The Old Glory Garden 2012

20120619-104258.jpgOur garden this year

Last summer we ripped out the paving in the backyard and installed grass and flowerbeds. By “we” I mean the landscaping company Grey to Green. Due to our procrastination, we didn’t have flowerbeds to play with until July of last year, so this year it’s been nice to get a better sense of year-round gardening. We’ve added some new plants to the mix and some of our favorites from last year are really taking off.

Honeysuckle, tomatoes, and cosmos taking off this year

In an effort to get some spring color, I planted allium bulbs. They look cool even after their petals have dropped and as a bonus, they are supposed to be good to grow near tomatoes. I planted some crocus and fritillary bulbs as well, but they didn’t survive a certain hound’s renewed interest in digging up the garden.

Allium with…


…and without petals

Spring color was also added by some aquilegia, aka Granny’s Bonnet. I’d definitely like to get more of that for next year. We’ll see if it self-seeds this summer.

Granny’s bonnet

A co-worker gave us some dahlia tubers which are coming up nicely. I have no idea what type of dahlias they are, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the flowers look like later this summer. Pics to come once we have flowers.

And to fill in some space we added some nice bright yellow snapdragons.
We are trying our hands at growing runner beans, in particular the scarlet emperor variety. They are twining nicely around the bean netting we put up, and already have the first few bright red flowers. We tried spinach again, but after going strong for the first few weeks, we had a hot spell and it just fried. Maybe we’ll try one more time when it’s cooler.


Our scarlet emperor beans living up to their name

And from last year we still have shasta daisies, echinacea, strawberries, lavender, rosemary, thyme, mint, crocosmia, tomatoes, parsley, basil, chili pepper, cosmos, honeysuckle, chocolate vine, and our Japanese apricot tree.


What did we actually plant in the backyard?

Honeysuckle and cosmos provide a background for our veggie seedlings

Now that we have a proper backyard I can actually plant stuff in the ground. It is definitely going to be a learning experience but the great thing is if something doesn’t work you can just dig it up. Right?

This year we are going for a mix of edible and ornamental:

Edible Ornamental
  • tomatoes
  • spinach
  • beets
  • lettuce
  • green beans
  • rosemary
  • parsley
  • basil
  • mint
  • strawberries
  • apache chillies
  • coriander/cilantro
  • impatiens
  • lavender
  • cosmos
  • shasta daisies
  • honeysuckle
  • facelia
  • wild fennel
  • chocolate vine
  • Japanese apricot tree

Granted, some of these are edible, but we aren’t planning on eating them.

Lettuce in the front, facelia in the back, and honeysuckle on the trellis

The choice of plants was pretty much a bunch of impulse buys. This led to a couple of unwise purchases; for example we bought two pots of Japanese blood grass and a Virgina creeper, all of which turned out to be really invasive. Woops. So we put the blood grass in pots in the front yard and left the creeper out for some other brave soul to take. At least we knew to keep the mint in a container lest it take over the world.

That’s a lot of mint juleps! And some tomatoes and herbs in the back

Now I spend way too much time researching potential plants online and am addicted to (which is how I found the Japanese apricot and the chocolate vine).

Japanese apricot tree, which should flower Feb / March

After: the backyard

Gardening via container

When we bought our house we were excited to have an actual (though small) backyard. We were less excited about how said backyard looked. For a while we debated upgrading the bathroom vs yard and as you have probably guessed, the yard won. After all we spend a lot more time looking at our garden then our bathroom.

The original plan:

Replace the “crazy paving” with grass, replace the fences and the gate with something attractive AND doxie-proof, plant some nice stuff along the back wall and maybe along the sides.

A year later, the plan was still a good one.  We thought about doing it ourselves, giving Grimbil a chance to put his woodworking to good use, but then we decided we wanted to be able to enjoy the yard this summer. So we hired Grey to Green.

Otto helps with the digging

I highly recommend GtoG, and we’ll definitely be giving them a call when we get around to doing the front yard.  Jack, the project manager, and Georgia, the owner, were very good about contacting us for decisions, making good suggestions, and accommodating changes as the project progressed. Great attention to detail,  easy to work with, and a gorgeous finished product, all in a little over a week.

Otto inspects our new garden

The actual remodel:

  • no more crazy paving
  • hardwood deck out the back of the house, which feels like an extension of the living room when we have the bifold doors open
  • planters made of railway sleepers along both sides
  • grass everywhere else
  • new fence topped with lattice (higher around the deck for better privacy, at GtoG’s suggestion)

The fence w/o lattice on top is our neighbor’s, that’s why it’s not as nice as the one GtoG built

This fence is GtoG’s handiwork

We’ll be adding a water butt and Grimbil is talking about solar lights as well, but in the meantime we are really happy with the results and can’t wait to show it off to our friends! We also have a few more plants to buy, so more on what we are growing in a different post.

Gardening, phase 1

Nasturtium covering a fence

I’ve been on a gardening kick lately. Blame it on the sunny weather and the need to wear a big floppy hat. However, given that we plan to completely re-do the backyard this summer (hopefully before our July 4th celebration) and that eventually we’ll redo the front yard as well (next summer?), I’m aiming for things that can either easily be moved, easily be transplanted, or will work for this year but die out over the winter.

