When we bought our derelict house and overgrown garden in August 2013 we had no idea of the amount of land we had, and definitely didn’t realise that we had at least 20ft of space at the side of the house!
I’ve been creating various posts over the last few weeks detailing how we have renovated our garden from an overgrown wilderness into a productive vegetable plot!
On our original plans, the paths were very rigid and straight, but this just didn’t fit with how we wanted the garden to feel.
We wanted the area to feel like it had evolved and grown over time, and we’re not ones for formality, so out went the sharp angles and instead we mapped out a series of ‘flowing’ walkways, initially using loads of branches that had been pruned from our trees!
We knew we wanted to recycle some of kind of material from the house or garden to construct the paths, and our first plan was to reuse the surplus of red bricks that were once a chimney breast and porchway in our kitchen before we started the internal renovation, using them either as an edging or in a herringbone pattern for the base of the path, but after some research and several failed attempts, we decided this wasn’t our best plan!
We looked at various path edging options on the internet and in local garden centres, but none of these would fit with the look we were after, until we hit upon the idea of making our own log-roll edging from the hundreds of branches we had been storing for firewood since we cleared back the original overgrowth of the garden!
With this plan in place, everything came together pretty quickly! My Dad was enlisted (again) to cut the branches into usable stakes and Richard set about hammering them into place!
We dug down about 10cm so that the log-roll edging was purely ornamental and not having to hold the path together, and Richard lined the base with groundcover fabric to prevent weeds and also stop the top covering from mixing with the mud on rainy days, using the stakes to secure the fabric in place.
We’d considered various options for filling the path, and settled on a plum slate chipping, as it’s robust but also looks in-keeping and gave us a contrasting colour between the turf, the patio area and the bark chippings we’d laid between the raised beds.
We’re really pleased with the result, despite our back garden primarily being practical and productive, it gives the whole area definition and a bit of style! A friend of mine, on seeing a photo on Facebook, commented that he thought we’d got a stream running through the garden – and that’s how it feels, flowing and natural!
Once we’d planned our vegetable garden, the biggest challenge was plotting and building our raised beds.
We rotivated the land that we’d earmarked for the veg beds, as it was covered with old turf and years of weeds, roots and ivy.
We’d decided on a very informal, unstructured design to aim for a ‘cottage garden’ look, hopefully with the suggestion that the garden had evolved over time!
That said, we needed to get all the beds built in one go, so we spent some time mapping them out in the allocated space by using pallets, canes and string (and the old shed door) so we could get a feel for how the finished result would look and also how practical it would be. We made sure we could push a wheelbarrow between the beds and that none of them were too big to reach into the middle for planting and weeding.
We wanted the beds to be sturdy and rustic looking, we’d made raised beds from cheaper ‘diy store’ timber before but that was never going to have longevity. Fortunately our next door neighbour had built some similar and directed us to a local timber yard that sold relatively inexpensive sleepers, and even cut them all to size for us before we collected them, which was a huge bonus! We made the beds 2 sleepers high as we wanted to ensure that we’d got a good depth for root vegetables to grow.
Richard, my mum’s husband Neil and our new friend Sam from Selwyn Trees spent several days putting the frames of the raised beds together then fixing them into place in the garden using stakes and six inch nails!
The next challenge was to fill the beds with suitable topsoil. Fortunately, when we dug out an area to create the driveway, we were left with several huge piles of soil which was in excellent condition, as it had been left uncultivated for at least 20 years.
It was laborious work to move all the soil and we also had to sift it though a makeshift ‘riddler’ to rid it of roots, weeds and even shards of glass that had accumulated over time, but it was worth the effort and left us with perfect growing conditions! The soil did end up being a bit light once it had been sifted, meaning water tended to puddle on top of the soil, but it was essential that we cleared the debris before it was safe to use.
Once we’d finalised the layout of the vegetable garden, our first challenge was to get the main feature installed: the greenhouse.
We had set our hearts on a brick based, wooden framed greenhouse but unfortunately our budget wasn’t as ambitious as our dreams, but we were determined to find something that was eye-catching and not just a basic shape and frame.
Once we’d established where it was to be situated, we dug out the foundations on a very cold February day!
During this time, renovation was ongoing on the inside of the house too, and our helpful builder (who also happens to be our brother-in-law) put down a concrete base for us to start from.
We enlisted my Dad to help construct the framework, but the day that we chose just happened to be the coldest, windiest, winter’s day we’d encountered for a long time! Teamed with the fact that the assembly instructions were challenging to say the least, progress on building the greenhouse was much slower than we expected; in fact what should have taken a day took us well over a week to complete!
