Autumn in the Garden

Autumn in the Garden

Although it seems like no time since the long, heady days of summer, we’re well into October now and only a week away from the clocks going back an hour. Usually, we’ve had the wood-burner lit by now, and our logs delivered. But not this year. Since early April, we’ve had pretty glorious weather, but along with that, we’ve also very little rainfall, so the garden has struggled at times, despite regular watering. Flowers haven’t bloomed for as long as they normally would, and there just hasn’t been the intensity of colour that we usually have, when we have our normal rains. But, one thing that is definitely happening now, is a bit of a garden resurgence.

Temperatures are still relatively mild – low to mid twenties, most days – and we do seem to be having rain some nights. And, what we’re seeing now, is that a lot of plants which are normally finished by this time of year, are springing back into life. Or, plants which have been pretty dormant, are now growing and blooming. This time of year is usually when we’re packing up the garden, emptying pots, clearing up leaves etc and it always makes us a bit sad, as things start to look a little bleak. But, not this autumn…

Passionflowers winding up & over the shed, and blooming.

Passionflowers winding up & over the shed, and blooming.

Blooming passionflowers.

Blooming passionflowers

New strawberries.

New strawberries.

Tiny lemons.

Tiny lemons.

Emerging squashes.

Emerging squashes.

Nasturtiums & pansies growing through the cracks and stones.

Nasturtiums & pansies growing through the cracks and stones.

Courgettes still growing.

Courgettes still growing.

Towering cosmos, grown from a seed.

Towering cosmos, grown from a seed.

Pink dahlia bloom.

Pink dahlia bloom.

Crimson dahlia flower.

Crimson dahlia flower.

White dahlia flower.

White dahlia flower.

Burgundy dahlia flower.

Burgundy dahlia flower.

Colourful cosmos flowers.

Colourful cosmos flowers.

Pink cosmos.

Pink cosmos.

Flowering purple hearts.

Flowering purple hearts.

Dahlia blooms.

Dahlia blooms.

Tall cosmos.

Tall cosmos.

Yellow cosmos.

Yellow cosmos.

Mimosa already beginning to bud.

Mimosa already beginning to bud.

Seeing all of this colour, so late, in the garden, is making me very hopeful that winter may not seem quite as long as it often does. And that before we know, spring will have returned…

 

 

 

 

 

 

secret garden reno : update 2

secret garden reno : update 2

Whilst we’ve spent the best part of the last four and a half years, fully renovating our Istrian stone-house and creating beautiful gardens to the front and side of the property, the rear has been woefully neglected. We’ve tried to titivate it up, but it’s never really been the kind of place where we want to spend any time. When people are viewing our house for sale, I always internally shudder when we take them to the back of the house. I know that when you are buying property, you are often buying the potential, but we just felt that the time had come to tackle this much neglected part of our home. So, let us take you right back to the beginning, and what this area was like when we saw its potential…

Yep, this is what we saw when we viewed the house for the first time. A very, very sorry state – and don’t even get us onto the shutters! But, when you can see through the current state of things and have a clear vision, that’s what drives you on. Fast forward a couple of years, and we were given the opportunity to buy the little abandoned house from one of our neighbours. Although we were knee deep in renovations, we knew that other people had expressed interest in this property and we felt that if we didn’t secure it, we could have someone else purchasing it from under our noses. It’s very close to our main house and we were concerned with a) the potential proximity of another house and b) building works – out of our control – going on under our windows for goodness knows how long. So, the decision was made to purchase the house and land.This took quite a long time to complete on – much longer, in fact, than the purchase of the main house – but eventually everything was signed off and we finally owned it, meaning that no-one could build close our house. We were also at this time, in the very early stages of considering our next renovation property and toying with the idea of selling the house. Owning this smaller dwelling and surrounding land, with all boundaries legally established, therefore became even more important.

So, for the last couple of years, all we’ve really done is tidy things up, gradually. All of the building materials and the trailer, as per the contract our solicitor negotiated, had to be removed by our neighbour and the area generally cleared, prior to completion. This enabled us to begin assessing what we might eventually do with the land. We decided early on that the house would stay, especially if were selling up. Although it would need to be demolished, we felt that new owners should decide its eventual fate, and we knew that whilst we were still living here, it could be the backdrop for something very pretty. So, very slowly, when we had the time, we started to tackle this overgrown mess…

We think that originally, the small house would have been for the animals, as probably evidenced by the stone trough, below. It was in a bit of a state, with stones beginning to come loose and to be honest, hadn’t really been put together very well, so we decided to take it down. It did give us quite a bit more garden space – but, in an unexpected turn, it’s recently been rebuilt, using the same stones. This time, though, it’s not a drinking trough. It’s going to be the home for our gorgeous new olive tree…

Once the ground had been cleared of weeds and vines and ivy and stones, sheeting was laid and we marked out our boundary with flagstones, before infilling with bark chippings. (The quite strange shape of the boundary is due to the fact we agreed to give our neighbour access to another of his properties, which he plans to renovate, opposite the small house).

