Posts Tagged ‘Weekend Project’

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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Goldflame Spirea

Several of our readers have been in touch and asked what plants should they start with if they want to start selling a few plants from home. Shrubs are a particular favourite of mine especially the older pretty varieties that have been around a while. (Also they’re less likely to create any problems with PBR)

Out of all the shrubs I grow my absolute favourite has to be Goldflame Spirea and it’s a great plant to get started with if you’re new to propagating plants.

Goldflame are fairly easy to propagate and make fantastic plants after one year and just keep getting better with age … which makes them an ideal plant for anyone thinking of starting there own little venture.

Over the coming weeks I’ll share a few more of these little gems that are both simple to grow and loved by gardeners but for now let me share what I’ve learned about this lovely plant.

Goldflame Spirea

Really easy to look after and will readily propagate from softwood cuttings in late May / early June. Like most other shrub-type spirea they flower on new wood in the summer. Pruning should be in late winter or early spring, just before the buds set for the new year.

At the end of March I simply go through my plants and prune them back to around 3 – 4 inches of stem. I gather up the plant a bit like a pony tail and simply chop off everything above my fist. Looks brutal at first but the plant grows back into a stronger and more balanced plant. I do this with most of my 2 year old shrubs.

Just go easy on 1 year old plants … probably best to leave them well alone for the first couple of years.

I take my Goldflame Spirea cuttings in the last week of May first week of June. If you want to improve your chances of success keep the new cuttings under mist or lightly water with a fine rose every 3-4 hours for the first 2 weeks … or until the plants stop flagging and start perk up.

Goldflame Spirea

Last Years Goldflame Spirea cuttings coming into leaf in the cutting bed.

1 Year Old Gold Flame Spirea

1 Year old Goldflame Spirea looking particularly splendid in a mature terracotta pot.

2 Year Old Goldflame Spirea growing away in the nursery bed

2 Year Old Goldflame Spirea growing away in the nursery bed

Goldflame cuttings tend to look half dead in the winter as they drop all the leaves and look somewhat anaemic. Don’t worry about them as they’ll start leafing up in early April with the distinctive reddish gold leaf. In a couple of years you’ll have a wonderful looking plant that will catch the eye of any prospective customer!

Just before I finish this is another plant we have a lot of success with and as you can see it is a gorgeous plant especially at this time of the year with it’s pretty tightly packed white flowers.

Do you know the name of this plant?

Do you know the name of this plant?

But here’s the thing … I haven’t a clue what it is? if you can help please drop a note in the comments section and put me out of my misery.

Thanks everyone.

Best wishes,

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners



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March in the Garden

March is here … which means April is just around the corner!

March is just the best month in the garden. It really feels like the darkness of winter is finally behind us! The sun starts to feel warm although don’t be fooled, the weather can bite back when you least expect it in March!

Today was a fairly typical March day. We had couple of hours of warm sunshine this morning and by this afternoon we had torrential rain.  I did however manage to move a few forsythia lynwood gold plants this morning. I find early March the best time to move and/or divide plants as they are still dormant and won’t be shocked by a move. Also planted a few herbs I raised in the nursery last year to outside the new workshop. Idea is to soften the hard edges of the concrete foundations and have a few herbs on hand when we bbq in the summer.

That’s the great thing about March … it really does feel like it’s time to start some serious gardening again. I don’t know why but there is some significance to the first day of March. It  gives me a sense of real sense of hope. Just today I see the frogs returned to the pond and seem to be making loads of frog spawn. Naughty froggies! Also the birds have started to sing again which is another sure sign Spring is on it’s way.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to share a series of 5 short posts detailing some of the jobs that I get up to in my gardening in the month of March. Here’s what I’m planning.

  1. Preparing for what’s e for the year ahead.
  2. Getting ready for the Spring Plant Sale.
  3. Kick start the vegetable garden.
  4. Spring treatment for the lawn.
  5. General tidy up for the wildlife pond.

