Sunday, June 22, 2008

House Pictures from Portugal

We're recently back from a short holiday in the Algarve, in Portugal. I spent a good bit of the time there, when I wasn't reading or zoning out, rubbernecking at the architecture and design. I was fascinated by the houses; all steps and softened corners and white and tiles. I think there must be a strong remnant of Moorish influences, because really, they're like nothing I've seen anywhere else in the West. Here are a few pictures, which I'm keeping for inspiration.

This one I like because of the sprawl of balconies and roofs and chimneys. Note also the solar panels - we saw a lot of those, often on houses that were quite old, and on modern apartments and the like as well. The level of greenery was unexpected - there had just been a three week spell of cloud and rain, and it showed.

These outside steps are typical of the houses - built as integrated parts of the structure, decorated with tiles and arches and small details of paintwork. All this is facing the Atlantic coast, and in the blazing sunshine, the white walls are almost blinding. My prescription sunglasses usually give a sepia tint to things in Ireland, but confronted with this light, all they could do was dull it enough to let me escape without a headache.

And this house was just over the hill from the hotel we were staying in. I love the combination of round and angular structures, the way in which it combines wall and roof and stairs to form one frontispiece, and the organic look of the whole thing. The picture doesn't quite do it justice, unfortunately, but as with many other buildings here, it was impossible to find a place from which you could take a single picture that showed the whole building - there were always details out of sight, or trees blocking the view. In some ways, that was part of the charm of the buildings; there were always new details to be found.

(All pictures by my wife, whose camera skills trump mine every time)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Plant Life

My mother-in-law has brought us some roses from my wife's grandmother's house. These are actual plantable roses, I hasten to add, and are now planted in the back garden, equidistant from the tool shed and the Experimental Potato bed. They look to be settling in nicely. This inheritance-style arrival of plants is something I like greatly, although I'm going to have to consider carefully my brother's offer of a small oak tree, since, like oaks anywhere, it won't remain small. Nonetheless, with a few more inherited plants, a few foundlings and volunteers, and the usual selection of planted and bought ones, we should have a nicely eclectic selection in a few years time.

The Experimental Potatoes are also doing nicely, and the rain washed away a little soil in the bed; enough to reveal a large-marble-sized new potato. I reburied it, rather than carry it off, which I think shows great self-control. The spring onions in the bed beside them are not showing any great level of growing, though; there are half a dozen now starting to look properly like onions, and no more. Since the seeds were a freebie with a magazine, I'm a little more inclined to blame those than anything else - especially since the courgettes, from the same pack of free seeds, have thus far produced only one viable plant from about twenty sown. Although I gather that if that plant gets going, it may well supply our courgette needs all on its own. To be fair, I suppose, the onions should perhaps be someplace a bit sunnier - there's more shade from the trees in the western hedgerow than I expected.

There has also been the discovery of some climbing roses by a fence near the back of the garden. At least, we think they're climbing roses. For my level of knowledge of garden flowers, they could be anything. Something leaning in from a neighbour's garden at the front of the house has big pink flowers, and some brambles in the hedgerow have flowers, leading me to hope for blackberries in the autumn. I'm wondering if it's possible to encourage blackberry brambles in any useful way, should that be what they are.


It poured rain here for much the afternoon (I was in work, but I'm assured it rained even where I wasn't) and on into the evening, only stopping half an hour ago. This is the first time we've seen serious rain in the new place, so I've been out poking around to see what the effects are. First and foremost, of course, unlike the rented house we were in last, no parts of this one leak.

Second, neither of the sheds leak noticeably, not even the full-of-holes one that's in the main part of the garden. This is welcome news, and means that it'll get a coat of paint later in the summer, and some patching up, rather than the complete removal I had considered.

The clayish soil is showing itself, though. There's one point where there's a dip in the ground, with slightly hardened soil. The rain water is pooled in it, showing no signs of draining away, and I suspect that the soil is holding a lot of water as well. It doesn't look like it's going to be a problem as such, but it's another argument in favour of raised beds, I think.