Garden Makeover: Part 1

Disclaimer: This post was written in partnership with Topps Tiles. We have received a PR discount as part of our collaboration.

If you’re an avid watcher of our Instagram Stories you’ll know that the latest renovation at The Black House is the garden. It’s dragging on for almost as long as the kitchen (I know, I’m sorry) but this time it’s less about indecision and more about the sheer volume of work involved. Obviously we are attempting to do as much as we can ourselves, which means only evenings and weekends and this weather isn't doing us any favours. Seriously. What IS this weather? It’s June!! Anyway, we’re about to run into the third highlight of the garden makeover and we’ve barely even started to do the pretty stuff, so thought maybe it was time to document on a blog post so you can quickly catch up with where we are, before the really good stuff starts.

THE BEFORE

When we purchased the house back in 2014 we inherited a very established wild Country Garden. I actually loved it. But it didn’t take long to realise that the garden was hard work. After several summers of trying to maintain almost 100sqm of wilderness and several winters of being unsure what to cut back and being left with a dead, brown pile, we* decided this was the year to tackle it.

*Actually Mr S decided. I came home one day after work and my rose archway had been pulled out and a number of sleepers were in the middle of the grass so I kind of had to get with the programme. Sharpish.

Before I show you photos of the garden at it’s peak, just note that it only looked this good for 2 weeks of the year. I promise…

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And more realistically, this is what it looked like for the rest of the year…

This was taken after the rose bush came down, I wasn’t given enough warning for proper before photos!

This was taken after the rose bush came down, I wasn’t given enough warning for proper before photos!

INSPIRATION

As Mr S had started to pull the garden apart I assumed he had a plan and I was interested to see what his ideas were. When I asked him, he looked at me like, “that’s your job, right?”. Typical..! It was a bit late to go back considering the only part I really liked had been demolished and so we had a chat about what we wanted from the garden - what was it’s purpose and how would we use it? After having a high maintenance garden for a number of years we both immediately agreed that we wanted the exact opposite; grass to mow and a handful of plants to keep nice. That was it. And in terms of use, we wanted a space to have dinner outside when the weather was nice or just relax in Summer. We wanted a useable area to have friends and family round for parties and if we have children, we’d want enough space for them to run about and play safely (not at all possible in our current garden). And of course, practicalities aside, the most important thing was how it would look. Someone on Instagram described our garden as ‘everyone’s parents’ garden’ (lol) which actually described it amazingly and what we wanted was a garden that was us; an extension of the inside - simple and stylish with clean lines and a monochromatic colour palette. Easy, right?

With all this in mind I headed to Pinterest in search of inspiration and these were the images that helped to design the initial plan for our new garden space:

Inspo from:  Alice in Scandiland , original source unknown.

Inspo from: Alice in Scandiland, original source unknown.

Inspo from:  Earth Designs

Inspo from: Earth Designs

Inspo from:  99 Decor Innovation  , original source unknown

Inspo from: 99 Decor Innovation , original source unknown

You can also see our Pinterest Garden Board here if you’d like to see more of our inspiration.

IT GETS WORSE BEFORE IT GETS BETTER - RIGHT?

Before we could get to anything that resembled any of this inspo, we needed to clear the garden. I wish it was as easy as it sounds. I took us 3 skips and 8 full days of bloody hard work. Family and friends came and took any plants they wanted before they went to the big garden in the sky (I know, I’m a bit gutted about that too). We unearthed approx. 40 10ft railway sleepers - I thought Mr S was gonna lose his mind every time we found another one buried in the ground - but also found a beautiful Belfast sink hidden under a load of ivy.

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Once the garden was clear it had to be levelled. It was so full, of sleepers, plants, bushes and trees that when everything was gone we realised how high the back end was. It was so high we had to factor in a step up from the house. Mr S hired a mini digger and lived his best life for a weekend and with the help of his dad (and no prior experience) managed to successfully level the entire garden (only managing to knock down one fence panel in the process!). We now had a blank canvas:

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PLANS

Now that we had a blank canvas and knew the space we had to work with (much bigger than we initially thought), we could finally design the layout of the garden:

I know, I know you’d think I was a digital designer by trade wouldn’t you? ;p

I know, I know you’d think I was a digital designer by trade wouldn’t you? ;p

In short:

  • A large patio area at the very back of the garden covered entirely by a black pergola. This will be our seating area.

  • A lawn in the middle with two large rendered plants either side. The planters would be white and filled with easy-to-care-for greenery.

  • A low, white rendered wall to match the planters with a step up from the house.

  • Paving tiles (same as the patio) all around the house, spaced to have small stones around them with a path to the wall from the back door.

  • Mini makeover of the shed to a more monochromatic colour scheme and painting of the rendered side of the house. Either black or white. Probably black.

