Painting the fireplace white

living room

The living room before we moved in.

The fireplace was actually one of the first things I did, so details may be a bit sketchy. When I first moved in to the house the fireplace was a little off putting. Mum said it was like a pub fireplace. It was very dark, but also white in places, it was as if someone had painted each brick in a different colour, and really was a bit of an eyesore. Inside it was an old tacky electric fire. Next to the yellow walls and the artex ceiling, it didn’t feel very homely at all.

Simon wanted to tackle the living room first, as it would be one of the rooms we use the most and the room most likely to be seen by other people. I agreed and was happy to get on with the fireplace.

I wanted to paint the fireplace white, my Mum suggested just doing a thin coat of white paint and she demonstrated this by rubbing chalk on it. I wasn’t convinced. It had to be all or nothing.

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I realised the electric fireplace was loose and managed to pull it out fairly easily and then I managed to give it away on freecycle. But then I noticed the bricks on the fireplace were not symmetrical. Mum and Dad had some fancy Portuguese tiles that I could have, so I decided to get on with the painting and worry about the asymmetrical nature of the fireplace later. They’d bring the tiles on their next visit.

The inner layer was very uneven.

The inner layer was very uneven.

I gave the fireplace a good dust and then a hoover and a clean. It’s amazing how dirty it had gotten.

Bye to the horrible dark fireplace.

Bye to the horrible dark fireplace.

The previous owner had left some paint, it was the dreaded satin paint, but it was white so I thought what the hell and I got on and painted over the horrible fireplace. It went on fairly easily with a brush. I made sure to protect the mantle from any paint. In the end I decided the satin was too shiny and I bought some matt and painted over. I also bought some blue paint for the walls.

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So the fireplace had been brick, but then the previous people added to it and put the painted brick affect tiles over it. This meant there was several “layers” to the fireplace and is also probably why it’s not symmetrical. It was the inner layer of fireplace that was not symmetrical, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but I hoped the tiles would work. I should have painted it white, but instead I used some sticky teal paper over it, looked rubbish, but I knew it was temporary.

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We left it like that for a bit and I painted the wall blue, the other walls in beige, though I was tempted to paint them blue too.

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My parents came and brought the tiles and tile cement, we had a go at doing it, but in the end I decided I didn’t like it and took it all down. I’m afraid as my phone crashed I don’t have a picture of this stage. But these are the tiles. They are lovely, but looked very busy and made the fireplace look even more uneven.

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Anyway with the tile cement I was able to even out the surface of the inner bit, and then I decided to try and even out the 2 sides, so they’d be roughly the same width. I found some wood in the garden and basically I wedged it into position and then covered it with tile cement. Once dried I did another layer and eventually it looked more or less convincing. It wouldn’t be safe as a fire any more, but at least it was more even.

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I then couldn’t decide what colour to paint the inner layer. So in the end I ordered some different tiles, in a bluey turquoise colour. They come with paper on the back, which makes in theory application easy. Though in practice it was a bit fiddly and I still had to cut some to size, which was not easy. I shattered various tiles, instead of cutting them in half. Also not all of them stuck the first time.

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Once they were all properly attached I gave them a good clean. A damp cloth helped remove the paper. I didn’t grout them as the tile cement showed through a lot. I used some coffee to stain it, as it did look a bit “swimming pool.” As the edges showed up a bit, I painted them black.

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I’m now really pleased with the result. It’s been several months and it’s stayed more or less the same. We now have a fire affect light in it. But this is how it looked at christmas.

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Asparagus bed update

To give adage to the whole “if a jobs worth doing it’s worth doing properly” school of thought, let me tell you about the asparagus bed. Well firstly the bed was a raised area full of rocks and stones and weeds, must have been some sort of rockery in the past. I got carried away on ebay and ordered some asparagus at they had only 30 seconds left and were going for a good price. Unfortunately when they arrived it was a really busy period, I’d not had chance to prepare the bed properly. And on the day they arrived a friend showed up, who was staying at mine and we had a 3 day conference we were all working at. So the crowns had to go in there and then.