Starting to look better, but still a long way off finished! However, ideas were beginning to form. The table and chairs and the lone bamboo looked a bit lost, and we knew we most definitely wouldn’t be sitting out here for quite some time to come, as we still felt very exposed. Plus, the nearest property to us, beyond the little house, was an abandoned, tumble-down property which had recently been demolished and building work had started to create a new stone cottage. We were still focusing on the main house and moving on with the securing of our new renovation project, so things stalled a little at the rear of the house, but we did what we could to create a little bit more privacy.

To the other side of the little house, we also cleared the ground and started the process of laying flagstones, to create a pathway, and more of the bark chippings.

As summer ’21 progressed, we started to get more enquiries about our house for sale, and had a number of speculative visits, as people passing would see the A-board by the road and often just turn up in the garden. And this made us realise that once and for all, we had to properly tackle the rear of the house. However much we had improved it since we moved in, it all still looked far too ramshackle and not what we wanted visitors to see. So, Project Secret Garden commenced at the end of the summer, the intention being to have our builder construct a wall, all along the boundary. This became complicated as the land is on a slight incline and we didn’t relish the prospect of getting in a digger for excavation works. A wooden fence, supported by posts sunken into concrete was decided upon – and then abandoned when this too became problematic, for a variety of reasons. So, we took things into our own hands, and got creative.

And, although it looks as if we’re kind of back to where we started, much progress has been made over the last two weeks. We hope that the final pieces of the jigsaw will all come together this week, and that we will eventually have a beautiful secluded space, which is completely private. Which screens us off from the comings and goings in the village and means that come next spring, either us, or new owners, will be able to enjoy our secret suntrap – and no-one will know we are there…

Coming up – how we developed The Secret Garden…

 

 

 

 

garden reno : update 11

garden reno : update 11

After over a year of lockdown and travel restrictions, we’ve finally been double jabbed and now that we can access the EU vaccination certificate, the prospect of travel is on the horizon. Not immediately, but the prospect is there. In the meantime however, we’re going to enjoy the garden we have been working hard on creating, since early spring. Building works on the house have now finished, so there’s no more mess in the garden. Meaning that we’ve able to tackle it properly. Way back in February, we started on the little patch of land which is communally owned (but no-one so far seems to have taken responsibility for it), just to the side of the house. Trees, vines, ivy, weeds etc were cleared and a small wooden fence put in, to create a lavender patch. The area was also cleared of stones and levelled.

Spring has felt very long, but finally summer has arrived. February, March & April were spent sowing wildflower seeds, seed balls, sunflowers, dahlias, new potted plants and climbing roses. Most mornings were spent doing a “tour of duty” around the garden – pulling out weeds, checking on new growth, nurturing and watering and feeding. And, we think it has finally paid off…

Of course, in the middle of the growth spurt, we did have a very, very cold snap and we thought that our beautiful new growth would perish. But, as we know, nature is nothing if not hardy.

Once the snow had thawed, our attention turned to the land around our little abandoned house to the rear of the main house. This was also cleared of stones and vines and weeds, and black plastic sheeting laid, before being covered with red bark. We also created a stepping stone path to the back of the house, using spare flagstones to create curves for interest, which were infilled with wildflower seeds. Solar lights have made a huge difference, as this part of the garden is now lit up at night.

We also ensured that we used cut down branches – they became supports for the climbers, including our honeysuckle and wisteria. An old log crate was also chopped up and recycled, part of it being utilised as a “fence” to hang plants from and encourage one of Virginal Creepers to entwine its way around it.

