This is a post I've been excited to write for some months now. It's been a labour of love.
It's the story of how we changed our outdoor area from this:
Wow. I mean, I don't mean to be conceited, but we have made a HUGE difference and I'm EXCEEDINGLY happy with the garden space we've created for ourselves and our chiddlers.
So let's start at the beginning. We watched an episode of Big Dreams, Small Spaces, in which a lovely couple transformed their garden for their little boy. We were very impressed by the beautiful space they created, complete with a little hobbit hole, a herb garden and sensory planting. We sighed again, as we have countless times before, about how uninspiring our garden is. Just a big rectangle of grass with borders of depressed looking plants along each edge. We've tried and tried, but we never got it to be anything like we wanted it to be. On that evening, we got INSPIRED. We got out crayons and large sheets of paper and started to draw. It was hard, actually, coming up with anything that looked radically like our current garden. We kept getting stuck thinking "no, that area is too shady for plants" or "but nothing ever grows well there".
So we enlisted the help of our family. On Easter Friday, at my sister Becka's house, we handed out paper with the basic garden shape drawn on, and one phormium which we had decided we just couldn't move and didn't want to kill. We gave them a list of essential components of our dream garden. And they got creative. Their ideas were fabulous. There were hidden nooks and crannies, raised vegetable beds, water features, play areas, river beds, all kinds of wonderful ideas and, more importantly, layouts.
The next task was to try to pick the best ideas and create a layout we were happy with. It involved a lot of this:
Fortuitously, two fence panels had come down in a storm, so I dismantled them to use as markers as I played with arrangements for our dry river bed. You'll notice that at this time, back in March, we had some pretty sorry looking fences on both sides of the garden. It was a sad and not particularly private space!
During the Easter holidays, I enlisted the help of one sister and one mother to do some gardening. My sister, Kirsty, had thought this would involve some light pruning and weeding. Bwah ha ha!
We lifted turf...
Took apart the compost bin...
And moved it to the other side!
Two days later, Rachel and I worked on the rest of the left flower bed. We reshaped the other end of the bed, and moved plants from various locations in the garden to fill the space.
We also marked out the space for the hobbit hole, which we'd ordered by this point.
On the other side of the garden, our "raised bed" was growing, with all the rubble and earth we didn't need being unceremoniously dumped over there. For months, we've been cheerfully lobbing all kinds of rubbish over there! Bricks, bits of slab and countless lumps of rock.
And here is the grass garden I'd created with my mum and sister, photographed once the fence was repaired and painted.
Soon, it was time to lay some level slabs.
Want to see the whole left bed? What a lovely shape. Notice the little raised area being formed on the right side.
A while later, the right hand fence panel was mended and I had a lot more painting to do. Since April, I've painted every fence in our garden, the bird table, the hobbit hole and metres of raised bed planking. I'm practically professional. Still a bit messy though!
Little by little, during naps, after bedtime and sometimes with Baby O wrapped on my back, I got them done.
Next it was time to unwrap the hobbit hole, which had been taking up all the space in the garage for a while.
We were very productive that day. Got the front, back and floor painted. And SOME of the many, many roofing slats. Little R had chosen the contrast colour. That boy is a big fan of purple. It's been his favourite colour for at least a year and a half.
Babywearing; without it, I don't know how I'd get anything done!
A couple of days later, Baby O helped me to make a herb garden on the right side of the garden.
Yes, it would have been easier to paint those last two fence panels before moving a massive rosemary bush in front of them. But I couldn't paint with two toddlers around my feet!
We had booked family help for a big build day, hoping to build the hobbit hole. This was Rachel reinforcing the bottom of the house on the day before, after an alarming creaking noise occured when Becka "tested" it.
We had a slab area and various hobbit hole components ready. Not to mention one teeny weeny adorable bit of decking we created!
We also had a LOT of timber, which I'd painstakingly painted in the week leading up to this day.
And we had a pile of mud in the corner hoping to become a raised bed.
Baby O helped out screwing the door handle on the hobbit hole.
It was a BUSY day. There was building...
... sawing. Mostly the wood. A little bit my finger.
... more careful building.
By lunchtime, we'd got this far:
We didn't hold out much hope at this point that we'd get very far with the raised bed. But...
... it turns out...
... we had a great workforce...
... and we nailed it (not literally)!
One raised bed:
One gorgeous hobbit hole:
One garden swiftly becoming more interesting:
The raised bed being constructed was my cue to starting digging.
Lots of digging. Lifting turf is hard. Lifting turf laid on 40% rubble is a really good workout!
While I was lifting so much turf, I thought I may as well lift a bit more, to destroy my nemesis patch of clover. See my plan?
I cut out the clover turf out, cut a matching shape from the virgin grass which was going to removed anyway, and made myself a jigsaw puzzle. And do you think, with all this careful and price work I could get them all to fit into the space? It was a MISSION! I had to cut an extra bit and I still can't figure out why!
But I succeeded:
This was the very satisfying moment that the LAST piece of turf was lifted. Man, that was a good feeling.
And finally we could see the shape of our path and riverbed area:
A couple of days later four pallets with masses of cobbles, topsoil and rubber chippings were delivered to our neighbour's driveway, and we got busy planting up the raised bed. All the plants that we planted in it had to be moved from other parts of the garden, so there was lots of digging, positioning and then...
I'm proud to say that in one day, with the sterling efforts of myself, my mum and Rachel, every last bit of that topsoil went from here, via my friend's wheelbarrow...
... to here:
The next step was to get the weed suppressant down and start moving...
LOTS of cobbles.
And then rubber chippings, to make our "fake bark" path.
(Random aside, we have enjoyed having lots of bits of extra timber lying about. It's compelling. You just HAVE to walk along them. Even if you're only 13 months and walking by itself is a challenge!)
So today it finally all came together. Rachel and I finished styling the riverbed with large cobbles, so that it looks natural and beautiful.
Our herb garden is fenced off with a little cobble barrier.
Our rubber bark path invites you to explore...
So many textures and colours:
Our little pebble area on our patio is revitalised. This is where we'll grow vegetables in pots. At the moment though, the courgettes, sweetcorn, peas and beans are all elsewhere, so it's only home to the carrots and spring onions, and some random pot plants.
I am LOVING how these big cobbles are making it look beachy.
One happy family, at the end of a good afternoon's work.
This garden will, and already has changed how we use our outdoor space. We've created zones. Different areas for different things. When we picnic or snack, we choose whether to sit by the grass garden in the sun, under the parasol on the patio, or down in the shade by the river and hobbit hole. Our imaginary games take place on, around and over the river bed. Our small world toys clamber through rubber-bark, climb up cobble mountains and hide behind the hobbit hole.
I'm so very proud, and so very happy with the sinuous shapes, engaging textures, smell, sights and experiences our garden now offers. It's not quite finished yet. There are signs to be created from a spare roof slat. I plan to get some little alpine/river type plants for the beach area. More bedding plants for the raised bed. Some of the leftover timber and pallets will be turned into shelving for the strawberries to grow up, on the patio. An old white ceramic sink is crying out to be turned into a fairy garden. And we're ordering some metal crates so we can fill them with all the extra cobbles and make a bench where the peas and beans are currently residing. We've also got plans to use bits of guttering to make marble/water runs down the fences for the children to play with. But now the groundwork is done, and we can enjoy doing the rest a little at a time.
Let the good times in our garden roll ^_^