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.