Wednesday, 12 July 2017

DIY greenhouse!

A month of so ago my old fella and I were sitting on our swinging hammock, sipping coffee, listening to the birds, enjoying the sunshine and the feeling that all the major tasks we'd set ourselves for summer were over. I'd begun to toy with the idea of days out, walks on the beach, leisurely picnics ...

"I've had an idea," he says, jerking me from my dreaming. "I'm going to build you a better greenhouse."
"O - kaaaay," I said, interest piqued.
old teeny tiny greenhouse interior (see massive phormium behind)

When we moved I said I wouldn't need a greenhouse with such a comparitively small garden but that had quickly proved false and we soon realised we couldn't do without one. Luckily enough, early last year we purchased a small second hand one from a local swap shop. It was a snip at £20 and we only had to buy a few bits of glass to complete the glazing. I was thrilled with it but by spring it was bursting at the seams and I was deeply mourning the loss of my two good sized greenhouses we'd left behind. 
you can just about see the old greenhouse location here

John's lightbulb moment involved building a sturdy lean to frame along the back of the garden, taking the current greenhouse apart and using both sides to glaze the one long side of the new one (does that make sense? It didn't to me at first). This would double the floor place, at the same time opening up a sizeable area of garden for other use. Just one thing stood in the way: a beautiful rhodedendron and an oversized, quite ugly and intrusive green phormium. 

After much deliberation we decided to preserve the rhodedendron by building around it, and sacrificing the phormium. Within half an hour we had a notebook out, making drawings, and noting my 'must haves'. Our relaxing summer was forgotten as enthusiasm chased away our lethargy.

He is a very clever man, technically quite brilliant to my bedazzled eyes and I could envisage the finished building, see myself happily growing plants in my new, stylish greenhouse (complete with space for table and chair where I can write on chilly wet days).

The first thing to go was the phormium and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't sad to see it fall beneath the chain saw. Surprisingly the root dug out easily, leaving a heap of dry undernourished soil that hadn't seen light of day since Lord knows when. We then had to cart it to the tip, move the compost heap, the pile of tatty of slabs he'd been hoarding for some reason known only to him, and dig out a really pretty and very old rose that had been struggling for lack of light.

We did try to save it but it was too tricky to get out and in the end the root came away in pieces. In vain hope, I potted the root into a large pot and now a month on it is sprouting healthy vigorous shoots. I think I will get several plants from it. I shall let it grow on in the pot and plant it out in the spring. It is a pretty purple colour; a short rambler I think from its habit.

The site now clear we laid shallow foundations and John began to construct the frame. I'd like to take some credit for this but my only use was holding uprights in place and passing him screws and hammers and making cups of tea. The frame could have gone up quicker but we were held up by the demands of work and the odd rain shower but at last it was up and a polycarbonate roof in place.

Now for the glazing! John's careful measuring meant the glazing bars from the old greenhouse could be screwed in place easily and the glass inserted. We purchased a vent for the end wall. The back wall is made of board and weather proofed with roofing felt. I painted the frame to match the shed, a sage green that blends with the planting in a soft, easy on the eye manner.

With the greenhouse completed (almost) the outside was a mess but quickly solved by membrane and gravel. We wanted a flower bed along the fence which is the sunniest side of the garden but when we tried to dig we found buried concrete foundations, loads of tree roots so, to make life easier, we resorted to a raised bed and at last the plants I'd been hoarding in pots for too long had a home. We planted climbing roses, clematis, hollyhocks, poppies, liatris, campanula, fuschia, siberian iris, lupins, marigolds, dwarf rhodedenron and I am sure other things will find their way in (and out) as it matures. The gravel will soften as things self seed from other areas of the garden and the plants begin to cascade over the walls of the raised bed.
See how we built around the rhodedendron?

I would say all in all we have made 100% improvement to that end of the garden. It now resembles a courtyard garden, with places to sit, entertain, hoard more pots of plants; and inside the greenhouse I can work, overwinter plants, sow seed, grow plants on, and on rainy days sit and admire the garden from a brand new perspective.

It is our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary coming up at the end of July but we've been together for thirty two years - I think I made the right choice. I think he's a keeper.

Monday, 10 July 2017


The night before
It was late June, we'd had weeks of lovely mild weather, long afternoons and evenings of tender care had produced a joyful, tranquil effect.  I could barely tear myself away to go to bed. That night, smug and happy with my garden. I lay awake thinking of it, picturing it in my mind. Circling the pristine lawn, the roses were in full bloom, the foliage of the trees lush and green, diffusing the sunshine; the ornamental grasses swaying in the slight breeze, the giant daisies standing proud, the fuschias dancing in the late evening light. 
Miss Bateman (clematis) unknown Rose and Hardy Geranium

The next morning I stood, coffee in hand, in dismay as I watched it lashed by rain brought in on a ferocious north westerly wind. The trees dashed their arms like mad men, their leaves falling like confetti; the roses dripping wet, their petals swept away to stick fast to the patio windows. I could not bear to watch but I could not look away.
battered courgette