Over the last couple of months, the garden has exploded into a riot of colour. It’s looking so pretty, we’ve decided that new sunbeds and an outdoor L-shaped sofa were in order. More of that in the next blog, but here’s a snapshot of what’s been emerging..,

The garden, finally, is looking so, so pretty. We’ve worked hard on it this year. It’s full of bees and butterflies and colours and aromas. So, even though we can potentially travel in the near future, I think we’ll be quite happy to sit in our garden and savour it. Because, our house is for sale, and having found our next renovation property, we could soon be back on a building site…

 

 

 

Spring Wreath

Spring Wreath

The Spring Equinox weekend definitely seemed the right time to dismantle the dead and decaying winter wreath I’d made, way back in November. The vines and ivy were cut back from our green wall in the garden and I had salvaged some of the cuttings which were still a vibrant green with red and black berries. It’s been outside all winter and has withstood winds, freezing temperatures, icy rain and snow but was definitely past its best, with withered leaves and shrivelled berries. So, off came everything and I was left with a metal hoop – originally the circular bottom of a solar IKEA lantern lantern which hung in the tree, but which met its end in a particularly strong storm. All that was left of it was the hoop, which I kept, knowing that one day “it might come in useful”. And it has done. The new wreath has been made from faux sprigs of cornflowers and pink daisies and foliage. I had these already and just repurposed them, so it cost nothing to make. And, although real blooms would be even prettier, they’re not growing the garden yet and obviously have a much shorter shelf life.

MATERIALS :

  • Hoop
  • Faux flowers and foliage
  • Scissors
  • Twine
  • Hook

and about 30 minutes of your time.

The stems of the flowers and the foliage are made of quite flexible wire, so they’re easy to twist around the hoop and wrap in on themselves. For extra strength I used some very thin gold wire to keep them secure and in place. I’ve no idea what this spool of gold wire was ever bought for, but it’s proved itself to be pretty invaluable for tasks like this one.

I knew that I wanted a wreath, in soft pale colours on the front of the shed door in the garden, and the pinks and cornflower blues were perfect against the pale grey paintwork. Our potted clematis – which has big, beautiful purple flowers – has been moved into the sun, next to the shed. It’s already shooting up and it will be trained up the side and over the roof. Meaning that come the height of summer, the shed won’t just be a shed – it’ll be a gorgeous pop of colour in the garden.

 

garden reno : update 9

garden reno : update 9

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We knew we had to tackle this part of the garden, because it was overgrown, messy, full of stones and rubble from previous renovation works and the trees were literally being strangled by vines and brambles.The little stone wall was falling down in places, and in other places, held together only by creeping ivy. Nothing could grow at ground level because no sunlight could get to it. We look onto it from the side of our house and from our garden, and it has always been an eyesore, but there’s always been so much else to do, that it seemed a waste of time, tackling this previously.

We also don’t actually own this piece of land. It was once mooted that we look into the purchase of it, as it’s owned by the local Opcina (local council) and they are often willing to sell parcels of land like this – but, it is actually a huge piece of land in total and would have been difficult to keep on top of, and we weren’t actually sure how we’d make use of it. But, as our house is now for sale, and now that we’ve finished the internal renovation, it’s been decided that we’ll tackle the bit of land closest to us. The wall was rebuilt last year – it’s now much sturdier and falls apart less frequently! We’ve also planted succulents in many of the gaps, so in the summer, it’s actually now very attractive. So, as spring has now appeared, we’ve been dividing our days between design work and garden work. The first phase of this external renovation is now complete – all of the scrubby, twiggy branches and trunks have been removed, now revealing proper clumps of trees. Vines – so strong that they were probably the kind that Tarzan swung from – have been pulled out at ground level and carefully unravelled from the trees. This was a long, hard job as we didn’t want to damage the trees, but definitely wanted the vines out. They’ve all been removed now, and chopped up as they actually make fantastic kindling for the woodburner.

With the vines removed, we could assess what else was wrapping itself around the trees – brambles were prolific and again these were carefully removed and chopped up. Ivy was another plant which we removed – although we were reluctant to do this initially, because the birds feed off the berries in the winter. However, we reasoned that the ivy on the green wall in the garden, and the ivy covering our little abandoned house, provided a very good supply of winter berries. so went ahead with the removal in this area. Storms and winds had also broken many branches which were either just hanging on, or had broken off and were lying intertwined in other branches. All now gone. Meaning that we have enough wood and kindling to see us through the spring. So, what have the last few days looked like in the garden?

WHERE WE STARTED

We had previously put down black plastic sheeting to try and slow down the growth of weeds and vines and ivy. Over the course of the winter however, when we had the car parking area laid, the soil and rubble which was dug out, was dumped in this patch of land, and so this had to be bagged up and cleared before we could do anything. This looks nothing – but this was at the end of the initial clearance.

