24th April 2015
What would Cape Canaveral look like if it had been designed by Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll? Some very high chimneys and a flood of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ perhaps. I’m inspired to ask this demented question after a transformative week on site in which everything we have done so far seems like a launchpad for the spectacular solid oak rocket that has just been hauled into place at the front of the building.
The most significant feature I nicked from Lutyen’s Deanery Garden, which he in turn nicked from his Elizabethan ancestors, is the tall, oak-framed bay window, studded with leaded lights, that dominates the garden elevation of the building. In the more modest context of the Orchard, this has become the conservatory/ greenhouse/ tender fruit garden that sits on top of our brick porch, outside the insulated envelope. It went up in three days this week and its exposed structural chunkiness is really quite fabulous.
Outside the insulated envelope! That means we can do whatever we like and not have to worry about energy efficiency, airtightness, and all the details that we have obsessed over inside the main building. So we can use extremely old-fashioned methods: huge pieces of solid green oak, butted up against the brickwork. The oak will be exposed to the elements and will move and crack and warp and slowly turn silver grey. This frame will soon be filled with leaded lights, the south-facing wall will be finished with wood-fired tiles (currently en route from Fez) and the exceptionally tall space will be filled with grapes, peaches, lemons, and maybe the odd palm tree. But right now the oak is enough to lift our spirits through the as-yet unglazed ceiling.
The oak frame was put up by Adam and Love from Touchwood Homes, who were first here nearly a year ago, putting up our primary timber frame, made from engineered timber. Like that frame, the oak was cut by a gigantic laser cutter in the Severn Valley and delivered to site labelled up and ready to go. Although the cutting was high-tech, the design is completely traditional: big mortise and tenon joints with dowels banged in to tighten everything up. It all slotted together rather well and was bolted down to the brick plinth using bolts and resin anchors, all plugged up with oak afterwards.
The greenhouse faces east, so it gets the morning sun, and its door is on the first floor. So in years to come we will be able to get up in our draught-free, energy-efficient house and step straight out into this naturally-ventilated, solar-heated space and harvest peaches for breakfast. An oak rocket to the best of both worlds.
Photo of Deanery Garden courtesy of Country Life.