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The bed in the foreground, before it had asparagus in it.

Luckily the friend was into gardening, so Lucia, Simon and I set too at weeding the bed and removing as many stones and rocks as we could. It was early march so it got dark early and was dark when we were finishing off. We put sticks to mark were the asparagus went and a bit of straw to keep the weeds at bay.

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The asparagus bed is behind the tree, to the right of the path.

Anyway not many of the asparagus came through, 2 actually went in upside down, which I’ve since put right and strangely they are are the ones that are growing. Also as the rocks were still around the edge of the bed, it somehow meant mud fell through them onto the path when it rains, also the weeds were able to grow in amongst the rocks, and were hard to pull out. Also some people stepped on it, as they didn’t realise it was a bed. So all in all it wasn’t much of a success.

Laying the path,

Laying the path,

So I decided to take the rocks out and make it into a raised brick bed. Much like the other one I made before here. First I laid the rest of the path leading to the main allotment area. I added in a small bed between the path and the back of the fruit corner. I dug over this small bed and added straw, fresh grass and compost. I decided the path was a bit narrow for a wheelbarrow, so I added a few bits of paving to widen it near the raised bed.

Digging over and adding grass and straw to small bed.

Digging over and adding grass and straw to small bed.

To make the brick raised bed, I dug a trench and put the bricks in on their end, so one side was pressed against the paving slab. The other side I back filled with soil from the bed and pressed it down. I later back filled it the height of the brick, but to get it to stand up, and inch or so seemed enough. I carefully carried on edging the bed with bricks, removing and stones or rocks as I went. This took me the best part of 2 days to do. There was various stones and slabs hidden under the earth, and I also weeded as I went. The far side was the hardest, as there wasn’t really a path and young sweetcorn plants are planted quite close to the edge of bed.

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The bricks were all left by the previous owner in a big pile, glad to have almost used them up now! The paving slabs that I dug up, have now been reused as a path down the far side of the bed. It’s very narrow and a bit like using a type rope, but at least it gives access to the area.

First part finished, note the rocks on the side of the bed!

First part finished, note the rocks on the side of the bed!

Once I had tidied up the area, it was time to fill the bed back up. The middle section where the asparagus still (hopefully) is was still high and then the edges tapered off towards the bricks. I carefully tried to loosen the middle section, avoiding the sticks which mark out where the asparagus should be. Then I sieved the compost to add it into the bed and level it all off. As I put some soil over the middle it still tapers a bit, which should help the drainage.

Before tidying the path and filling up the bed, I weeded the bed and loosened the soil.

Before tidying the path and filling up the bed, I weeded the bed and loosened the soil.

As the bricks go right up to the path, it’s actually created a bigger growing space, without taking up any extra space. With the extra space, I’ll add some salald plants this year. We seem a bit behind on the salad plants this year, so desperately trying to get some going! This project took a few days to do, but very happy with the results and I do wish we did it properly the first time round. There may still be a few large stones in there, but I don’t want to disturb the asparagus any more than I may have done already.

The bed ready to be filled.

The bed ready to be filled.

Elsewhere in the garden I’ve been adding in a few plants, some grown from seed and some I’ve bought in shops. I’m hoping not to always have to buy things from shops, but as we’re trying to get everything established this year, it means we’re a bit behind on the seed sowing. In the picture above check out the chimney sweep wig wam!

CD rack into food storage shelf.

I bought these wooden CD shelves from a charity shop as I was moving into my flat. I think at the time I was just excitedly buying stuff, rather than seeing what I could use it for. They cost about £2 each, so it wasn’t a big splurge.

In a former life at the flat.

In a former life at the flat.

It turned out they fitted perfectly under the kitchen cupboards in the flat. They added some much needed storage space and each compartment could hold a cup. They worked well for my 4 years in the flat, and moved with me to the new place.

