Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

10.12.09

Seeing the trees.

It rained hard this afternoon and the jacaranda down the street shed some of its shimmering flowers and the flowers made purple pools under the tree.

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This house was built in 1948. It is an ‘L’ shape, a plan favoured by post-war architects as being practical while making best use of materials then in short supply. The design is austere; by name, not necessarily by nature. I like simple lines and a clean design in any case. The style was enhanced by the original owner who treated the interior window surrounds, architraves, skirting and doors in a deep wood grain finish, and walls in soft greens. Afternoon light through the west-facing glass paneled front door makes the timber and the green walls glow with suffused light.

It’s a pleasant house, but a hot one in summer. The lap of the ‘L’ faces north west and catches the sun at its most intense, in the afternoon; the morning sun gets the heat off to a good start by bouncing off the tall brick building to the west of the house. Air conditioning a sash-windowed weatherboard like this would be as pointless as pumping electricity into space, especially given the proposed higher costs for power, even if it’s available. Air conditioning was banned from use several days last summer. Not enough electricity.

The answer is trees.

When we bought this house four years ago its only tree was a sad grapefruit, never pruned and sagging all over the ground. It was a canopy without a trunk. But citrus is hardy and I cut most of the branches, reshaped it, found the trunk and got it going again. Now I can stand (at 6'2") under its canopy and it casts a deep shade on the back lawn, which is lawn again following all the rain.

But the grapefruit was all there was then.

So that year I planted a ten foot maple in the front. It is now twenty feet tall. I put another ornamental of a similar size at the back and that, also, has almost doubled. A red-flowered crepe myrtle went below the north-facing bedroom window and that is now just creeping up the pane.

After last summer's extremes I knew we needed more shade. Over winter I put in more four more deciduous ornamentals, placing them in positions that will make shade for the house in summer, but let the light in through winter.

Trees are not expensive. Each tree - in a pot - was six to ten feet in height at the time of planting and the cheapest tree was $35 at Bunnings at the end of the selling season. The catch is you have to wait for them to grow. (And you need a rake.) The species I chose are relatively fast, especially compared with the crepe myrtle. But one day we'll be luxuriating in dappled shade about the time the electricity grid crashes.

(Tangentially, if there’s such a panic about energy, why are they still approving mock Georgian houses with no eaves on giant housing estates only accessible by car – and a long way from the city? Beats me. I once stayed in a sheep station house with shady verandahs on all four sides, and in the heat of the day the kitchen - the whole house - had a coolness that felt like a refrigerator compared to those glassed-in wall-less rooms they call open-plan living in houses they’re building now.)

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I looked down the street at the wet jacaranda and its pools of purple. The rain had slowed and drifted across the valley and then it was gone and the sun came out and the garden glowed lurid green, again.

And the trees are watered and they are in leaf and they are growing.

3 comments:

A Melbourne Girl said...

I too wonder why they continually build those eaves-less monstrosities in this climate. McMansions on postage stamp sized blocks. I just don't get it, but then, there are a lot of things I don't get these days.

I wasn't aware crepe myrtle's took so long to grow. We put one in last year. I hope it starts reaching for the heavens soon
Lesley

White Dove said...

Older daughter rejoiced when the first power bill arrived at their newly renovated home. They have tried to do everything they can to have a cool house with double glazing...conserving water with tanks under the back deck....and solar power feeding into the grid. So you can imagine their delight with a power bill totalling $7. That was shortlived however....today another came for $748!!!! Shock, horror, what has happened. There'll be phone calls tomorrow!
They have also had to replant their backyard as many trees were lost with the reno, and have gone with white crepe myrtles close to the house...should look great in a year or so

kitchen hand said...

Lesley, they take forever but are worth the wait. In the first winter I thought ours had died; it was just a stick, but burst into leaf and bloom late spring.

WD, I'm finding - as are so many - that the whole save-water-and-energy push is deceptive spin because the bills now incorporate add-on charges that frequently add up to more than your actual usage. I received a water bill for $10 with $70 of additional charges, meaning a 700% tax by stealth.