Garden plans, old and new

One of the reasons I wanted to start this blog was so that I had somewhere to document the updates to our home, so our family could see what was going on, and also so that we could look back and appreciate just how much hard work we’ve put into our home. Particularly as Jamie and I always want things finished yesterday its a nice way for us to document the changes. So this post is a general update on how we’ve got the garden to its current progress point, with some ideas of how we plan to finish it this year. It’s a bit of a long one with loads of messy photos, so you might want to put the kettle on and get comfy, but hopefully you’ll realise just how much time and effort it’s taken to make the garden look this unfinished – and so will we!

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When we were looking to buy one of the things we really wanted was a garden. Being in a second floor apartment we didn’t have our own outdoor space to enjoy the summer months (the balcony was always in the shade) and so we craved the outdoor space. I know not many places down South have the luxury of space for a decent sized garden, but from being up North where everyone has a green garden I really wanted some proper greenery in my life and Jamie wanted (still wants) a man-cave. Plus with two bunnies and a dog we not only wanted a garden, we now needed one. So when we moved in to Liskeard it was like we hit the jackpot, but with absolutely no idea of how to garden, or even tools to try and get started with!

The previous owner of the property was a single mum who basically said she couldn’t keep up with the maintenance of the garden as it was so big, and so that was one of the reasons she was looking to move. The back garden is 200ft x 50ft (61m x 15m) and when we moved in it was mostly laid to lawn with the exception of the overgrown brambles hiding the horror beneath. At the far end of the garden was a huge wooden workshop blocking about 50% of the view beyond the garden, sat on a concrete block. There were also two sheds halfway down the garden and a smaller wendy shed closer to the house sat on another concrete block and a pile of shingle.

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That first night we slept on a sofa bed in the conservatory and when we woke up the next morning super early because we were excited it was to bird song and an amazing view. We’d picked the right place! Luckily Jamie’s parents were feeling the same enthusiasm as they turned up with a car full of gardening tools so we could get straight to work on stripping out all the brambles and taking down some of the sheds.

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That first weekend with the help of Jamie’s parents and a friend we dragged down and burnt the two rotting garden sheds and the workshop at the bottom of the garden. We also dragged out a fair amount of rubbish from behind the sheds ready to be skipped. We had all the tools on the go; chainsaws, hedge strippers, lawn strimmers to cut back the hedges, the majority of the overgrown area (until we came across the asbestos) and removed lots of spiky, thorny bushes which were starting to creep into the garden from the field next door. Of course we had a huge bonfire which literally burned non-stop for 48 hours and left behind a blackened crater in the garden. This wasn’t really an issue though as we have until very recently been using that same burnt patch for all our garden fires and so lets just say it became a semi-permanent garden feature.

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After watching Arthur scale 6ft fences when he was a puppy it was clear that we would need to make a secure enclosure for him whilst we were at work. He couldn’t be trusted to not jump the fence, nor be left in the house all day as he rather embarrassingly and traumatically flooded our last property, and the apartments below us. Therefore our first priority was to build a secure dog run, with a roof, to keep Arthur safe and us sane. Again Jamie’s family were on hand to help out with design, sourcing materials at a low cost and construction. We decided to put this along the left hand side of the garden, rather than across the bottom so as to not obstruct the view. At the time we were considering making Jamie’s man cave, so we left some space behind the dog run, that way we could slot it in behind, or make it an L-shape, again without blocking too much of the view.

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For two years we left the rubble piled up!

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Round about the same time we learnt the decking was rotten and so we also started on ripping out the decking, removing more rubbish and redesigning the shape of the decking to create more floor space, better access to the garden and increase the privacy of the decking area. The original shape of the decking was a long thin rectangle which stuck out at the side of the house, with a small set of steps in the middle. We decided to make the decking square with the edges of the house and conservatory, but curve the steps round the edge so that the actual decking is more like a 50p. The photo might make more sense. One of the things I was keen to avoid with the new decking was having vertical spindles like the previous model. It used to make my eyes go funny looking through them and took away from the view. Instead we opted for a simple wooden top rail and metal catenary wire running horizontally round the decking and we added some little lights round the edge of the flooring. We also decided not to treat or paint the decking because we knew we couldn’t keep up with the maintenance of it, and this was another reason the old decking looked a bit shabby.

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We lived with it like this for a year!

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In between all of this we had a simple fence erected on the left side of the garden so Arthur couldn’t escape under the hedge and had a lovely big wooden farm gate hung on the side of the house so that the garden was enclosed. We also put up an electric fence down the right side of the garden to prevent Arthur jumping it to chase rabbits, foxes and horses and to go fishing in the farmer’s pond. We also scraped back all the shingle that was sat down the side of the house, levelled the area off with dolomite and then added a layer of stones to finish. The garden then sat like this for a year or so without any change.