Fine sunny weather lures us into a sense of security. We come to believe it will last and last. It is only when the storm comes that we remember the precious plants we've neglected to tie securely, the lupins we should have staked, the daisies and hollyhocks that could really have done with some hidden support. We all need something to cling to in inclement weather btu as I stood at the window I thought my heart would break. For two days and one night the garden had to fend for itself.
flattened daisies

When it finally eased, I ventured outside and looked around at the lawn strewn with debris, plants blasted, some broken at the root, some fallen flat, beaten into the earth with their heart opened to view. It was a massacre but as I stood there with my trug bucket and rake,  I knew I could put it to rights. I could pick up the sticks and the litter, I could stake the plants (rather too late) tie them up, and dead head the now naked roses. It would come again. There was just one thing I couldn't put right. The worst damage was as yet invisible. I had to wait for it to show. Yet to come was the cruel burning of the salt that is carried off the sea in high coastal winds.
salt burn

It must have surprised the neighbours to see me, after such a  heavy deluge, hosing the shrubs and roses but it helps to wash off what salt you can. There was nothing to be done for the trees and taller shrubs however but watch them turn slowly from lush green to crispy brown, and then flutter down to be gathered up from the lawn. 


But this week as I dead head and fill my buckets with debris, new shoots are already emerging, the plants are beginning to straighten up and hold their heads to the sun again. I know the garden will come back and be lovely again, maybe not as fine and lush as before but it will recover and I will learn from it and be prepared next year.
Bucket one of debris
It isn't all gloom. I took the opportunity of pruning some of the roses, harder than I usually would in summer and I gave them the July feed a little earlier. They are already responding. There is nothing as cheering as a rose, so I can't be too downhearted. I am pinning my hopes on the second flush. Gardens are never perfect - I don't think they should be, but we always aspire to it. Now the greenhouse is almost up and running (I will blog about that next time) next year will be better than this and the year after that, better still.

Lady Emma Hamilton

Harlow Carr

Labelled Just Joey but I don't think it is so I just call it My How Pretty!

Olivia Jane Austin

Monday, 22 May 2017


When we decided to downsize from our smallholding to a regular house, we were not looking for a semi detached house, in fact we were after something with far more character. But, finding ourselves in need of a rapid move, we viewed this hosue which was in the right location. We were instantly swayed by the fabulous sea views, the enticing romantically neglected garden and the tasteful interior renovations that had already been done. We haven't regretted the drastic change from period smallholding to modern seaside residence for one moment and welcomed the opportunity to make it our own.

When we moved in the front garden had not changed since the property was built in the 1950's.  It is fair to say it has never been pretty. What were once cheap and cheerful pink and green concrete slabs had faded to a sad, stained grey - it was earmarked for change on the first day we viewed the property. During the recent work carried out on the back garden we made it even less attractive by dumping a huge pile of top soil and rubble on it. A week or so ago we decided it had to go.

Our initial intention was to lift all the slabs but when we discovered that each slab had been laid on four or five inches of hard concrete we decided to just remove the outer edges and put gravel in the middle to cover those remaining.

It was hard work, at least five trailer loads were taken away by my other half and his trusty helper while I dug the borders and transferred the huge pile of soil to the edges. We slept very well indeed that night.

Next the new fence went in, carefully chosen to deflect the wind and (hoepfully) not blow away in the next gale! Over the next few days we put in a few plants - some grasses,  a few roses, some hardy fuschia, and some azaleas that I know will survive because they've been out there all winter in pots. Whatever we plant has to be tough because during the winter we are often beset by strong northerly winds that are laden with salt blown in off the sea. As yet, it looks quite bare but the plants will grow up tough and those that don't thrive will be replaced by others more likely to withstand the weather.

John laid a raised edge to help keep the gravel from the flower beds and we then hauled a half ton of gravel from the quarry. The only big job now is the replacement of the nasty concrete steps with something smarter - the jury is still out on that. We are finally getting there. The front garden may not be remarkable but it is at least neat and tidy and people won't look at it with horror. We have had many complements - apparently the neighbours have been watching our progress and taking bets on what we will plant.

You might think we'd take a rest from it all now but no, he has already begun his next project. A bigger better and prettier greenhouse! I can hardly wait!

Monday, 24 April 2017

Such a busy time of year

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As well as writing my next book, Book three of The Beaufort Chronicles: The King's Mother, I've been busy in the garden. It is only our second summer here at Aberporth so we are only just beginning to discover how we will use the garden and prioritising what needs doing first. Last year, it was a case of clearing years of neglect and getting a shed up for John to fill with the useless junk he loves to accumulate. This year we decided our first major job would be the patio as discussed in the last post. This served to make all the rest of the ancient hard landscaping look rather shabby so this week we got the seating area beneath the trees gravelled, and laid the first part of the path in slabs matching the patio.

