Paint job Posted on September 12, 2008

There is no prescribed interval for repainting a conservatory. I have a weakness for paintwork with the patina of time, with streaks of green, rubbed edges, peeling a little. It reminds me of Mariana in the moated grange:

‘With blackest moss the flowerpots

Were thickly crusted, one and all:

The rusted nails fell from the knots

That held the pear to the gable-wall.’

Would there be a Garden History Society if I were the only one to harbour such thoughts?

But the conservatory. It is 28 years old and has had, so far as I remember, three fresh coats of white paint in that time. It was high time for another, and not only paint, but a total refreshment, glass and all. Eventually moss and general detritus builds up uncleanably where the panes overlap; putty falls out and glazing bars rot, blinds disintegrate …. Time for a total overhaul. It’s happening as I write.

The result will be an improvement on the original. We are lucky enough to have a builder in the village who loves old buildings.

Steve (his name is Stephen Gooch) visited the ‘lost’ garden of Heligan on his holiday and brought back a video of its restoration. It was the greenhouses he was interested in: the roof panes are cut with a curved lower edge to create a fish scale effect. The glaziers were filmed cutting them freehand on site: it looked easy. Why didn’t we do the same?

We did, and discovered the practical advantage of the fish scale design. Raindrops flow to the centre of each pane and form a stream down the middle. Formerly, the water crept to the edge and ran down the rafters. Moss accumulated at the bottom of each rafter, damp stayed there and eventually they began to rot. Old practices that look merely cosmetic (cornice moulding is another example) nearly always have their origin in practical experience.


The blinds need replacing too. They are expensive and take a bit of managing, but blinds outside the glass are twice as effective as blinds inside. Once the sunshine penetrates the glass it heats the air inside: only exterior blinds prevent this happening. Cedar lath blinds are best and longest-lived. Happily the firm that made our first set (they last about 10 years) are still in business: Tidmarsh & Co of Harlow import western red cedar, alias Thuja plicata, as logs from British Columbia, saw the laths and join them together with copper links. They are hung from and rolled up to a bar just below the opening lights. The dividend is the gentle stripes of light on a sunny day.

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