Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Sneak preview of my summerhouse, revamped shed, artist's refuge...

BEFORE What the summerhouse looked like when we bought the house, basically a storage shed/cabin with leaky roof and hideous 1970 lino flooring, surrounded by brambles and overgrown trees.

AFTER It only took me two summers and lots of hard work to trim the garden, restoring it to its original beauty - hope Mr G. (RIP), the botanist who owned it, approves. I used Forest Green fencing paint and domestic paint inside. Most materials are recycled, I kept new purchases to the minimum. My partner re-roofed it and put a shelf up, I did the rest. 

Owl and pussycat theme and rudely shaped seashells

Dinky toys and other toy collectables

I restored and re-upholstered this 1940 
utility chair and made the William Morris 
hanging using Sanderson's 
reproduction fabric swatches

I did try to ask for sponsorship, product review opps from major DIY chains but  it was too much of a hassle to pester them after initial zero replies so I bought well-priced items from B&Q, Screwfix, Homebase, John Lewis and used materials and items I have collected in the past 19 years. DIY PRs eat your heart out! More photos to come in future posts.

My original inspiration and photos of the garden

My inspiration, a wonderful Victorian-style cabin in the US, is the labour of love of Sandy Foster, which was featured in the NY Times in 2010. I contacted Sandy through her blog a few years back and praised her excellent taste. I read she is taking a break from blogging at the moment, but you can see some wonderful pictures here

But back to my wonderful garden. For those who were skeptical about me tackling the jungle we bought alongside the house, I did it mostly by myself using a pick axe and gardening tools - I didn't employ anybody with a chainsaw as somebody hinted. My partner tackled the tall trees with a forestry saw (I'm 5ft 2in and weedy, so not up to that). 

Sadly Alan Titchmarsh didn't reply to my request for help (or more likely the TV producers), which is a pity as I haven't still identified some of the rare plants I have got. I had the pleasure of editing his copy when I was freelancing at Gardeners' World and let's say his articles needed minimal changes. I wasn't surprised when he started writing novels.

Back to the garden, I'm no botanist like the previous owner, Mr. G, who used to grow orchids in the greenhouse at the back. He worked for the University of Cambridge and I found his academic papers online. I also found some weird items in the garage, which I'm hoping to show off soon and lots of gardening products that I had to discard because they are now probably banned (aka strong weed killers that smelled like paint stripper). He was an experimenter and also used organic methods, which were not fashionable back then. 

But with no further ado, here are photos of the garden, introduced by my constant friend, the robin, which is very tame.... We do get quite a lot of wildlife in the garden, my partner spotted a heron, because we have a pond and very tall, mature trees. We have a whole wall of holly on one side, but I have seen very few berries at Xmas as the birds scoff them.

Summer 2011

June 2013

Yes, I know, the pond needs cleaning, my partner and I did it after taking these pics. There is lots of grass! It takes me two hours to cut it and trim the borders. What about the back of this garden? Not many people realise that the garden goes on after the summerhouse, through a jasmine archway. It's also much wider than it looks on the pics, I couldn't take it all in so the flower borders and the massive wall of holly are missing from the main picture. The back, pictured below, was Mr G.'s vegetable patch and experimental ground. We still have his greenhouse but it will need replacement as it's falling apart. We built the raised beds you see with the running beans crawling up bamboo sticks, some sourced from the garden as we have a big bamboo patch by the pond.

The apple tree above (it got trimmed so a bit forlorn looking) offers some unusual apples, nobody so far has been able to tell me what variety it is. Mr G. lived in the house when there was still rationing after WW2, so he was growing plenty of fruit and veg. He was digging for victory for sure! When I reduced the amount of brambles - I kept those he planted by the fences and the greenhouse - I found rhubarb, asparagus, several apple trees (some espalier style), a stray spring onion and also realised he was growing weeds that had organic purposes (such as nettle, good for the compost heap). 

We removed the original compost heap as it was falling apart to create the raised beds. We do have a compost heap in a corner and we have kept all his water buts, which make watering the garden easier and eco-friendly. That's it for now. I will take more photos.

