Archive for the ‘DIY Projects’ Category

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.


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.


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

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.


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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Just a quick update on our shed/office conversion project.

The outside has been clad in new feather board. The old stuff had warped and wasn’t really up the task which was largely down to poor fixing by yours truly.

Window linings are in and the inside has been plastered. All it needs now is the glass to go in, door hanging and the floor down and finally decorating throughout.

I’ll post again when the jobs done. 🙂

Great view out to the climbing rose from the windows.

Great view out to the climbing rose from the windows.

Shed Office Conversion

Shed Office Conversion

Glad I got the professionals in for the plastering. Know your limits. 🙂


Shed Office Conversion

It’s going to need a small step.


Thank goodness we have a long weekend coming!  🙂

Thanks all.

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners


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How to Convert a Shed to a Home Office

Ever longed to work from home and thought you might convert your trusty shed into an office?

If the answer is yes then you’re in very good company as at the last count over 3 million of us had the same idea and are now enjoying the benefits of working from home.

Did you know Roger Waters created the early demo tracks for the album  Dark Side of the Moon in his garden shed outside his Islington home! … and not a lot of people know that. 🙂

Of course working from home is not for everyone but if you are able to maybe spend a day or two working from the comfort and familiarity of the home the benefits to your health are significant.

Well, this year we’ve decided its time to get off the fence and we’re going for it!  I can’t tell you just how excited I am about what we have planned for the new office … so much so I just had to share it with you.

What are the options for a home office?
  • Invest in a ready made structure. (Expensive)
  • Spare room in the house. (Never quite the same as having your own kingdom)
  • Renovate an existing building. (Cheaper option … And you get to do some diy!)
We’ve opted for option 3 as we already have a sizeable timber structure which we built back in 2008 as a general store for our self build. Its large enough and pretty solid. With a little tweaking to the design it will make a great little office.

Rather than simply writing about the whys and wherefores of working from home we thought this project offered a great opportunity to look back at how the construction has stood up to the test of time and if there is anything we would have done differently so anyone building their own shed or outbuilding in the future could benefit from the insight.

Its a solid enough building made from quality pressure treated timber and has stood up well to everything we’ve chucked at it over the last few years.

If you’ve read our original series of posts on the build you’ll be familiar with the construction. Timber frame made almost entirely from pressure treated softwood. We based it on a workshop Tommy Walsh built on TV a few years ago.

The interior walls are clad with OSB board which is ok but I prefer a clean uninterrupted surface so have decided to line with plasterboard and get a plasterer to plaster the walls. Only you know how much insulation you’ve stuffed in the walls or how well the building was constructed … but the finish on the walls will be seen by everyone so it needs to be right hence employing a plasterer.

Plasterboard on OSB

The workshop was clad in OSB … simply screw 12mm plasterboard to the walls to make a perfect surface to plaster.

If there is one thing we’ve learned after many years of DIY is know your limits.

Don’t be afraid to get the professionals in when you know its beyond you.

We’re going to need power and heat if its to function as a warm cosy space.

We already have an approved electricity supply which used to service the workshop. I’ve had it safety checked by Tom (my son the electrician at ENL Electrical Services Ltd) and we have plenty of power for a computer, printer, kettle and few other home comforts.

I’d like to power it with Solar but budget is tight so for now I’m going to have to stick with the grid.

Four inches of insulation in the walls and ceilings should keep it nice and snug!

Insulate your shed

For the cold days heating will come from a modest electric wall heater.

We’ve moved the entrance to south facing to capture the morning sun.

Home Office

The side facing the lawn will now have two glass panels which has meant a bit of a restructuring but as the stud walls were fixed using screws so simple enough to sort.

How to Convert a Shed to a Home Office

If you’re one of the 50,000 or so readers that read our series on How to build your own workshop we’ve noticed a couple of things we’d change about the original build.

Keeping The Roof Water Tight
When we took a closer look at the roof we noticed it had been leaking which was as a result of the roofing felt starting to perish. On closer examination I had to replace a couple of sheets of plywood where the damp had penetrated the layers of ply. Definitely worth checking once a year.