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After doing lots of painting and decorating within a month, I was eager to find new projects. I’d just discovered chalk paint. Chalk paint doesn’t have all the harmful chemicals of normal paint, you mix it up yourself and you can wax afterwards to finish it, if painting wood. Some chalk paint comes ready mixed, but its interesting to mix it yourself. The type I have is so safe you can add the unused paint to your compost heap. So its got a good feel good factor. It has a similar finish to matt paint if used on a wall.

Mixing chalk paint for the kitchen cupboards.

Mixing chalk paint for the kitchen cupboards.

So I decided to paint the CD racks with chalk paint. I used an off white colour, the same I used on my kitchen walls. The CD racks were fiddly to paint as so many surfaces. I worked out a system of painting the bottom of each one, then rotating it 90 degress and then painting the side of each, and rotating it again, until each side was covered. I then painted the outside and left it to dry. It took about 3 coats, I think I’d mixed the paint a little bit thin.

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Once dried I had to decide what to put in it. The cups now fitted in my cupboard. I bought some cheap glass containers that fitted in each compartment and stored grains, nuts and dry fruit in them. I added chalk labels. The other shelf has herb and spice jars as well as a few decorative bits. I may arrange it better later, as we do have a spice rack too, but for now this works.

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It was a very easy project and used objects I already had, other than the jars. The jars make it easier to find things and leads to less cluttered cupboards. You could easily make from scratch some similar shelves, or keep an eye out in charity shops for something similar. Glass jars can be bought in various sizes, so hopefully you can get ones that fit. For bigger shelves baskets look great, or a mixture of glasses and baskets.

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Practically free bedroom furniture

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ve probably come to realise I like a bargain, I live life on the frugal side and don’t splash out without reason. So I wanted to share with you how I got my bedroom furniture to match for next to nothing.

Basically I keep an eye out for bargains. Read this post about getting Something for nothing. So the furniture in question is 2 bedside cabinets and a bedroom chair.

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The chair came for my mother, I’ve had it nearly 10 years now and my mum had it a long time before then. Before it was red, it was blue and before it was blue it was black. It’s been repainted several times to match the colour scheme of whatever room it goes in. And red didn’t match the room any more.

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This little bedside cabinet, I found dumped next to the bins at my old flat. People often left things here for the taking, and for the most put them next to the bin, so they were clean and usually perfectly usable. I also got a bookshelf, some paintings and a bathroom cabinet from the bins.

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And this little cabinet, was one of the many things left in the house that a friend bought. My friend didn’t want it, so gave it to me. So none of this furniture cost anything!

So to start with I gave them all an undercoat, this was some paint I had anyway and would make it easier to paint over the various surfaces.

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Once they had 2 coats of undercoat, they were ready to paint. And in the January sales I’d picked up a small tin of gloss paint for 50p. Yes 50 pence, a bargain!

I coated the furniture and left to dry. And dry. Painting gloss in a cold, slightly damp shed in the middle of an English winter, apparently didn’t make for good drying conditions. But eventually they did dry.

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The furniture now is the same colour and despite being different styles, they looked like a set and matched perfectly with the room. This makeover cost the grand total of 50p. If  I did it again, I’d make sure to have better drying conditions for the furniture, as you can see a few drips, as it took about 4 days to dry. Also maybe 2 lighter coats, rather than 1 thick coat would work better. So next time you need some bedroom furniture look around you, see what you have or what someone may be throwing out, a lick of paint can make a big difference.

 

 

Painting 4 and a half rooms in a month.

We moved to the house in September and were really busy with settling in and working and everyday stuff. We had little time to do anything about the blancmange yellow satin paint in every room. We did manage to do the living room and hallways, which needed painting the most. (New look staircase for under £20) It wasn’t until January that we were able to start painting the upstairs. As we both work freelance January and February are traditionally quite months for us, so its the perfect time to do some DIY around the house.