Monday, 15 July 2013

I'm shedclassist!

My middle-class shed with social mobility aspirations
My working-class shed, in homage to my parents
who could only afford a black and white TV when I was a child

Friday, 12 July 2013

Our house is the best ever for gas consumption... shocking!

My partner put all the gas consumption figures for our previous three houses and this one into a spreadsheet and our 1930s detached performed better overall* even with the old inefficient boiler and single-glazed windows (we have secondary glazing only on the north side and 1 double-glazed window - nearly all windows are single-glazed iron-framed originals). We had a boiler replacement yesterday so it's going to get even better!

We think this is due to loft insulation and cavity wall insulation. The secondary glazing might play a part too but it's quite old and makeshift for certain windows.

So what were the other houses? We moved a lot in the past five years so the houses we compared were:

  • A Victorian semi with original single-glazed sash windows and combi boiler
  • A 1930s semi with double-glazed windows and brand-new combi boiler
  • A 1960s semi with double-glazed windows and combi boiler.
Strange but true! Cavity wall insulation beats double-glazing big time!

*Bearing in mind that we had the coldest and longest winter ever!

Summerhouse project back on

Playing croquet at Churchill College, Cambridge

Steampunk event - two young gentlemen

My summerhouse in mid May

Hello, just a quick post to catch up before I upload new photos of my summerhouse project. Remember last year's post about restoring my old summerhouse? I painted it forest green outside and bright light blue inside. My partner re-roofed it. Then I removed paint and varnish from an old table I found in the garage and my 1940s utility chairs, bought from a charity shop in London over 11 years ago. Now the chairs and table are finished. Yesterday I re-upholstered the chairs (these are different chairs from my previous post where I had pics of an older. antique chair) and placed them in the summerhouse.

I have been gathering vintage objects to show off in my summerhouse and hunting out decorative stuff to hang and display. I'm planning themed displays and even an art show. Watch this space.

What else? I gave myself a Great Gatsby hairstyle (goes well with the cloche hat in the top pic) and went to a Steampunk event - a great concept merging Victoriana with sci-fi.

More Steampunk pics below....

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Back in the DIY business - and I'm the ugly Bennett sister!

Detail of my mini rock garden - a new addition.
Oyster shells look good against red and green succulents
I'm back at home, gardening and fixing things around the house - about time! We had a lousy spring and disappointing summer so far, so I haven't done as much DIY as I'd have liked but have made a good start by tidying up the garden and re-upholstering a set of antique chairs my dad restored over 11 years ago. The fabric was worn out and when we took it off, alongside the flammable padding, we found broken springs and straw! We manually straightened the springs, then connected them together and to the chair using garden wire and screws. As they are hidden, it doesn't matter what wire we used. Getting rid of the old tacks was quite a job, though and my partner helped with that.
One of the chairs, stripped

The chair after the makeover
Once the chair was ready, I used fireproof thick foam for the padding, I needed two lawyers so the spring wouldn't poke out. The olive green and cream brocade is a curtain remnant I had from a previous house, it's not 1930s in style but the colours are right for this period. The matching trim was bought from John Lewis (a bargain at £1.55 a metre). 

After stapling the padding to the chair's frame, I stapled the fabric, then glued the trim on top using UHU fabric glue. When it ran out (why is John Lewis selling such a small tube? A bigger version is needed for serious crafters) I deployed my cool melt glue gun with UHU sticks as I read on the net that it was OK to use on fabrics. 

The chair's seat
Note: I have paid for all these purchases. This is not a sponsored post. I'm open to product testing, though! Read more restoration and home interest articles here.

Last but not least, a pic for fun value... I looked like the ugly Bennett sister but had a Ball at the Regency Ball organised by Lucy Cavendish College. I was lucky to win 2 sold-out tickets in a competition run by Cambridge News.

Wearing the Regency-style costume I cobbled together.
I got the pattern for the skirt from the internet