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I’ve made this sound like a very quick and easy project, but it really wasn’t. For months we lived with sheets of mdf balanced across the drive as we didn’t have the tools or time to hang the gates. We walked a gang plank onto a slippery slope into the garden for months, until I inevitably slipped over and severely hurt my back. Then we had decking without safety rails, which was fine as we’re adults, but it meant the dogs leapt off the decking and churned up the lawn on landing – those holes are still there. We also chased Arthur over the fence, across the field and down the road into the stables on an average of 4 times a day for a good year before I lost my shit and we installed an electric fence. To be fair to him he did used to come back and sit at the front door, but that’s not really the point. Basically it’s taking a lot longer to complete than we originally anticipated!

It wasn’t until last spring/summer that we started to work on the garden again. We’d built up some money and Jamie had given himself a few months off from work to take time out to de-stress and get the garden into a better shape. We’d also just found out I was pregnant and so we really wanted to get the garden finished so that when Summer came round we could spend a lot of time in the garden with the baby and the dogs.

So last year saw Jamie fitting a hazel hurdle fence the full length of the property from front to back. I am willing to take all the credit for how good this looks as I chose it! I love how natural it looks, it’s really suited to the surrounding environment and instantly made our garden look more like a garden, rather than just a sectioned off bit of field.

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The next thing Jamie did with the help of our neighbour and his digger was to start levelling the ground at the bottom of the garden. After we’d initially dug up the concrete block to use for the dog run base, we basically just left the remains of the rubble down there for a steady two years. Yes that’s right two years. There was some method behind this laziness though, as when we came to decommission the old cesspit under our drive, we knew we would dump the rubble into it, so we didn’t just have a giant hole underneath our drive. Anyway between Jamie and our neighbour they cleared all the rubble and levelled the ground as best they could. This included getting rid of the very well established fire pit! As our property is sat on a gradient with the garden sloping downwards, it does mean that in the winter with our heavy clay soil the bottom of the garden is essentially a mud pit. This is one of the reasons we had to add a garden path. In an ideal world I’d have preferred not to have a path, however trudging up and down the garden to put the dogs in the run was a muddy affair, and so we really added this out of necessity.

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In the end Jamie went back to work and we hired a local company to do the next stage of the garden, which was to clear the brambles in the field along the bottom fence, lift and reinforce the bottom fence and then build up the bottom of the garden. We’re hoping that not only has this ground raise made the garden more balanced to look at, but that it also improves drainage in the winter months.

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This area will now be home to our BBQ and when it gets warmer, a dining table set and maybe an L-shaped sofa with a fire-pit. Yes, you’re right, it took us nearly 3 years to come up with a plain rectangle at the bottom of our garden with a path running straight to it. What wild imaginations we have! But as the garden is South facing it’s a real sun-trap and it’ll be so good to have friends over for a BBQ without looking onto a pile of overgrown weeds/rubble/dirt/brambles etc.

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So what’s next? The next plan is to finish securing the last few panels of hazel hurdles behind the dog run, we’ve gone for 6ft panels here to ensure privacy from the public footpath next to the house. We’ve also started making a raised planter next to the dog run with sleepers (the square mud patch on the left). I’m thinking lots of tall, bushy shrubs, anything that’s not easy for dogs to trample to death! We need to level off the last bit of lawn (on the right) where the digger has churned it up and fill holes in the lawn created by our very own Maggie. Once this is done we’re going to call in a company to come and treat the lawn so that it stays weed free and then all we need to do is keep it cut in the summer. The lawn needs edging and lots of frothy, bushy plants adding in to the flower beds with some forget-me-nots to soften the straight edges of the path. Again I’m looking for something low maintenance as I really don’t have any gardening skills and let’s be honest the dogs will be hurdling the plants and the path on a daily basis. I also want to paint the bunny shed that we bought last year as it’s very orange! I was hoping it would fade quite quickly like their hutch did, but it is showing no signs of being any less fluorescent. Any suggestions for colours would be welcome as I really have no idea what to go for.

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I really really want us to have this finished before I go back to work, so that when summer comes round the plants will be well established and we can then kill them with neglect and drought! No really, I’d like it done before I go back as then in theory it should only need maintaining on a weekend, rather than completing any major works. I’d also like to keep the promise that we made to ourselves that we would have it ready for this summer coming. Although we won’t have Beatrice with us I’ve always seen this last bit of work as something we’re doing in her memory. Neither of us really know what we’re doing though and we’ve definitely bitten off more than we can chew. Saying that though there’s really nothing more satisfying than spending a day pottering in the garden and getting the BBQ on at the first sight of clear skies. We actually had our first BBQ of 2018 last February if I remember rightly, so fingers crossed that the sun comes out again soon!

Lauren star

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