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Gardening with Hannah Genders

Room with a view

Posted on March 21 2014 at 11:18:04 0 comments

The finished roundhouse

Hannah Genders oversees the construction of a wooden roundhouse.

A s regular readers will know, I’ve been working on an eco house project in Portishead near Bristol for the past two years. The project is now moving ahead quickly, with the basement already built and the eco house due to be craned in on May 20.

The work we’ve been doing for the past two years has been on the woodlands and surrounding landscape: clearing out dead trees and conifers, replanting with native trees like oak, birch and sweet chestnut and re-establishing the shrub layer in the woodland with hazel plantings.

The work has been carried out by a Bristol-based woodland co-operative called Rypelwood, and this month sees them moving off site to work on other local projects. The work they have been doing at Portishead has largely come to an end and I will really miss them being around.

The clearance of the woodland has meant taking down some large trees and we’ve had the opportunity to re-use the wood in projects throughout the site. There are two bridges, both built with extracted wood.

The lower bridge in particular was quite a feat in design and build to achieve; the rails are held in the main frame by a series of steel wires. The finished effect is to make the bridge look as if it is hovering over the little stream in the lower part of the valley.

The other exciting part of the project is the construction of a traditional roundhouse, which the owners of the property will use as a retreat space in the woodland. All the supporting timbers and windowsills were made with wood from the site.

The construction of this sort of roundhouse structure involves laying each supporting beam on the one next to it so that the whole framework becomes self-supporting, creating an open room in the middle and a round hole (filled with glass) looking up to the sky.

This is a traditional method of construction and referred to as ‘low impact’ as it uses local materials that are sustainably produced, not damaging the environment, and is a relatively cheap way of building.

The walls are straw bales, lifted into place and then trimmed with a hedge cutter to get the curved shape. Straw bales form a very strong, well-insulated structure for the building.

These are then plastered with a lime plaster, which is breathable so condensation and trapped water do not become a problem. The final surface is then painted with lime to protect it from the elements.

The finished effect is stunning, a very organic-looking round building that is warm, well lit and eco friendly. It really will take very little heating and has a small woodstove installed for colder days. It is perched on the side of the hill in the woodland so it enjoys views right over the Bristol Channel.

The other area that Rypelwood have done lots of work on is the community fruit garden, which was incredibly overgrown with brambles and even had two muntjac deer living in the undergrowth.

The fruit garden area is a series of terraces – the top three we have planted with vines for future wine making and the lower slopes have beds (again made from wood found on site) containing raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb and loganberries.

We have underplanted these with a low-growing comfrey to keep the weeding to a minimum, and the top slopes have been laid with meadow turf between the vines; this will cut down the lawn mowing and help encourage beneficial insects like bees and butterflies to the fruit garden.

We just need to make another bench for this area, as the views across the water are so fabulous.

This is just the sort of landscaping I really love – we have improved the site for the owners, for wildlife and it’s all done with an ethos to work sustainably.

Special thanks to Olly, Sid, Emma, Nico and all the volunteers who have worked so hard on this project and cooked some great lunches.

For further information, visit:
http://www.rypelwood.co.uk
http://www.redkitebuild.org


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