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 complete...now 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...

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Scenes of Cambridge...


As my current projects around my home remain only part completed, I did have a lovely afternoon a few weeks ago wandering around the college quarter of Cambridge. As Cambridge is only an hour from London, I'm quite embarrassed to admit that it has been at least 8 years since I was last here. Like Oxford, it such a lovely place to wander.

Although it is technically spring here, it was still a cold and gloomy afternoon...but touches of spring were apparent in some of the window boxes, if not yet in the actual temperature...










So much history, so much beautiful architecture, and a great number of lovely tea shops in which to warm up with a cup of tea and a scone with jam and cream - a pretty perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon...

Monday, 2 March 2015

Customising bathroom storage...


One of the rooms I plan to redecorate/lightly renovate this year is the bright blue bathroom. I've been gradually collecting bits and pieces as I've seen them that will be added to the room. The new vanity mirror, wall sconces and ceiling light are ready and waiting.

I spent months stalking ebay for a glass-fronted cupboard to add much needed storage to the room. The bathroom has an Edwardian style pedestal sink, so there are no other places to store/hide the clutter of bathroom essentials. While I was in Australia I finally found a cupboard that was the perfect dimensions to fit the space, and at an equally perfect price (only £20!). I collected it once I returned and it is now in place ready for the other elements of the room to change around it.

One of the problems with the use of a glass fronted cabinet, is finding pretty storage options for what will go inside it - those that should and shouldn't be seen. When I was in Home Sense last week I found this nice metal storage crate. It had the perfect dimensions and I thought it would be just right to store spare hand towels and loo roll. However, I was less than impressed with the rough canvas insert.

So, using fabric I had left over from when I made the kitchen blind, it now looks like this...



Much better - and with some pretty cotton lace detail as well. Now I just need to get on with making plans for the rest of the room...

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Paisley crewelwork at the RSN, Hampton Court Palace...


I am belatedly catching up with and completing some embroidery projects that I started in the latter part of last year. One weekend in November, I returned to the Royal School of Needlework to do a two-day course in paisley crewelwork. The tutor for the course was Florence Collingwood who I hadn't learnt from before, but whose teaching style I very much enjoyed.


This was a very enjoyable piece to work as it included such a variety of stitches, including some of the very traditional Jacobean elements such as trellis. It also included stem stitch, block shading, long and short, satin stitch, bullions and french knots, single and double seeding, herringbone, cretan and vandyke stitch, and finally some whipped and woven wheels. A number of these stitches were new to me, and for others it was a good refresher.


Paisley designs are inextricably linked with the town of Paisley (near Glasgow in Scotland) which was one of the major centres of shawl manufacturers. Originating with weavers in Kashmir who had produced exquisite cloth shawls for centuries, shawls began to be brought to the UK through the movements of British travellers, troops and merchants. With increasing popularity, the silk and cashmere shawls became covetable fashion items. Local industries then set out to produce similar items at a lesser cost to meet the growing demand. Paisley shawls were manufactured in a range of textiles including woven cashmere, embroidered wool and printed silk. One of the most common motifs used in paisley work is the tear drop design.

Of course a trip to the RSN at Hampton Court Palace is not complete with at least some time spent admiring the beautiful grounds from the vantage point of the RSN classroom windows...




The first day was one of those beautifully sunny winter days we do get on occasion here in England - however, the long, low shadows certainly indicate that winter was definitely approaching (and from memory, the second day of the course was misty, cold and damp!). However, the Saturday was still revealing some late blooms in the rose garden...


I spent a bit of time over the past weekend finishing off the design. It was the first time I had embellished my embroidery (other than when I did the goldwork course), but I like the effect that adding the vintage buttons and a few sequins provided - I think it gives a bit of whimsy to the design. I plan to frame this piece (along with some of the others I've completed at the RSN) to line my hallway.


One of the reasons I wanted to complete this piece is that I'm off to the RSN again this weekend where I am doing another Jacobean crewelwork course. But it is nice to tick one of the 'unfinished' projects off my list!