I find when you have the upheaval of painting one room, you may as well paint 2 or even 3 at the same time, it doesn’t make it much worse. Everything is upside down already, all your painting stuff is out and accessible, paint takes time to dry, the actual painting part is fairly quick, so really is it much worse to paint 2 rooms at the same time instead of one?

The loo- before

The loo- before

I did a warm up room, the upstairs loo, which looked a bit unloved, nothing really wrong with it, but pretty blah. I painted the walls in the pale beige paint that was leftover from the living room. The back wall (the one facing when you walk in) I wallpapered it with wrapping paper. This was more fiddly than I thought, as wrapping paper isn’t designed to be used as wallpaper, so it didn’t have a logical match to it. It was handprinted so some of the pattern was deeper than other bits. Using a ruler and scissors I more or less matched up the pattern and cut the pattern to the right shape. Unfortunately in the tight little space above my loo, there was no such thing as a right angle. Hence the black boarders to neaten off the edges.

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So the first main room we started on was our bedroom. It had the standard yellow walls which pretty much every room in the house had, it also had a couple of stains on it, of origin unknown. The walls surface was a bit patchy and the satin paint highlighted each imperfection, I hated it and it didn’t feel like home. None of the furniture matched either.

As it was. Satin paint

 

On scouting out a DIY place in january I picked up a tin of paint worth about £40 for £1.50 in a sale. I also got some free paint from scrapstore (mentioned in this blog:here ) We moved our bedroom stuff into the guest room and started painting. In the end the paint almost ran out, so one wall and corner were painted in a slightly darker shade of grey than the rest.

 

The painting chaos starts!

50 Simon's of grey?

50 Simon’s of grey?

I then painted some furniture to go in the bedroom and left in the shed to dry. Practically free bedroom furniture

We then made the mistake of going shopping and spotting some lovely wallpaper, we picked out 2 we liked and ordered it in. Simon’s choice was grey, so could go in the bedroom, so mine would go in the guest room. We’d never wallpapered before, except the loo, which wasn’t even wallpaper. So to buy semi designer wallpaper and use that as first time ever wallpapering was kind of a big thing.

The office before

The office before

When we waited for the wallpaper we moved everything from the office into anywhere else that had more than an inch of space and painted in there. The wallpaper came for the bedroom, we watched various videos tutorials. This was paste the wall rather than paste the paper.

I wont write about the wallpapering in detail (may do another blog about that) but some sort of black magic happened and it went on pretty much perfectly. The wallpaper was delivered about 2pm and we got on straight away and managed to sleep in our own room that night.

Wallpapering done.

Wallpapering done.

 

So then we wallpapered the office too, in some retro wallpaper I picked up in a sale for £2.50 a roll. This again was paste the wall, and went on like a dream.

Office wallpaper

Office wallpaper

But then I looked at the colour of the wall and the colour of the paint and it just didn’t work. So I rushed out and bought some more paint and we repainted the walls. I ripped down the masking tape down and of course I’d put it over the wallpaper. Hence huge tear marks in the wallpaper. Luckily I had some left and managed to botch over the damage. You wouldn’t notice it now.

Guest room- before

Guest room- before

So still in the decorating mode, we tackled the guest room, the previous people had known it as “the sunshine room” and the walls were painted in a much brighter shade of yellow. It was slightly more liveable, but I wanted to tone it down. Plus of the 2 choices of wallpaper we made, my choice was to go in the guest room. So we painted the walls off white and then wallpapered. We were pretty confident wallpaperers by now, but this one turned out to be paste the paper, not paste the wall. This one was much trickier and the paper did tear once or twice, likely from putting too much paste on it, it letting it go soggy. But again we made a pretty good job of it.

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Wallpaper almost done.

So still firmly in decorating mode I did the cupboard under the stairs, you can read about : here.