But hey it didn’t take a lot of effort to fix. Simply removed the screws swapped the ply for new replaced with new felt.

One of our readers sent in a great tip for anyone thinking of felting a roof.

Paint the roof timbers with bitumen before laying the roofing felt. That way if the roof leaks it won’t damage the wood. Excellent idea!

The floor is a basic slab of concrete which would be fine for the new office but I’m worried about the floor being cold so I’ve decided to lay some standard chip board floor on a layer of thin super efficient insulation. It means I’ll lose 15-20 millimetres of off the floor to ceiling but still leaves minimum 2.2 ceiling height which is recommended.

Doors and windows
John made the doors on the original workshop which were fine for a workshop but will not work for the new shoffice. So we’ve invested in a ready made frame and a hemlock door which will be fitted with all the usual security considerations. As you can see the door has been moved which to be honest has greatly improved the overall aspect of the building. The original window will stay where it is and a couple of extra laminated glass panels have been added to take advantage of the view across the garden and to the fields beyond.

Cladding the exterior
We’re replacing the feather board as it’s not as good as it was and has warped in places. Im pretty sure this is down to the the fixing. I read somewhere at the time you should nail feather board an inch from the thin end of the board. Well that’s crap idea in my opinion. Always nail through the thickest part of the board and ensure at least an inch of overlap over the next board. If you can afford it use cedar boards as they will weather to a beautiful silver colour and they will last a lot longer.

Feather edge cladding

The old feather edge has started to warp … just make sure you fix it through the thickest part of the board.

So to summarise here are the key learnings from the original build:

1. Pay a little extra and use treated (tantalised) timber and the structure will last a lot longer.

2. Ensure feather board is fixed firmly and treat once a year with a good quality wood preservative.

3. Inspect the roofing felt at least once a year.

4. Concrete floors are fine but add a layer of chipboard or something similar to improve insulation.

5. Don’t scrimp on insulation as it really does make a difference on those cold winter days.

We’re planning on finishing the bulk of the construction work this weekend so will post an update next week … so if you’d like a gentle reminder when the next instalment is posted simply register for our newsletter here and we’ll drop you a note.


Best wishes




… still living the dream.

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Summer 2014 in the plant nursery

Summer 2014 .. seems like only yesterday!

Well here we are in 2015 and I can’t believe we are into our 6th year of the ruralgardener blog and so much has happened in that time and as I sit here gazing into my crystal ball it’s looking like another busy year ahead.

But before we look at this year  I’d like to reflect on last year.

2014 was a good year for John and I. We stayed fit and healthy (most of the time) and had plenty of laughs along the way. Tania had a big birthday which we celebrated with a lovely summer garden party which will stay in the memory for some time … not least as the weather was so kind to us.

Looking at last years projects I guess the most ambitious has to be the new workshop and adjoining potting area John built through the summer. I think it took us both by surprise just how long it took to build. We started in March and I think it took just over 4 months of weekends and a chunk of our holiday to complete the project.

Having said that the results were well worth the effort. It looks as if it was always meant to be there!  It’s given us a great base for the plant nursery and gives John a decent workshop to indulge his passion for making things. Lucky boy.

We finally managed to find a weekend to lop the 20ft leylandiis that have been a pain in the backside for so long. Always amazes me just how fast they grow. They were under 8ft when we first moved in 6 years ago and we just didn’t keep on top of them. My advice is to plant a hazel hedge. Much easier to manage, fast growing and make great sweet pea supports.

Anyway we minced all the trimmings and the resulting mulch is now providing a cover for the parking area adjacent to the new workshop. Should last a while and it was all free. We like free we do.

In 2014 the DIY blog posts proved popular so this year we’ve decided to create a section on the blog dedicated to building projects. We’re planning to convert the original workshop into an office which will enable John to work from home a lot more which is a goal we’ve been chasing for a while. We’re aiming to kick off the project in February and will be posting details.

