12 May Our Victorian Back Yard
Jill says she saw our eccentric neighbor staring at our garden walls this morning. She didn’t go out to greet him because she wasn’t sure if he liked what he saw. Our garden walls are six feet high and made of brick. This week we installed ornamental iron atop those walls for a thoroughly Victorian touch. It was specialty work, done by an ornamental iron company. We weren’t sure it’d ever get done because we’d been waiting two years for the iron.
The stuff we got for our garden walls is called “cresting.” During the Victorian era, you’d have seen a lot of it on top of buildings as well as walls. It’s not only for ornament but also for security. Cresting like ours discourages ne’r-do-wells from scaling a wall, something that has happened on a few occasions in our urban neighborhood. Just last year we discovered a large boot print in one of our flower beds.
You should know that Ornamental iron of such an elaborate design is no longer manufactured in the U.S. Ours had to come from China. If the molds themselves are not original, they are designed after the originals. You buy iron like this from an ornamental metal supplier. Baltimore happens to be home to one of the largest suppliers of ornamental iron in the nation: King Architectual Metal, located in the city’s industrial east side. Jill and I pored over their catalogue for hours. Then we contracted C & S Ornamental Iron (also on the city’s industrial east side) to install the pieces we ordered from King. But we had to wait two years for our order because there was none of our iron left in the U.S.A.
When I say “ornamental iron,” you may picture a blacksmith pounding hot metal over an anvil. But that kind of work is for artisans, not routine domestic installations, and getting that kind of work — blacksmithing — is as expensive as, say, contracting a famous portrait painter to paint your house. All custom iron work these days is a matter of welding together pre-cast pieces, with only occasional fabrication from scratch. Still, installing cast pieces demands a considerable amount of thought and finagling. Our cresting, for example, did not come with installation instructions or support braces. It’s not a do-it-yourself job, unless you know how to weld. But it is in keeping with our old house repair and renovation agenda, which is ongoing and, apparently, never-ending.
The guys at C & S made our installation look elegant by simply spot-welding each piece to a long metal plate that they bolted to the top of our walls. They also welded each cast piece to its neighborh to create a contiguous appearance. We were impressed with their work. Now, our backyard walls look thoroughly Victorian. It’s the kind of thing that the original home-owners would have appreciated.
The added bonus of our cresting is that now our cats can NOT get out of the yard. Even our fat old tom, Simon, thought nothing of leaping from our six-foot-wall to the sidewalk and then hightailing it down the street. Many a time I’ve had to chase after him. But no more. Simon isn’t happy about the new constraints but he’s getting used to lounging in the yard with his sister Sophie (who used to jump into the neighbor’s yard to chew on their flowers).
The thing we often forget is that, in its day, Victorian ornamentation looked modern, even cutting edge. Today it looks quaint and old fashioned in the best way — that’s why we like it. The equivalent today would be something sleek and minimalistic, I suppose. And perhaps today’s hi-tech look will appear thoroughly old-fashioned in a 100 years. Or perhaps, in an odd turn-around, the Victorian style cresting we’ve put up today will look cutting edge in 100 years. There’s really no logic in what is and isn’t fashionable.