Friday, 5 June 2015

House year on

This weekend marks the first anniversary since I moved into my 1901 semi-detached cottage in Kent. I thought it would be interesting to look back over the first year and projects completed to see the changes...and set some priorities for the next 12 months.

I've tried to do some side-by-side comparisons - the left-hand photos are from just after I moved into the cottage, and the right-hand photos are the most recent photos I have of each space.

Front entrance
Complete! One of the most recent projects I've completed. Over the 12 months, I've repainted the masonry and front door, painted the picket fence, had a landscape gardener remove the pebbles and lay turf and planted two new garden beds.


Partly complete: I did an awful lot of work in the garden during last summer. I'm pleased with the basic evergreen structure that is in place, but I now plan to add some more planting in the two side borders to ensure more consistent interest throughout all seasons.


Complete! This is one of the first projects I tackled late last summer. All of the kitchen cupboards were painted, walls were painted and the glass mosaic tiles were replaced with white subway tiles. In December, the builder completed the last item which was to replace the sink and tap. In time, I plan to knock through the back wall to extend the kitchen and have french doors leading directly out to the garden...but this space is so much nicer to live with in the meantime.

Main Bedroom

Almost complete: The other major project that took up my time last year was redecorating the main bedroom. The dark pink paint was banished, plantation shutters were installed, and the builder added some much needed storage with built-in wardrobes. I also tried to add a little bit of character back to the cottage by reinstating the fireplace. I'm in the process of completing a few finishing touches to this room - curtains and artwork are currently being added.

Sitting/Dining Room

Still much to do: I've yet to really make an impact in this space. I did re-paint the walls late last year and the dark olive green has been replaced with grey...however, I've decided that it is a shade too dark and plan to repaint. I've also finished reupholstering new dining chairs. Still to do is to make a new slip cover for the sofa, and make a roman blind for the dining room window. Art work needs to be hung and I'm considering a rug for under the dining table. In the longer term the carpet will be replaced with floor boards, and built-in cupboards will be installed on either side of the chimney breast in the sitting room.

Projects for the coming year

1. Repair garage and replace roof - My little garage needs some work asap - some cracks in the brick work are widening, and the wooden window and side door desperately need replacing. The roof is old corrugated asbestos sheeting which also needs to replaced. Nothing pretty about any of this work, but this is the next renovating savings target.

2. Finish the redecoration of the spare bedroom - as you can see below work has started on this bedroom. I spent the Easter weekend stripping wallpaper and repainting. However, the room is still full of boxes that I am in the midst of culling before I can put the finishing touches on this room.

3. The bathroom - I think I must have become immune to this dark blue paint as I can't believe that I have lived with it for a year! But, it will definitely be changing this year.

Most of the work is cosmetic - I've already had plantation shutters installed at the window. Still to complete:
  • Paint walls
  • Replace bath panel
  • Replace radiator
  • Replace ceiling light and install wall sconces
  • Replace mirror
  • Refinish fireplace
I will need to book visits by the electrician and plumber to fix the lighting and radiator, but the rest will be up to me. I want to at least have the radiator replaced before it becomes time to turn the heating back on in the autumn.

4. The hallway - like the blue bathroom, I have been closing my eyes to the colour of the walls and carpet. The walls will be painted, carpet taken up and stairs refinished, and the banister on the upstairs landing will be stripped and refinished.

So, a busy 12 months...and an equally busy year to come...

Friday, 29 May 2015

Sissinghurst Castle Garden...

The last weekend in May was a bank holiday in the UK and I finally took the opportunity to visit Sissinghurst Castle Garden. Sissinghurst is a National Trust garden, and despite moving to Kent a year ago, this was my first visit - shameful really, as it is only 30 minutes away.

The weather has been a bit changeable, but Monday dawned with sunshine and blue skies, so off to Sissinghurst I went...

In the middle of the beautiful Kent countryside, Sissinghurst is famous for being the home of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson. The couple moved to the estate in the 1930's and set about creating the wonderful garden rooms that you can visit today.