I’m pleased to say that, a year later, the greenhouse is standing strong so although it might have been easier to have paid for the construction, we saved ourselves money and learned a few new skills by erecting it ourselves!
At the time that we bought our house with its overgrown wilderness of a garden, we had no idea how much outdoor space we actually had, but we were certain that whatever the size, a large part of it would be taken up by raised beds and become a productive vegetable plot.
Once we’d cleared the overgrowth I started to map out different designs using growveg.com‘s garden planning software (this is by far the best software / app I’ve come across for this job, and I’ve tried a few!)
We allocated some space for a new driveway as we previously had no parking area, and we knew we wanted a new greenhouse to feature somewhere, but apart from that it was a blank canvas.
This was my first design:
We were very fortunate to have some expert help in the form of Monty Don visiting our garden as part of a TV show we had agreed to feature in, who advised us to make a feature of the greenhouse and not hide it away in the back corner. He also questioned why we felt the need for a lawn and we conceded that it was because, well, it’s ‘what people have in the garden’ – but that’s not really what we’re about!
I then went through various adaptations of the original plan, all quite rigid and angular, until it dawned on me that I really wanted a ‘cottage garden’ feel, and that simply didn’t work with straight paths and symmetrical beds.
A revised plan that was ditched:
I threw all the angles out of the window and created curved pathways (which also lead exactly to where we’ll want to go, and prevent us taking short cuts across the garden) laid out the raised beds in a very informal pattern and included different shapes and sizes so it would look like the garden developed ‘organically’. We decided we did still want some lawn area but that it wouldn’t be the dominant feature of the garden.
Here’s the final ‘on screen’ design before we started work:
A lot changed once we began the physical work; we switched the patio area and the lawn area round, moved the chickens over to the back right hand side where there was more room, and created a raised terrace area at the back of the garden to catch the last of the evening sun, which also meant moving the compost bins to behind the greenhouse – a much more sensible position!
Here’s a shot of the final result:
I’m in the process of creating individual posts about various aspects of the back garden to go into more detail about how we achieved the final look:
Both the front and back gardens were so neglected that we didn’t even know how much land we had, in fact we didn’t realise at all that we had a ‘3rd’ garden to the side of the house.
Obviously our first task was to clear away a lot of the overgrown shrubs and bushes so we could see what we had to work with! With the help of lots of friends and family over several weekends, days off and bank holidays, we set about the dense overgrowth where we revealed 5 apple trees, 3 flowering and 1 fruiting cherry trees and a mirabelle tree all which we pruned back but kept in the garden, as well as a giant blackcurrant bush which unfortunately had to go as it was blocking the light to house windows.
During this process we were very conscious of the fact that we were stripping away at ‘nature’ and whilst we preserved as much as we could, a lot of it just had to be removed, it was too old, too overgrown and in the case of most of the plants, choked in ivy.
However, we always tried to make best use of whatever we took out. Every plant and tree that was removed was shredded or chipped and a couple of trees that had to be removed were chopped up for future use for the wood burning stove that we were fitting in the living room.
We sacrificed a section of the back garden behind the garage to become a driveway as the property had no parking at all, and for the hardcore base of the drive, we reused bricks and rubble that had been removed during the house renovations.
The earth that was dug out for the base of the driveway was put into another gigantic pile and was later used to fill the raised beds we created!
The huge piles of chippings that we generated from the overgrowth have since been used all around the garden.
Nearly 2 years later and we’ve still got a huge wood pile of fuel to burn!
After several weeks of non-stop clearing, we were finally left with a blank canvas on which to build our new gardens, at the front, back and side of the house!
It’s been way too long since I updated this blog – we’ve just been so busy over the last year renovating the derelict house and garden that we bought in August 2013!
As some of you may already know, we were also filmed for a BBC programme in the whilst we were transforming the back of our property from an overgrown wilderness into a productive garden!
The programme ‘Big Dreams, Small Spaces‘ was presented by Monty Don (legend) who visited us on several occasions to help and advise us as well as getting stuck in with the hard work! It aired in October 2014 but it’s repeated from time to time on BBC2!
We had such an amazing time recording the show and it also pushed us to achieve a lot more in the garden than we would have done without the pressure of tv cameras following our progress!
Here are some individual posts of the various projects that we’ve undertaken in the garden, both on camera and off, and eventually I’ll start to update on what we’re doing in the garden this year!
For now, here’s a few shots of before, during and after the back garden transformation! Click on each image to see them full size and scroll through!