To Grass Or Not To Grass, That Is The Tarmac.

So I thought I’d just give you a quick update on where we are up to with the mid century inspired garden.  It’s been a long couple of months trying to get the tectonic plates into place that will allow us to get to the final stages but over the course of the next 72 hours we will finally have our pergola installed and a lawn.  The latter of these two has probably caused us the greatest consternation as my partner was fully subscribed to the concept of astro turf whereas I mostly wasn’t. 

 The day we moved in.  That concrete car crash you can see behind you is what we laughingly referred to as our garden at the time.
The day we moved in.  That concrete car crash you can see behind you is what we laughingly referred to as our garden at the time.

The background to this is that the plot was originally a carpark (if you haven’t been following the blog you can see all the original images of the space in earlier entries).  The main question was how do you lift and dispose of asphalt and what do you then do with what this exposes? The simplest solution was to buy fake grass and almost treat it like a big rug that we lay over the problem.  For me however I’d know that it was still there underneath it all and that would jar with me.

So off I merrily went to get quotes to remove the asphalt and have it disposed of, assuming that this would involve several men, digger machines and skips.  Little did I know that actually the entire process could in theory be done with just a pickaxe and crowbar.  This realisation dawned on me when the first gentleman that came to quote gently tapped on the asphalt to test it and a clump just popped up and clean off.  One quote for £460.00 later, a quick trip to the local DIY store and £20.00 lighter I was merrily hacking away at my driveway like a demented lunatic. 

 Not an easy job, but surely worth the effort right?
Not an easy job, but surely worth the effort right?

I’d say in total it took me about 8 hours to lift and remove 25 square metres of the stuff.  Add to this the cost of the sandy loam, which is a preparatory soil mix that you lay before turf, and the turf itself, the total cost of the lawn will come in at £181.60.  Of course there will then be upkeep to consider, which you don’t have with fake grass but then I feel there is a deep value in using authentic materials and honest design resolution which I don’t feel I would have achieved using the other route. At any rate, we’re already quids in as the fake stuff was likely to cost in the region of £700.00 before fitting.  We may treat ourselves to an automatic grass cutter with the savings!

 I've added some bamboo and twisted willow to the kitchen terrace to create some structure and define the area.  Also to make it feel like less of a stage!  We are quite looked over by neighbours currently.
I’ve added some bamboo and twisted willow to the kitchen terrace to create some structure and define the area.  Also to make it feel like less of a stage!  We are quite looked over by neighbours currently.

 

My last blog focused on sourcing appropriate, well priced containers and some of the pieces I pointed towards are on there way to me as I type.  One thing did occur to me however when revisiting the garden design and that was that I didn’t want to end up with a container heavy area, but do need space for the gunnera, banana trees and other giant species to spread their roots. For this reason I decided to be resourceful which is code for make things for free. 

 I've gone bamboo bonkers with the patio furniture featuring it in each of the seating areas.
I’ve gone bamboo bonkers with the patio furniture featuring it in each of the seating areas.

 

One of the benefits of having a mid sized van is that you can stop off whenever you see some good wood in a skip and recently I lucked out with a collection of roof joists. Creating raised beds out of them along the perimeters of the plot will allow me to train some of that fabulous evergreen Clematis over the fencing and hopefully soften the blow of our boundaries, but will also give me that much needed planting space for some of the larger specimens whilst keeping the over all design relatively clean.  These beds are yet to be stained to tie in with those of the kitchen terrace.

 I think this raised bed will be home to the banana trees.
I think this raised bed will be home to the banana trees.
 Made from reclaimed timber, this bed literally cost £2.00 and I think will be used to home the gunnera.  As they like it boggy I have lined it with thick plastic.
Made from reclaimed timber, this bed literally cost £2.00 and I think will be used to home the gunnera.  As they like it boggy I have lined it with thick plastic.

I have moved the poly tunnel also as it was literally in darkness for most of the day as well as being constantly hit by wind coming down the side of the house.  In it’s new position I rarely even hear the rustle of plastic, and It gets the benefit of early morning sunlight right through to about 3pm. Ultimately my aim is to replace this structure with an Eco Dome – ideally one that I build myself, however that’s a WHOLE other set of blogs!  At £55.00 delivered, this 4 metre by 2 metre giant will do just fine in the meantime!

