May 2021: garden diary

We’re reaching the end of our long journey to prepare our inherited property for sale. Upgrading the garden has been a big part of the process. And we decided that the small patio in front of the conservatory really did need to be smartened up.

There were various issues with it. The large grey slabs looked a bit old-fashioned, given the fancy sizes, colours and textures that are available nowadays. The grouting had almost completely disappeared. And the whole area seemed to have a depression in the middle, as though some kind of collapse had taken place. Overall, it looked scruffy and didn’t really contribute positively to the look of the garden.

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On reflection, though, we decided to work with the slabs that were there. Not only would there be a cost-saving but actually we didn’t really want to focus attention on the slabs and creating a jigsaw of different shapes and colours would be too time-consuming.

I must confess my one previous attempt at refurbishing a patio couldn’t really be classified as a triumph. That was before the days of YouTube and the myriad helpful videos that seem to be available for any DIY task from roofing to drainage and all stops in between. Nonetheless I raised the first slab with some trepidation …

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It was immediately apparent that there was going to be more to this task than simply making a bed of damp cement mixture for each slab and lining it up on top. The supporting brickwork was crumbling badly.

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I must confess, though, that I was rather intrigued by the various flora and fauna that had made the patio their home. There were numerous species of insects, including ants, earwigs, snails and worms. Whoever had built the patio previously seemed to have used mostly sand; though there was also a significant amount of something akin to garden compost. My theory is that this was soil ferried in by the residents over the last thirty or so years. It was easy to see why the surface of the patio had become uneven, with ivy and other roots stretching their tentacles beneath, around and between the slabs.

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So I got to work doing the necessary repairs to the sub-structure for each slab, then using a proprietary mixture to create the necessary bed on which the slab would lie.

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I used Hanson Sand Cement Mortar and Blue Circle Slablayer. Both worked well, though I found that I needed to treat each slab as a project in its own right, as it were, because the slope of the sub-structure, the condition of brickwork (where it was a factor) and (even) the size of each slab varied. Yes, some of the slabs were marginally bigger (length/breadth) and deeper than others – a complicating factor which created a knotty problem at the end of the process.

Then there was the question of what to with all that soil/sand/compost mixture that had been home to the sub-slab denizens. In fact as time went on I found myself using some of it to give bulk to the Slablayer beds. The instructions for the Slablayer product indicate that one should just make the bed at an appropriate height and scatter water on top. I assumed that this meant that the water would seep through and solidify the bed. But it didn’t … which it turned out wasn’t a problem. The slabs made a firm bond with the wetted top layer; but the unwetted level beneath wouldn’t move about. So I took the opportunity to use the old soil/compost as a means of filling up the middle of the bed, with Slablayer all around it. Worked a treat and saved money too! After adjusting the height and alignment of each slab (a few words to describe what in fact could be a very tricky, time-consuming process sometimes), I sealed the under edges with cement.

Always remember when working with cement in this fashion to spray the area lightly with water before pressing the cement against it. Getting the right consistency for the cement is an art in itself. Too dry and it won’t adhere properly but falls apart; too wet, and it runs away like slurry.

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I didn’t use many tools: a couple of trowels, a rubber hammer (for safety when bashing the edges of the extremely heavy slabs, to manipulate them into the exact required position), a quite chunky old screwdriver, for levering slabs which wouldn’t budge, a piece of wood to use to check for consistent gaps and a spray bottle (in my case Dettol) to wet the material as required. (Later I also used a special tool for pressing down the grout in between the slabs). And, of course, vital but not shown in the picture, a spirit level!

I seemed to manage an average of a couple of slabs a day. They were so heavy and I didn’t want to do more harm to my bad back than was absolutely necessary!

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Time moved on, bad weather came and went, and eventually all the slabs were in place …

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Well, nearly all. Right at the end I discovered that the final slab was too big to fit into the space available. Remember I said that they were different sizes? The concrete path was in the way – so I had the difficult task of chiselling quite a large chunk out of a corner of the path to accommodate the last slab.

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And so arrived the last chapter – grouting.

