“It’s all in the head“. What an odd expression that has been used forever to symbolise knowledge or wisdom being within. How big is the human head? Roughly 3/4 Basketball size, with outer skin, a skull of bone, blood vessels and sinew with grey matter of the supposed brain squashed inside. Not much room is there for “all”.
Yet, as humans we do our best consciously and unconsciously to cram as much as we can inside. Definition of shapes in two and three dimensions can be formed just by thinking. From the simple clothes peg to the most complex nucleic reaction visible in an electron microscope, the instrument was thought, drawn and fabricated from this process. Imaginings of fantasy and Science fiction worlds are described from what is inside the head. Art creation, the photographers keen perspective, are within the hallowed halls of the head waiting for the moment to burst free into reality.
My profession – Landscape Architecture has always been one of create the landscape in the mind to put onto paper in a two dimensional way that is to scale for construction. Sometimes accompanied by 3D ‘artist impressions, sections and written description (specification). A laborious process that can sometimes take months for the final ‘hard copy’ to measure and make on the ground. So much structure involved that is external to the head
For 30 plus years, this has been the only way until now.
Nine months of living back on landed property with a front yard and backyard to play in. Front yard landscape structure (rock wall) was completed while still Condo resident, measured up and basic to scale plan developed. Three different configurations were worked on. Setting out based on last revised design, and I didn’t like the look of the spray can lines and reverted to the original. I loved the flexibility to be able to do this without client or project constraints as this was for me and future family. The drawing pens and scale ruler were almost metaphorically thrown away. Not quite. Standard process of 30 plus design years was still applied.
Last July we finally moved in. A delay of four months due to Covid lockdown. Within a month, front yard was completed – lawn installed and many plants in the ground. Fish ponds filled with Guppies and Goldfish. Done.
All this while a despairing, weed infested but naked palette back yard waited for some landscape love. I will never know why, but the first thing done was to develop a small vege patch in semi circular shape against the back wall of the house with the centre point for radius at the exact middle of back wall. Semi-circle? Could have been a rectangle, but it wasn’t. No plan prepared, hours spent viewing or considering. Spontaneous it was.
Thoughts evolved. Mind games played with shapes of garden beds at the corners of this courtyard size area. A curved stone wall was born. (1/4 circle one way and the 1/4 circle the opposite direction) The need to provide seating for many butts living in the house at the forefront. It’s width suitable for posterior parking was created. How to finish? Two alternative curved wall options existed.
I chose the second after discussion with my housebound step son trainee apprentice. A space was born. The other back corner of the yard? Simple, just mirror the other side. Family wanting fish pond. Big red tub found and incorporated into the wall, which went someway in matching the wall enclosed tub fishpond in the front yard. Continuity from front to back achieved.
Temporary steps of seconds bricks installed against a retaining wall at the rear for access to the steep embankment behind which I had started populating with fruiting plants – Papaya, Mango and Rambutan. Wild with weeds it was (and still is). An evolving landscape it is. Eventually temporary steps were demolished and brick fireplace installed in its place. The Tasmanian in me could not leave out the outdoor fireplace. Timber steps made from well seasoned recycled timbers found in building site waste bins, were painted a colourful blue. Works along our back boundary were complete.
Convinced by wife to buy some cheap artificial turf (the real skinny stuff), and lay over the now exposed and rotting low strength lean concrete laid 30 years ago. Instant green. Instant love of the space. Instant posterior use of completed walls. Still not a drawing pen, scale ruler in sight. All from within the crowded skull.
Evolution continued. Was always two steps down to the back yard from the house. Stepping over an open drain was an occupational hazard. Concrete grated drain covers found and work started to lift the area so that there would be a smooth transition from the back porch outside. Done! Bit industrial looking, but given Covid times the only real access to supplies was a local timber supply and hardware store. Aesthetic? Have grown to like the covers. Easily removed for drain cleaning which is paramount importance in KL.
A simple Porch roof extension dry proofed the back porch area and our retreat enclave. Painted beams Orange to match front yard colour scheme. Flow of connection with landscape elements had continued – rock, fish pond and colour. So important!
Finally, the finishing with a vague idea for paving and lawn. Started with 200 left over bricks near the enclave. By the time we finished laying, the bricks were accidentally laid to a roughly quarter circle shape to the outside. We had started from the side wall and basically run out of bricks. Sunset had me wandering outside to contemplate the days activities. A curved edge it must become.
Next day the leading edge installed, the boys learning quickly the art of cutting bricks. The area outside the back porch became a mirror image, pathway installed following the curve of the original vege patch, two small paved areas in front of the balance of rock walls – curved of course. There had never been a pre-determined plan to the shape of the finished product, just a free flow of thoughts and contemplation. The shape left for the infill lawn was fixed by the eventual outcome of paving. Form and flow it has!
Now? Lawn installed last week. Green is a wonderful contrast to the terracotta of the paving. Plants in the garden beds appear to be even happier as if they are celebrating completion. Fish have been extra happy with mass Guppy explosion to be seen. Damn, it looks good! I may be a bit biased though. The first memory almost five years ago of a weed infested, despairing and deserted landscape has become a rapidly fading memory.
Two ways to access the backyard – up a decent flight of stairs and through the house or down a very steep embankment from a road above. Neither particularly easy. The rock, lawn turf, 50% of the sand, cement and some plants were ferried down the embankment without injury or loss of supplies. Bricks carried five at a time up the stairs with much sand and soil bagged up to be carted up the stairs.
Fantastic workout! Muscle pain not felt in years. The two eager apprentice landscapers – Izat and Huzaifah certainly realised quickly the full body workout and learnt so much about the basics and details. Worked hard they did. Skills gained and memories of transformation that will last a lifetime.
This freedom to take from the minds eye and just create with the only drawing being a finished level mark, location of a centre point and spray can marked part circle, was truly liberating for this drawing and specification brainwashed mind. To just do because it feels right as been so good to the soul. For the ripening age of almost 63, it is a wonderful thing indeed that this old Dog can still learn new tricks!
Now? Barbecue has been fired up, fireplace hosted a few burnings, the last one being our youngest with his now ex-school mates ceremoniously burning study papers after their final high school exams. It has become the place to go around dusk for the five of us here. Family conversations, contemplation of sunset skies or just watching the cats being stupid. All made possible due to the freedom to create. It is the human condition after all to explore all that is inside the head. A lucky person I am!
Further reading – two related articles: “Rock It” and “Fire”.