 The view from the southern perimeter.  Basically it just looks like a big mess currently doesn't it!
The view from the southern perimeter.  Basically it just looks like a big mess currently doesn’t it!

 

So what do you think? Can you see Improvements? It’s so difficult when you’re working on it day by day to stand back and notice change!  All your advice so far has been invaluable and has and will continue to influence the outcomes of the area so please do comment and get involved.

Creating the Right Structure for the Mid Century Inspired Garden

Spring is around the corner, or so I tell myself every day when I open the curtains and am greeted by yet more cold and drizzle.  I’ve been busy planting oodles of seeds from an array of sunflowers, gazanias and lobelia to the fodder for our newly erected poly tunnel.  Courgettes, 6 varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, two types of peas, broad beans, cayenne, bell peppers, sweetcorn, coriander, spinach and rocket will start us off this year. 

Effectively however I suspect that the attention I have been spending on the poly tunnel has in part been due to my ambivalence over getting the structure of our mid century inspired garden right. If you haven’t been following the blog, we are basically creating a garden out of what was a tarmac car park. However, after some further work on decking this past weekend, and in-depth discussions over time, I think I’ve cracked it finally.

It felt really to me like there was always some key aspect to my plans missing in the designs I was coming up with for our garden and I think this was reflected in the height that I was hoping to achieve though the planting that I aimed to have.  Standing back from the project with fresh eyes over the winter season it became clear that actually we have an opportunity to create quite a striking architectural feature along the rear end of the garden.  

This will have several different functions, firstly it will bring together the three distinct areas that have been created and guide you through the design in stages, but also it will provide that consistency to the look of the area as the seasons change and the bountiful summer gives way to the barren land that winter provides.  This structure aims to clearly define each area against the back wall almost as a distinct room, but then also from a distance speak a language that tips the cap in a very humble way towards the Huf Haus or the work of Miles van Der Rohe. 

At 10 metres in length by 3 in depth, it’s not going to be a diminutive structure, and adding to this that I plan to paint the entire thing black this is the kind of thing that will either make or break the design. EEEK!

Currently this is where the garden stands in terms of progress.  

 

The new decking that was laid over the weekend will be treated but remain pretty much the shade that it currently is.

  This area will have a hanging chair, like the one available in our online store currently and this bargainous set of garden furniture available now in Asda, U.K. for under £90.00 in the teal blue.

  The central area will have a 3 metre long waist height herb planter along the boundary wall with either white pebbles on the floor or potentially a tiled area.  In front of this the plan is to place a water feature of some description, but the court’s still out on that one!

 The aim within this area is to create a corridor between the dining area and the evening terrace that will be multi sensory with trickling water and heady herb scents.
The aim within this area is to create a corridor between the dining area and the evening terrace that will be multi sensory with trickling water and heady herb scents.

 

The dining area is all but complete now, although still requires the brickwork to be secured.  The bricks you see here are actually the ones I salvaged from the removal of our dining room wall.

 The current furniture is our stop gap stuff.  I fancy getting my hands on a large slab of marble for the final table.
The current furniture is our stop gap stuff.  I fancy getting my hands on a large slab of marble for the final table.

 

So what will this towering mega structure look like that effectively will house our social area, well similar in style and feel to this. 

 

Quite a minimalist pergola using a chunky enough timber that the over all sense is of strength but not so much as to over power the delicacy of the Wisteria and grape vine that will eventually meander their way across it.

 

The final design of this structure is in negotiation, however I aim for it to be in place ideally by April in order to also create the lawn area where you can currently see rubble and the poly tunnel (which will be repositioned to the side of the property). 

 I like the angles and feel of this structure over head.
I like the angles and feel of this structure over head.

 

Alongside the plans I have for this structure, I’m finding one other key area of tension and that’s sourcing aesthetically pleasing minimalist, reasonably priced, planters.  Big planters that can host my Gunnera Manicata, Banana Tree and Alocasia Calidora.  So far I have turned my attention elsewhere in order to source suitable vessels and this includes salvaging a pallet tub and a bed frame both of which I hope to clad in sheet metal. I’ll look further into my progress with these in future blogs.

 

As always your comments are very much welcomed.

