Real Renovations: Garden Rescue!

Good afternoon readers! This afternoon we have to long awaited return of Jess, continuing her Real Renovations series… if you missed the first 4 instalments, you can catch up here. Jess has been absent whilst studying for her final postgraduate exams and because she hasn’t tooted her own trumpet enough here, I want to say a huge Congratulations to her for passing and finally having an exam free future! Thats not the only thing congratulations are in order for here as you’ll read… so I’ll hand you over to see what really is a real (and budget) makeover that I think you’ll all identify with.

So, it’s been quite a few months since my last post on Florence Finds, and Dan and I have been pretty busy, although I have to confess that not all of it has included DIY and house renovation. In November Dan and I got engaged while we were on holiday, and since then, instead of planning a wedding, I’ve been working and studying for postgraduate exams. So work on the house hasn’t been as extensive as I would have liked, although we have taken the opportunity to do some of the easier room makeovers which I’ll share over the next few months.

However, there is a ‘room’ that has changed dramatically in the last year, and that is the garden. Before we moved to the house, we lived in a flat with no outside space, and I really longed for a garden. Even as a child I have always enjoyed gardening, and it was always me, rather than my brother or sister, who wanted to help my parents in the garden or the allotment. I learnt then the satisfaction from seeing something grow that you have looked after, and I remember being especially, if not a bit inappropriately, proud when I grew cacti from seeds when I was about 7 years old!

But as is so often the case, the reality has been a little bit different from our expectations! We knew when we bought the house that the garden had been neglected and was quite overgrown, but hadn’t appreciated just how much work would be involved in sorting it out. There were two ancient ivy plants at the back of the garden that had been left to run wild, as well as a honeysuckle that had become so overgrown that it was taking up about a third of the garden and had ripped a fence panel down. To add to that was a strange raised gravel area and a thorny pyracantha bush with its inch long spikes that was out of control.

So last summer, I took a week off work and enlisted the help of my mum to tackle the jungle that was our back garden. I don’t know how many bags we filled, or how many trips to the local rubbish tip we made, but it was a lot! We snipped, chipped, pruned, sawed and dug out just about everything that week. The pyrancantha didn’t give up without a fight either, as its parting shot was a thorn through my foot reminding me that real gardeners don’t wear flip flops whilst digging! Dan spent most evenings for the rest of the summer digging out sand and gravel from the raised area in order to level it with the rest of the lawn. The ivy was about the only survivor that week, but its time came too and Dan has been tackling it in stages over the last few months.

By the time October came we were looking out over a very bare garden, and just about the only pretty thing in it was a David Austin rose called ‘Darcy Bussell’ that friend had bought us as a housewarming gift, and I had planted in a big pot. So with winter approaching, we decided to go with a quick fix and sow grass seed across the bare soil. We hoped it would avoid the garden becoming a mud pit over the winter. I think the neighbours all thought we were mad at this point because the garden looked more like an agricultural field than a suburban garden. And when we returned from our holiday in mid november and saw a greenish tinge over the soil, we had to look closely to see if it was moss growing on the boggy soil, or actually tiny grass shoots. Thankfully it was the latter and we were just as surprised as the neighbours that our thrifty B&Q value lawn seed had actually grown!

We didn’t really touch the garden over winter, instead watching anxiously as those little green shoots grew taller and thicker. As spring arrived we started to make some changes and I was eventually able to start planting. Dan was keen to have a vegetable patch so we took up the grass along one side of the garden and prepared the ground ready for some vegetables. In march I bought lots of vegetable seeds, and raised some in seed trays in the kitchen, and put others straight out in to the soil. Our mini allotment has now got peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, beetroots, courgettes and squash. It would also have lots of cabbages and broccoli if it wasn’t for the nicely fattened up wood pigeon that has been having dinner parties with all his wood pigeon friends in my vegetable patch!

It is expensive starting garden from scratch, so to save money I’ve bought smaller plants for the borders from supermarkets as well as garden centres, and friends and neighbours have given us cuttings too. I’ve grown some flowers from seeds and its been really satisfying seeing them now are in full bloom! We also haven’t changed much of the hard landscaping, instead working with what we already had. It means that we have to be a bit more patient and there is no instant garden makeover, but it has been worth the hours we have spent on it. And over the last few months it has been a great break from revision/revision avoidance tactic to go into the garden and titivate!

I’m a self confessed novice when it comes to gardening, and just because you can grow a cactus aged 7 does not mean you will make all the right choices when it comes to planting your own garden aged 30! But I love the anticipation of seeing what thrives and grows and what doesn’t. Despite never normally eating radishes, I loved eating one that had been grown in my own garden, and I’m patiently awaiting the taste of one of my home grown tomatoes too. I have made plenty of mistakes in the garden this year (like leaving my cabbages uncovered for the wood pigeon!), and I’m pretty sure I’ll make many more. But all in all, I got exactly what I wanted from my garden this year, which is a space where I can sit when the sun shines (or even when it doesn’t), and a relaxing outside space where we can entertain family and friends. A home grown tomato that actually tastes good will just be a bonus!

Jessica
x

Florence’s favourite: Gardening books

This morning, I thought I’d share some of the sources of the wealth of knowledge I’ve accumulated on gardening. Most of that came from books over the years and I love getting a recommendation for a good book. It’s also a little distraction from the dismal weather we’ve been having (bonus Florence points if you’ve secretly been looking out of the window thinking how good it is for your garden!) that will get you ready for next month’s warmer weather and gardening boom time.

So here goes…

  1. The Flower Expert – Dr D G Hessayon £6.19. Growing up, this was my bible. I used to read this book, cover to cover, every year when I was deciding what to plant. It tells you what conditions a plant likes, the size and spread it grows into and what sort of plant it is. It’s part of the best-selling Expert series with a book on nearly everything you could need and you can’t go far wrong with them. Must buys for the garden enthusiast or beginner!
  2. The Kitchen Gardener: Grow Your Own Fruit and Veg – Alan Titchmarsh £13.00 I got this one more recently, when we got the allotment. Arranged year by year with list of jobs to do, what to sow and when, and chapters on how to arrange your vegetable garden and rotate crops etc, it’s a great one to turn to for reference.
  3. Alan Titchmarsh – The Gardener’s Year Similar to the Kitchen Gardener, this is a month by month guide to your garden. Think of it as an old friend or taking the place of your grandad and his green thumb which could make anything grow. I love Alan’s books because he’s so no-nonsense and easy to read. No pretences and he has a healthy attitude to just getting on with planting.
  4. Small Garden – John Brookes £11.04 This last two were purchased when we moved into our house. John Brookes is a fantastic garden design writer and a name to look out for if you want to buy a gift you know will be decent. This collection of small garden inspiration is a real treat if you think your garden isn’t big enough to do anything with.
  5. Planting a Small Garden: Simple steps to success (RHS Simple Steps to Success) – RHS £4.89. Taking more of a practical approach, this book has lists of plants perfect for small gardens, from trees that won’t overshadow your patio spot, to plants for tricky shady borders or damp patches. It’s all easy to read and with loads of gorgeous gardens to feed your ideas!

So tell me, how does your garden grow this April?

Love,
Rebecca
xo

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