New House, New Garden: Introduction

After a seven month house sale and purchase, we finally moved into our new home in mid January.

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I shall simply ignore Jim’s suggestion of planting a tall, thin Italian cypress between the large yew balls

This is what we bought and how it looked on our first viewing last September.  It’s a flint and brick, terrace cottage; built – according to the estate agent – in the 18th century.

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I should stress this is pre-makeover

Neglected, victim to some novel decorating wheezes, horrid 70’s additions and with most of its original, internal features ripped away, we fell for it anyway.

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January

The cottage is tucked up against a hill and the south-facing garden is steeply tiered with six levels.  From kitchen door to rear garden fence is about 80 feet and it’s 33 feet wide.  After our last garden, which was wider and twice as long, this one feels manageable.

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October 2015

The house was let out for the past two or three years and the tenants excelled at growing bindweed, nettle, dandelion and dock.  Actually, I suspect they weren’t awfully keen on gardening.

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January – first things first, put up a bird-feeder

At ground level is a paved terrace (with an annoying corner that puddles after heavy rain)

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Messy builders.  I must sweep those steps

from which brick and flagged steps lead to the first tier;

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and further wooden steps continue to the top lawn.  We quickly discovered the pain of leaving secateurs or a cup of tea on the lowest level when working at the top.  (Doing that four times is 60 feet of climbing – being forgetful is good exercise, at least). The wooden-step ‘treads’ are – badly – lined with weed control fabric and gravel.  Spanish bluebells, Herb-Robert and goose-grass aren’t much bothered by weed control fabric.

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October 2015

At the end of the garden is an old, rickety shed which was mostly hidden by ivy and overhanging branches.

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February

An early task was to cut all that away and prune a pair of canker-ridden apple trees.  We also planned to replace the shed’s decayed timber, fix the leaking roof and give it a lick of paint.  But we made a silly error.   We moved a nest box from one of the apple trees to the shed first.

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And now, of course, the box is home to blue tits and, until the young fledge, the shed must wait.

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We collected all the keepsakes and memorabilia left by the previous owners.

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That took a while.

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Next, I trimmed the Lonicera nitida hedge running down the right-hand boundary.  I say Lonicera hedge but strictly speaking it’s a mixed hedge: a mix of Lonicera, bindweed and bramble.

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With the offcuts and prunings from the hedge and apple trees, as well as Amazonian brambles,

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I spent six or seven hours feeding, and coughing over, an incinerator; sorely missing the big bonfire site at the Priory.

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But most of our time and effort is concentrated on the house.  We’ve never had a conservatory before and were pleased it was wooden rather than uPVC.

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Right up until the moment we discovered that one end was rotten through.  The wood was like a sponge: press it and water dribbled out.

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Jim removed and replaced all the soggy wood – which impressed me no end.  After 23 years, I’m pleased with his progress and think he may now have passed his probationary period.

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February

Indoors, walls and ceilings were all lavishly coated with Artex.  This is our fifth house renovation and, initially, all of them were heavily Artexed.  I hate Artex and we two are on a life-long mission to rid the world of swirly walls and spiralled ceilings.  Downstairs, we’ve made a start and the damnable stuff has disappeared under new plaster. The speed and skill of our plasterers was breathtaking but living in a house with freshly plastered, sopping walls (in February) wasn’t the idyllic, cottage lifestyle I signed up for.  If you’re feeling a little low however, it brings on full-blown depression nicely.

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February

So that’s a short introduction to our new garden and a little of what we’ve done in the house.  I’ll post a follow-up soon with progress since the first garden clearing operation and maybe some more house stuff too.  But with so much of the latter – including painting all that paster – the garden must play second fiddle.  We have a limited budget for the house and our budget for the garden?  A big, fat 0.  We’ll be doing the garden to the beat of one mantra: no money!   Hopefully it’ll look good but this will be a very cheap and simple garden makeover.  And I mean cheap.

90 thoughts on “New House, New Garden: Introduction

  1. The cottage looks super from the outside. It is so good to have a place that is great to come home to and it looks like that. The garden looks a challenge. I can’t imagine what I would do with it so I am looking forward to the continuing make-over. Amelia

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    • I like the “from the outside” bit, Amelia. Not keen on the flower paintings then? 🙂 I’ve been doing gloss work this week with a growing dread of how much more there is to do. The garden has hardly had a look-in!

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  2. Golly gosh Dave and Jim – what an amazing cottage and garden – and what a lot to do. A real find. I was a bit downhearted about the reference to those people who let the bindweed proliferate not being very keen on gardening…..well, we struggle on with bindweed after 20 years in this house. We set it back, and back it comes. This week we are going to try the jelly Roundup….As for goosegrass and herb robert, I’m quite fond of them (in small amounts) they don’t feel like enemies like bindweed and groundelder. Grrrr….