Mid Century House Plants: Some people are a pants man, me I’m a plants man

From a baby I was brought up around plants.  Not in the ‘child raised by wolves in the forest’ way – although this would explain quite a few things if it were true. We always had a well stocked garden namely filled with Azaleas and colourful annuals. As I have grown and developed my flavour/obsession for mid century styling, my taste has focussed itself unintentionally towards the popular plants of the era also.  Before we moved to our new abode, guests regularly described our apartment as a ‘jungle’, which pleased me immensely.  This winter my plan is to start off all the plants that will be folded into the blend of our MCM inspired garden which we will be stocking throughout the spring – you can follow the blog updates on that.

So without further ado I want to introduce to you my collection of mid century inspired plants, amongst them some of which you will see next year as local points to our garden.

Asparagus Fern or Protasparagus setaceus

 

I bought this baby three years ago at a street stand in Manchester for £2.50 and in the time since I would estimate that she has grown in size by roughly 15 times.  A really easy one to look after – basically the more you water her, the more she’ll love you back.  Apparently they can get small white flowers in the summer but I suspect that with our cold climate in the UK this is but a dream for me to cling on to.

Sprenger’s Asparagus or Protasparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’

 

This little puppy refuses to stop growing. I bought it from the same street stand, however this one was about the size of a can of beans at the time.  I bought this one two years ago.  It’s now as wide as my McIntosh dining table and about 2 foot high.  It’s not fair to have favourites but…..

Again, simple to grown.  The more water the happier it is.  They don’t seem to like windowcills or any direct light though.

 

Spider Plant or Chlorophytum comosum

 

I love these and have several dotted around the house, although this particular one came as a gift from staff at a cat shelter that my mum volunteers at 2 years ago.  I love the fact that they gift you more and more babies every few weeks.  I leave the small ones on normally until my mum or someone else intervenes.  At the back of this pot there is some purple oxalis and some kind of other purple trailing thing that I never managed to identify.

 

Mother in Laws tongue or  Sansevieria trifasciata

 

A house warming present from a friend in 2008, this plant was originally part of a larger one that she owned.  I have completely abused this one from the beginning, sometimes forgetting to water it for weeks.  It just keeps going.  Ideally I’d like to create some kind of waist height room divider with a wall of this planted along the top.  It’s on the ‘to do’ list.

 

Purple velvet plant Gynura aurantiaca

 

My new toy.  I bought this from a very talented and inspiring local gardener about a month ago.  It’s amazing to look at.  The dark purple leafs are smothered in a bright red hairy carpet.  It’s utterly divine and regular mesmerises me as I walk past it.  I’d say it’s doubled in size since purchase so I hope this will continue!  Easy to look after again as all it seems to want is lots of sun and loads of water.

 

Succulents

 

The absolute stalwart of the MCM look, the succulent comes in all shapes and forms.  These particular little babarinos came from a villa that we visited in the South of Spain last summer.  I literally ripped arms off five of the plants that were in the garden and shoved them in my case as we left.  They were all kinds of crazy orange and red hues at the time but I’m guessing the blazing sun of Manchester doesn’t quite cut it for them!

 

Orchids &  Tropicanna Black 

 

I have terrible, terrible, awful luck with orchids.  The sensible man would just stop buying them. Not me.  I’m not a quitter. I did once manage to keep three of them flowering for three years continuously, however it would appear that what was actually happening at the time was the orchid gods had gotten together and decided to shell out all my orchid luck in one fell swoop.  My worst orchid story involved buying one that cost over £30, for it to die within weeks.  I will not give up.  I will not be beaten.

I love the shades of the Tropicanna Black.  I bought it about two months ago and since then it has developed a second stem which I am excited about.  It will also go out into the garden in the spring and hopefully go on to develop an array of beautiful flowers throughout the summer.  I’m half tempted to buy a second one to keep indoors as I love the shade of it against my living room walls.

 

Christmas Cactus

 

I actually bought this baby from Ikea last Christmas, and then ignored it for 9 months.  A couple of months ago I moved it to a bright window and it turned the most amazing shades of purple and red.  Following this, BANG, all these lovely flowers. My mum informs me that they flower one month earlier every year.  Bizarre.  

 

Maiden Hair fern Adiantum capillus-veneris

 

I love these.  I have killed 7 so far.  This one came from a garden centre in Newcastle a few months back.  So far it is not dead.  I hold no great hope for it, but I have a dream that one day I will manage to at least keep one alive for a year.  I’d like to give you some advice on how to succeed with these, but alls I can really say is I have discovered that they don’t like direct light, but also don’t like shade.  They are not very interested by indirect sunlight either.  They don’t like over watering, but don’t like going dry.  They hate the cool.  They don’t like too much heat.  They’re basically the diva of plants.

