff. My husband does all the heavy lifting. He was sick recently and as the grass started getting lush and green and LONG, I realized that’s one thing I don’t do. I have never mowed the lawn; nope, don’t even know how to operate the mower. So I’m thinking the next house (whenever that may be) will require less maintenance. In the meantime I’ll enjoy what we have!

    Liked by 1 person

        1. No need to go as radical as a push mower. That’s what electricity is for! ๐Ÿ™‚
          One of my neighbours invested in (too expensive for me) artificial grass. It looks great, and no work required. That’s the way forward, for sure.
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. LOL. My mom is much older than you, and I laugh because it could have been her list for me when I was trying a year ago to find a house to buy. I listened to her. No steps. HOA fees someone else takes care of the exterior. Rocks instead of grass yards.
    I still miss my old house with three levels to climb and clean and the big backyard. Then I remember the mowing and the trimming and like you, I don’t have a green thumb. I’m getting older and just my little world wears me out. How will I feel in 10 years? Good grief. I don’t want to think about it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Speaking from at least ten years or more into your future, I can confirm that you don’t want to think about it. ๐Ÿ™‚ Sounds like me and your Mum are on the same page.
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh Pete, I think the Sundays are not so good to you. Too much thoughts! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    But you are right. If we are younger we don`t know, that every work will be more exhausting when we are older. How should we know that? And would we believe it if someone told us about it? I am not sure!

    Best wishes from the sunny seaside, Irene

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Irene. I have too many thoughts every day. i just reserve Sundays to write about them:)
      Of course, I think my advice is good. But I agree that younger people will not listen to it.
      Enjoy the seaside, it was sunny and hot here today too.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  10. I resisted the idea of country living, since I wanted to be able to catch a bus or walk to a market if I could no longer drive. We do have a staircase, though when one of us can no longer climb, we will take some savings and install one of those little stair climbing devices that seem quite popular among our older friends. And get grandchildren interested in snow shoveling and lawn mowing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those stair lifts always interested me when I was in the ambulance service. They go so slowly, the old people forget why they were going upstairs by the time they got there! ๐Ÿ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Great advice Pete, I hope I have time to use it ๐Ÿ™‚
    My advice to my sister when she moved to Spain was to make sure she had a road, electricity and water. If only I had followed my own advice!
    Mind you, now we have all those things (well except for the road), we plan to build a smaller house for retirement and leave the kids in the big house and the work that goes along with it.
    It will definitely be a bungalow ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Going up and down stairs is boring. I love to rock scramble. If only the builder had put boulders in the house rather than stairs… It would be a lot more fun to climb up to the second floor, and scramble down to the ground floor. Maybe by the time I’m 90 years old, I’ll wish for an elevator?

    Liked by 2 people

  13. You gave excellent advice, Pete. For me at age 76 it comes far too late. In fact, I could have written the post with a few additional warnings, such as ‘Do not choose too large a lot. Mowing the lawn may turn into an unbearable chore as you grow older and weaker.’

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Gardening is actually fun if you won’t think of the gargantuan tasks of pruning, weeding and trimming. But you are right though, as we grow older we are not as nimble as before, too many aches and pains all over.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. So true. We downsized to a bungalow in our sixties and were so pleased to finally get a kitchen we could eat in but the garden is beginning to feel too big and I’m not sure about having no stairs. I think we are getting less fit and more lazy because we are all on one level. My problem is hoarding, especially paper – everything I have ever written, files full of statements from utilities and brochures from every holiday we have ever taken and books that our children enjoyed and magazines about writing and charities we support and notes from committees I have been on and talks I have given and local newspapers – it is endless!
    One day I’ll try to organise it all, perhaps!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t think you need the stairs for exercise, Julie. Better to get out and walk in the fresh air. In my experience in the Ambulance Service, I saw so many people who could no longer manage stairs when they were older, so I think your bungalow is definitely the best option.
      Like you, I have tended to hoard so much of my past life, and imagine that most of it will end up in a skip one day. If you mainly have paperwork, perhaps you could just photograph it all, and save it on a memory stick?
      Best wishes, Pete.

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    2. The problem around here is that the house is too small for all the “stuff” accumulated over the years. I don’t think I can organize all of this in any meaningful way with the limited space available. I’m not ready to part with anything just yet. I have no heirs, so I’m not sure where it will all go. I do know that parting will be “such sweet sorrow.”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I fully anticipate that all the ‘stuff’ I cannot bear to part with will end up being dumped. But I won’t be here to mourn its passing. ๐Ÿ™‚
        Luckily, we have a garage, and a loft. Both are full of such things, with no space for a car in that garage.
        Best wishes, Pete.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Flowers are pretty but I cannot eat most of them so I garden for veggies and herbs….I have a huge red oak and I just mulch the leaves I never rake…..yes the older I get the hard just about everything is to accomplish…..but we soldier on right? LOL Have a good day and get some rest and relaxation iin my friend……chuq

    Liked by 1 person

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