Monthly Archives: March 2011

A Backyard Primer

Winter conditions have decided to hold on for a little longer, but despite the rains, our builders have managed to pour the concrete walls and floor of the pool.  However, there is one small change to the way things have turned out.  Initial excavation had to go deeper into the hillside to find more solid ground before foundations were poured, so the pool – or concrete box, to be more accurate – actually sits 2 metres off the ground.  This means that what would have been crawl space underneath the pool has now become a spacious cave of about 17 x 4 metres (about 56 x 13 feet).

I think you’ll agree with me that added space is rarely unwelcome, but this extension has no access to the house and is, in effect, part of what falls loosely in the category of “backyard”.  Since we will have plenty of indoor storage and outdoor living spaces, this brand new feature of the building has made us wonder what we would, could and should do with it.

If you’re a man, you’re probably thinking games room right now, but I don’t think you understand.  That particular notion is far, far too suburban for this quirky place.  They say a true Portuguese person – at least one worth his salt – always has a few bags of cement in his garage/basement/backyard – you know, just in case.  In case of what, I’m really not sure, but apparently more than the average number of emergencies in Portugal could potentially require the use of cement.  Since we don’t have Portuguese blood and apparently lack the genetic markers for hoarding cement, it seems we’ll have to put some thought into this.  Our gigantic basement requires a purpose.  And isn’t it our duty to assign that purpose along Portuguese lines?

Is it useful, beautiful or just fanciful?

When 19th century English designer William Morris said – “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” I wonder if he ever considered his philosophy applicable to backyards.  Well, we’re firm believers in the benefits of research, so let’s see.  Here are some of the things we’ve seen in Portuguese backyards and storage rooms:

The ordinary, or at least recurrent: wine-making equipment, wood,

Lawn-mowers taking a break

tools, espigueiros (granaries), chickens (and a bewildering array of other poultry), a stray sheep or two (also known as superbly eco-friendly lawn-mowers), roof tiles for a rainy – I mean windy- day and of course those crucial bags of cement.   So far, so good.  These are all useful – at least to some people.

 The unusual: pumpkins on a roof, a metal shooting star attached to a chimney, a pig (yes, in the middle of town), old granite troughs and grinding stones and even the odd boat, falling apart in the hills far above any water.  It looks like we’ve lost at least part of the vision, because while that shooting star receives credit for its eccentricity, it fares less well in the beauty department

The downright bizarre:  a doll on a stick in the ground (aka scarecrow) and a naked mannequin. 

An old doll finds a new purpose...

 

…and it has an even older sibling

                                                                                      The recycling value of the doll is commendable, but a mannequin?  You can imagine the fright people get when they peer into that particular storage space…

 So what to do?

The first thing that came to my mind was wine storage, but since we already have a designated cellar space in the house, that box was ticked.  My second thought was an EXTENDED cellar space, which makes perfect sense to someone from a wine-producing country who likes her safety blankets large.  Tom thinks a home winery could be fun, but also (never thought this day would arrive) sees the merits of a tractor and a few goats…

Let me be delicate: every once in a while a situation that requires the use of one’s veto right comes along.  That last suggestion presented just such a situation and so I promptly dusted off my refusal rights and used them quickly, not to mention vigorously.  Yes, those goats are 100% out, but now I may have to give in when it comes to the tractor.  And while I’m still getting over the astounding fact that a tractor is even a point of discussion in our house, I promise you, Mr Morris, if it’s useful, I’ll try my very best to make sure it’s also as beautiful as possible.

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