In this the first of my posts my gardening years starts in earnest with lots of prep!

Preparing for what’s ahead.

Of course we all want to get out there and start digging and planting but it’s pretty likely (in the UK at least) that the ground is still too wet and too cold to grow anything … at least not from seed anyway. But how can you tell if it’s warm enough or dry enough?

That’s and easy one… just pick up a handful of soil and feel it. Does it feel cold? Try scrunching it up tight in your hand and you’ll soon know because it will feel wet and compacted. Ideally it will feel like soil should feel, friable and warm to the touch. If it isn’t then leave it well alone or you’ll just get soil everywhere … and I do mean everywhere!

Certainly don’t think about sowing seeds or you’ll be wasting your time.  I’ve tried early sowing in the past and I found it doesn’t really get me ahead. I’d rather wait until early April when the conditions will be better.  A good barometer is to look out for the weeds. When they start growing it’s a sure sign the soil conditions are about right for sowing. I’m going to wait until April when the soil will be in much better condition to be worked.

I’m fortunate to have a polytunnel so can kick start a few of the more hardy veg but even then I’ll usually wait until the third week of March at least before starting. Onion sets are about the only thing and a few brassica that I have growing at the moment.

Apart from onion sets and a few brassica I tend to wait until at least the third week of March before I start sowing under plastic.

Apart from onion sets and a few brassica I tend to wait until at least the third week of March before I start sowing under plastic.

One job I always do this time of the year is to turn the compost heap. The good stuffs often at the bottom of the pile so I like to get it to the top ready to scatter onto the vegetable garden when the weather allows. You can of course go for all the double digging stuff but I rarely double dig. As we garden on chalky soil any double digging would simply turn the chalk to the top.

If you’ve never made your own garden compost then I urge you to have a try. It’s easier than you think.


Treat the fences to a paint job.

Early March is the time of year I service the various fences around the garden. Most of the fencing around our plot is post and rail which need some form of preservative treatment if they are to last. All to often we spend money on expensive wooden fences or perhaps an art studio at the bottom of the garden, but we forget that wood will rot over time if it’s not treated. It’s not the most exciting job in the world but I get a great sense of satisfaction when the job is done.

You don’t have to stick to the usual green or black, there are loads of colours out there to choose from. Just make sure you use a bucket and a decent size brush to do the job or you’ll be there forever.

Time for a good tidy up.

I find early March is when I feel the need to have a general tidy up in the garden. The winter can take it’s toll and I usually end up retrieving plant pots and all sorts of stuff from my neighbours plot.  Time spent sorting through your pots and tidying up the canes and hazel sticks pays dividends later in the year when if you’re like me you’d rather be working with the plants.

So if you do nothing else in the garden this week try to have a general sort round and look forward to a few stress free months in the summer.

In my next post we’ll look at giving the polytunnel a service and set about the next phase of my plant nursery in readiness for my Spring plant sales.

As always any questions or comments please feel free to leave below.

Best wishes

Rural Gardener





 PS: If you’re interested in running your own plant sale to make a little extra money perhaps for your family or a favourite charity then you might find this post helpful. Also if you’d like to join our mailing list then you’ll receive a copy of my guide to frugal gardening which has loads of tips on how to start your own plant nursery in your back garden.

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I don’t know about you but it’s about his time of the year I start thinking about cutting the hedges. I was brought up in the country and I remember my dad used to take a lot of advice from a farmer friend when it came to hedge cutting. “When you see the farmer out with his tractor and hedge cutter then its time to cut the hedges” he used to say.

Well last weekend the farmer in the back field was out bright and early trimming the hedgerows  so I thought I’d get the step ladder out and start tidying up our mixed hedge. It’s about 60 meters of mixed hedge in total and has pretty much everything in it from lleylandi to hazel with the odd walnut sapling thrown in for good measure.

