Sometimes gardening demands invention. Last week, it required the construction of a moveable gated fence, seven meters long and one meter high running across our lawn. The requirements were that it should be sturdy enough to keep in a small dog, easy on the eye and flexible enough to allow it to be folded away and used again if ever the dog came back. Before the fence, an earlier project involved building an eight-meter long cage to keep the birds away from a bed of fruit bushes. This was to be a permanent structure; again easy on the eye, which had to allow humans access to harvest the fruit and to be strong enough to withstand the fierce Brittany winds.
Last week after months of planning and much hard work, both structures were finally in place. Now I could sit back and relax. Or so I thought! A German couple had come to stay for a fortnight in the house next door. As is usual on such occasions, I said my hellos from our vegetable patch when they parked their car nearby. This time introductions were particularly difficult, as they spoke neither English nor French and I no German. Because of our shared linguistic heritage I managed to discover that the husband, a sympathetic looking man, was a retired architect – the word ‘architect’ or its derivatives must be the same in almost every language!
A day or so into their stay, thinking that the designs of my garden projects might be of some architectural interest, I invited him to see my newly built fence and cage. He obliged and, while he appeared to ignore the fence, his eyes began to twinkle when he saw the cage. He pushed it and pulled it, looked at me with a worried face and then went back to his house.
Next day he indicated that he wished to do more ‘stress testing’ of my structure and this time, the poking required him to creep along the high wall at the rear of the cage. I looked away. With the help of gesticulation accompanied by loud blowing noises, he made his diagnosis clear: While the structure could withstand an east or west wind, it risked being broken or completely overturned by strong gusts from the north. I tried to explain that north winds are very rare in this part of Brittany and that anyway I had worked to incorporate flexibility into my design so that the structure would simply bend in a storm. He persisted nevertheless. What was to be done?
His solution came that afternoon – and rather cryptically. I had been working indoors for a while and when I stepped out into the garden I saw something white – a piece of paper perhaps – stuck into the gate of the new fence. I went down to look and found a page pulled from small notebook on which there were two sets of scribbled lines. The scribbles baffled me at first, then gradually it dawned on me. With some deciphering I realised that my architect neighbour had left me proposals on how the top and the back of the cage might be strengthened. Superimposed on a picture of the current structure, he had sketched exactly where I should attach additional slats to add the necessary reinforcement.
I was not sure whether he was being over cautious, or whether the suggestions were simply prudent – but how would one know? I went next door to thank him for his detailed proposals, made a new set of measurements and drove to the local wood yard to buy the necessary wood. This time I needed slats so long that they protruded out of the back of our car.
Now the reinforcements have been installed and my kind German neighbour has gone home. With luck, his enhancements will last a few winters and will help our cage withstand the fierce northerlies – real or imagined – of which he was so concerned.