Sissinghurst actually dates from the Saxon period where it started life as a pig farm before being developed into a moated manor house. Throughout the intervening centuries the estate went through a number of iterations, including a renaissance rebuild in the 16th century, and period as a prison camp in the 18th century.

The Oast House - a common sight in this part of Kent

The property was bought in 1932 by Vita Sackville-West (poet/writer) and her husband Arthur Nicolson (diplomat/author). Harold undertook the architectural planing for the series of garden rooms that you can explore today, while the planting schemes were designed by Vita. Most famous for the 'white garden', each room is beautiful, ranging from restful blues and purples to one filled with fiery oranges, reds and yellows.

Vita's designs are still the inspiration behind many garden designers of today - I spoke with one staff member at the site who also said that the white garden is under redevelopment at the moment to bring it back to the planting scheme initially designed by Vita.

While the peonies and many of the roses were only still in bud (I think another visit in a month or two is in order), the gardens were a riot of colours...and the smell was divine.

And there was beauty wherever you looked...

Given my plans to add planting to my own garden for year-round interest, I hope to re-visit Sissinghurst each season for inspiration...

Monday, 25 May 2015

Spring in the garden...

A few weeks ago I posted about the changes I had made to the front garden. Over the past few weeks it has also been heartening to see that the work I did in the back garden throughout last summer and autumn is starting to come to fruition.

After stripping out all of the overgrown shrubs, I was left with some quite bare garden borders and an unwell looking lawn...
September 2014

Over the autumn I planted ten hydrangea bushes which have come into leaf and three standard roses. The grass has also mostly recovered, with a few uneven spots on which I am still working. I'm pleased with the basic structure of the garden, but while there are a few lovely signs of spring (not least the lovely crab apple in the back corner), it has also helped me to plan the work I wish to undertake this year to ensure earlier spring interest (bulbs....lots of bulb planting!). Heidi, of the lovely Adelaide Villa blog, has also suggested that I can help reduce the impact of the expanse of somewhat ugly fencing by painting it a dark charcoal. I am quite keen to do this and have pinned many pictures for inspiration - however, after the 15 hours of painting that was the marathon involved in painting the front picket fence, I think I need to rebuild my motivation and energy before I do so...

Here is how the garden looks as of two weekends ago...

...and I eventually decided to pull out the brightly yellow coloured but very spiky berberis and now have a lovely camellia gracing that space instead...

Monday, 18 May 2015

A gardener's shed...

June 2014

This is my first home with a garden, and hence my first need of a garden shed. Luckily, the property came with a shed at the end of the garden when I bought it...unfortunately, it was a fairly unattractive shade of bright blue...

Last summer when I did most of the major changes to the back garden, I also painted the outside of the shed, so it had less of an obvious presence at the end of the garden...
September 2014

While the outside had improved, the inside was not somewhere I wanted to spend any time. It was dark, dusty and fully of seemingly hundreds of spider webs. I used to go in and out as quickly as possible to retrieve what I needed.

At the beginning of spring, I decided that the time had come to pull everything out and make it a more functional place for storage (and somewhere I was happy to venture). I forgot to take a photo of it in its cluttered and spider-infested glory, but here is how it looked after I pulled everything out, swept it from top to bottom for dust, dirt and spider webs and liberally applied insect spray...

It actually looks a lot brighter in these pictures than it ever felt in actuality. I decided to whitewash the ceiling and walls, add a potting bench, some shelving and a tool rack. It is still just a serviceable garden shed but it is at least now easy to put my hand on what I need (and no longer scary to enter!)...

Just in time for the garden-oriented activities of spring and summer to begin...

Sunday, 10 May 2015

New dining chairs (and my first attempt at reupholstery)...

The popularity of faux-bamboo Chippendale style chairs has been in train now for quite a few years - and I've always liked the thought of how easily these chairs lend themselves to so many different colours, fabrics and interior styles.

Although I have a lovely antique oak dining table, I have been living with some basic ikea dining chairs for the past 6 years. Whilst perfectly serviceable, they were really a make-do option until I found something I really liked.