    Anyway, you two will make a wonder out of your new patch and if ever you get bored or overtired come over here on your way to the Cotswolds or something and have a meal and a look at the imperfect but (we think) colourful and definitely fertile garden we have here…. and drop a few gentle words of advice to seed down. This week the stars are acquilegias (sp?), the Salmon Dream peony, the wisteria and a white clematis. And there seem to be plenty of flowers on the broad beans this year, last year was a flop, Anyway you don’t want to hear about other people’s gardens, you’ve enough to do. Nancy’s taking me to Chelsea tomorrow, what fun. Lots of love, Ursie

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    • Hi Ursie, it was more the amount, size and variation of weeds that led me to my conclusion. Gardening would hardly be the same without the joys of bindweed. I rather like herb robert too …. and in my first garden, keen to have some wildflowers, even ordered some hr plug plants!!! The innocence of the beginner, eh? I was offered a last minute ticket to Chelsea for today – we could have met! But sadly I had to turn it down. Definitely looking forward to seeing your garden. We’ll see you soon, Dxx

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  3. Thanks for finally pulling back the curtain on this one, or rather thanks for holding off until a few glimmers of hope ignited! The exterior looks great with such solid doors and windows but what a contrast to the interior… you have your work cut out for you.
    I can’t imagine wanting a complex garden after working all day in another. I would almost welcome some gravel mulch and architectural plants to ponder as I relaxed with a drink. I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with!
    A thin Italian cypress? Here we would go with a nice American Arborvitae. I hear the cultivar ‘Nigra’ has a much better form if you want something bigger.

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    • You’ve nailed it, Frank. It will be a simple garden but I’ll explain the reasons why in the next post about the garden (though working gardeners wanting an easy life is definitely pertinent). Thanks for the tree tip (which made me laugh) but please don’t encourage Jim. He really doesn’t need encouragement.

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  4. It looks wonderful, Dave—though I can imagine the chaos being tiresome. Does weed barrier exist for any reason other than to irritate gardeners? I keep walking past my neighbor’s house where a loose corner has popped up (as one invariably does) and have to stop myself from giving it a good yank.

    Looking forward to the follow-up post. Holler if you need any prickly pear starts. xS

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    • I’ve worked in and seen so many gardens, Stacy where weed fabric is simply an unsightly addition to an area and, as you say, with bits flapping about in the breeze. And often covered in weeds too. I’ll remember to holler, thanks, if I decide to go down the cacti garden route. Btw, I consider you a good yank. Dx

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  5. I am even later than Diana but had a hilarious time reading your blog and all the comments.Good luck with your project, you two and Boy have certainly taken on a task, but it will give you something to do after work. Put me down for donating plants if you would like some; I am overrun with London Pride at the moment. Seriously though – it will be lovely when you are finished – Is a garden ever finished? Keep us all posted, you have a lot of friends out here.

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    • What a lovely comment, thank you. Though usually when I get home from work, I barely have the energy to glance at the garden and groan – let alone do something about it. The Boy is a marvel, actually. He’s sitting his GCSE’s in the middle of all this mayhem – which damns our parenting somewhat. But we are shielding him from the worst of it – honest – and the most disruptive stuff will wait until he’s finished (he added hastily before Child Services turn up). He’ll be telling his counsellor all about it in the years to come, I fear.

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  6. The wet plaster stage is definitely the worst. It doesn’t dry very quickly in February does it. But good to get it out of the way at the start. Our predecessors opted for woodchip paper rather than artex, just as bad really as that too requires a replaster once it’s removed. They even put the dreaded stuff on the ceilings. Why do people do it? More to the point, why do we? Good luck. The house is going to be beautiful once complete. It’s a gem.

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    • For once we don’t have woodchip! Yay! A rare omission, in our experience but on the ceilings too? Good grief. In the past we’ve used massive gas burners to dry out wet plaster but didn’t bother this time. I wish we had – it took a good week to dry out in Feb. We haven’t finished plastering yet and still have all the upstairs to do, I’m sorry to say. We can’t store all our stuff and live in the house whilst having it all done in one hit, though we have in the past. That was grim! D

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        • Oh dear. I do commiserate. We went through a similar experience in our last house. Camping in our bedroom whilst walls came down, walls went up, builders, plasterers, electricians and plumbers tramped through the house. Our bedding and everything was covered in a fine film of dust and the only running water was a hose and tap sticking out of the kitchen floor. If it’s any more consolation I’ve spent the day sanding a bedroom floor. Despite best precautions, I dread to think what nasties I’ve inhaled. Why do we do it?

