Helen's Garden Renovation Project

Saturday 13 September 2014

Am I nearly there yet?

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 3:39 pm

Both the weather and my back have behaved well, and here is the result:

Back lawn nearly finished

Back lawn nearly finished

I estimate that I can finish the job in two more sessions if the remaining section contains very little rubble. I hit a bad patch of rubble last week, but in my last two sessions there has been almost nothing to get rid of.

I’m quite surprised I managed to make this much progress. At the start, I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to finish the job by mid-September, but I have found that if I do no more than 60 to 90 minutes of digging a day, my back doesn’t mind too much. And with the continued dry weather, the soil has become drier and thus a lighter weight to shift. I have no more turf from the old back lawn to bury in the trenches, but I have been digging up turf from the front lawn to reveal a large cherry tree root which I want to dig out this autumn.

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Saturday 6 September 2014

Making a new lawn

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 4:55 pm

The lawn was going to be the last thing that I did because of needing to estimate how much more soil I would need. However, I changed my mind because September is a very good time to sow seed, and there’s still a chance that I might be ready to do the sowing this month if (1) the weather is favourable and (2) my back doesn’t give up.

So I ordered 20 bags of compost from The Compost Centre and started digging. You can see where I have got to by the change in colour of the soil. It seemed like quite a daunting task at first because it’s so tiring that I don’t let myself do more than 1.5 hours in a session. I have mixed in 11 bags of subsoil from digging out the octagonal pond, and several bags of unwanted topsoil donated by my parents. Their soil is chalk, so I have put it towards the middle of the lawn area so it won’t affect any ericaceous plants I grow next to the lawn. I still have 10 bags of compost left to add. And I am over halfway there.

Digging over the lawn area

Digging over the lawn area

That is, halfway there in area. In terms of work it may be less than halfway because most of the area I have dug over so far has been dug over before. I am now coming to the part which was seeded by the builders and has never been cultivated. I have dug up three large chunks of breezeblock, a tub of tile adhesive and several plastic bags, among other things.

The forecast is good, and I have some leave from work coming up, so if my back can hack it, then the lawn might be sprouting by the end of the month! What I need to do soon is to try and estimate whether I need any more soil to finish the job, and order it if I do need some.

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Sunday 17 August 2014

One or two steps at a time

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 1:01 pm

Since my last post I have been slowly but steadily getting on with laying my stepping stones in the right hand side of the garden. I put eight around the pond, and then five to make a path towards the greenhouse and compost bins. Originally I was going to have six in the path, but after laying them down and walking round them and looking at them through the window I decided that five was better. So I now have a spare slab for if one of them cracks.

I have set 11 of them in mortar. Just the farthest two remain to be set. When I first started laying stepping stones, my dad said I shouldn’t get them completely level because then water wouldn’t drain off them. Last week Callum, one of my colleagues at work, said the same thing. I find it amusing and flattering in equal measure that they should think I would be capable of getting a paving stone so level that water wouldn’t drain off it. In the picture below you will see that I am using three spirit levels in a desperate attempt to make the slabs less wonky. Sometimes I do manage to get one of them nearly level, but as far as I can tell, that seems to be governed as much by chance as my skill.

Stepping stones around pond and to compost bins

Stepping stones around pond and to compost bins

The algae I tried to stick to the pond edge (see last but one entry) all got blown off or kicked off by pigeons. Blobby algae doesn’t work. Strandy algae is what’s required. Should have listened to my boss. Story of my life.

Fortunately the pond is now cultivating its own supply of strandy algae so I can gradually hoik it out and layer it on the pond edges.

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Saturday 12 April 2014

Four years on

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 3:08 pm

Today is the fourth anniversary of Dave’s death. The rhododendron I planted on the first anniversary died, so today I planted another one.

The rhododendron, the tortoise and me

The rhododendron, the tortoise and me

Before I planted it, I dug out all the soil and replaced it with soil from elsewhere, mixed with a good helping of ericaceous compost. I never found any evidence of the cause of death of the last one (e.g. vine weevil). I hope that if there was anything lurking in the soil that was responsible for killing the last rhododendron I have got rid of it, and that the new one will do better than the last one. The new one is a dwarf purple rhododendron called Impeditum.