Another project in the pipeline for this year is a general overhaul of We think its about time it had a bit of a facelift so we’re planning a few new ideas along the way including:

  • Expand our YouTube channel to include regular gardening support videos and a few other gems we have in the pipline!
  • An area where readers can purchase plans for our projects (the single most requested item on the site). We did consider offering the plans for free but to be honest they take a lot of time to produce and so we thought asking for a small contribution would be ok.
  • A few tips for making a little extra money from your garden. It’s not for everyone but given our plant nursery posts are the second most requested on the site we thought we’d share more.
  • Our most ambitious plan is to hold a few open days for anyone that might be interested in learning how to start their own gardening projects. We’re also planning to hook up with some of the local schools and offer details on the site of which have yet to be worked out. If we could inspire a few young people to start gardening that would be absolutely fantastic.

As always we welcome any suggestions for content that you’d like to see on the site so do please keep those emails coming and we’ll make it happen.

We’re really looking forward to this year and guess what … it’s February next week!

A slightly late but very well intentioned happy and prosperous new year to one and all!

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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Make your own Christmas star from an old  pallete

I make no secret of the fact that we both absolutely love Christmas. Everything about it from welcoming the family back for a feast of fun and merriment to putting up the Christmas decorations. A Christmas without decorations is unthinkable in my view … but they don’t have to cost the earth.

We were in John Lewis a few weeks back and spotted a delightful wooden Christmas tree made from what appeared to be scrap wood.

So it got me to thinking I might have a go at making my own by recycling an old pallet I had hanging around. On closer inspection the wood was sound and was weathered over time to a silver patina … a bit like oak when it’s been exposed to the weather.

If you want to have a go at making your own you’re going to need a regular old palette which you can pick up from your local builders merchant or building site. Most builders I know are more than happy to get rid of them. But do ask as some have to go back to the suppliers.

You’ll also need a length of 1\2 inch dowel approximately 30 inches long which you can get from any of the major DIY stores. This is for the stalk that runs up the middle.

Make your own shabby chic wooden Christmas tree from an old pallete

All this from one old palette

You’re also going to need a few basic tools like a hand saw (table saw would be quicker) some regular wood glue, a drill and a large drill bit capable of drilling a hole to take the dowel.

The construction is pretty basic. All you need to remember is this is shabby chic which basically means it doesn’t have to be perfect, in fact we’re looking for anything other than perfect.

If you take a closer look at the pics you’ll see the element’s that make up the tree are:

  • Two base sections glued together with a simple half lap joint
  • A central stem made from the 1\2 inch dowel
  • Spacer blocks for in between the branches. (2 x 2 inch pieces cut from the longer pieces of the pallet)
  • A bunch of branches made from thin strips of inch and a half pallet wood
Learn how to make your own shabby chic wooden Christmas tree

Learn how to make your own shabby chic wooden Christmas tree

It really doesn’t matter in which order the pieces are made. This is how I approached the construction of my tree.

  1. Prepare two pieces of timber 1.5 inches by 1.5 inches by 18 inches for the stand of the tree.
  2. Mark a line in the centre of each piece and measure an inch and a quarter back on either side from this centre point. The gap is the exact width of the other piece that will form the half lap. (If you’re not sure what a half lap is the internet is full of videos that show exactly how it’s done)
  3. To add a little style to the stand add a taper from the middle to the outside. To do this measure from the top of the piece and put a pencil mark a quarter of an inch down at each end
  4. Draw a line from the mid section we marked earlier to this mark. This should produce a gradual taper. Do the same on all four ends of the stand and you’ll have a nice taper on all four sides.
  5. Cut a half lap on each piece making sure you cut on the top of the stand and not on the bottom as I did with my first attempt!
  6. Next drill a hole in the centre of the top section of the stand ready to take the dowel and glue the two pieces of the half lap and leave to dry.
  7. Prepare the branches by sawing a series of strips about an inch and half wide and approximately 3mm thick. The longest lengths are 24 inches and the shortest at the top are around 3 inches. You don’t need to be too accurate just so long as you make plenty of branches as you’re going to need around 30 pieces in total. Also bear in mind looking at the tree the branches get shorter as you make your way up the tree. To make it easier I made a triangle template from MDF of the shape I wanted and used this as a guide for the width of the branches. I then took each strip and cut it to the width of the shape. Each section has 3-4 branches and is separated by a small spacer. Also another tip is to make plenty of spare branches!
  8. Find the mid point of each branch and drill a half inch hole through the centre for the dowel.
  9. Now the fun bit … start building your tree by simply sliding the branches and spacers onto the stem in whatever configuration you fancy.
  10. Finally finish your tree with a little white paint to give it that Chrismassy feel, or alternatively you could leave it natural. As you’ll see from the pics I rather over did it with the spray can and wish I’d left more of the wood natural. I’m going to make another one and the plan is to leave it natural.

