I honestly couldn’t believe what I was seeing as the deckboards came up. What had looked so attractive on the surface was a whole different story underneath… I was just glad that it was being addressed before someone had been seriously hurt.
Eight years ago, my son bought a bungalow. The garden looked unloved. The design lacked imagination, not to mention colour and, although there was plenty of green, it came mostly from mould and lichen. It was also entirely unsuitable for my son, being full of level changes neither he nor the wheelchair could cope with. We already knew we would have to gut the bungalow to get it to work for him… redesigning the garden was just one more job.
Eight months later, the house had been stripped back to a shell and almost entirely rebuilt. The garden was unrecognisable. The dark, dank yard had been transformed into a bright, accessible space, full of colour, scent and sound. While it still looked a little stark that first year, by next spring, it looked amazing and, when summer brought the roses into bloom, it was fragrant haven. We had designed it to be full of life. Water and birds played with the sunlight, the sounds of a busy world retreated as the garden came into its own.
For the next few years, the garden matured, becoming more abundantly beautiful. Newness was softened by time, plants and trees grew… and so did the fish in the pond. Delivery drivers, evangelists, salespeople or guests… it did not matter who came to my son’s door, everyone commented on his garden. You couldn’t help it. Then my foot went through the deck.
Fast forward a year. The workmen brought in to put it right had done even more damage. The only options left were extensive repairs or a complete redesign with more durable materials. Either would be incredibly expensive, but there was little choice with safety the primary factor. We thought the rotting wood was simply a result of time and weather, even though we were surprised that the high-quality, treated materials had not lasted longer. As soon as the new work began, we learned the reason why…
The raised flowerbeds had not been lined with damp-proof membrane, and wood does not fare well in contact with damp soil. The heavy sleepers had rotted from below and the damage spread. That was bad enough. A little common sense would have prevented most of the visible damage and saved thousands of pounds. But you never know when apparent disaster might actually be a good thing…
What shocked me most was finding that the huge, heavy stone barbeque… taller than me… framed by its semicircle of stone flags, had been sitting, not on concrete or stone as one would have expected, but on a ‘floating floor’ of unprotected plywood. The plywood was so rotten you could have torn it by hand. The flags, with the underlying damp, had degraded badly and, once disturbed, now bounced on the underlying sponge. How the barbeque had remained standing and not crushed someone is beyond me!
Balancing half a ton of stone on a few bits of wood is not a lack of common sense… it is utter stupidity. Any other comments I may have made are unprintable.
But, at least now we know. The barbeque has been dismantled and safely stored. The garden is disappearing as fast as the weather will allow. The people now working hard to make it both attractive and safe are listening to what is needed, are flexible enough to adapt plans as we go to make sure my son can actually enjoy his garden safely and have a practical, common sense approach to how things should be done. I have high hopes and the whole episode is providing a graphic illustration of finding an unexpected ‘silver lining’ in disaster.
It illustrated something else too… that whatever the surface may show, what lies beneath may be very different from what the world sees and assumes to be true. From the craftsman who cuts corners when no-one is looking, to the charmer with the rotten heart, the analogy fits all too well. But it can work the other way too… the most positive person may hide the deepest scars, the heart of gold can be found in the unlikeliest-looking breast and the greatest teachers can be found in the humblest of places. Especially, it seems, when you look below the surface.