This year’s garden ornament is a tortoise.

Rhodendron Impeditum and a tortoise

Rhodendron Impeditum and a tortoise

RIP, Dave. One day I will finish the garden and get all the algae out of the pond, I promise.

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Thursday 3 April 2014

Return of the Renovation Project

Filed under: Pond,Progress — Helen @ 1:41 pm

From this week onwards I am no longer doing extra hours at the day job. Until now it has been impossible to find time to do anything significant in the garden, and the winter rain and storms have also prevented any progress. But now I am back to 18.5 hours a week, and I am back in the garden!

My opening move was to pressure-wash the patio. This is more of a health and safety issue than a cosmetic one. Pressure washers were on offer at B&Q, so I went and bought one, and here are the before and after photographs.

Patio before pressure washing

Patio before pressure washing

Patio after pressure washing

Patio after pressure washing

After reading the dire warnings about being careful not to wash animals, car tyres or myself with the pressure washer, I thought it would be fearsomely vicious and would have all the grouting off as soon as look at it. But when I tried it with the standard “spray lance”, I was underwhelmed. Although the original colour of the slabs was appearing again, it felt a bit like cleaning them with a toothbrush. However, when I tried the “Dirtblaster”, I made much faster progress. I think it took about an hour to do the area photographed. I now need to wait until the patio dries, and sweep off the loose dirt. And, unfortunately, some bits of grouting. The grouting was in a poor condition before I started, and redoing it is another thing on the list.

It’s a good thing that the instructions do remind you to be careful what you wash. Once the sprayer was in my hand, it was very tempting to use it on things that weren’t really dirty, like the drainpipe, or mains cable, or the camellia. Fortunately I was able to to resist and focus my attention on the sandstone.

When I had finished the pressure washing, I turned my attention to my attempt at making an octagonal pond edge. I had decided in a review on Sunday that it was such an awful job that it was beyond redemption and I would have to start again. I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to remove my work, but it turned out to be a doddle – a few taps from the pickaxe and it was in pieces. The mortar didn’t even stick to the concrete blocks, so I can use them again. It just shows that if a job’s worth doing badly, it’s worth doing really badly.

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Sunday 8 December 2013

More space for the blueberries

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 4:35 pm

It was another dry and mild weekend, so I moved the blueberries. When I first planted them, I didn’t read the instructions which say that they should be planted 1.5 m apart. I also planted them too near the edge of the lawn and the edge of the greenhouse base, making it hard to net them. So they needed to be moved, and now was the perfect time.

Unfortunately I soon realised that there was no way I was going to be able to plant them 1.5 m apart. There just isn’t room. So I had to compromise. Some of the bushes are only just over a metre apart. But they do have over twice as much room as they did before I moved them.

Blueberries in their new positions

Blueberries in their new positions

The plants are still quite small, so they were easy to move. I carried each one over on a spade. As long as I remember to water them next year, they should be fine.

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Sunday 1 December 2013

An octagonal pond in front of an octagonal greenhouse

Filed under: Pond,Progress — Helen @ 4:47 pm

This morning it was again not too cold and not raining either, so I finished the octagonal edge. That is, finished it horizontally.

Octagonal pond edge in place

Octagonal pond edge in place

It was a really difficult job getting the edges to line up. I thought my form was accurate enough but it wasn’t. In the end I decided that the important thing was to get the front and back edges parallel with the patio edge, and the left and right edges perpendicular to the patio edge, and let the slanting edges fend for themselves. It looks fine when viewed from the patio, but if I look at it when standing on the lawn, I can see that the edges are not quite true. So I need to make sure I grow something sufficiently tall in between the lawn and the pond. Fortunately I am now quite used to the idea that the main objective of plant design is not to showcase the plants to their best advantage, or to juxtapose different textures, colours and heights so as to form an integrated and balanced scene, but to hide the deficiencies in the hard landscaping.

