Blooming Marvellous

Today, the hottest day of the year (so far) my social media feeds are full of weather-related comments such as “don’t take your dog out” to “I’m baking to death in my car”, together with pictures of thermometers and friends larking around on beaches. You get the picture… us in the UK just LOVE a good old weather related whinge. We moan when it rains too much, we complain when it’s cold – basically we are a hard nation to please with the antics of Mother Nature. But we have to remember that our seasons are what makes us different… and makes our gardens unique.

Peering out of the window at my little patch (it’s a trifle warm to be out there at the mo – and that’s purely an observation – not a grumble!), it’s come on a long way in the last two years… So I thought I’d share a couple of progress pictures…

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April 2014 – just a patch of scrappy lawn and a god-awful concrete path…

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The patio – work in progress

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The new view down the garden. Out with the scrappy path, in with the borders!

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The bottom seating area… we can follow the sun to the last drop…

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Small but perfectly formed vegetable beds… the first runner beans are almost ready:)

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The new view up to the house. The planters to the left are pallets, lined and planted with strawberries. The row of bottles to the top right are an assortment of cava bottles filled with solar fairly lights and their corks have been trimmed down so they fit. They look brilliant at nightfall.

All in all I’m mightily chuffed with the results so far – It’s a beautiful place to entertain and relax with friends. Blooming Marvellous, in fact:):):)

New toy

Leafing through the Sunday mags, I happened across an image that fair old made my heart flutter. It was a photo of a group of people having a fine old barbeque on a beach. Nothing unusual with that, you might say… but it was the actual bit of kit they were cooking food on that piqued my interest.

A tripod barbeque! The contraption looked brilliant… roasty coals in the base, with a tripod construction over the top. The cooking rack is suspended from a chain attached to the tripod… meaning you can adjust the height of the rack. So simple! My barbeque prayers were well and truly answered. No more food offerings of random black items. Sausages spitting a little too enthusiastically? Flames getting a bit lary? Burgers looking a bit dry and cardboard-like? Raise the rack!

Deciding that if nothing else, I needed one of these crazy things in my life, I set about trawling the web for the goods. In no time at all, I located one – at a good price – next day delivery. In anticipation of the grand arrival, me and Lovely Chap whizzed off to the shops to fill our trolley with delicious barbeque fare.

I was actually quite giddy about the whole thing, and strongly resisted the urge to skip around the supermarket performing jaunty little heel clicks along the way.

Sure enough, the parcel arrived, and in no time at all, there it stood, in all its glory on the new decking. We put a slab and a tray of water underneath, just to be on the safe side. I’m no scientist but I do know that wood and naked flames can be a tricky combination.

So the coals were lit, the food went on, and the rack was raised and lowered throughout to produce the most delicious al Fresco spread I have ever tasted. Everything was cooked to perfection, with not a trace of black crusts, burnt spots, raw insides or early stages of salmonella in sight. An added by-product of the thing is that when the food is finished, you can whip off the tripod and use the base as a firepit. The wood went in, the heat went up, and a most enjoyable evening outside ensued.

A toasty warm one, at that:)

Tripod barbeque

Ta daaaah! First dinner on the new toy!

Decking – part 4

Once all the planks were laid, it was finally time to fix them to the base. LFC (lovely fit chap) and I soon swung into action, measuring, sawing, drilling pilot holes and screwing the sections together. I have to say when we get onto a job, we are like an absolute MACHINE!

After a couple of hours working in the blazing sun, the progress was amazing – the thing was taking shape before our very eyes. By decking on the three levels of the old wonky patio, we’d created a whole new area for seating, which was previously sloping concrete.

With two areas complete, I whizzed off to get some wood stain and happily set to work. The stain went on like a dream, and the final product is about to be unveiled. When we lifted the decking from LFC’s house, two panels also came along. Wanting to waste nothing, I racked my brains on where we could use them. Then it came to me – at the entrance! They would perfectly frame the area, and make the whole thing feel a bit continental. The pics below are what it would look like with and without the panels – We think it looks fab with them, but we’re open to ideas:)

Decking – Part 3

This weekend we were on a mission to make headway with the never ending decking project. All the wood was at my Lovely Fit Chap’s (henceforth known as LFC) house, so there was just the ‘small’ task of getting it over to Chook Cottage.