Hey presto you have your own shabby chic Christmas tree! And all from an old redundant palette. Not bad eh!

How to make your own Christmas tree from wood

If you fancy having a go please send us your pics as we’d love to see how you get on.

Best wishes,

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners







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Installing A New Rainwater Collection System

I’ve been looking to improve my rainwater collection system for a while now and I thought I can’t go into another winter without a longer term solution.

Yes we have a few tanks around the place and they work just fine but they tend to fill up fairly quickly which means our capacity is limited.

While I was doing my research I came across a few videos on  where other gardeners use huge white plastic containers in a metal cage for collecting rainwater. I’ve since found out they are called Totes although I think there is another name for them.

We put the word out and my brother in law who works on a farm came good! He told me they they were selling off a couple of second hand totes and was I interested.  Oh yes!


They arrived last weekend and they are perfect for collecting rainwater. I gave them a good wash out with a little general household detergent to remove any lingering fluids and they were as good as new!

I’d read somewhere its a good idea to either paint them black or cover them in black plastic to stop the sun from turning the water green. So off to YouTube I went to see if anyone had done the same thing and I found a guy in the US called LDSPrepper who has a series of videos explaining in great detail how to prepare a tote for rainwater collection.

Huge thanks to LDSPrepper for such an insightful set of videos.

Basically you remove the plastic bin from the cage and wrap it up like a Christmas present.

I bought black plastic damp proof membrane from my local building suppliers which comes in a long roll. I’d used it before and I know it’s really strong and it should last.

The totes we used measure 48 inches  by 40 inches by 40 inches. To cover a single tote you’ll need a sheet of plastic 14 feet long by 10 feet wide.

Wrapping totes in this way is not difficult but if you’re thinking of having a go ask a friend or partner to help as two people make light work of it. Also invest in some strong adhesive tape. I bought some black Gorilla tape which I found at my local DIY store. Not cheap at £6 a roll but really good stuff.

Begin by turning the tote upside down making sure the tap is at the top. Also remove the filler cap before you start or you’ll struggle to get it off later. Turning the tote upside down ensures when you seal the joints and turn the tote up the right way up any rainwater will run down the sides and not collect in the folds


Lay down the plastic sheet and position the tote in the middle. Next lift the back half of the plastic over the back half of the tote and align at the half way from the back of the tote. I should have said earlier …  it’s worth having a dry towel or rag handy to dry off any damp on the tote so the tape sticks properly.

Tape the plastic to the tote to stop it sliding back off thenfold the back sides in like wrapping a present and tape the fold on both sides. (Think present wrapping)


When the two back corners are complete fold the front side up over the top of the back side and fix with tape.

As with the first side fold the plastic in as tightly and neatly as you can in the corners and fix with tape. Finally fold up the pointy end pieces that are left on the sides and secure with the tape. It really is just like wrapping up a giant Christmas present.


When the tote is all wrapped up simply slide it back into the cage and you’re done.

Rainwater Harvesting

Finally make a hole in the plastic for the cap and position the tote where it can have the maximum effect. I’m using one in the nursery to collect from the new outbuildings and the other to collect from the workshop nearest the house.


Final job was to stretch an old pair of tights over the hole. Low tech I know but it works.

Total cost somewhere in the region of £80. I didn’t think that was too bad for a pretty snazzy looking rainwater collection system.

If you’re thinking of doing the same sort of thing I urge you to take a look at this series of videos from LDS Prepper that explain all.

I’ll take a few more pics of the completed set up next weekend.

Best wishes.

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners



… still living the dream.






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