  • The entire garden surrounded by a (new) black painted fence

MUCH MORE US, RIGHT?

As most of the things that needed to be done would require building materials, the next, most important decision we needed to make was tiles for around the house and patio area. We knew we wanted a neutral buff colour that would work well with the monochrome colour palette, they had to be pretty as there would be A LOT of them but not detract from the overall look of the garden. I actually found researching online for stone a bit overwhelming, I think it’s something you really need to see in person especially as it’s such a big purchase. I visited my nearest Topps Tiles store (standard go to for any tiling project right?) to view their new range of tiles specifically for outside use; the Everscape range. As usual the guys in store were the most helpful and the most knowledgeable (Mr S actually had to drag me away as I’d managed to engage one guy in a Q&A about drainage for about 20minutes - I learnt a lot!). The Everscape range is gorgeous and it’s actually not stone, it’s porcelain in a variety of finishes made to look like stone. So you get the best bit but don’t have to deal with the maintenance. It’s also very hardwearing, stain resistant and slip resistant. Winner, no? I thought that the Sandstone would be perfect for our project online but in store the Limestone was the exact colour we were after. They also have Black Slate (DEAD) but as we would have a lot of black with the fence and pergola we decided to stay light.

Whilst I was at Topps I also fell in love with another set of outdoor tiles, for a project I’d been dreaming of since we first bought the house. I didn’t even realise Topps sold them as I thought it was a specialist tile, so hadn’t really thought we’d be in a position to do it yet… Wanna see?

SURE you wanna see?

I mean, ok…

Here we go then…

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WAAAAAAHHHHH!!! I’M GETTING A VICTORIAN PATHWAY!!!!

And with the Everscape Limestone tiles… *drools*

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The pathway tiles are the Victorian Black/White Chequer tile with the matching border tile (you also need the corner piece to finish the border edges). I am literally so excited about this I could die and I’m also going to DIY it, so you know there will be a tutorial and then hopefully* I can help you, if it’s something you’ve been dreaming of too.

*I say hopefully because I’ve never actually tiled anything in my life. Fingers crossed for me.

PROGRESS

So once we’d decided on the tiles, everything else started to fall into place. Mr S and his Dad fitted a new fence (6x6 feather board fence panels. Mr S got them from a guy he knows but I know that Travis Perkins sell v similar as we were short of one and picked up an identical there)…

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…I started on the black paint (Cuprinol Less Mess Fence Care in Black but get it from B&M it’s only £8, couldn’t find it on there website)…

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…and we decided to hire a builder to help to build our planters and wall…

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Even on what is basically a construction site, the Everscape Tile looks gorgeous with the black painted fence.

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ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK

And just when I thought I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and believed we might actually be finished in time for summer, I came home to this…

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We were originally planning on laying tiles on top of the existing concrete around the house but learnt that the ground was already above the damp course and it wasn’t recommend to go higher, so Mr S just started pulling it all up.

Whilst I was out.

I almost had a heart attack when I came home I thought we’d had burst pipe or something. It made such a mess and was such a huge job (it wraps around the back, side and front of the house) however as we started clearing the concrete out, it started to look a million times better and I knew it was the best option in the long run.

Whilst all of this was happening (like that wasn’t enough), we started to attempt the Pergola. Several times. The Pergola almost broke us and I thought on a few occasions we should just scrap it. Long (very very long) story short I will try to summarise the pergola saga: The back of the garden is skewiff and pergolas are traditionally square. Whatever angle we tried to do the pergola so that is was ‘square’, it looked ridiculous. In the end (after weeks of pouring over pergola images and badgering all of instagram for their opinion) we went back to the original idea of not having a square pergola and it following the shape of the garden. Sounds simple but honestly it took us forever to get this point. Two (five) arguments, one broken windscreen and 135 feet of wood later... we have our dream Pergola:

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WOULD YA JUST LOOK AT THOSE STRIPES?!?!

WOULD YA JUST LOOK AT THOSE STRIPES?!?!

NEXT STEPS

And this is basically where we are at now! The bones of the new garden in but there is still lot to do to make it pretty.

Next steps for us; the Everscape tiles from Topps Tiles have been delivered and are due to be laid this weekend…

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…the soil has been seeded and we are starting to see little green shoots. Eeek! The rest of the garden needs to be painted and all of the breeze block constructions need to be rendered. Oh and I need to learn how to tile! ha! I know there is still a lot to do but considering where we started - I hope I’m not jinxing it by saying this - it feels like we’re nearly there ya know!! So keep an eye on Instragram stories this weekend for as-they-happen updates and check back here for Part Two: The Reveal in hopefully not too long!

If you have any questions in the mean time, please feel free to ask in the comments. Hope you love what we’ve done and what we are doing.

K, love ya, bye xx