All of this was done in around a month. At points it was a bit chaotic, and mostly we didn’t cook that much, but it made a big difference to the way we feel about the house, it feels so much more like ours. Painting in January meant I was able to pick up paint in the sales and decide my colour scheme around that. I was unlikely to want to be outside at the time. Also when you do so many rooms at once, you get better and faster and can foresee problems before they happen, as you’re in the decorating mindset.

The people who bought my flat managed to paint most of the rooms in about 2 weeks, this was easier for them, as they hadn’t moved their stuff in, so was just a case of protecting the floors, rather than having to move everything around. I certainly think that moving things around, and the preparation is one of the biggest parts of decorating, so if you can combine painting 2 or 3 rooms at once, why not?

So what did I do with February?, well I put up my feet and did the kitchen of course: Cheap kitchen revamp

Brick raised bed and grass toupee

My parents helped me with the move and stayed for a couple of days to help with jobs. One of the first jobs mum wanted to do, even when we were still unpacking was to tackle a pile of rocks, mud, ferns and couch grass, which must have been a rockery in the past. The couch grass was long and out of control. And it was hard to see what it was meant to look like. This is in the more ornamental area of the garden.

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So its the area in front of the brown shed, this is what it looked like before we moved in, so was already pretty overgrown.

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Once we moved in, it was obvious that it hadn’t had any attention for a long time. My parents were only visiting for a few days, but mum was keen to get on with this area, so who was I to stop her?

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So she began to remove stones, rocks, couch grass and various other bits. But still it looked like a muddy pile of nothing. She had to go back home and it got left.

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I then tackled it some more, with the help of my neighbours cat. I took some of the excess mud and put it on the site we were clearing as growing space. But again it didn’t look much better, in fact it looked worse. It was a muddy slippery mess, and so slippery it was hard to do anything. So I just left it. Theres no more pictures of it at this point, lucky for me I guess. So then I had the idea of keeping the area raised and using bricks to edge it, so it will be a mini raised bed. I decided to try and salvage some of the plants that were growing in there. So I scrapped some mud up and got some bricks. I put the bricks on their ends and slightly dug them into the mud, and then compacted mud around them, to give them support. I cleared up the plants and levelled the soil in the raised bit, added in some soil that I had kept aside. I then added a huge amount of bulbs that I had bought on offer and not gotten around to planting in time, so I wasn’t sure if they would still grow.

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So the raised bit looked great, very neat by my standards, but unfortunately it was surrounded by mud, at least half a meter of mud, that was leftover from the work. Not to worry I thought, I’ve seen some grass seeds in one of those sheds. Once I sorted through the shed I found the seed. And began to prepare the ground. I removed all the dock weeds which were growing in the area, if I was going to sow some grass, I may as well do it properly. I then dug it over, raked it and levelled it. I sowed the seed and watered it in.

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It was at this point I thought how ironic it was that I spent all this time trying to grow grass here, and at the other side in the growing space I was spending a lot of time removing some grass that I didn’t want. Hmm surely theres a better solution here? So I left it a week, it wasn’t the sunniest week, but there was some sunshine and the only action from the grass seeds, was the blackbirds that came and pecked at them, presumably eating the seeds? I waited a few more days and then decided the best course of action was to move the unwanted grass into the position of where I needed the grass. So to do this I used a fork to make tufts of grass, I loosened in a straight line about a meter across. I then loosened it at 90 degress along the first line, about a fork width each. And then came back about a fork width distance from the original fork line and loosened here. In affect this made lots of square tufts. Each square was then duly checked for any weeds or any other nasties. I scrapped off the mud from the bottom. Often the tufts ended up in different shapes, but still worked just as well. I placed the tufts onto the bare soil, and pressed them in and gave each a good watering. Hopefully they will all take, but if not, there is still some grass that needs removing.