I now need to level off the edges by adding extra mortar, dig the pond itself, including a sloping edge for animals to get out, and a marginal shelf, and buy some pond liner, if anyone is selling any at this time of year. Unfortunately some very cold weather is forecast for Friday, so both digging and mortaring may be impossible. So it’s a good thing I took advantage of the mild and dry weekend.

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Friday 29 November 2013

The octagonal pond underway

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 5:51 pm

As I expected, not much progress has taken place since I increased my hours in the day job. I am very busy with my tutoring as well. However, today was not a working day, and the weather forecast was for a mild but not wet day, so I picked up my cement-mixing trowel and pounced. I had already made my form for the outside edge, and so all I had to do was to lay it out in the right place, adjust the angles and get the height right. It was no surprise to me that I found this a very difficult job, especially getting the form level. In the end I gave up, and decided to get the edge in the right place first, and then adjust its height with some extra mortar until it was level all the way round. So far I have done three out of eight edges.

The start of the edging for the octagonal pond

The start of the edging for the octagonal pond

I used concrete blocks because they made it easy to get the edge the same width all the way round and meant I did not have to make up much mortar. I have used about 11 litres so far, which is less than I have usually needed for a 600mm paving slab. After photographing my handiwork, I put a tarpaulin over the top to protect it from frost. If the weather is favourable, I will attempt to finish it on Sunday.

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Sunday 22 September 2013

Watercress results

Filed under: Pond,Progress — Helen @ 1:35 pm

After over a month of the watercress trial, I am not impressed with the outcome in the raised pond.

The algae in the raised pond after a month of living with the watercress

The algae in the raised pond after a month of living with the watercress

I think the blanketweed has shrunk a little bit from the edges, but that could be because we’ve had some rain. In the middle, it looks worse than it was before I added the watercress. On the other hand, the shallow pond looks less green than it was. In the raised pond I put the watercress in pots filled with gravel, whereas in the shallow pond I just chucked it in, so maybe that was a better way to apply it. Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s has issued a recall notice on its watercress because of a possible link to E coli. Sorry, Sainsbury’s, but I’m not going to fish it out of the pond and give it back, even though I’m not convinced it’s any use.

Over in Phase 3, I have been planning my new pond. I want an octagonal design to mirror the greenhouse, and I plan to create an octagonal edge from concrete bricks and mortar, and put the liner over the edge. That way, there won’t be a join between the liner and something else, and hence no leaks this time. I have sawn up some wood to make a framework for filling with the bricks and mortar, but not joined the pieces together yet. Instead, I have laid the framework out so I can spend some time looking at it from different directions and make sure that this is the right size and location for it. I had planned to make the pond have an exterior side of 60cm, but after I had sawn up the wood I realised I had not made any allowance for the thickness of the wood, which is 18mm. So the pond’s edges will actually be 58.2cm, but no one is ever going to check. If I were going to fill it with fish, I would need to buy 6% fewer fish, but I’m not.

Framework for octagonal pond

Framework for octagonal pond

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Sunday 11 August 2013

The illusion works

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 3:27 pm

Despite working extra hours at the day job, I am keeping up with the garden as well as I ever do. I am spending most of the time available cutting things back and weeding, but I am also digging up the turf in preparation for Phase 3, while I am thinking about where to put things like the pond and the blackberry frame.

This is a picture of the diagonal view of the garden.

The view across one diagonal of the garden.

The view across one diagonal of the garden.

I really do think that the illusion that Yvonne intended does work – the garden looks longer. And the hibiscus (the one at the back with lots of pink-purple flowers that you can’t really see at this resolution) has put on a lot of weight in its new, more open position. The apple trees are positively groaning with fruit. Up until now, when looking at my garden, I have had to use a lot of imagination to see how it will look when it’s completed. This summer, for the first time, I would say that there is more fact than imagination in the view. Illusion aside, the new garden is becoming real.

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