It'll come as no surprise to you that I've got a bit of work going on in the garden. Actually, more accurately, we're undertaking quite a lot of work in our garden, and you'll have read all about our circles, but there's more. There always is, isn't there?
It was a real opportunity to get some pro advice on these areas, and I was surprised at how much advice Katie managed to cram in during a thirty minute phone call. But before I get to that, let me tell you more about the areas I was keen to get advice on.
Problem area #1
It's the area where we used to have our veg beds, but since we got our allotment a couple of years ago they've been redundant. We dismantled them and the parts that weren't rotten have been put to use again on the plot.
In the garden they took up a relatively large space, and it's the part of our garden where I planted the small Christmas tree and where we installed some trellis to grow jasmine on.
I wanted a relatively large flower bed here in its place, and one that was in proportion with the rest of the garden and my thoughts immediately went to the plants I could have in it. But I knew that I couldn't get too carried away with the planting as more substantial work needed to take place first.
The second part of this problem area is around the lilac. The lilac sends up plenty of shoots, as they do, but they're not really the problem. The real problem is that the soil level is higher than the paving. We've had wood around this area in much the same way as the raised beds, but that's rotted and crumbled and has long been disposed of.
So our plan was - and still is - to install sleepers as a raised bed, but how, and what should I know before we started. What type of sleepers should I go for, and did they need to be lined - these were all questions that went on my list to ask Katie. And how did we fix them, did they need fixing together to prevent them moving, and would we be able to cut them, or was paying for the cuts worth it. Yes, the questions kept on coming.
You'll be pleased to know I had a plan, I shared that with Katie too. But I needed advice on how to work out what lengths I needed, as despite liking a plan, maths isn't my forte and it was making my brain ache, especially as every site we looked at the sleepers appeared to be different sizes.
It's made all the difference and really spurred me on, and given me the confidence to work out what I need. In fact the sleepers are due to arrive this morning!
- Installing 4x4 posts at each corner, digging them into the ground at least a foot and a half, securing them with post-crete (a quick drying concrete that's often used for fence posts) and which won't interfere with the plants.
- Fix the sleepers to these posts using large coach bolts, and using a good drill. That's MOH's domain.
- Line the inside of the raised bed with Visqueen (a damp proof membrane), attaching it using a staple gun, to protect the sleepers from moisture and prevent rotting.
- Interlocking the sleepers at the corners to give a nicer finish as well as adding strength.
- And to finish cutting the lilac tree (on the left of the photo above) as soon as it's finished flowering, so that it flowers again next Spring.
Katie also warned me the raised beds will take much more soil than we expect. I hadn't told her I'd been collecting soil for a while!
So last weekend armed with my master plan, MOH and a tape measure we measured the space again, and I was rather relieved that my measurements were spot on. So having had those double checked we sat down and worked out the cuts we needed in the six 2.4 metre brown softwood sleepers we'd settled on. And it wasn't long before I was contacting the sleeper company asking how I could specify the cuts I needed.
Before breakfast on Monday I'd heard back from the sleeper company, with a quote and a contact number - that's pretty good going. So by the time I arrived in work I'd ordered the sleepers, paid for them and arranged delivery for today. That's a great way to start a productive week - and I'll let you know how we get on!
Problem area #2
The second area that we've not managed to crack ever is another quite large area mostly under our laurel tree. It's where we will have the gabion wall and seating area, along with the pizza oven, so I've a feeling that cracking it isn't too far away. But again, it's a big undertaking and well, although we know we want gabion baskets filled with a hotch-potch of bricks and materials (well that's what I'm planning anyway, MOH is still to be convinced) we have little idea of actually how to do it.
The area also slopes down towards the stone circle so there'll be more digging and more 'spare' soil; it's a shady area (despite what it looks like in the picture below) and for the past couple of years has been home to a large bag of slate and a less full bag of 'spare' soil as I wasn't keen on getting rid of something I knew I'd need in the future, only to end up buying new soil, and has become quite a dumping ground.
It's also been used to store some of the old patio paving slabs, as well as bags of slate and large stones that I'd kept because I might need them one day. And that day is approaching, I tell you! I was keen to pick up tips from Katie on installing our gabion baskets as I was sure it was something she'd done before.
Her advice here was a real gem, and one I wouldn't have thought of at all. I explained how I didn't want to use rocks in our gabion baskets, which is the normal way, but wanted to use a mix of bricks, pebbles and slate for a more industrial look, and to add paving slabs on the top for seating and for the pizza oven.
Katie suggested adding a paving slab as the top layer inside our gabion baskets to give it stability and to sand-cement that in place to the lid and to another paving slab on the top as we'd planned, so in effect forming a paving slab sandwich around the gabion basket lid. I told you, that, along with how to install the sleepers was the kind of pro-tip I was after.
Making progress with problem area #2
Last weekend I made good progress clearing the building yard look by laying the old patio paving slabs under the cherry tree and bamboo and using up two bags of sand left over from the patio installation too. Under the cherry tree I encountered some large roots and so changed my plans about where the last slab would go, placing it instead under the bamboo. I'm rather pleased with how it turned out, and MOH who never wanted to keep the paving slabs at all even praised it. It will eventually have slate around it too, so will tie in with other parts of the garden.
As I cleared that space I dug out a trug full of bamboo roots and shoots, and inspiration struck. I could reuse some of these in our problem area, to disguise the badly pointed brick wall of one of our neighbours (the lighter coloured bricks in the picture) - and you know how much I like plants for free. I reasoned if the bamboo was in a pot, our neighbour, who's prone to everything being our fault, could find no fault, well with that at least.
With the space cleared, including potting up a fern I knew would be in the way, it really did look quite big.
But of course those bags had to go somewhere.
And they're temporarily housed on our stone circle, along with the remnants of the slate in the yellow bag. The blue bag now also contains soil as I needed to decant some so we could move the white bag. And yes, I did have a chair facing the space I was clearing, I wanted to enjoy the fruits of my labour!
So with the space cleared, and our 110th party date still looming, I ordered the gabion baskets and helicoils (spring-like pieces of metal to connect the baskets). They arrived on Wednesday and were outside our front door when MOH got home, and if I'm honest they don't look very basket-like yet do they?
So what with these and the sleepers, we've got a busy few days ahead of us. Plus we're going to a family barbecue and I'm celebrating my birthday on the Bank Holiday. We've a few days off work, and as usual we've a lot packed into them.
More from Katie
I'd shared some pictures of my garden with Katie to help her give me the advice I was after and I'd included a picture of our circles to show that our garden wasn't as dire as our problem areas made it out to be. What was nice was that Katie said she thought our circles were "really cool" which was great to hear as we think they are too, and even though it took us a while to build up the courage to do them, they've turned out really well.
After our phone call I looked on the Tesco gardening site and I was amazed at the range of their products, and I really liked the arched pergola, I had no idea these even existed. At the moment that's a project too far for us, but I know I'll be looking to see what Tesco have when I start scoping out project ideas in the future, and I'm pretty sure I'll be lusting after this round pergola a while yet.
Thanks Katie, it was great to talk with you and your advice has really inspired me to tackle these parts of our garden, giving me the confidence to get stuck in. And I know it won't be long before I'm sitting in a slightly more stylish garden chair admiring the results of all our hard work and contemplate the perfect spot for those super cute toadstools!
* This is a collaborative post and all views and opinions are my own