 

Two thirds covered

Two thirds covered

All in all I’m very pleased with this area, the bulbs seem to be growing, the grass matches in and it is no longer a big pile of mud, rocks and weeds. The bricks were left by the previous people, and everything else was things that I had already. The lavender plants had been at our allotment.  It was very easy to do, but a bit time consuming, but very much worth it, as this is one of the first things you see in the garden, especially from the kitchen window.

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We will have to give the shed some attention soon, and possibly replace some of the wood, as its got very damp in the winter. A gardeners work is never done!

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Intro to the garden

I intend a lot of this blog to be about gardening and so far I’ve not managed one post about what we’ve done in the garden. So as this is now the first, let me tell you a bit about the garden. But I’ll have to begin with the house, basically we were all set to buy one house, and  the day we had an offer on our flat and our offer was accepted on a house, we went out to celebrate, this was a friday. Naturally the celebrations included booze and a cabaret drag bar in an old underground loo and a night bus trip home.

So in our hungover state the next day, we were pretty much out of action and feeling sorry for ourselves. Having spent a lot of time browsing property websites, I was in the habit of doing it on a daily, if not several times a day. And thats when I spotted another house in the same village, but with a much, much bigger garden. It had only just come on the market. In our hungover state we explained to them the situation and managed to get a viewing. We loved it and saw the potential and came back for a second viewing on the monday and by monday afternoon we’d made an offer which was accepted.

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So what was so good about the place that we withdrew the offer on the other. The garden is huge, well maybe note huge, but in our price range it certainly feels it. There was a green house, various sheds, including ones that could be used as an outdoor office and ones for tool sheds. And even a chicken hutch and “cat shed”. The back of the garden was very overgrown, but had the potential to be turned into a growing space.  There was various trees and shrubs and lots and lots of possibilities. Unlike the property we almost bought, this one had a lot of possibility to put our mark on it, the other one had a much smaller garden and the house didn’t need much doing to it.

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However this house did come with some problems, to name a few the bathroom came with horrible pink tiles, which still remain, the windows had misted up due to broken seals which again remain at the moment, the fireplace looked like it belongs in a pub and there was some very oversized pine and conifer trees in the garden.

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I like a tree as much as the next person but one of the pines was literally rubbing up against the house, and likely to grow 4 times the size. If I left it to grow, it would become more of a problem. If I had it crowned, I’d have to redo it again in a few years.The conifers I’m afraid just aren’t that great a tree, pines look much nicer, but neither are productive and we wanted to grow as much edible stuff as possible. And also they block a lot of light, and their roots would likely take a lot of the water and goodness from the things I am growing.

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So in the end I got some tree surgeons in to remove the 3 worst offenders. They chopped them down and burnt a lot of the wood on site.  Once the pine had gone, the wild rose had no support, so flopped down over the path and had to be cut back.

Once the trees were down, we were able to start clearing the garden. This involved lots of pruning, and then onto tackling the weeds main culprits being dock, dandelion, creeping buttercup, nettles, couchgrass and a few others i don’t know what they are.

As we’re trying to be organic, permaculture and do what feels right in the garden, we’ve been using cardboard boxes to kill the weeds. A lot of the boxes came from our house move, but since they have run out we’ve had to do cardboard box runs!

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Me with the neighbours cat- 2 weeks in.

Me with the neighbours cat- 2 weeks in.

We cleaned out the greenhouse and got that ready to grow salads, it was october by this point so we put in some winter salads. The glass was green so I had to clean them a lot and pull out the various weeds.

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The garden is in 2 main sections, the back which was very overgrown with couchgrass nettles and had lots of “junk” left by the previous owner. The other section is more of your normal garden, with various shrubs and trees, that look like they haven’t been pruned in some time. There is also a wild bit, this is where the pine tree was, this is fenced off from the main garden and feels like a mini woodland, to begin with you couldn’t enter, but with the help of my mum and the tree surgeons, its been cleared a lot. The front garden is fairly traditional looking, with a square of grass and some rose bushes and other plants along the edge.

I will write some more updates about the garden soon.