Sunday, 30 June 2013

The garden

This is a name & shame post but it's my name and the shame is the garden. Our garden is in a shambles, shabby and unloved and it's my responsibility not Andrew's. He has enough to do on the renovation so, apart from hedge cutting, it's down to me. I could toss my hair, put the back of my hand against my forehead and say "but daahlings, all my creative energies have been used up in the house!' but this would be untrue. It's just I've lost my gardening mojo.

We used to have a house with a couple of acres and I loved it. I had huge herbaceous borders, a large (and productive) greenhouse and I could even give you the Latin names for a lot of plants. I would visit gardens & garden centres for inspiration, buy books and magazines and even listen to G.Q.T. But not anymore. We sold that house and lived with Andrew's parents for a year before buying the boat and setting sail, so obviously no garden there. When we came back to the U.K we lived in a townhouse by the sea with a garden about 6 x 4 metres. I did redesign that but it was mostly somewhere to sit, with one flower bed and no grass.

So back to the here and now. The house sits almost in the middle of the plot. The front is mostly a gravel drive, a shrubbery and a flower bed under each bay window.To the left is a lawn, undermined by the rabbit warren on the other side of the hedge giving it some interesting undulations.

The front garden

To the right of the house it's part gravelled and then a fence and gate leading to the back garden. This is the area that we consider as the garden as it has access from the kitchen. It's approximately 10 x 6 metres (about a sixth of the total plot size) but will be extended.

I do have several issues to contend with. Firstly we are not staying here, once finished the house will be up for sale so I can't commit to a long term planting scheme. Secondly it has to be done in phases. We can't do any hard landscaping until work has finished on the orangery. The huge workshop will be knocked down and the land incorporated into the garden (making it L-shaped) but this won't be done until most of the house is finished and we no longer need the storage space.

The attractive corrugated workshop (top left) & assorted eyesores

There are some good points, the garden is mostly south facing and I'm pretty good with pots, these geraniums are now in their third summer. We have some nice garden furniture albeit looking a bit shabby.


One of my boards on Pinterest is for gardens so I thought I'd have a look for inspiration. As I scrolled down I realised that a theme was developing, in fact the board title 'Outside spaces' should have given it away. It wasn't really a garden I wanted but an outside area for eating & entertaining - most of my pins had a table somewhere or at the very least a chair.

A typical shot from my Pinterest board

So I decided that I would treat it as I would a room in the house, do a concept board, measure and plan. First though will be to liven up the furniture we have got and give the whole garden a good tidy and feed, I may even devote some time to the lawn. At the same time I'll start looking for inspiration and draw up some plans but I think this could be a longish project!

So if anyone wants to swap a day's labour (or even a garden design) for a room design, please let me know!

Saturday, 22 June 2013


I promise this isn't another upholstery post, honestly. In fact if anything it's a bit of a rant. I needed a new chair for my desk. Andrew and I share an office and at one stage we both had proper black office chairs. Andrew broke his. Then broke a second and so I donated mine as I really wanted one that would disappear under the desk, one without arms. So I swiped one from the kitchen table as a short term fill in. Given the choice I will always buy an old piece of furniture, helps my pocket and the planet. I'd been scouring the charity shops and second hand furniture stores for a  while but hadn't found anything.

A couple of weeks ago we were driving back from the farm shop and I spotted some furniture that had been dumped in a field entrance. Here's the rant - why do some people feel that the countryside is their own personal waste disposal tip? This time it was several pieces of furniture. They had to have had a vehicle, so why not drive to our town refuse site? It's only about three miles from where they dumped, is open 364 days a year, takes almost anything and accepts vans? They even sell stuff that people leave if it's in good condition. Failing that we have a number of charities locally that will collect furniture and sell it on. Anyway rant over. I made Andrew pull over as I had spotted something, a dining chair.

It had lost the drop in seat but apart from that was perfectly sound if not a rather nasty colour. But a quick rub down and three coats of paint changed that. I then cut a piece of plywood for the drop in and made a seat.

1/2" ply for the base

Several layers of padding
Et voila! A new desk chair.

New chair and office intern

And on a completely different subject could my French speaking readers help? You may remember that I have daily email alerts from French estate agents sent to my inbox. I'm nowhere near fluent but I do prefer to get the non-English versions as quite often things get lost in translation, and I'm pretty good on estate agent speak. Occasionally however you get recognised as being a British computer and get the English (or probably the Google translate) version, as was the case this week. We were fine downstairs, we got the stone sink, magnificent fireplace and oak staircase. But then it went a bit haywire as in the upstairs hall was a 'porky'. I've no idea what this is! I managed to get on the French site and found it was a 'bolet', which is, I think, a type of mushroom but in the back of my head I also have it as an exterior stone staircase which also makes no sense as we'd already ascertained that the stairs were interior and made of oak. Anyone any clues?

Not ideal at the top of your stairs

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Upholstery - part three

One I'd finished the animal print sofa I mentioned to my father that I was looking for another project, and ended up with two. He would donate an Edwardian sofa bench he happened to have lying around if I would re-upholster a prie-dieu of his. Deal done. As he wanted to do some work on his item before letting me loose on it, I got to do the sofa first.

Starting to strip

The frame was sound but the wood needed to be cleaned and re-stained and some of the stringing replaced. Fortunately it had never been re-covered so there was only one set of tack holes to deal with.

Rusty tacks

Stripped & ready for staining

Because it had an old shellac finish I used methylated spirits to remove this and then an oak stain to even the colour out, followed by a quick French polish. Once this was done I was able to start webbing and building up the layers. Some of the webbing was quite tricky to do as the vertical struts were in the way plus the wood is curved.

Webbed, stained & polished
Ready for the fabric

Choosing the fabric for this piece was quite easy as I knew exactly the look I wanted and had fallen for this design. It's not my usual thing as it's quite feminine but perfect for the sofa.

Fabric choice
The downside was I had to make more double piping! I've only myself to blame as I find a lot of the ready made trims too shiny or if not extortionate prices. But after much battling with the sewing machine I'd finished. The sofa is now in our temporary bedroom and will be the focal point when the room is eventually decorated.


Saturday, 8 June 2013

Of rhubarb & trifle

I'm not going to moan about the weather, honestly I'm not, but the cold spring has put a lot of things behind. Last year I'd made two batches of rhubarb jam by mid-May but  there has been such a severe shortage of rhubarb that none had been made. I mentioned this at our Sunday morning dog walking meet and the same afternoon Graham knocked on the door with two kilos, apparently no one in his family likes it (although they do like jam). So I have managed to make seven jars and have been promised more fruit.

Rhubarb jam -  2013 vintage

This week it has been sunny and warm and for some reason I had an overwhelming urge to make trifle. Now I know that every family has their own method for 'the best ever trifle' and that there are dozens of upmarket recipes out there, but mine has to be the same as the ones I had as a child.

There are few processed or ready made foods that I buy (Linda McCartney vegetarian sausages being one of the exceptions), preferring to make most things from scratch. But my trifle has me heading for the supermarket aisles. The sponge layer has to be a jam Swiss roll, laced with alcohol. Next is a tin of fruit cocktail and a layer of chopped bananas. At this point some of the jelly gets poured onto the sponge, the rest is reserved. Another tin of fruit, peaches, pears or apricots and the rest of the jelly. After it has set some strawberries go on before the custard (Bird's naturally) is added. Before it sets more strawberries are artistically arranged and it's left to cool. At this point Andrew tries to add his mother's finale of pouring the cream on top, but I usually win and the cream stays in the jug.

I know that this is a very unsophisticated trifle, for family and close friend only, but it is delicious!

Summer trifle