For this I used Sika FastFix, an all weather jointing compound. It seemed to do the trick. I followed instructions and wetted the area where I was about to use it; then emptied an appropriate amount along the edge of the gap; then used a hard yard brush to sweep it into all the gaps. It’s not cheap, and I did need to order a second pack. But I’m very happy with the outcome and have used some of the excess to fill gaps in some existing pathways.

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I used the long, thin, trowel to push the FastFix down into the gaps to make a firm bond. One or two of the slabs were slightly rocky before I added the grout; but after it hardens (as I’d hoped) it adds complete stability to the structure.

So the next step was just to leave the rebuilt patio to settle and the materials to harden through bursts of rain and sun. Finally, I was able to give the whole thing a good sweep, to remove dust and grime.

It only remained to go out and buy some plants and the obligatory conifer and all was finished. I’m pretty pleased with the result – maybe this was how the original patio looked all those years ago!

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March/April 2021: garden diary

Well, at long last, after around a year’s work on and off, I finally completed the conversion of the Amazonian tangle of brambles, ivy, tree roots, and general vegetative mayhem into what may pass as a vegetable patch. The ornamental gravel has made a massive difference.

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Here’s a snapshot of part of the project half way through …

The sprouting broccoli (six plants) are currently producing a glut of delicious sprouts, while the spinach and Swiss chard have been available all through the winter. 

 

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Very pleased to report that our two small, first year pear trees, just sort of “thrown in” against the back wall of the summerhouse, have produced quite a lot of blossom, which bodes well for fruit during the summer.  More news later.

 

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apple

Meanwhile the eating apple and Bramley (see above) cooking apple trees, which didn’t do very well last year, are both absolutely covered in blossom. We’ve often had apples in previous gardens but I reckon this is the best show of flowers I’ve ever seen. Next question: how many baby fruit will we lose in the June fall?

 

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Mahonia are providing vibrant yellow highlights in various places around the garden. The one shown above was left in when I cleared the ground for what we’re calling the Ivy Tree border.

I never really think of Laurel as a flower-producing shrub … but look at this! “They look like candelabra!”, said Lynn.

 

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This flowering currant (Ribes Sanguineum, I believe) is a very pretty specimen and adds early colour in the Spring …

 

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… while the Forsythia in the hedge seems to be taking up more and more territory and is certainly a striking asset in lighting up the path. 

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Who’d have thought that a Bay tree could produce flowers? I’ve certainly never seen them before. Not exactly spectacular … not so far, anyway … but an unexpected bonus from a bush which makes regular contributions to our stews!

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In the Bay Tree border, things are getting a bit wild. But that’s okay – we’re letting things grow, to see what happens, with a mix of (so far) Alpine strawberries, forget-me-nots, various ground covering plants (some variegated) and – there in the middle – our one and only paeony. We’ll probably add some Cosmos (direct sowing) and a wild flower mix, as well as some nasturtiums. Clashing colours are not a problem, as far as we’re concerned.

I decided to try to add a bit of humus to the soil in this border; so I mowed a stripe of the lawn, laid out the leaves from four black plastic bags (because only some, not all, had rotted) and mowed the whole lot with the rotary mower. Then I emptied the bag into a wheelbarrow and forked garden soil and compost into the mix, together with a few handfuls of Growmore fertiliser. It’ll be interesting to see how it all settles down. 

I had a couple of spare foxgloves I’d already already grown in some flowerpots. But then I discovered some more that had self-seeded in another pot. There’s quite a bit of dappled shade in the border, so I plonked all the foxgloves together in a kind of drift. Fingers crossed … 

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scilla

We identified these lovely little flowers by chance. There’s a long line of them down the edge of the front path and we’ve found out that they’re Scilla, also known as the Siberian Squill or Wood Squill. What a lovely shade of blue! And who would have thought they’re a member of the asparagus family? 

 

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Quite pleased with these Doronicums (grown on from bought plug plants), though yes – I agree! – they do bear more than a passing resemblance to dandelions, though they’re bushing out as time goes by and becoming much more elegant.

 

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