Angel Wing Begonia

I remember my mother having one of these a child and it grew to over 5 foot with the aid of a few canes eventually. That one disappeared about ten years ago now and ever since I have kept my eye out for one of my own.  By chance I was walking through an arcade in Chorlton one day and they had two of these for sale.  The woman seemed a wee bit confused at my over animation as I made my purchase, but this begonia has been long awaited!  I hope to grow it to a similar height over the next few years. I love the patterns that its pot casts on the hall when the morning sun shine through the window.

Anthurinium

 

Love, love, love these.  Although I’m not quite sure where my one thinks it’s going.  It seems to be crawling towards a door.  We bought this one four years ago, again at Ikea and it hasn’t stopped flowering once since that day.  It’s a great plant because you can totally ignore it for weeks on end if you have to and it will just keep on going on with life.  I bought a pink one for my mum for mothers day a few years back which is still going strong also actually.

 

Variegated philodendron

 

This plant is 17 years old that I know of. I purchased it from a street vendor in Glasgow in my first year of university in 1999 and since then it has moved with me to 8 different addresses in Glasgow, back home to Fife in Scotland many times, down to Manchester and to 8 different addresses down here also.  It seems very at home making it’s way round the peripheries of our shower cubicle, in fact at times I have to have a strong word with it as it’s developed a habit of trying to grow round the shower head.  Slightly too ‘Day of the Triphids’ for my liking.

 

Mexican Hat Plant

 

 

I purchased this from the back of someones car in a field by the Lake District of England (don’t ask), and it’s the most bizarre little plant.  Every time a new leaf appears, it will get covered in tens of tiny heart shaped nodules round the edge which will then fall off in time and sprout new plants.  Consequently I have now got in the range of 100 to 150 other Mexican Hat Plants also growing around my upstairs bathroom!

 

Alocasia Calidora

 

The mother of all giant plants.  I am SO excited about this.  The man that supplied my ynura aurantiaca, also got his hands on this puppy for me.  She will form one of the centre pieces to our MCM garden next year, with leafs that will easily measure two feet in width, she’s already twice the size she was when I received her a month ago.  One thing to note about this plant is that if you are buying one to have indoors, it literally slurps water when you feed it.  You can actually hear it gulping.  Disconcerting when at home alone!

 

Ficus Microcarpa Ginseng

 

I have had this plant since 2013, when I was gifted it by colleagues at a job I was leaving.  I’d say it’s maybe four times the size it was then.  I regularly get quite pissed off at this plant, which entertains my partner no end, as it literally doesn’t matter how much water you give it – it’s NEVER ENOUGH.  Literally this thirsty little bugger can make it’s way through 200ml of water in a day without even breaking a sweat.  The good thing about it I suppose is that it can also go for weeks of abuse before developing yellow leaves so I guess I’ve no real beef with it.  I have aspirations that one day I will grown it to waist height.

And so there we have it people, a snap shot of some of my plants, un-intentionally but perhaps subconsciously purchased, of the MCM style.  I can’t wait to get the outside planted up and continue our discussion on that space. This weekend I take delivery of my first banana tree which i’m über excited about. In the meantime I’d love to hear about your plants, and maybe see some cheeky pictures of them also!

The Fence Is Up! The Work Has Begun

Well it has been a long time coming, but finally last weekend we defined the boundaries of our garden area and were quite surprised to see that it was significantly larger than we had ever thought or prepared for.  In total in measures 70 square metres.

 

In an ideal world, this feather edged fencing would have been a breeze block wall rendered in a light duck egg blue, staggered to create shadows as the sun moves round.  In a ideal world I would be rich; I’m working on that – check out the stock we have for sale currently!

 

I resolved in the end that it’s not the medium you use to create your boundaries, but what you then do to pull the look together.  Speaking of which, what the absolute hell was I going to do with an area 10 metres by 7?  The largest space I had contended with previously was postage stamp sized. Now I was dealing with a vast empty terrain to the back of the property, an allotment to the side and 48 square metre front garden also chucked into the mix.

