-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Eric's thoughts on the secret garden

The "secret garden" is my name for the garden area that I want to be somehow part of the house. An area that is not immediately on view when you arrive and that is protected enough (from heat, frost, wind, lack of water, etc) that I can grow my favourite plants from my garden here.

Here are some extracts from recent emails with Eric about this, because obviously it has a big effect on the house plan.

Eric's email - 10th Mar

"I've been thinking through the secret garden and believe I know why it is a struggle to visualize. I can imagine the space from within, but it's tricky to imagine how it fits within the whole of the buildings. Here is a line of reasoning that seems to be leading me in a certain direction:

The old house, as we agree is worth working with. It's long face is rotated about 30 degrees east of north. When designing for good exposure to sun (both summer and winter) we like to face north or within about 20 degrees of north in either direction. So the old house still has good potential for good solar orientation.
The natural slope of the ground is pretty close to due north east. For a building to sit nicely on the land, we often place it along the natural slope. So the new buildings may want to be rotated slightly to the east as well. Also, the main views are to the north and east.

In our climate, building generally like to be roughly proportioned in a 2:1 ratio shape with the long side facing north. This achieves a good balance of more north wall for winter sun and less east and west wall to reduce impact of summer sun. It is also possible to create a very thin building with fingers spreading out to enclose a variety of outdoor spaces. This general shape would be quite typical in the tropics, but in our climate would be inappropriate from a thermal efficiency point of view.

(Here's where it starts getting tricky)

A building of this type and size (and most of my concepts so far) will be around 12-15m long in the east - west dimension, and about 6 - 8m in the north - south dimension. With the 12 - 15m in length you can see the difficulty in using the one building to enclose the secret garden. The secret garden needs to be bound by two or even more buildings.

Generally from a climate and comfort point of view, the main rooms like to be on the north and east to take advantage of sun (and in your case, views as well) This puts service rooms along the south and southwest sides. There can still be glimpse views from main rooms to the south, but the main orientation seems to be toward the sun. I fear that if we have the garden firmly on the south sides with only minimal glimpses, rather than being "secret", it may be "forgotten."

(A brief tangent.)

We have assumed that the secret garden is on the south side in order to suit cool climate plants. I wouldn't mind confirming this. During summer, the sun comes mainly from the east, west, and directly overhead. A wall on the north side will have very little shading to a garden in the summer. However, a north wall will provide shade in spring / autumn (about equal to it's height) and winter (about twice it's height.) One query is whether the secret garden should be bound mainly on the east and west by main buildings providing shade and not necessarily as much on the east and west.

(An idea.)

If the secret garden becomes defined by several buildings, what about using the garden itself to tie the buildings together? It could be like a cloister that you walk around to get between buildings. Note the distinction between cloister and courtyard. Courtyards are active spaces with movement through the middle. Cloisters are quiet spaces with movement around the edges.

So, one thing I've been considering is a central garden enclosed on 3-4 sides by various building. But rather that being entirely secret, would be used to arrange and link the buildings. Movement would be around the edges and the centre could remain the secret with glimpses in and places to discover.

My reply -11th March

Hi Eric, thanks for this, I think I understand. I'm intrigued by the cloister idea, I think it could work, I just need to imagine it a bit more. You're right we don't want the garden to be so secret that it's forgotten! Maybe we could achieve a sense of having secluded areas by having a few walls within the garden itself, eg for climbers.

Your logic about what side the secret garden is on makes sense to me. But, I'm going to email this to Prue, because she'll be able to answer the question better than I can, and may have some ideas about the cloister effect too. I'll cc you on what I send. I'm guessing that the second storey might also help to add shade, depending on where it is? Overall, my sense is that if we can create somewhere that would
be "partially shady" in gardening terms, it would be about right for the kind of plants I need. It could even be fully shady... we can get creative with the placement of mirrors to bring in extra light into dark corners if we need.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi there,
I'm reading through your back entries and was wondering, why all this talk about facing north, 30 degrees of north, long face to north, what's so great about north? And then it hit me. . . The embarassing part is 1) I've BEEN to Oz and 2) I'm all about passive solar - just in the Northern Hemisphere :) Anyway, thanks for sharing your adventures online