Thursday, June 16, 2016

Old House Dreams

Because once I got the “old house bug” in my system, I couldn’t stop.  I now follow several old house sites on the internet featuring homes for sale.  We followers of each one offer comments, drool, dream and fantasize.

A few of us also notice the yards and gardens.  A very few of the homes have retained or recreated period landscaping.  When it’s been done correctly it can be as much of a selling attribute as the home itself.

The comments on these old home sites range from clueless to purest.  The clueless are alas, clueless of historical preservation.  The purest is so set on being original they would go without a bathroom if it’s period correct.  The average middle road is the house should retain as much of the original features as possible but with bathroom, utilities and kitchen conveniences to make an active family comfortable.

After I get through touring the homes, I focus on the yards or acreage included.  If it’s appropriate to the era, it can increase the selling price by thousands – sometimes hundreds of thousands. 

Some period considerations are foundation plantings.  Some houses have none, others have inappropriate varieties and some have overgrown plants.  Each of these has problems with enhancing the landscape.

Over the years, some owners have taken out old plantings for whatever reason and never replaced anything.  Old Midwest homes were generally meant to have trees and bushes to help manage the weather elements.  Shade and wind protection were important before air conditioning and central heating. 

Bravo to the homeowner who landscapes an old home property.   But putting shrubs of varieties never developed during the home’s original construction often looks very out of place.

Then there’s the vegetation that has outgrown its place or shape.  Old large evergreens shrubs can never be trimmed back.  And although it may seem like a good privacy idea, shrubs should not cover up windows.  Huge shrubs or trees against the siding can cause the paint to peel, boards rot and the foundation to crumble.

The only solution to many overgrown shrubs is to take them out and start over.  The only solution to many overgrown trees (ones situated away from the buildings) may be to hire an experienced forester (one who understands and loves old homes) to trim them.  Do not top a tree.  Trim out dead wood, branches that rub, remove suckers and low hanging branches to enable air flow.

Then there’s the vine issue.  We often see vines on old homes.  They may even be original.  They shade the home in the summer and often have flowers.  It all sounds great until you see the damage they’ve done.  Any vine that attaches to the siding/bricks/stone by suckers will eventually cause damage.  Plus it’s almost impossible to remove.  This would be trumpet vine, ivy, Virginia creeper, wisteria to name just a few.

If you love vines (and I do) make sure they’re NOT on a building.  Sturdy trellises and fences work if placed away from buildings.  I remember seeing lattice trellis on the sides of buildings in Amana holding grapes.  It was a beautiful site and it must have been a terrible maintenance issue.

The Victorians would plant bushes with thorns or briars under windows as a security measure.

Check out the date your home was built and then check out when plants were introduced to find age appropriate landscaping.  Check out old pictures of homes the same age and style.  What is perfect for an old Victorian Queen Ann is not appropriate for Mid Century American or a ranch style.  They each have landscaping beauty and each can be recreated to enhance the home.

Even if you’re not into lots of yard work or have loads of extra disposable income, having a home’s age appropriate landscape can be accomplished with some well placed plants.  It should showcase the home and it’s style.  It should provide a way to manage the elements and protect the structures.  It should be pleasing and enjoyable.  It should enhance the value of the property. 

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