 

My main plan has always been, as you know, to go all MCM on it’s ass. But after much taking of advice, deliberating cogitating and digesting, something didn’t sit well with this notion to me and I couldn’t put my finger on why. It did take a few months of mulling it over for me to put my finger on it. Finally it did click; all my research into this project pointed towards the same main themes in MCM gardens.  They were covered in clean lines, minimalism, stark – sometimes almost brutalist – features and a ‘less is more’ approach to planting.  

 Fabulous.  Not me, but fabulous.
Fabulous.  Not me, but fabulous.

 

This isn’t me.  This isn’t what goes on in my brain.  What goes on in my brain is a bit more like walking through a ticker tape calvalcade of pyschadelic clowns with one person in the corner screaming for everyone to ‘try and keep it down’.  You can share my dilemma, I’m sure.  So how do I match my greatest love with the scratch and sniff of crazy that I really am underneath it all.  Well, like all good ideas, the answer came to me in the shower.  Jungle.  Mid century jungle!

 This image formed part of my inspiration for our final theme.
This image formed part of my inspiration for our final theme.

 

Hurrah.  Everything has slotted into place.  Like one big unbelievable game of Tetris. So I have split the garden into quadrangles to make it easier to deal with. Below I have shared my very naïve drawing of where I am going with it all now.  

 

Essentially, there is a tropical area directly outside the french windows from the kitchen filled with the likes of Musa Yunnanensis, Voodoo lily sauromatum vernosus, Alocasia calidora, Gunnera manicatia and Tibouchina urvilleana – for that utterly nuts jungle feeling.  Interspersed in this area there will be a wicker hanging chair, and some kind of marble table.  The flooring will be purple slate chips which will absorb the heat that we have throughout the day and release it throughout the night back to the warmth loving foliage. I want to raise the plants out of the ground so will use repurposed concrete drainage pipes in a nod back to those fabulous atomic age curves.

 

Next time, I’ll be looking at options for greenhouses.  As always, your comments are invaluable to me and how I perceive this operation!

Mid Century Garden Update

Well here I am 4 months after my last blog about creating a mid century inspired garden, and by god has it been an uphill struggle.  It would be ace at this stage to be able to upload loads of pictures of my effortlessly cool, well landscaped and inspirational outside living space, but frankly I suspect I’m at least one year away from that.  So, instead I thought I would show you a before and after of the current situation out there!  

 

When we first purchased last October, the house had been a set of bedsits which had laid empty for some time so in terms of landscaping or established plant stock we were basically at page 1 of an empty book.

 The house was pretty much a scratch and sniff of bad DIY decisions and poor upkeep.
The house was pretty much a scratch and sniff of bad DIY decisions and poor upkeep.

 

The rear side of the house had a feral concrete garage with asbestos roof, and what would be a garden had been covered in asphalt to create a car park.  Nice!

 

Where do you start with this?   Well stage 1 was to create a space directly outside our new kitchen patio doors (so as to stop ourselves from falling out of the house every time we stepped out)

 We went for an 8m by 6m decked area with raised beds.
We went for an 8m by 6m decked area with raised beds.

 

 

Really this is still at stage one, it is yet to have a slanted timber roof attached from which I plan to hang a wicker chair.  This area works well for herb and tomato growing I have found. I think Id like to go several shades darker on the flooring here to get a better match to the bamboo floor in the kitchen. But it’s a good start I think.

 

Stage two was to create some kind of vegetable growing area, for which the location was determined by the patterns of the sun.  For this reason I have placed it to the right of the front door.  Again I have painted the planters blue black as part of a plan to keep the area as monochrome as possible in terms of structures.  Incidentally can you spot the repurposed bed base?  All the other planters were made out of disused crates.  Literally this area cost me just over £30 to make.

 The plan will be to surround this area with mid century inspired trellis.
The plan will be to surround this area with mid century inspired trellis.

 

Stage three was the removal of the garage, which we have put together into a snappy little video for you.  This was a bit of a landmark occasion for us and will now allow us to go ahead and put up the boundary fence.  In an ideal world I would like a skimmed wall to surround the area, but realistically this won’t be feasible and so we’ll be going for a 6ft feather edged fence possibly also painted blue back.

 

After the fence, I’ll be focusing on creating an outside dining space using the existing foundations of the garage area, which now looks like this.

 

It’s a long road, I’m just trying to focus on building capacity for those mid century lines and curves that I have in my minds eye.

Thoughts and opinions are always welcome!