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We did sift a lot of the soil to go back onto the plastic, as this would form the basis of what would become the lavender patch. This was a particularly horrendous job, as it was raining at the time, and once the red clay soil gets wet, and on your wellies, that’s it.It is impossible to remove completely and inevitably gets dragged across the painted patio and up into the house. And is an utter nightmare to clean off. But, another job we knew we had to do, as there was no way we were buying additional soil when we already had this.

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The next thing that had to be tackled was the undergrowth – and this had to be done by hand, as it was too thick and the trunks too strong for our cutters. The amount that we wanted to cut back seemed daunting, but we knew that the tangled, knotty undergrowth had to be cut back if we were to create something a little bit more magical, so teeth needed to be gritted and the tree saw put into action.

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Once the red soil was down, we then dug a channel around the perimeter to sink in the small fencing, to create the bed for the lavender plants.

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Top soil was added and we started to position the plants – but it became increasingly clear that our optimistic purchase of twelve plants was way short of the mark, having underestimated the size of the patch we’d created, so it was back to the nursery to purchase another dozen. Plus a couple of beautiful mimosa plants, to add to the colour elsewhere in the garden.

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Next up, was quite a bit of fire pit action, to begin getting rid of the dead branches and cuttings etc. I’m sure that anyone who saw us lighting a fire-pit would have thought we were mad. Round here, you just seem to set to fire to things like this, on the ground – definitely not in a garden fire pit. But we didn’t want to be responsible for an out of control fire, and so played it safe…

 

As there is no lighting – yet – in this part of the garden, solar lights are in place for the time being, just so that when it’s dusk, there’s a little bit of light, which does look lovely from the kitchen, which overlooks this area.

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We had a couple of day’s work, cutting back the trees to the side of this piece of land and keeping on with the pulling up of vines. At some point in the past, someone has chopped trees down, as once the undergrowth was removed, the ankle-breaker tree trump stumps revealed themselves, meaning more work, sawing these down to ground level. We could go on and on, cutting and chopping and tidying, but I think we needed to take a view and be realistic, especially as it’s not our land. So, we’ve taken the clearance back to where we think is a reasonable point – and to be honest, we’ve now so much wood to chop for the woodburners, that we needed to stop or we’d have nowhere to store it.

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By the weekend the trees were beginning to become more defined – instead of scratty branches and growth around the base, they were now standing in clumps, with the trunks exposed. It won’t be long until the leaves are back on these trees, and hopefully the shapes will be much better too, as we’ve also done a bit of pruning and shaping here and there. You can see the ivy and vines, still twisting around the bases of the trees and which took ages, to pull up and clear. But, it had to be done, otherwise it wouldn’t be long before we were back to where we started.

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The red field will hopefully soon be planted up – we don’t know with what this year, but it always looks beautiful come the summer and so hopefully will continue to be a lovely background to our garden. These tree trunks have never been this exposed – I’d always thought we had inherited quite ugly trees, but it turns out all they needed was a bit of TLC.

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One of the lovely surprises we’ve had since clearing the ground, is that these hardy, wild crocuses have suddenly bloomed over the last few days. Every morning we spot more, and so hopefully we’ll have a few clumps of these until the wildflower seeds which we’re sowing today, start to emerge. Looks like that great big pile of branches and leaves and twigs has kept then warm under the soil and the spring sunlight is now sufficiently warm enough for them to push up through the soil. We’ve definitely not planted them and we’ve not previously ever noticed any colour in this patch, so hoping that our efforts are reviving them.

I think at times we’ve felt a bit defeated by this task. It wasn’t one that was in any way necessary, especially as it’s not even our land. But it was irritating that we looked out onto something so messy, and so we knew that we would tackle it. It’s been really hard work and seems to have taken a long time – but in reality, in just over a week, we’ve done the really hard part. It’s quite amazing looking at the first photograph above and then seeing this one, below and realising how far we’ve come. And, as we keep we reminding ourselves, it will only look better from now, as we have some gorgeous plans for it.

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So, onwards and upwards. We have cold snap this weekend, so the planting of the dahlia tubers will have to wait a little longer, but over today and tomorrow, the rest of the sunflower seeds are being planted and a mix of wildflowers will be sown in front of this wall above (so on the other side of the lavender). Then the big sowing in the patch we’ve cleared above. This summer, one way or another, is definitely going to be a riot of colour in our garden and around it.