Archive for the ‘DIY Projects’ Category


Please to report we completed on our purchase of our little renovation project on the 19th April!

I rushed home from work full of anticipation and tinged with just a little trepidation of what was ahead of us. As we’d seen the property before purchase there were no real surprises, other than we hadn’t seen the house without any of the previous owners things inside. Now we could view it in all its 16th century charm!


As I stepped into the cottage it looked a bit grim if I’m honest. 70’s built in wardrobes made from white Formica board everywhere, floors creaking and sloping in pretty much every direction. Signs of damp in the upstairs rooms … the only way I can describe this little house is it felt unloved.

A quick look in the loft reveals no party wall between our house and next door which I’m told is illegal and will need to be resolved asap.
The roof appears to sit on two enormous timber joists which were cut from old trees at the time the house was built … which probably dates the timbers to over 600 years old.

In the bathroom is a bluish green suite which I’m not sure I’ve seen before … and the floor underneath the bath is at least 3 inches lower than the rest of the floor. I suspect it has little in the way of support hence the floor has sagged over the years.

The hot water tank is brand new but it will be going as we’re replacing the entire system with a new combination boiler. Reason being we can free up the space for storage which is at a premium in such a tiny house.

 

The kitchen is … well … pretty basic. The units are left over from the 60’s and the floor is made up of hideous blue carpet tiles. Pulling one back reveals an old brown and white chequered lino tiled floor. I’d rather hoped we might some original flag stones, but appears to be solid concrete. Ah well … we can dream. The walls have a light blue tile which has seen better days .. and right slap bang in the middle is a 70’s open plan staircase.

Moving on to the living room it has a beautiful old fireplace which has been blocked off and a gas fire stood in front. Can’t wait to rip that out and see what hides behind.


Wow … clearly there is much to be done if this little cottage is to survive another 400 years.  But the good news is we have a plan and work has already started. We’re going to strip the house back to its bare bones and put it back together again hopefully creating a beautiful little period home.

Good news is we’ve already made a start and although progress is slow we’ve recorded everything in pictures and we’ve also recorded some video for a series we plan to put out on YouTube this summer.

In the next post we’ll share what we found as we started to reveal the framework of the property and more specifically a very nasty surprise in the bathroom. 😉

Oh and if you’d like to know more about any aspect of our little restoration send an email to ruralgardeners@gmail.com and we’ll be happy to share.

Back soon.

 

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It’s been a few weeks since we announced our little project and so much has happened in the last few weeks. But before we get to that here’s a little bit about the house itself.

The Cottage

The estate agent described it as a “charming Grade 2 listed cottage with many original features and offers a tremendous opportunity to create an individual charming character house” Well, in spite of what people say about estate agents … on this occasion they were pretty much spot on!

The cottage is in Old Amersham which if you don’t know is a lovely little market town in the heart of the Chiltern hills. Most of the local property is old and built using timber frame construction. On researching the property it looks like it was built around 1740 and is considered one of the older property’s in the area.

There is a lovely Market hall which apparently dates from 1682 and more recently is known for the Kings Arms pub which featured in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Kings Arms Amersham

So how did we find the house?

Well, it was a warm sunny Saturday morning in January and we were taking Angus on his regular morning walk to the local park when we spotted a ‘For Sale’ sign go up on this charming little cottage in the high street. We’d been looking for a small renovation project for a while. Nothing too ambitious, just enough for the two of us to get our teeth into.

So we took a closer look and found it was a typical mid terrace period property with a modest garden, at the end of which was a beautiful crystal clear river. Looking beyond the river was the local cricket field complete with local pub. Just heavenly.

As soon as we came back from walking Angus we rang the agent and set up a viewing the very next day. (You need to move fast round here if you want something)

The viewing went well but it was clear this lovely little house was going to be a challenge, not least as it had suffered from major water ingress at some point probably leaky roof which had left a nasty stain in most of the upstairs ceilings.  Aside from the challenges brought on from the age of the property it had an open plan staircase probably from the 70’s and a large inglenook fireplace (with bread oven apparently) which had been boarded up at some point and replaced with a gas fire.