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      • I am at that very grim stage, living with the builders, plasterers etc with no heating and only half the house has electricity.
        Why do we do it to ourselves? 🙂

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        • I do sympathise with you. All of our BIG building work and plastering is done now but we still have a squalid kitchen and bathroom but fingers crossed they will be replaced next month. It must be grim being without power but if it helps, half our downstairs has no heating! All three of us are wearing lots of woollies. Hang on in there, D

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  7. Hi Dave,
    Those wooden boards have to go – it’s not a terrace unless it’s dry-stone walled….Mind you, I’ve never tried building a wall with flint…but I believe there are some who manage…

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    • Given our budget, Mr K, I’m afraid rebuilding four retaining wooden walls with flint ain’t going to happen. Unless, of course, you want to donate your time and learn a new skill? You’d be very welcome. Dave

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  8. How exciting. Your slope is steeper than mine!!! And as for leaving things at the bottom of the slope you will soon learn to pack for all eventualities before you ascend the slope!

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    • Gardening with a rucksack, eh? So much of my time at work is spent walking to the toolshed and back to where I’m working and then back again in a constant quest for something else I’ve forgotten. No surprise it’ll be the same here. D

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  9. I’ve had to put my mind through a boil wash three times today to clean it! What with balls in front and tits behind 🙂 What a place! That garden may well look daunting but somehow I think a mix of your gardening skills and Jim’s artistry is going to turn it into something stunning. And your idea to bring the garden into the house by painting the flowers on the wall was inspired! Looking forward to the next episode.

    But please don’t be tempted to lean against that balustrade whilst recovering from the climb with your mug of tea.

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    • Welcome to my life of smut, John. It is relentless but keeps Jim amused. And the boy too. I’ve since annotated the photo of the flower murals just to stress that they are pre- rather than post-makeover. Aren’t you observant? That balustrade was alarmingly wobbly in places. We’ve now bolted it more securely but yeah, we may have to issue safety harnesses for drinks on the upper terraces. D p.s. I finally remembered to use #gdnbloggers on Twitter!

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  10. When I saw the picture of the house, I fell in love as well! What a wonderful cottage to have found. There’s always so much more to do than we first imagine. I shall be just as nosey and interested as Christina, above, to read of your progress. Particularly with the terracing – there are 98 steps in my garden and the slope is very steep – but a terraced garden can be the most fascinating! All the very best in wonderful new home which you will (shortly) transform!

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  11. It took us a good two years of renovating our house before we started on the garden a year or so ago, which is also built into a slope (on chalk cliffs), so I empathise wholeheartedly. It’s amazing what can be done with little money, a lot of elbow grease and plenty of imagination. On the upside, we’re both quite fit now! I look forward to seeing your progress. Have fun.

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  12. Looks like you found a spectacular deal! I love the secret hidden spaces, secret gardens are my favorite! No idea really where you are located or what your community is like there, but when we just moved last October, our neighbors have been really wonderful about giving us pieces of their gardens. I actually tried to get a few cuttings from my old garden and the buyer (who seemed so nice when we were passing papers) didn’t seem to want to ex-mother hen to come back into what is now her garden! It’s weird and also refreshing to have a completely new project. I have been smothering weeds, not tilling which just is impossible, and the smothering works out great. I also used a black tarp in one area, weighed it down and the sun shines on it, cooks the weeds underneath, then worms move in and then I remove the tarp and plant a green manure, that has worked out well. Your property is a greaqt example of one where you probably can’t even THINK about tilling (stairs? haha). Have fun, I look forward to seeing how it all cleans up and blooms! Fun blog! Well done!

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    • Hi Jenny, our neighbours are lovely. There’s always that horrible fear that they won’t be but one brought us cooked meals for the first couple of days, and we’re already exchanging plants. Good plan with the tarp – I’ll bear in mind but at the moment, I’m thinking more about tiling than tilling – my head’s a bit of a whirl. Thanks very much for the good wishes. Dave

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  13. You have a lot of work ahead, but what potential. I look forward to seeing what you do with the garden. You must be able to get your hands on lots of divided plants that are surplus to requirements at the Priory and yes, just put out a wish list of what you are looking for. We would all love to help.

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  14. Wow, this is exciting. Looking forward to regular updates on house and especially the tiered garden. There’s a row of houses in Falmouth with narrow, almost vertical gardens. Some intrepid owners have done amazing things with them. I can’t resist a peek over the wall when passing. Congratulations to both, enjoy yourselves.

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  15. Oh my word. You are such a tonic. I chuckled so much from the beginning on reading about Jim’s suggestion for a Cypress. Please keep us all updated with progress on both the house and garden. You’ll be the fittest young men in the area by the time you have finished. Thank you for getting my day off to such a good start !