He arranged to borrow a van from work, and duly arrived to pick me up on Friday evening. The van was massive – so maneuvering it around my narrow-ish street was no mean feat – but the boy did good, and we made it through the entire weekend with no mishaps whatsoever.

Decking wood

Just some of the wood to load up

Without further ado we whizzed across to his house and started the mammoth job of getting all the wood loaded up.  We soon had a brilliant system in place where he brought the wood to the van, and I stacked it up in an orderly fashion – so we knew where everything was at the other end. As well as all the decking planks, we had a big pile of rough wood to chop for the fire, and three sections of the old decking base which we planned to turn into raised vegetable beds.

These were first off the van at the other end and we positioned them on the slate garden I laid last year. I set about moving the slate and taking the weed membrane out of each section ready for the topsoil and eventually the plants to go in.

Raised vegetable beds

Raised beds in progress

Next off the van was the wood for the decking. As fast as LFC could unload the wood and bring it to the garden, I was busily putting it in place on the base, to make sure we had enough planks to complete the job. In no time at all, it was all down in rough and we can finally start to see how the finished project will look. I know I’m biased, but I think it’s going to look pretty darn good!

Rough decking

Rough decking

Decking – part 2

As I mentioned before, my chap is having his garden decking redone, and the plan is to upcycle this to my house. Last weekend was spent lathering up a sweat, lifting his wood up to make space for his workmen. Said wood is currently stacked in the garden ready to sort and ship across to Chook Cottage. It’s all very exciting…

Decking base down

I can think of worse views…

With the work over there taking care of itself, this weekend we decided to hit my base. No – that’s not some kind of ‘hip DJ speak’… it’s literally to hit the base of the decking.

The chop saw came out and in no time at all, he is pacing the area, measuring up, chopping lengths and laying the base. The boy moves like a demon once he has a plan afoot! My task was to drill primer holes for the brackets at each angle joint, and we whizzed along like a dream team. In no time at all the base was down and just needed to be leveled all round.

Leveling the base involved packing bits of wood underneath the gaps to make a tight fit, so the whole thing doesn’t wobble around when you walk on it. Thinking I was being helpful (and slightly manly) I whizzed over to the chop saw to fashion some wedges to pop underneath. There I was, merrily sawing away, when disaster almost struck…

Chop saw

The killer chop saw

Evidently I was being a tad over ambitious with the size of the wedges, which were getting smaller with each cut. The last one was evidently too small to handle and the saw flicked the wood backwards, trapping my finger momentarily against the saw guide. Now this was a split second of my life… but it hurt like a bugger. And woke me up to the fact that the chop saw was indeed a mighty tool that could do some damage… and hence I kept my distance from it for the rest of the day. Note to self: Lumberjack: not a future career option.

Apart from that, the rest of the afternoon went swimmingly, and the base is now complete and level, and ready for the wood to be laid down. Now it’s taking shape, I think it’s going to look brilliant when it’s finished.

Decking

Hello…

Helloooo….

Anyone there?….

OK. I have massively neglected the blog, and it’s been an AGE since I popped in for an update. So to all you followers who have moved on, I bid you farewell and hope you have a good life… but for all you stragglers that are still here, I welcome you with open arms, and kiss you virtually on both cheeks.

A new project is underway at Chook Cottage. And if you are into recycling/upcycling/using stuff that was heading for the bin, this will be right up your street.

I’m laying decking. Oh yes… with my collection of four saws and a workbench in the shed – complete with goggles – I’m turning my hand to man-tasks. Actually, slight elaboration of the truth. I have a willing man in tow who is helping with said man-task.