70's staircase

The boiler was in need of urgent attention and the heating system needed replacing.

There was no time to lose! We had to put an offer in as houses in the high street rarely come up for sale… and almost never within our budget.

Monday morning came and I picked up the phone to the agent and put in an offer. After haggling for 10 minutes we settled on a price!

Job done … or so we thought.

We then found out the cottage is grade 2 listed and in a conservation area (basically means we can’t touch the outside without the consent of the local planners and the conservation officer)

Building Survey

We commissioned a structural survey report and much of what we feared came true. This is clearly going to be a slightly larger project than we first thought but we are determined to get this beautiful little house back to its former glory.

Exchanged Contracts

On Friday the 7th of April we exchanged contracts and we’re scheduled to complete on the 19th when we finally get to collect the keys. We are both soooooo excited about the project and can’t wait to share our progress with anyone that wants to listen. 🙂

As soon as we have the keys we’ll post another update around how we plan to approach the project.

Back soon.

Best wishes.

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Japanese Maples

I finally finished creating a new spot for the Acers. Well I suppose that’s not strictly accurate as they’re sunk in the ground in their pots … but more on that in a moment.

If you’d like to have a beautiful display of Acer’s but you’re worried if your ground is suitable, you can buy a soil testing kit, you’re looking for slightly acidic soil conditions but if like me, you know you’re gardening on chalk you’re going to have to find another way.

Here’s a pic of some Japanese Acer plants I bought as small plants for £6.50 each on EBay in 2013.

Young Acer Plants

I’ve potted them on each year and they’re now about 4 feet tall as you can see and make the most fantastic small trees. Incidentally I was looking in the garden center at the weekend and slightly similar sized plants were on sale for £85! Amazing what a little patience can do for the old budget!

Japanese Acers

Originally I planned to create an oval shaped bed and plant them in a random pattern. But then I had a bright idea, which doesn’t happen very often I must admit, and thought why not create horseshoe shape. It would certainly make it easier to tend to the weeds that’s for sure!

Making the horseshoe shape was dead easy to do.

All I did was take a string line and marked out a semi circle at one end, and marked a slightly smaller one for the inside border. I then ran a line from each end of the semi circle, down the garden and mirrored that line again so I had a strip about 2 ft wide in which to plant the Acers.

string-line

Then I removed the turfs and stack them in a corner of the garden. In few weeks they’ll produce the most wonderful loam.

Making a Japanese Acer Bed

Some of you may know our garden is on a chalk seam, which basically means we have about 5 inches of top soil after which you hit solid chalk and flint. Maples hate chalk but I’m not about to let that stop me .. after all I love Acers and if you mix the colours they make the most amazing display. No I wasn’t about to give up yet.

So I thought … why not sink the pots into the ground?  Thing is the chalk will eventually find a way into the bottom of the pot. So I came up with an idea to cut out a piece of matting, the sort you put down to stop the weeds coming through. If I put it into the bottom of the hole it should allow any water to get away and at the same time provide some protection from the chalk.

Line-the-hole

Having dug a hole slightly larger than the pot I added a 2 inch layer of Eracaceous compost to the bottom of the hole first and then the matting followed by the pot. I back filled with more Eracaceous compost and checked the pot were sitting nice and level. Finally firmed the pot well in and gave the Acers a good water. Job done!

acer-4

I guess time will tell if my plan works, but worst case if the Acer’s start to look worse for ware, I’ll just lift them out and stand them in a sheltered spot in the garden where I can still admire them.

How To Grow Acers On Chalk

Have to say I’m pretty pleased with the results and added bonus … there’s less grass to mow!

As always please feel free to drop us a note if you have any questions and we’ll get back you as soon as we can.

Back soon!

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Brrrrr … Woke up to a hard frost this morning. Beautiful to look at …. but flipping cold! -4 degrees in the car and I had to scrape the inside of the windscreen.

Thank goodness I took the time to put the Acers in the polytunnel last Autumn.

I grow most of my Acers in pots for that very reason. I’ll take them out of the poly around mid-May by which time they’ll have grown a new set of leaves. I started my collection about 3 years ago with a dozen 8-inch plugs I bought on EBay.

