We've been looking for a new home for the family for sometime, we had a nice spacious open plan flat with a large balcony and garden that was perfect for us when the kids were young and needed constant supervision. As the hooligans have grown and become more and more active the old place seemed more of a hinderance than a help, as we always had to supervise them getting into the garden, which had no direct access from the flat and involved them walking down the side of the house which was situated on a busy main road through the village. And we had very little chance to just sit and watch TV as a couple or socialise as the open plan nature of the place meant that every little noise tended to disturb the boys or lead to them getting up to ensure they weren't missing out on anything...
After viewing and putting in offers on countless places and being let down, we finally struck lucky this spring when we found a house in need of some work in a village not too far from where we were living. The old house needed a lot of work but we instantly felt at home and could see the potential in making it into a perfect family home.
The house was built in the 60s into the side of a small hill on a considerable slope, in an upside-down format with large entrance hall, 2 bedrooms, bathroom, wash room, cellar and plant room downstairs and a large living room, kitchen, 2 further bedrooms and bathroom upstairs. Topping it off was a large balcony giving panoramic views of the Bernese Alps.
Mrs S and I instantly saw the potential in making the entire downstairs area a play centre for the boys, having both their bedrooms and bathroom downstairs and converting the fairly cold, tiled entrance hall into a play room with shelving and play areas for lego etc. and a cozy corner under the stairs for TV and Playstation, leaving the upstairs clutter free and perfectly suited to a more adult orientated vibe with our bedroom, office and a family lounge/diner.
That was the easy part, with work started in painting, refurbishing and refreshing all of the rooms, installing new parquet flooring and a a new wetroom and taking the unusual step (in Switzerland anyway) of fitting the entrance and stair way with a bright, grass green carpet, our attention turned to the all important outside space.
As mentioned, the plot is on a considerable slope and front to back the height difference was around 10 metres.. The entire garden which surrounds the house was filled with hundreds of beautiful roses and a plethora of other flowers, many of which I have still yet to learn the names of. How on earth were we to make this a great area for us and the kids to enjoy?
I had a cunning plan, let's put in 3 terraces, one at the top for our all important pool, one in the middle for some lawn and a trampoline and a lower one with some planting, leading down to a vegetable garden...
All very good on paper and in the minds eye, but involves moving a massive amount of earth and holding back the remaining slope ..... bring on the BIG BOYS TOYS!
Phase 1 was to remove and re-plant some of the very old, well established Rose bushes before clearing the unwanted flowers/shrubs and removing all of the top soil. Next was to give the basic 3 step terrace form by driving a digger and making a huge mess of everything! The groundwork guys recommended using concrete spoon stones to hold back and reenforce each terrace wall and prevent the entire garden sliding into the street during heavy rain and snow. The spoon stones are laid much like bricks, fixed with a strong mortar and then filled with earth, several hundred were used to create each retaining wall section in out terraces and also helped to form a stable base for some new steps (recycled from the old, weathered concrete ones that had been in the garden for decades.)
Once the stones were laid and filled, we formed the base of the pool terrace using some liner cloth to stop the weeds and then added several tonnes of gravel stone from the local quarry, this was all compacted to form a stable and durable base for the pool. The rear portion of remaining slope was secured with hemp rope netting and plated with some alpine succulents which will, over time, spread to create a nice green, low maintenance carpet and some of the original concrete path sections were relaid along with the steps to provide some easy access. A few alpine plants were placed in the spoon stone sections and then, after replacing and grading the top soil for the 2 lower sections I decided to lay some turf from the local farm and it very quickly started to look like a garden and a lot less like a building site.
We decided to leave the turfed / trampoline section as a slight slope as it wouldn't be used for football, opposite our house the local farmer has given up some of his land and maintains a lovely football pitch for the local kids to enjoy, therefore we could just use our grass area for laying on and enjoying the sun. I did however have to install a trampoline for the boys, quite a challenge as it turned out! After a day spent building the steel frame swimming pool (4.5 x 3m ) and it's accompanying sand filtration system, I set to work on the trampoline...
After assembling the steel frame I worked out where to dig some channels to accommodate the rear leg sections and then on the hottest afternoon of the summer, set to work with my trusty shovel and spirit level, after A LOT of messing around and a considerable amount of profanity, I managed to get the bloody thing level and stable and only had to add a couple of concrete slabs at the front to get it all true before refilling the trenches with earth and completing the build.
The final part was to add a small fence to stop the boys falling off the steps, seeding the lawn under the trampoline, reseeding and repairing the lower lawn area and re cutting flower bed edges, organising the planting and taking some of what had been there since the house was build and adding some of the re-homed roses, some herbs and lavender and we were done...
Just add sun loungers and sun..
ready to enjoy, very, very satisfying and quite a journey... Oh yes, the view from the pool is outstanding too !!!
PS: i didn't forget about the vegetable garden, more on that another time when I try and introduce the boys to a spot of "grown your own fruit & veg"