The hedge was here when we moved in and as each year goes with careful management it just gets better. Although it isn’t perhaps the most beautiful hedge you’ll find but it does host a variety of native birds and flora so it’s always best to wait until the birds have stopped breeding before cutting.

Every year I have the challenge of finding something to do with the waste material. Well this year a friend of mine gave us a small electric shredder. It doesn’t actually shred the waste, more like grinds the branches into submission!


Having said that it is a great little machine and I’m immensely grateful for it, not least as it enables us to create a by-product from the hedge trimmings which serves several purposes.mulchFirstly it makes a great surface for around the entrance to the nursery which is soft under foot and when its had a chance to break down it turns into the most amazing springy compost material.

The great thing is its cheap to produce and lasts for several seasons and you can throw it onto the compost heap or simply lay it on top of the beds and wait for nature to do its stuff.

Last year we started to scatter the trimmings on the paths in the kitchen garden to create a more natural feel.  One year on and its turned into the most amazing mulch which is soft under foot and can be used for mulching the flower beds.  I simply spade it onto the beds and work it into the soil and worms do the rest!

If you’re thinking of buying a shredder then the bigger you can afford the better is my advice. I love my little shredder but do sometimes wish I had a little extra power.

Here are my tips for trouble free shredding!

  • Read and follow the instructions that come with your shredder.
  • Be patient and avoid stuffing too much green material in at once especially Leylandii as it has a tendency to clog the machine.
  • Resist stuffing large branches in or you’ll likely burn out the motor. My little shredder will comfortably take branches up to an inch in diameter. Anything larger gets stripped of its branches and either used for poles in the garden or for winter firewood.

Like most of the green waste in the garden hedge trimmings can be a pain to get rid of  but if you’re able to invest in a modest little shredder I’d say go for it as the by-product is can easily be recycled.

I didn’t manage to finish the job this weekend so will be shredding some more next weekend.

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners



Still living the dream …

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How to use Evernote

I mentioned in my last post how we use an app called Evernote to log all our plants. If you’ve never seen Evernote before then I’d definitely recommend taking a look.

Essentially its a really easy and convenient way to take notes and review them on phone, desktop or tablet.


The same content seen on my tablet

The information is stored in the ‘Cloud’ which basically means you can access it anywhere providing you have access to a copy of Evernote.

Evernote for gardeners

… and on my mobile phone.

I have to say I think it’s brilliant but in the interest of balance …  there are loads of other note apps out there that are comparable with Evernote.

When I first downloaded it my immediate reaction was wouldn’t this be great for keeping a record of the plants in the nursery. It’s simple to use, has as a host of really cool features and best of all it’s free!

How does Evernote work?

Essentially it maintains a series of Notebooks in which you store notes. Think of Notebooks as folders or categories and Notes as individual pages.

Each ‘Note’ is made up of text, photos, audio, video or a combination of.

There are the usual formatting tools, bold italic, colours etc. and it has both Search and Tagging features which helps when you have lots of notes to search through.

Tags are great and can make sorting your notes so much easier.

For example you may want to find all the herbs in your collection but would rather not search through every note one by one. But if you create a tag called herbs and add it when you create a note it will make it much easier to find by simply clicking on the Tag feature and selecting the appropriate tag.

We like to keep things simple here and so tend to stick to a combination of text and images but have been occasionally known to add an audio describing the characteristics of the plant or any unusual growling conditions.

Each note has the full name of the plant and if applicable the common name along with details of the growing conditions. I also include a photo which comes in really handy as a reminder when the plant is out of flower.

Its also really useful if someone asks the same question when they’re thinking of buying the plant. I just whip out my phone and show them.

Here are a few suggestions for Notebooks.

Herbaceous, Roses, Ground cover, Evergreens, Climbers, Shrubs, Moisture loving plants, Grow well on chalk, Prefer Dry conditions.