I thought it was a bit of a gamble at the time, but just 3 years later they’ve grown into great little plants and are worth 5-6 times the original price.

acers.jpg

If you’ve grown Acers you’ll know what I mean when I say they are at their best in late Spring when the new leaf is at its most vibrant. In the winter, they look like dead twigs! … But in 3-4 months they’ll be back to their magnificent best.

While the weather is cold it’s too wet and miserable to get onto the soil my thoughts turn to garden maintenance. It’s just as important to keep on top of the jobs that don’t necessarily provide any immediate benefit. Stuff like painting the sheds mending any broken fences and anything that may have blown over or snapped.

I like to get these jobs done before the growing season starts to limit any damage to any plants that may be growing in the vicinity of where I’m working. They stand a better chance of recovery if you do it now.

The big job for the Spring has to be the fences. They’re in a poor state of repair which is reflected in the fact that the chickens are always escaping into next doors plot. It’s not fair on my neighbours so I need to do something about it.

mending-fences

As you can see from the pics the fence is your bog standard post and sheep wire construction, which is actually the responsibility of my neighbour as he put up the original fence. The posts were inferior grade and have rotted out of the holes, so I need to replace with better quality posts so it will last.

I’ll replace the posts with chestnut posts and then staple some chicken wire on top of the sheep wire to keep the escapees on the right side of the fence!

On the left side of the plot, my neighbour has recently taken up stock car racing and his plot is rapidly filling up with second-hand cars. Rather disappointingly what was a beautiful view across to the barley fields is now starting to resemble a scrap yard!

mending-fences2

I suppose I could get in touch with the local council but I’d rather not fall out with my neighbour and, to be honest, the fence is pretty grim anyway. I plan to replace it with a new 5ft. post and feather board fence.

The only snag is it the sun will be in The West essentially behind the fence which will create shade. It’s a shame but I can only see the car situation getting worse, and anyway, I’ll grow some shade loving creepers like a climbing hydrangea and stuff it with Hostas and anything else I can think of.

So that’s my Spring project sorted … Just need to work out the materials list and choose a sunny weekend in March.

I’ll ket you know how it comes together for anyone that might be thinking about building their own fence. I’ve done it before and it’s fairly straightforward but there are a few things to be aware of. Details to follow sometime in March.

Anyway is almost the end of Jan and although it’s freezing cold the sun has just come up and it’s looking gorgeous!

A few more weeks and we’re into March and the clocks go forward. Just the best time in the garden!

Back soon

Best wishes,

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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Ideas for a hobby - Woodturning

I was thinking earlier today just how lucky we are to have our hobby’s. They really are the perfect antidote to the stress of the daily grind i.e. work.

I have the garden which is fab of course, but it’s about this time of the year my attention shifts from the garden to indoors … or inside the workshop on my lathe to be more precise.

It was about 7 years ago when I met my woodturning friend Stuart through a friend. Stuart is an extremely accomplished wood turner and what he doesn’t know about woodturning you could get on the back of a stamp!  He’s also a thoroughly nice bloke.

When I met him he was in the middle of making a few items for a special event. After a long chat and several cups of tea I knew I needed to give this woodturning thing a go.

If only I could reach a reasonable standard perhaps I could make a few things for the house? It certainly sounded like a lot of fun but potentially dangerous fun so I’d definitely need some guidance on the health and safety side of woodturning.

I seem to remember doing a bit of wood turning when I was at school when I was studying for my CSE’s as they were then (barely studied at all to be honest).

My class were 5C and for those of you that may remember the 70’s we had a TV comedy show in the UK at the time called Please Sir which was about a gentle teacher (Smiffy) and his somewhat boisterous class of adolescent teenagers who were also called 5C.  I seem to remember there were striking similarities with my class, but one thing I do remember is I really enjoyed woodworking with Mr Woodward (yes that really was his name). I still have fond memories of making the obligatory fruit bowl on the old school lathe.

Great times … life was so much simpler in those days.