Outside the back door is a small patio with a couple of steps down to the garden – all adorned with some shabby slabs and wonky concrete at the moment. It looks fine with pots on it, but how much better will it look when it’s all kitted out with glorious decking!

The patio now

The patio now

Now here’s the magic bit. The decking will cover quite an area, but will be virtually free. Yes… FREE!

A while back I was gifted a trailer full of wood to chop up for my fire and log burner. Some of this was brilliant quality hardwood, having come out of an old attic conversion. We have used lengths of this to start constructing the wooden base for the decking to attach to.

The actual decking itself is coming from my new chap’s garden. He is in the process of having his decking completely relaid as it’s a few years old and basically looks a bit sad. So last weekend was spent merrily pulling up all the planks from his garden… and these will be moved to my garden in due course to be laid and stained. I can picture it now… upcycling at its very best!

I’ll be back with regular progress reports:)

 

Coming together like a big fat plan

Following on from my excellent cunning plan for aquiring free plants, I had a message from a friend saying he was having a bit of a border sort out and would I like some of the stuff he was getting rid of? The word ‘yes’ came out faster than an angry wasp, and this weekend found me paying a visit and loading my plant booty into the back of my car.

Whilst there I noticed his hostas in tubs were actually the biggest specimins I have ever seen. Massive tubs, with lush foilage tumbling out of them – they were an absolute picture (and slightly impressively, he knew all their proper names too). These beauties were a tad different from my own patio pot, and I needed to know how on earth he’d achieved this. Back came the simple answer:

“I feed them.”

“With what though? Rocket Juice?? I need the secret formula!” I replied.

He then went on to show me the snacks of choice, and his method was simple. If you want lush, green foilage, feed with nitrogen-rich plant food; for flowers and fruit, feed with potassium-rich. The stuff he was using wasn’t even top of the range expensive food either. So simple, and yet so effective.

I vowed to pick up some plant food when next in town, and whizzed home to rehome my haul. He’d gifted me some clumps of Agapantha; one of my favourites which will look splendid at the entrance to the garden, and a plant that will produce big daisy-like flowers. In addition came a bag of Rudbekia seeds.

Looking around the garden, I have to say, it’s gone a bit bonkers. The wild flower seeds sown at the beginning of the season have blossomed into a riot of colour, so much so that I’m struggling to see the soil now. These include cornflowers, assorted poppies, and some mystery guests that I don’t know their name. But it doesn’t matter – they look spectacular, and every day holds a new surprise. One of my favourites absolutely has to be the humble poppy. From a droopy bud on a tender stalk one day, it appears to straighten out and pop its pod overnight, revealing the most vivid, satin petals against a stamen centre. As they unfurl, I can almost hear them shout ‘Ta Daaa!’.  When the flowers fade, I’ll save the seeds and packet them up to share with friends, so we can all enjoy a touch of nature next year.

And of course, in addition to the gorgeous display, the garden is absolutely buzzing with wildlife activity – different varieties of bees, hoverflies and ladybirds, and we even have a family of wolf spiders who appear in a line and bask at the side of the patio.

From an empty patch of soil and a patchy bit of grass, I allowed myself a small, smug pat on the back, as it’s all coming together like a big, fat plan.

Wildlife garden is blooming lovely

Wildlife garden is blooming lovely

Blooms in July

This blog post needs little in the way of words… the pictures should speak for themselves:)

Frilly poppy

Frilly poppy

The little patio

The little patio

Poppy

Poppy

Sweet peas

Sweet peas

A lovely place to chink glasses on a summer's eve

A lovely place to chink glasses on a summer’s eve

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I don’t know the name of this one, but it’s beautiful

All change at Chook Cottage

Well, well, well – we’ve had a busy old time of it, here at Chook Cottage. So much so, there’s been barely time to put pen to paper, or indeed, fingers to keyboard…

The first big change is that we should purely be called ‘Cottage’ from now. The chooks are no more. Looking out on the garden a week or so back, I decided to re-home Liza and Judy, the faithful old chickens. The garden isn’t ideal for them to roam free, and they tend to trash any areas they are on rather rapidly, so I put a few feelers out and they’ve now gone off to a lovely new place with lots more chickens for company. The patch they were on would also make an ideal little vegetable plot: lovely and fertile, and close to the house. I’d originally planned to grow a few vegetables in amongst the borders, but this has failed dismally. The flower seeds planted at the beginning of the season have literally burst into life, and hence tended to smother anything in their path.

