The Four Cement Mixer Household


Agapanthus ‘Zachary’ has been a magnet for butterflies and bees this past weekend.


Well let’s leave the dust behind us shall we (only for a little while mind) and get out into the fresh air. It is summer after all, even though I’ve had far less time to enjoy it than I’d have liked. But don’t be fooled into thinking we’re talking hammocks, Pimms and lazy afternoons with a picnic down by the river. Because we’re not.



Previously, on rusty duck.

If you recall we’d I’d decided way back at the start of the year that renovating the major portion of the ground floor of a house would be insufficiently demanding as a project on its own. Of course I couldn’t have been expected to anticipate the requirement to hoick up beams and totally rebuild walls, a narrowly averted but potentially catastrophic water leak or our spectacular recreation of the Namibian desert on the sitting room floor (now could I?). But even so. No, she who shall remain nameless decided, in the spirit of progress, to embark on a major landscaping project at the same time.



We have dug down so far and shifted so much earth I’ve no doubt the workings can be seen from space.

The idea is to use the excavated spoil to extend the level of the lawn (seen at the far end in this shot) towards the camera and continue the low lonicera hedge to form a natural boundary between this new level and the river area below.



Structural blockwork will hold back the tons of earth and shillet in new terraced beds, three levels in total by the time we’re done.



Natural stone provides the facing for each wall.

And to prove that Sod’s Law is still around to haunt us, this is where we have properly messed up. It seemed the logical thing to go to a local quarry for the stone. First because the stone would be true to the local vernacular and second, it was the best chance we had to match up with the original terrace walls in front of the house. Accepting that the original walls have had decades over which to weather, their stone is, indisputably, dark grey.

As indeed was the stone in the quarry when we made the special trip out there to inspect it. A price was agreed and hands were shaken, as is the way. When the first lorry load (six tons) had been tipped onto the drive we noticed that it came heavily coated in mud. No problem, we thought, the mud will come off. Mike gave the heap of stone a quick going over with a pressure washer..



Devon ironstone. Sedimentary rock with iron deposits. Eeeep.

Rather more red than grey. Because what does iron do when exposed to air? It oxidises. Basically, it rusts. We’ve tried splitting the chunks of stone but while the cut edge may start out grey the ‘rust’ can appear within a matter of days. We even gave a rock to the sand blaster with instructions to do his worst. But no. Yoghurt will be the long term answer methinks. And probably a great deal of it too.



There may not be Pimms but we do have the tent.. the gazebo has made the job weatherproof!



It isn’t just us cursing the stone.

There are some very large chunks of it and the waller is having to angle grind many of them to make it all fit. I am keen to avoid too much of the crazy paving look. On top of that we’ve made his life doubly hard by asking him to lay the stones so that the faces less affected by the iron deposits, such as there are, predominate. It’s going to be a much longer job than any of us would have wanted but that’s just the way it is. Fortunate perhaps that I have somewhere to over winter all the plants I’d been saving for here!

Eagle-eyed reader that you are, you’ll already have spotted that there’s more..



Footings dug ready for the new greenhouse..



Concrete base in progress, reinforced with rebar..

Mike mixed the whole lot in just one day while the waller poured it into position. Over five tons..



A visit from the building inspectors..



The lower area inside the footings at front will take an underground water reservoir in due course. The narrower section at back provides for integral cold frames.

A low stone wall will now be built on top of the concrete base to support the aluminium structure of the greenhouse. The tolerances allowed by the manufacturer are minuscule. For the external dimensions, length and width of the greenhouse, we’re only permitted to be 5mm out. Around the door opening the tolerance is zero. Such rigour demands a squarer, more regular, stone than we’ve used on the terrace walls..

..and a specialist builder. He arrived on site yesterday. With a whole new array of equipment and supplies..




The house renovators have a cement mixer. That’s it at the back.

The terrace waller has a cement mixer.

The greenhouse wall builder has a cement mixer.

And, not to be outdone, we even have a cement mixer of our own. An antique example left behind by the previous owner after the house and its outbuildings were meant to have been cleared. It’s been in the garage ever since.


Is there a collective noun for a gathering of cement mixers?