Spring Colors--Some Floral, Some Not

perennial bed

After a wild winter, we've been rewarded with a swinging spring. After a few days of 90 degree weather, we woke up to frost. Despite it being weeks past the frost date. And we've been veering between drought and mud. One night it's 28, and two days later, the high 80's. Anyone who doubts climate change should live here.

Despite the bipolar weather, the flowers have been particularly beautiful this spring. The tulips and hyacinths came and went quickly, the irises stayed a while. The columbine and bluebells were quite happy.

back bed

The herb garden is pretty well established in the old dairy. The ruins, especially the wall between the dairy and summer kitchen, have suffered weathering, so we hope this year to put a narrow roof over the wall and the old trough, to protect them some from rain and snow. Nothing, it seems, can prevent the cats and dogs from clambering over them, but a roof will help slow deterioration, anyway.

herb garden
On the left, betony, then white flowering sweet woodruff. The tall stuff to the left of St. Francis is tarragon, and the purple flowers are chives. The gray stuff to Francis' right is gray santolina, and next come purple sage. Far right, green santolina. All are medieval medicinal or household herbs.

That's one kind of color. This is another.

south wall

No, this isn't Photoshopped. Yes, it's really pink. No, we're not crazy.

You see, old brick houses shouldn't be painted. Modern bricks may be water-resistant or waterproof, but old bricks soak up moisture like a sponge. When you see an old brick house that's been painted, you're looking at a house with serious interior moisture problems.

Before paint, there was colorwashing. In historic preservation, colorwashing is making a comeback, with good reason. A lime and pigment mixture, applied in successive coats, gives an old brick house a protective coat that acts like paint. The lime flows into and seals all the little microcracks and fissures that repointing can't address. The pigment, fixed in place, provides the color.

It takes a few coats. On the left, you're seeing the first coat. From the road it's quite bright. After a few days of curing, the second coat will go on and turn the house brighter, more like a salmon color. The third coat, which will be heavy on pigment and light on lime, will bring the wall back to the customary dark red color.

color trials

This is the first of a succession of color trials, as we experimented with pigments and colorants. You're looking at two coats of ocher and lime. But because ocher is really expensive and we have to ship it across the country, we figured out that we can use mortar coloring for the first two coats. Then it was just a matter of figuring what combination of colorants will provide a good base for the final ocher-intensive coat.

Here are more color trials, one after another in search of the right combination and the proper final coat. We'll lose the white joints on most of the house. In the 19th century, somebody thought it was a great idea to paint thin white lines in the joints (called "penciling"). We'll keep the old surfaces on the porches, which have been protected and haven't been weathered like the exposed walls have.

color trials color trials

The final color is in the right picture, above the rain ledge (the slanted row of bricks that marks the line between the basement and first floor) on the right. In the left picture, look in the big splotch above the rain ledge. It's the middle one of the three, the one that looks a lot like the old color.

Now that the repointing is finally finished but for the back wall, which is in awful shape and is going to take a long time to restore, we're going to colorwash the house one section at a time, working our way around the front and north sides of the house. As we go, we'll restore the windows and hang the shutters. Figuring that it'll take at least twice as long as our best estimates, this should take all summer (or all year).

the happy horse chestnut
A happy horse chestnut blooming by the river.

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