If you want to learn more about Evernote there are loads of great videos on YouTube explaining every last detail but my advice is keep it simple and utilise the features that work best for you.

Hope you found this useful and do drop me a note if you’re using Evernote to track your plants as I’d love to know how we can make it work better for us.

Best wishes




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We’ve kick started this years big build project last week which our regular readers will know is a new timber frame outbuilding which will be our sales area and potting shed for the new back garden nursery. We thought we’d share how we build the outbuildings and landscape the surrounding area.

John managed to get last week of work which meant we could make a start on the running in the services and preparing the base.

Step 1 – Marking out.
First task is to mark out the perimeter of the building using marker paint, or alternatively you can drive in timber stakes at 2-3 ft intervals.

It’s important to remember to keep the building in scale with the rest of your garden. Easiest way to achieve this is to grab a bunch of bamboo canes and stick them in roughly around the perimeter of the building. It helps provided a sense of what the space is eventually going to look like.

Of course you could always head down to your local DIY store and buy a standard wooden shed and stand it on an area of hard ground, but I’ve been through a few of those sheds over the years and I much prefer to construct my own timber frame as I can beef up the materials, knowing the building will last.

Step 2 – Shuttering

Before building the base you first need to build a frame large enough to contain the base materials.

We’re using 6″ x 1″ board on our build which will give us enough depth for a layer of hardcore, sand and leave a minimum of three inches for the concrete slab. First we removed a couple of inches of soil to give us additional depth for the concrete.

Why a concrete slab?  … It makes for a hard waring surface and it needs to support th roof which will be covered in tiles and potentially soil for a natural living roof.

Step 3 – Bringing in the services.
John hired a digger which made short work of digging the service trenches and levelling the plot.  You could always dig them by hand, but that is mighty tough work and beyond little old me these days I’m afraid.

We’ve laid cable and a mains water pipe from the house to the bottom of the plot. We have details of the size of cable and water pipe if you need them, just drop us an email with some details and we’ll get right back to you.


After the shuttering we back filled with a four inch layer of hardcore, broken bricks, stones, anything we had around the place that would create a solid base.

Landscaping and Outbuildings

Then we laid a two inch layer of sharp sand to fill any gaps in the hardcore and to create a nice flat surface for the damp proof membrane.

Finally a layer of concrete was poured and leveled with the top of the shuttering.

We had the concrete poured straight from the lorry as it would have been agonisingly hard work for us to mix that much concrete by hand, as anyone will know whose mixed concrete before. It’s back breaking work!


Although it wasn’t cheap I worked out the cost of materials and my time and it actually didn’t work out much more costly to be honest.

The slab was dry to touch by Sunday morning but will take around 28 days to fully cure.

Next time …
We’ll be starting the timber frame construction which should be fun and slightly less physical than the ground works. So don’t forget to subscribe to our blog and we’ll keep you right up to date as we progress.

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

PS: A brief note on planning permission

I’ve had a couple of emails from people asking if you need planning permission to build such a structure in your garden.

We are building under what’s called ‘PART E’ permitted development which essentially means we can build a temporary structure that is no designed to be lived in.

I’m afraid I don’t have a definitive answer as different regions of the country apply slightly different rules.  However the guidelines are pretty clear on what you can and can’t do so I’d urge you to research your local planning laws and if possible speak to your local duty planning officer. They are usually very helpful and can be contacted via your local council offices.

Believe me when I say it can be a costly business if you discover you haven’t followed the rules.



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First we’d like to wish everyone a very happy new year! It feels like it’s going to be a great year and I dream of when the days start to stretch out and Spring delivers those first rays of warm sunshine.We received literally hundreds of emails in 2013 from those of you that want to learn more about how we manage our little patch of the Hampshire countryside and for that we are most grateful. It makes it all worthwhile!

It seems  there are a lot of you out there that also want to ease the pressure on their family life and find a more sustainable lifestyle … for a whole bunch of reasons. Well, my goal in 2014 is to help you achieve that change in lifestyle by sharing as much our knowledge and experience as we can through the pages of the blog.