On the upside though, all the new flowers and foliage appear to have attracted insects into the garden, so we now have a thriving population of bees and ladybirds. The ladybirds are keeping the greenfly at bay, so I’m delighted to say that it’s a win, win all round.

The next change is that the little patio at the end of the garden now has seating, so we can enjoy the last rays of the sun. The first plan was to put a little bistro set on there, but I figured if you moved your chair back and fell off the edge, it could all end in disaster. So I plumped for a sturdier option: a wooden love seat – two chairs with a table attached between. This was ordered online and arrived the very next day, so without further ado I whizzed off down the garden to assemble it. After a couple of hours wrestling with numerous bits of wood, random screws and allen keys, it’s now in situ and we’re looking forward to many summer evenings out there.

I’ve also decided to install an arch at the top of the garden to frame the entrance, which should be delivered any time soon.

With the new design in mind, this weekend was spent humping slabs about and defining the borders ready for the new arch and vegetable patch. After a sweaty old afternoon digging and raking the area, a quick rummage in my seed collection produced several varieties of carrots and beetroot, some mixed salad leaves, radish, fennel and celeriac. I’ve never eaten celeriac in my life, but if they do grow, I’m sure I’ll find a good use for them.

So now, with the hard work over, it’s time to sit back and watch the fruits of my labour. Preferably with a glass of something yummy. The only big dilemma is which patio do I sit upon?

Garden patio with love seat

Garden patio with love seat

Wormery

Most gardeners are aware that decent compost and a bit of fertilizer always goes down well in the garden. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a compost bin, but to be honest, with other things going on in the garden, it hasn’t been at the top of the ‘to do’ list.

Wandering around town in the week, I spotted something in one of the charity shops that really did pique my interest. A wormery. For a bargain price. With no further ado (and not a clue what I was actually going to do with the thing) I snapped it up and whisked it off home.

I’d heard about wormerys, and how they could be an alternative to a compost bin. I did know that the worms eat waste and convert it into a liquid fertiliser that apparently is great for the garden. Other than that, I was a tad clueless. On arriving home, I consulted my old friend Google (he knows EVERYTHING) and spent a pleasurable afternoon researching my new addition to the garden.

The first thing I found out is that you can’t use common old garden earthworms – you need special composting worms. These were found easily enough on a popular auction site, and should be arriving in the post at any time soon. In preparation for their arrival I whizzed out to set up their new home.

According to the advice on the web, worms are pretty undemanding, just needing a sheltered spot (not too hot in the summer; not too cold through winter), to be kept moist, and fed carefully.

With this in mind, I sited it in a lovely sheltered part of the garden which is luckily also quite close to the house which will be handy for me to nip out and feed them.

The wormery consists of a section at the bottom which collects the liquid fertiliser, followed by three compartments that sit on top of this. The theory is that you start the worms off in the first compartment, gradually utilising the ones above as it starts to fill up. The worms should move up during time, and the bottom compartments should then be full of compost to use on the garden.

Being second hand, my wormery came complete with a layer of compost in one compartment, which should provide an ideal substance for their bedding. On top of this went a little kitchen waste – apparently you feed sparingly until they’re established – a sprinkling of water, and the whole thing is now ready for its new inhabitants. They appear to be unfussy creatures, and should happily eat any kitchen scraps apart from onions, citrus peel or meat and fish. Once it’s up and running, they will also benefit from some ripped up cardboard.

It’s all rather exciting to think that a bunch of old worms will soon be chomping through our peelings and leftovers, creating compost and fertilizer in the process.

Nature at its best.

Wormery

Wormery