Over the past year I have intermittently searched ebay and gumtree for dining chair options. While the faux-bamboo chairs seem to be quite easy to obtain in the US, they are very rare here in the UK...unless you want to buy new, and then they retail for about £600 each. So, I had put the thought of these aside and was focusing my search on antique bentwood chairs. However, they brought their own issues - by the nature of their construction, and their age, they were often not the sturdiest or most comfortable chairs on which to spend several hours sitting over a leisurely dinner.

Then in February this year I found the unexpected on gumtree - not only that, but they were actually located in my own town in Kent. I quickly became the owner of four of these...

The chairs and upholstery were in good condition, but a renovation project beckoned. I read many blog posts of others who have done this before me...essentially, it wasn't too difficult - mainly an exercise in perseverance and endurance (and not to mention blisters) in order to remove hundreds of staples.

Over a rainy Easter weekend, I turned my garage into spray-painting central, making repeated trips out to apply layers of white paint.

A few evenings with a staple gun to recover the chairs, and a glue gun to apply the trim, and the chairs were complete...

Of course, now that these are finished and in place in my dining room, it has highlighted the changes I still want to make to that space - so a few more tasks have been added to the to-do list...

Sunday, 3 May 2015

First impressions...

Back in the cold and damp days of February, the project to revamp my front garden began. After a good three months, and not to mention the work I did last summer, the front entrance to my home now finally gives the first impression that I had hoped...

When I first started looking for a house, I was hoping for a Victorian or Edwardian home - something that had character. So, when I found this 1901 Victorian semi-detached cottage in my price range I was delighted. However, although the Victorian bones were there, the front entrance was really not to my taste.

As a reminder, here is where I started last June:

The picket fence was weathering at different rates, resulting in mismatched colours, the front garden was very straggly and even the lovely lavender had become very woody, and I was definitely not enamoured with the blue front door and expanse of pebbles in the garden.

In August I completed some essential work to repair the cracked and peeling paint on the window and door architraves - and taking the opportunity to change the colour of the front door. I also pulled out all of the existing shrubs (that had been trampled while I worked on the bay window) and started to plant the structure of the new garden...

August 2014

In August last year I started to get quotes from landscape gardeners to come and relay the path to the front door and side gate, remove the pebbles, build some brick garden edging for the window garden bed and a new garden along the front fence, and finally, lay turf. Having found a lovely, and reasonably priced landscaper, I then had to wait until February of this year to find a slot in his work schedule where he could fit in my work.

So, in mid February, work finally started. Here are the before pics:

From the side path looking towards the front fence

The old and decrepit side path

After a few days, the garden was starting to take shape. All of the pebbles had been removed and both paths had been re-laid with pale grey sandstone. My neighbours also decided to have their front path replaced, so we were able to make this a joint (and consistent) effort.

Paths complete, brick garden edging laid and ground prepared for turf.

February is not the best time to lay turf, so I had to wait another three weeks or so until the worst of the overnight frosts had passed before Leo returned to lay the turf. After much dithering, I also decided to paint the front picket fence - I had received conflicting advice about this, but in the end decided that I really didn't feel that the weathered wood look was what I wanted.

Two weeks ago we had a nice batch of dry weather, including a weekend - so I decided to make the most of it. Thirteen hours of painting later and the worst of it is done (part of the side section still needs another coat...but they are predicting dry weather tomorrow, so I hope to have it finished then).

A last bout of planting in the rain last Sunday, and the front garden is finally I just need to wait for the new plants to grow and fill out - but that will be a much easier task to watch and enjoy.

The After...

 The bay garden has two standard myrtles, some lavender and aquilegias (to remind me of my grandmother). I've just planted an edging of Japenese Holly - this is gaining increasing popularity here in the UK as it is very similar to box, but not subject to box blight which seems increasingly prevalent. 

The fence garden has a standard white lilac in the centre of the bed, flanked by choiysa ternata - these will grow into hedges that I'll keep clipped to around fence height.

The much improved side path

It took a long time to reach this point, but it is now a real pleasure to come home and see the difference...