There was a sort of existing patio beneath the trees but it had been badly laid many years ago using chunks of Welsh slate held together with ugly concrete. As the trees grew the roots had pushed up the slate making it hazardous and ugly, there was also a large chunk of concrete that John had to chip away at with his drill so we could move it. The gravel looks nicer, wont spoil as the trees grow and it will be easy to get small things to germinate in it, creating a soft edge and a rustic feel. The other half of the path will be tackled next but I am allowing John a few days rest.

When we completed the patio and I began to dig out flower beds to soften the edges we discovered that the builders who did the extension for the previous owners had dumped a lot of rubble beneath the grass and turfed over it! My intended cottage planting was not to be unless I was prepared to haul all the rubble out and replace the soil. Instead, I took a lazy way out and made it into a seaside garden, gravel and rocks, pebbles and shells, planted up with sea pinks and succulents, and sempervivums. When I find treasures on my beach walks I will add them to the collection. The beach garden has already been tested out on our grandson and he loves it. Our dog, Bryn also likes it, finding the warm stone nice to sleep on.

Of course, all this activity means we have the front garden from hell - people walk by and cast scathing glances at the pile of precious top soil (meant for the front border when we get round to doing it), the pile of rubble meant for the dump and the stash of slate we hope to reuse somewhere. I am not at all used to having the worst garden in the street and I don't like it at all!

On Sunday we attended the West Wales Plant Sale at a local mansion, Rhosygilwen, and spent a small fortune on plants.They were all so healthy looking, some unusual specimens and all in all a great day out. I do love to shop for plants.

We bought more hellibore, some heuchera, an unusual looking fritilary, some verbascum, a tall blue thing whose name escapes me, and some primroses and astrantias. I am praying that the threatened cold snap the weather people say is coming will bypass us - I couldn't stand it if my garden was spoiled at this stage! It is just beginning to look gorgeous. By the beginning of next spring I hope to have a few more beds in place so we will definitely go to the plant sale again. I wouldn't mind a trip to Gardener's World Live but I think we've left it too late to plan.

The last week or so has been lovely in the garden, out of the cold wind the sun has been almost too hot for me but I've enjoyed planting, filling the planting hole with organic matter and mulching afterwards as part of the soil improvement programme. In fact, I was relieved when they said we were to have rain last night and today but so far it is dry. I shall have to get the hose pipe out again!

Monday, 3 April 2017

Sheds, patios and the promise of summer - Spring 2017

Luckily, I am not as behind with the garden as I am with the blogging! Last summer the garden quickly improved and by mid summer was almost the idyll we are  striving for.

Since we have downsized from a small farm with three barns to a semi with just a garage and a tumble down garden shed we decided it was time to be building a new, bigger and better one. After all, a man has to keep his junk somewhere. Using just his brains and his brawn, John built it from scratch  - but of course, he'd never have done it without his ever willing labourer - me!  It is certainly a better building than the one that was there before - it is double glazed and insulated and will have electricity once he has got around to it.

Since January this year, I've been poking around outside, uncovering shooting bulbs and tidying up. The pots of bulbs I planted have been lovely and the mild winter seems to have benefited everything. When I pruned the roses I was not quite sure where to cut as most of them had retained their leaves all winter!

When it is too cold or wet to garden I like to shop online for plants and browse Pinterest for ideas and planting schemes. I have ordered everything from clematis to creeping phlox, fuchsias to lavender so, in theory, come Summer it should be looking splendid. Most things have arrived unscathed, all apart from my sweetpeas which seem to have gone astray in the post. The company in question assure me fresh ones have been sent out but they will be going in late and I am more than a little cross. Sweetpeas are a massive part of summer - fragrance in the garden, fragrance in the house - I can't do without them!

All the jobs were done by early March: the tidy up, the roses fed and pruned, seeds sown in the greenhouse and the grass given its first cut. But one big job remained - the laying of the patio!

Early in the year, with the help of a couple of lads from the village, we dug out the area to be paved. Then we set about laying the slabs. We opted for sandstone - pale grey in the dry and a dark slick grey in the rain. Luckily, as with most things, John is very skilled in this department and with me acting as chief labourer again we had it done in about two weekends. It looks a bit bland in the photos but once I have the seating in place and the pots are planted up and blooming, it will be lovely. I look forward to sitting near the house while dinner is cooking, soaking up the last of the day's sun.

We hummed and haa'd for a while about what sort of edging to use and in the end decided on railway sleepers. they should soon mellow to a lovely grey and complement the paving nicely. The sleepers were relatively easy to put in, and once the flower beds are dug out and planted up to soften it we will be all set for summer - 

or that is what we thought until we realised the path needs replacing, and then there is an area beneath the trees that needs rethinking as a shady sitting nook. Then of course, there is the front which resembles a building yard rather than a garden!

Still, I always say a gardener is never happy unless there is a job to be tackled!