Anyway … Back to the present and after much thought, I jumped in the car and headed off to Axminster Tools and bought me a small hobby lathe and at the same booked me a couple of lessons with Stuart.

It took me about a year to become proficient to the point where I was confident and safe and it was about another year before I finally got around to making something I thought worthy of bringing into the house.

Table Lamp

This is the first finished piece I made for the house. It’s a bedside lamp I made for Tania from a piece of English Yew which still has pride of place. It has a slightly unusual twist pattern which I think gives it a kind of unique look and presented a few challenges when I was making it.

It’s functional which is pretty much what I try to achieve with everything I make on the lathe. Take this table I made a few years back.

Home made Mahogany table

It’s made from a couple of mahogany table tops that the local school were throwing away to make way for a new classroom.  Absolutely nothing wrong with the wood. All it needed was a little care and attention.

The top of the table and the stem are turned on the lathe and the legs are made using a band saw to cut the sections and regular hand tools to achieve the finished shape.

How to make a round top occasional table

For the top I took 2 boards, planed them flat and glued them together to get the extra width I needed for the top. I cut a rough circle shape on the band saw and then mounted it on the lathe to get the perfect circle and to add the edge detail.

It turned out ok in the end … and to think the wood nearly ended up in a skip!

I’m planning to make a few Christmas presents on the lathe this year. I’m thinking Christmas tree decorations. I can make them on the lathe using the branch thinnings from the beech tree which we removed in the summer and use some wood dyes to add a little colour. I just need to remove the wood from the inside or I can’t see them hanging on the Christmas tree too well!

Make your own Christmas decorations

I might attempt to paint a nativity scene on the side or persuade my mother in law as she’s learning to paint at the moment.

I’ll keep you posted as they progress and probably post a few pics if they turn out ok.

Back soon.

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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Planning A New Herbaceous Border

There is something quintessentially English about the herbaceous border that can’t be matched in my view. If you’re lucky enough to have a herbaceous border of your own you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about!

If you’re looking to create your own border then read on as we share our journey as we create a brand new border at Blackbirds.

Choosing a site
We  finally finished moving the polytunnel which has given us a much better outlook from the house and to be honest … it feels like it should have been there in the first place! As you can see from the photo below it’s left us with a fantastic space.

Planning our new herbaceous border

It’s approximately 26 feet by 16 feet which is simply crying out for a lovely mixed herbaceous flower border.

Planting a new border is great fun and I’ve been lucky enough to create two borders in the garden already. But there is something not quite right about them, so this time I’m going to do my research first before I attempt to plant anything.

After a brief consultation period with John (30 seconds from memory), I decided we’d use one-half for more fruit and veg and the other for the new herbaceous border. Should look amazing when it all comes together.

The new border will be on my neighbours side of the garden which is currently a large open space on which he stores a couple of caravans.

Planning our new herbaceous border

They’re not overly offensive, but I need to find a way to hide them without having to put up a massive fence. I’m not a fan of wooden fence panels and I prefer to use hedges if I can as it helps to bring in the wildlife.

I plan to grow a few evergreen shrubs at the back of the border to create a little more privacy and to provide a nice backdrop for the rest of the plants. We struggle to grow evergreens on our chalky soil so I’m going to need to be inventive when it comes to the planting. Probably sink a few large pots in the ground and backfill with ericaceous compost.

Designing the border
A couple of weeks ago we had a fabulous few days in Cornwall. We managed to grab the last of the late summer sunshine. Cornwall and St Ives, in particular, are simply gorgeous at this time of the year as most of the summer holiday makers have left.

While we were in the area we visited a fantastic garden at Lanhydrock House where I photographed this amazing border with a fabulous planting scheme. The colours are predominantly light shades of pink, purple and white with the odd rich orange crocosmia which make the border really pop!

Planning our new herbaceous border

What I noticed about it is firstly was the size. It just looks so impressive! Also, it’s planted with occasional evergreens which I think are for structure and to keep the border looking fresh in winter. (Herbaceous plants tend to die back in the winter and can look a little tired)

Fortunately for me those clever people at Lanhydrock left a few printed planting plans in a little cubby hole alongside the border to help visitors identify the plants. Just a brilliant idea … Each one numbered with the full name alongside.