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    • You go to the top of my Christmas card list for calling us young men, Lyn and I’m so glad you liked the post. But put a bit of gin in that tonic – it’s (looks at watch) 6pm on a Friday night. D

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    • We kind of have a dog, Jess. Toffee the Viszla comes to stay from time to time but she’s a bit rubbish in the garden and just spends her time looking a little anxious – unless you constantly rub her tummy. Which, come to think of it, might be said about me. Dx

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  16. Something fascinating about hearing about, (and seeing) a new abode…A certain nosy-parkerism satisfied, memories of wallpaper removal marathons,( with, yes, swirly walls and receding grid ceilings…aaargh), the sense of new possibilities, and residues of the old residents). It looks like your new home has plenty of potential, and no doubt you’ll bring out it’s inner silk purse. Hope you’ll share the process with your adoring aspidistra-like followers : )

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    • Residues of old residents indeed, Jo – including some really quite interesting, not altogether pleasant aromas. I ought to have made clear above that the wall painting above is pre-makeover and not post. In fact, I shall do so now. BTW, Jim & I have puzzled over ‘aspidistra-like’ long and hard and need to know what it means!? Dave

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      • As far as I know, ‘aspidistra’ was a term for someone in Victorian times who peered from their window through gauze curtains, perhaps partially concealed by a voluminous Boston fern or equally large houseplant, watching with more than a touch too much enthusiasm, the activities of their neighbours…So your readers, likewise, might enjoy your account of the challenges of renovations, with a similar eager gaze..

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  17. *sniggers at thought of columnar cypress* What a pretty cottage – on the outside at least! You’ve certainly got your work cut out, but your ante artex campaign is a just and noble cause. I’m very impressed at Jim’s rescue of the conservatory. As for the garden, you’ll be very fit and I’m very confident you will demonstrate that you don’t need to spend a fortune on a garden to make it look beautiful. Thank you for sharing, look forward to seeing your progress.

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    • If you’re going to snigger, Janet, I shall send you outside. Besides it only encourages Jim and what with him and our boy I have enough sniggerers to contend with. Progress on the cottage is slow but then we’ve only been here four months and usually we don’t even start work till about the six month mark. I’ll keep you posted with how we get on. Just, no sniggering. D

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  18. Very exciting to finally see your new place! I love the flint and the gorgeous roof tiles. You are brave to take on renovation number five, mind. I’m currently weighing up whether I could cope with one! Can’t wait to see progress. And seven months. Gosh. Do I really have that ahead of me?

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    • We’ve never had such a trying house move before, Janna. Someone down the chain pulling out at a late stage and our original seller suddenly deciding she wanted more money (how we chuckled) … and left us urgently trying to find something else. We bought this cottage as a replacement for the one we lost. On-line conveyancers (a term that barely applies to them) were particularly awful. It’s always fairly stressful but this one was particularly so. Hopefully your move will go through without a hitch. Normally it takes us about three months. D

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  19. Wow, that’s quite a project! I look forward to seeing what you make of the garden – terraced ones are so much more interesting. Says she with 5 levels on a 1:10 slope 😉

    I have robins nesting in the allotment shed on a shelf above the door, bless them.

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    • Hi Michelle, us terraced gardeners must stick together, I think. I shall have to work out what our slope ratio is and compare. Can you use your allotment shed? I was working in an outhouse at work the other day and had to vacate sharpish when I disturbed a pair of very upset nesting robins. D

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      • No, I have to vacate my shed every year until they’ve fledged 🙂 I’ve just spotted another pair going in and out of my winter honeysuckle, so that’s a pruning job I’ll have to put on hold. I’d rather have them though – they’re doing a great job on the slug population of biblical plague proportions!

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  20. David, the garden is a challenge, but an interesting and doable one. And how clever of you to choose a partner with carpentry skills. Even if you do ignore his artistic suggestions re Italian cypress (would have made getting through the door a struggle, admittedly). I can’t believe you’ve removed Artex from 5 houses, you deserve a medal of some sort for that alone. How many design ideas for the garden have you considered and rejected so far? Looking forward to seeing your progress in due course.

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    • Hi Gill, Jim never lets practicalities get in the way of a good, smutty joke. But I shall restrain him – if only to keep the parish council happy. And I should like a medal very much indeed, thank you. Please send asap. I’m afraid there is really only one design idea – simple! Dave

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  21. Wow! You have taken on a challenge. A terraced garden can be wonderful but usually requires money to make it really work. But I have every confidence in your being able to create something stunning plus I imagine you might just be able to make use of the greenhouses at the Priory to bring on some plants. The cottage is very pretty on the outside and you’ll soon make the inside what you want. Apart from the brambles and bindweed you do have a blank canvas to work with which can be liberating. Good luck with it all and do keep posting on the garden and the house, I’m sure everyone else is as curious (nosey) as me!

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