It’s usually about this time I post plans for the new year and I must say we’re both really excited about the projects we have planned in 2014.

My son Tom (electrician) is starting his own electrical services business this year, which is a brave move in these challenging times. We wish him well with his new enterprise.

I do like to Plan!

Not sure about you but I like to put some thoughts together on paper right about this time.  Apart from making me more organised the results give me something to look forward too and something other than the ironing to focus on during these short days and long nights.

Everyone plans in different ways. I like my plans to be rich and visual, as well as informative. I include a few pictures alongside each project to remind me of what all the effort is about. I find pictures also help me to focus, to be motivated on the outcome.

More Ebooks planned for 2014!

After the success of our first Ebook “An Introduction To Frugal Gardening’ I thought it might be nice to share some more stuff so will be releasing an update to Frugal Gardening along with a new idea centred around reducing spend and increasing income. It’s as a result of a couple of things we experienced earlier this year which led to an unexpected windfall.

I’ve already started typing up the first draft so should be ready to share fairly soon.

Cut flower garden.


Two years ago I planted a cut flower garden which was absolutely beautiful. I planned to do the same in 2013 but didn’t get my act together in time and so missed out. 😦

So this year the cut flower garden will be back, even bigger and more lush than before … at least that’s the plan. 🙂

 New Building projects planned for 2014

workshopWe have access to our plot at Blackbirds via a delightful country lane which we’ve been planning to do something with pretty much since we arrived.

Although we constructed a fence and gate soon after we moved in we always wanted to make more of it.  Original plan was to build a barn, come food store, come office, come weekend hideaway … But it never really came together due to other commitments.

John and I have agreed it’s key to our plans and really needs to happen the year, so looks like it’s going to really happen this time.

We plan to start in early April and will be a timber building and entirely self build. If you’re interested in timber frame building we will be posting progress reports on the blog, so if you I recommend subscribing to the blog and subscribing to the RG You Tube Channel.

Whilst we’re on the subject of timber buildings … when we blogged details of our home built workshop and wood store we received several emails requesting dimensional plans. As with many of our projects the design and construction is in John’s head … but he’s promised to draft something and post some measured drawings early in the new year.

‘Blackbirds Tiny Plant Nursery’


Our modest little plant nursery continues to grow and we will be posting progress updates throughout the year. Phase 1 was all about learning and getting the plant production side of the venture up and running.  Phase two is going to be all about creating a professional looking space and generally getting more organised on the selling side.

We’ll post progress updates throughout they year and will definitely be posting more videos on the You Tube channel.

A Brand New Kitchen Salad Garden

If you’ve ever wondered how to build your own raised beds or perhaps you are new to vegetable gardening and stumbled across our little blog, then there is some good news!

One of the projects we have planned is a brand new salad garden. It will be located outside the kitchen which will be really convenient for the BBQ season.  John will be in charge of construction and I will be selecting the varieties and growing some gorgeous produce.

We plan to grow all manner of salad veg from the good old standards through to some of the more exotic varieties. I can’t wait to get started!

Weekend courses at Blackbirds?

I wanted to canvas opinion on an idea we’ve been discussing for this year.

Gauging the reaction we’ve had from our readers we’re  thinking of offering a couple of weekend courses over the summer.  We’re thinking practical courses in gardening, basic timber frame construction, plant propagation, that kind of thing.

General idea is to share our experiences and pass on the skills and knowledge we’ve acquired along the way. I know when we started on our lifestyle change I could have done with a little help and guidance along the way.

What do you think? … Would it be something anyone would be interested in?

The weather is gorgeous down here pretty much from late May through to the end of August.   Should be fun!

Well that’s a brief taster of what’s to come this year and I’m sure you’ll agree there is much to get excited about.

We’d love to know what you have planned for 2014.

Back soon.


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