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We were looking for a new home and saw this place after many weeks of searching and failing to fall in love. The whole building was beautiful, crying out for a caring hand, not to mention drills, saws, and several sledgehammers. I clocked the abundant marble, high ceilings and ornate friezes, whilst noting the overarching smell of damp and decay. The main roof was ruined, electrics and plumbing defunct and the kitchen a fiction. Copious fluid secretions from both ends of two gigantic resident Rottweilers didn’t help, since I am definitely a cat person. I saw the conservatory for the first time, sunshine gleaming through the stained glass and was lost to reason.
View from the upper deck
View from the upper deck

The room consists of rendered brick construction, erected as part of the main house in 1902. When we took ownership, the rotting woodwork was painted grey to conceal the mould. Some walls were defaced with an extensive cartoon, poorly painted in garish colours. The effect was so bad that I felt embarrassed for the owner who had perpetrated such a crime. The doors were hanging from their hinges and most of the plaster had fallen off. The corrugated plastic roof was derelict; when the wind got underneath, it clattered, rattled and banged. The ridge beam and rafters creaked like a galleon under sail. How do you belay a mizzenmast? I understand that halyards are involved. The two flower beds were full of dust, dog doo, fag ends and heaps of other rubbish. I didn’t register the wreckage; from the first, a vision of the finished project was burned on my brain.
Acacia dealbata (mimosa)
Acacia dealbata (mimosa)

Whenever I could escape from renovating living rooms, I headed out to stop the worst of the draughts from gaping holes wherever I found them. I cleared the beds of refuse and emptied them of so-called soil as deep as I could and still climb out to make the school run. I refilled them with peat free compost, which turned out to be poor in nutrients but large on planet saving smug gittery. The cactus collection of decades’ standing was spread across the tiled floor, with only minor bitching about their impeding non gardeners’ access to the garage. My first deliberate purchase was Acacia dealbata (mimosa) which I intended to reach the roof as soon as possible. Daughter Cineraria stood on the landing to survey the result and started slowly to descend through the floorboards. Her eyes fixed on mine as she sank, Cindy showed no inclination to move and I dragged her away before she dropped down to the foundations beneath. Thereafter, the builder added replacement of the soggy joists to his extensive list of jobs.
Winter from the sitting room
Winter from the sitting room

We were too busy decorating to have a social life. The étagère bought for serving barbeques that never happened was swiftly pressed into service to hold the cacti. We heated the sun room for the first winter; this town was notably warmer that year. Due to spousal pressure upon receiving the fuel bill, this practice ceased and the greenery had to take its chances with the chill. Some houseplants liquefied under the cruel regime. Tibouchina urvilleana (glory bush) went west, a few Begonias were blitzed and I learned not to risk notable sissies such as Calatheas or Crotons. I bought a Magnolia grandiflora and an Eriobotrya japonica (loquat) to give me a little height. I acquired subsequent treats when I found them, from many and various sources. Annual gifts to me comprised entirely of trellises, obelisks, pots and plants. After fifteen years, the view of the conservatory is nearly identical to the sumptuous picture in my imagination at the start. The bad news is that after all of the scrubbing and scraping, I am looking the worse for wear.

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