We’re going to base our planting on the border at Lanhydrock House.

It is a simple basic oblong design that fits with my new space which will have a long path down the middle to add the sense of perspective. We’ll divide the area in half with one side for the border and the other for veggies. I’d like to incorporate a feature circle half way along to create a resting spot where we can simply sit on a summers evening with a glass of the fizzy stuff and watch the sun set as it drops below the tree line.

Planting A Willow Arch

We have some willow plants that were propagated from some plants I bought John for his birthday a few years back. I’ll use those to create a little willow arbour which will be trained up and over the circle to create some shade on those barmy summer days. For the moment, I’ve put my standard Bay in the middle as a focal point.

I wonder if I can find an old wrought iron seat to add a little style? …  I’m thinking an old bench like those wonderful old wrought iron benches we used to see at the local cricket field.

Constructing the border
When creating any new border I like to get the paths marked out first. Nothing fancy, just a modest gravel path edged with timber edges. All recycled of course!

All you need is a string line a tape measure, (to keep the width of the path consistent) and a few lengths of 3 x 1 timber. I’m using a few boards salvaged from a couple of old pallets.

The only snag with wood edging is it will rot after a few years … but all you do is replace them and recycle the old ones as compost. Alternatively if you can afford it then iron edging looks great and will last a lifetime but that’s not in my budget I’m afraid.

Timber path edging

I’ve made the path approx 900mm wide which is enough for two people to pass and plenty of room for a wheelbarrow. All I do is drive in a few 2 inch squared wooden pegs about 3-4 feet apart making sure they are on the border side using the string line to keep them nice and straight.

I leveled the edging as much as possible and nailed the edging to the posts. Try not to bury them too deep or the gravel on the path will simply disappear into the border which is really annoying! A minimum two inches above ground should do it.

As the length of the border is about 28 feet I thought it best to divide the other side (veggie side) in half with a couple of paths using exactly the same process with the tape measure and string. Just remember to step back and eye up the lines to ensure they are straight and square to the main path. Nothing worse than a wonky path!

I have some bricks left over from the house build which I plan to use to edge the circle and the natural material of the bricks should help soften the overall feel and at the same time provide a nice little feature.

Planning our new herbaceous border

I’ll need to buy some sharp sand and cement to finish the job.

Well, the new border is starting to take shape!  Next time I’ll share how I plan to approach the planting and make a start on selecting the plants.

Should be fun!

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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Firstly apologies for not posting for a while. We lost our lovely dog Elsa to old age and just haven’t felt like doing much to be honest. Didn’t expect it to hit us quite as hard as as it has.

Elsa The Rottweiler

Rest in peace, my dear old friend.

Had a week off work last week which meant we were able to finish our latest building project, converting the original workshop into a home office. Last job was to bring the carpet guys in I have to say its looking great. So pleased we made the decision to create a separate office away from the house.

shed-conversion-4

The build was fairly straight forward and took around 15 days in total to complete. The old structure was fairly solid, but we did need to beef up the walls with extra studs to support the addition of the windows and moving the entrance.

shed-conversion-1

The cost of materials approximately £600 as we had to buy 6mm laminated glass for the new windows and glass panels for the door.

shed-conversion-2
The plasterer was £350 and the carpet came in at £360 including fitting. The total cost of the conversion approximately £1,500. More than we wanted to spend to be honest but we’ve managed to create a nice space that’s comfortable and secure and will make a great office to launch our new business .. more on that next time.

shed-conversion-3

If you’d like to know more about the conversion please feel free to drop us a note and we’ll be happy to share the details.We hope to post some plans as we’ve had so many requests. It’s just finding the time with so much going on.

Phew its soooo hot today … The temperature reached a crazy 29 degrees this afternoon and they say it’s going to head past 30 degrees tomorrow! Mad times indeed.

BTW … Cut our first cucumber today. 🙂  Delicious!

Hope you manage to stay cool in your garden this week wherever you are.

Best wishes,

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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