Archive for the ‘DIY Projects’ Category


Really pleased with the cottage garden feel we’ve managed to achieve

Small Garden Space

Year 1 – Like the way our cottage garden is shaping up

Hi all.
We’re back after a bit of break from the blog with a new series about how to design for a small garden. Some of you that have been following us for a while will know we moved from a ¾ acre plot in Hampshire to what is a tiny garden nestled on the banks of the Misbourne river in Buckinghamshire.

We bought the house last year as a renovation project as it had become a little neglected. We knew it was going to be a hard slog but we held on top the thought that one day we would get around to creating a new garden which is what I love.

I knew I wanted to create a cottage garden, after all the house is over 500 years old and we’re not brave enough to try anything too contemporary. Also classic english gardens are my favourtie.

As you can probably see from the images the garden was neglected and basically a slightly overgrown backyard. Well we were determined to breathe new life into it and restore it to something that would be a beautiful outdoor space.

Small Back Garden

The plot is approximately 14 meters long and 3 meters wide and pretty much down to grass. It has the regular path down one side a small shed plonked at the end and beyond the shed is a lovely stream which has trout and an abundance of crayfish. Have to say the stream is partly why we bought the house … it’s simply beautiful. 🙂

The boundary fences were rotten along with a couple of old gates that were falling apart. We had a massive concrete slab outside the back door which was hideous but functional. We inherited loads of bluebells which were stunning in the Spring and the odd crocosmia, a peony rose and a mix of daffs and the odd tulip. But it was sad and neglected … but we were determined to bring it back to life.

First job, clear the old shed as it has seen much better days. I kept the door as I had an idea for it. (Will share in my next post)

Next all the old paving and grass needed to come out so I could see what we were working with. Grass is fine but it meant I would need a mower but we got rid of most of our tools and machinery when we moved.

We knew we needed a couple of essentials like a shed and a patio for outside the back door for me to sit with my tea at the weekends!  We’d also needed a way to get to the bottom of the garden as Angus (our little Westie) would need to get to the bottom of the garden in winter.  (Needs must)

In my next post I’ll share how we went about putting this all together into a lovely little country garden.

Back soon.

Tania.

 

 

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I’ve taken the plunge and started selling my quilts on a web site.

Some of you that have been with me since the beginning may know how much I enjoy making quilts in my spare time.

 

baby and child quilt

 

Children's and Baby Blankets

 

 

I’m focusing on making stylish and fun blankets for children and baby’s. My point of difference will be high quality, using bold colours and what I think will be a reasonable price. I guess I’ll soon know if it’s not 🙂 Every blanket will be unique and I’m planning on offering bespoke designs, including integrating names into the design of the blanket.ABC Childrens Quilt  pirate-quilt-blue

At the moment I only have my Etsy store, but plan to have my own web site up soon and I’m planning to share my wares at the local craft exhibitions.

So if you have a moment I’d be very grateful if could take a look at my store and let me know what you think … all feedback gratefully received. Also if you could Share with your friends on social media or otherwise that would be fantastic!

Hope everyone is well!

Best wishes

Rural Gardener

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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!

signature

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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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