The Garden: After

As the Autumn is in full swing, I thought I’d share the picture of my finished garden, probably as good as it’s going to get before everything starts to die off for the winter. As you can see if you look back at my last post, the plants have filled out dramatically.

I absolutely love it. If we left this house I would miss the garden more than anything I think.

Before we start, some obligatory before and after shots – the ‘before’s’ with the garage are from the beginning of May and the photos in this post were taken in mid September, so its has really changed massively in less than 5 short months.

I am SO glad we got rid of the garage. Of course we have the luxury of a cellar to store ‘stuff’ in but in all honesty it’s a few garden tools and a lawnmower. nothing a shed couldn’t have handled and it has been so worth it for the extra space in a small garden.

The only thing that is different other than the planting in these pictures from the last post is that we finally finished off the decking with a glass and steel balcony to protect the edges. I think lots of people think we are mad having such a big open stepped area down but it was an integral part for me of keeping the deck a part of the garden, rather than two areas, and due to the cellars there would always be a drop from stepping out of the house, down to the garden. short of a ramp, nothing would have been ‘safe’ for Bea.

I have a ton of pictures to share so I’m going to split this post into two. There will be more tomorrow with the detail of the design and planting. Once again, the design and landscaping was all by Iain at Outer Space Lanscapes and I wouldn’t hesitate to work with him again – he was brilliant to work with, hardworking and did an amazing job. In fact we will be asking him to re-landscape the front garden in the future. I will just share the vegetable area of the garden today.

Some of you may remember we had an allotment before we moved and gave it up knowing the house would take up our time, that we planned a family and that we hoped to grow some veg in the new garden. I asked for some custom designed raised vegetable beds to be incorporated in to the design and space for a greenhouse, and I’m so glad we did. I love pottering in my working corner of the garden but it looks just as good as the rest of it!

I wanted a wooden greenhouse but they are so expensive and eventually we found this tiny one online. It was less than half the price of most as it is untreated, meaning we had to protect it with a stain and protect product but I wanted to Paint it anyway so it was not great loss. It’s also got plastic windows which I wasn’t that thrilled about, but painted up, I love it. It still has some of the green plastic film on the windows in these pictures and the inside needs painting still too, but it has been fab for growing in and we had our first tomatoes in there this year.

For the veg beds we concentrated on stuff we would use, that crops heavily and in a short space. 2 courgette plants kept us fed for the whole summer, we grew salad leaves, runner beans, peas and broad beans. And I had a corner of sweet peas solely for cutting.

Come back tomorrow for some more photos of the planting and detail 🙂 Maybe I’ll periscope it when we get a sunny day!


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!


The Allotment Diaries… May

It’s time I updated you on the allotment… fast becoming an allotment saga in our house for a multitude of reasons. May has been a wash out, not least because of the weather.

You might think that rain followed by sun is a good thing for plants, I certainly did. Surely lots of rain to help the seeds germinate and then sun to help them grow constitutes perfect conditions? Apparently not and thinking on, it’s not hard to see why. Rain would have been good, had it been accompanied by warmer weather, but sadly the lower than average temperatures didn’t signal to the seeds that it was time to germinate. Seeds need the ground to warm up you see, indicating the spring/summer growing season. Next thing was the sun baking the ground hard and although the warmth came, the poor seeds still couldn’t germinate as they had no moisture.

A view over all the allotments

Why am I waffling on about the intricacies of seed germination? Well, as a result of all that the allotment is a great big flop. Some things have done well and although not flourishing like they should be come mid-June, there’s a fair bit of growth going on. I’ve got broad beans at about a foot high and flowering already, but the runner beans have all been eaten by slugs. Ditto the peas, all but a single solitary plant that seems to have done well and is growing and looking a little lonely!

A view over all the allotments

Three rows of lettuce, spinach and salad leaves have produced little other than a few lettuces which I thinned out and re-spaced today. Hopefully they will survive but a bed of broccoli and cabbage, plus a row of pak choi has been decimated by slugs into oblivion. It’s so upsetting.

Broad beans on the left and onion rows on the right.

However, there have been some successes and even surprises. The potatoes are doing well and we have rows of onions that although in need of a good weed, have thrived. Last year my carrots failed to germinate as did the parsnips and not to be put off this year I bought pre-germinated trays of both round and traditional carrots, and parsnips. Planted out just over a month ago, they’re thriving too, with little orange carrot tops just showing above the surface of the soil.

My carrots

The raspberries are laden with fruit which is fattening up nicely, so I’ve made a mental note to net them off before the birds have a field day. Most successful of all though? The thing we pay least attention to and still grows rampant… the strawberry bed. Last year I planted 12 strawberry plants and could easily have quadrupled the amount of plants this year although I haven’t divided them, I did take several to a friend’s house where they are also doing well. If you’re in the mood to divide yours, just let the shoots they send off (called runners) touch the ground and pin them down. They will grow roots and then you can cut off the runner as the new plant has its own support system, and replant it wherever you like.

The strawberry bed, heavy with fruit waiting to ripen

It’s funny, I don’t think I’ve ever had less success as a gardener than I have this year so far, but instead of giving up, I’ve planted more beans and peas in trays at home, along with a tray of beetroot and some purple sprouting broccoli to plant out when conditions are more conducive to success. We shall see. It’s never too late to try again.

So how is your garden growing?


Florence’s Favourite… Grow your own Veg

This week, my mind is already wandering towards the four day weekend approaching. Mine is looking like a mixed bag of glammed up fun with friends, days out in the country and a visit home to catch up with the family. It’s going to be good. So this week on the blog I’m leaning towards sharing some things to make your Easter weekend a little bit better, whether that be in the style stakes, or getting the garden sorted.

This morning, that’s where we are starting, the garden, or more specifically, it’s time for me to update you on the Allotment!

We’ve been a bit lax on the Allotment over the winter, aside from the prematurely early cold snap before Christmas, since the New Year we’ve been so busy gallivanting that we’ve not had any free weekend time to head down there. Now the light nights have arrived though, I’ll be heading down in the week to keep on top of it. Any of you who followed me over here from RMW may remember that the allotment we got was reclaimed land by the council at the edge of the pre-existing allotments and we had to wrestle it back out of the hands of perennial weeds and rubble. Here’s a few pics to remind you…

The first pictures we took of our allotment when we got it, completely covered in weeds, then the first bit of clearing we did and the new path.

We managed to cultivate well over two thirds of it last year, set up a compost bin, a plastic grow-house in lieu of ever more expensive greenhouses, some rotating beds and learnt a lot about vegetable growing that was new to me, having been more of a flower gardener before. Having not been for a while and knowing we had lost the grow-house in the winds this January, I was kind of dreading what we would find going back down this spring, but it’s not looking too bad!

A lot of what we grow this year is going to be based on working around what we learned last year. I’m a great believer in working with your growing conditions rather than battling against nature, although I will give some things that failed last year another go… The carrots that didn’t sprout, the peas that Pete accidentally weeded and garlic that also didn’t grow.

Our great successes were in the form of beans, both broad and runner, and as a result of the heavy crop we reaped (and distributed!) I’m growing less this year. The potatoes were also a success and were edible, stored in a traditional potato sack, right through until January this year. The best thing however were the onions. We are still eating last years onion crop which have stored beautifully and I’m proud every time I reach into the cupboard for one to add to our dinner!

Last year’s growing, including the rotating beds and rows of canes for the beans.

Of course, I know that many of you don’t have a whole allotment, so I thought I’d put together a little list of tips for growing vegetables whatever the size of your garden. The most important thing to remember is the conditions. Vegetable plants, regardless of type, work really hard producing crops which requires a lot of energy, so they always need a sunny spot.

Grow your own!
1. First up, potatoes! Possibly the easiest things in the world to grow and they produce a heavy crop. If you’ve got something at home that resembles an old fashioned tin bin or an empty water butt you can happily grow these in a corner somewhere. Fill the bin about half full and place your seed potatoes, (buy these anywhere, from a garden centre to B&Q and they’re best left in the light for a couple of weeks to start sprouting a little shoot. This is called chitting,) sprout pointing upwards, then cover with 6-8 inches of soil. As the shoots poke through, continue adding more soil week by week, the potatoes form along the stalks that are growing upwards, so the taller they get the better. It also keeps the potatoes well under ground to stop them going green and inedible if exposed to light.

Signs of life this year, a Peony plant (top) for my cutting border, the strawberries and Pete clearing up into the compost bins.

2. Courgettes. If you have a friend who also has a garden (or even better, a few,) then share a packet of seeds between you for courgettes as a two person household can easily be fed all summer by a single plant. Sow a couple indoors now, in case one doesn’t germinate, then plant in a large pot, at least a foot wide and let it ramble over the edges. No fuss veggies.

3. Tomatoes. Traditionally these do much better in a greenhouse but if you have a south facing wall, in a warm corner, you might do ok with them outside. Again, either sow them now indoors or buy ready grown plants in places like B&Q. They need plenty of water and plant food throughout the summer and then you might, (I say ‘might’ because last year seemed to be universally bad for tomatoes due to the poor weather and lack of sun) get lots of lovely tomatoes. Go for cherry tomatoes for the best, tastiest results.

4. Beans. Probably the easiest thing to fit into a normal flower garden, beans grow easily and add some height to your borders with cane wig wams. (Like the ones you can see me making here.) Sow directly into the ground late on in April or early May and watch them shoot up. Runner beans are the easiest with pretty orange flowers before the pod develops, French beans can be trickier as they’re less hardy. Broad beans aren’t as pretty as they don’t grow up canes… They’re self supporting and grow to about 1m high, then can get a bit straggly and you’ll get less beans from the same space.

5. Cabbages were one of our biggest successes last year. I love savoy cabbage and think they look quite ornamental so if I had a flower garden I’d be dotting them about amongst the borders. I bought 6 seedlings from a local nursery and they turned into 6 frilly enormous cabbages which we harvested one by one througout the winter. 🙂

Preparing the first 2 beds again this year in the rather bare allotment, and making wig wams for the beans and peas…

Just one more thing on the garden front, it’s really tempting right now to be sowing seeds and getting started but it’s still a little early. Apart from bad weather being forecast, the weeds haven’t started growing yet which is a good sign the ground is still too cold. Watch and wait and when you start to see everything turn green and annual weeds popping up you can sow directly into the ground or in pots outside. In the meantime, get started on a sunny window ledge indoors ready to plant out in May. Don’t worry that that is too late – plants grow amazingly quickly once the conditions are right, so they’ll more than make up for it in the summer months.

Do let me know if you’re going to be trying a few grow your own veggies this year and if I can help with any questions I will.


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