Here’s what we have so far:

  • Mint, rosemary, basil, and cilantro/coriander in containers, currently living on the bench in our back yard. Why the bench? ‘Cause Otto can’t reach the bench now that it is covered in plants. Once we have planter boxes (which will be above Otto-level) everything except the mint will go in the ground.
  • Tomato plants incubating in small pots in our smallest bedroom. If I close the door and windows in that room but leave the curtains open, it’s wonderfully sunny and warm, almost like a greenhouse.  Hopefully by the time the tomatoes are ready to plant in the ground, we’ll have planter boxes in the back yard in which to plant them. If not I have a large container earmarked for them.
  • Long planters of nasturtium placed next to the fence in the front yard. I’m growing these guys from seed, so not sure if my master plan will work, but the hope is that they will grow to cover our not-so-lovely fence this summer. See the picture above for an idea of how that might look, if you substitute the lovely stone fence with a cheap wooden fence, and put the plants at the bottom growing up instead of at the top growing down…but it’s still a nice picture, right?

Before: the back garden (aka yard)

Our back garden is a little bit poor white trash. The ugly paving, the fences that are about to fall down, the tree growing through the paving and the fence, the grill used as a flower pot, and the sad attempt at hiding a chain link fence behind out-of-control bushes.  But then I look at the neighbors to the left and think, now there’s a prime example of the PWT aesthetic. The back fence is also in need of some help if it’s going to keep Otto in.

The plan:

Replace the “crazy paving” with grass, replace the fences and the gate with something attractive AND doxie-proof, plant some nice stuff along the back wall and maybe along the sides. Fortunately the neighbors to the left are replacing their chainlink fence and the neighbors to the right are replacing The Tree That Ate Our Yard with something more appropriate. This will all probably happen in the fall, so in the meantime we will board up the bottom of the back fence with some 2x4s or something.

Before: Exterior

In order to appreciate how far along the exterior has come, let’s revisit how it looked before we moved in.

It’s a combination of red brick and dark brown brick (on purpose!), the windows are double-glazed but surrounded by cheap white plastic, and there are two doors: on the left is the front door, and on the right is the door to an outside storage space. The landscaping consists of gravel and weeds, and some concrete steps down to the sidewalk. Oh, and a ginormous plant with thorns that might be the tallest yet scraggliest rose I’ve ever seen.

The plan, phase 1:

Replace the downstairs window, brick up the area that used to be white plastic. We went for a slightly narrower window in order to improve the kitchen layout. Brick up the door to the storage space (said space is becoming our utility closet, accessed from the foyer). Replace the front door with something more modern and secure. The good news is all except the front door is finished, and the door will be installed on Thursday.

Phase 2:

Stucco the facade, similar to what our neighbors did. It makes the whole thing look much cleaner and more modern. It will also cover up the now three different colors of brick. We’ll also do something about the landscaping, but we’re not sure yet. Maybe we’ll pave the front yard and go with potted plants, maybe we’ll get rid of the gravel and have nice plantings on either side of the path. But we probably have a year or so to figure it out.

First 48 hours of home ownership

Since picking up the keys on Thursday, we have:

  • weeded and cleaned up the front yard so it looks less crack-tastic
The garden needed some attention
  • broke into the mystery storage next to the front door
"Unlocking" the mystery door
  • had our first party in the new house (fun party activity: tearing apart the kitchen)
Note the lack of cabinet doors in the background.
  • spent our first night in the new house and had our first house guest
  • found a great cafe literally around the corner
  • exclaimed repeatedly how awesome our new neighborhood is
  • had our first “oh shit” moment when the kitchen tap started to run uncontrollably
  • met with a kitchen designer to figure out the layout (which gets its own post)
  • arranged for the builders to come on Tuesday to finish knocking down the stuff on the ground floor

Not bad for 48 hours!

Our house

After years of renting, we’ve decided to take the plunge and buy a house! Now Grimbil can have everything wired the way he wants, I can have an actual garden instead of sad little pots on a balcony, and our future puppy will have a yard to play in.

We were lucky to find something that met all of our criteria: in Balham, freehold (we own the land instead of renting it), garden/yard, short walk to a park, in our budget, a good size (for London), and not a maze of tiny Victorian rooms and long hallways. Period features are nice and all, but we’d rather have an open plan.

However, one of the reasons it’s in our budget is it needs major renovations. It’s livable, but it was used as a rental property by the previous owners so let’s just say it’s not finished to a high standard. What needs doing? Here’s our list so far, in no particular order:

  • Extension out the back (off the living room)
  • Knock down all the internal walls on the ground floor to make an open plan kitchen / dining room/ living room
  • New kitchen
  • New bathroom, including knocking down the wall between the water closet and the bath
  • Knock down the wall between the two tiny bedrooms to make one nice bedroom
  • Facelift for the closets
  • Makeover the foyer, getting rid of the ugly glass between it and the living room, and converting the outside storage area to a closet for the foyer.
  • Move all the meters outside
  • Move the boiler to the kitchen
  • New floors (with underfloor heating!)
  • New paint in all the rooms, maybe exposed brick on the wall with the stairs
  • Facelift for the incredibly cheap looking staircase
  • Facelift for the facade
  • New fences in the back garden (both for cosmetic and dog-proofing reasons)
  • Replacing the crazy paving in the back garden with grass
  • Landscape the front garden
  • Move the loft/attic access to somewhere safer than the top of the stairs (wtf were they thinking?)
  • Rewire the electrics
  • Cat5 cable everywhere! And a networking closet somewhere
  • Do something about the water quality in the bathroom (green stains in the sink? ew)
  • Additional insulation in the loft and the walls
  • Solar power
  • Convert the loft to either a master suite or a man-cave (this one isn’t a definite yet)

We don’t have the budget to do all of this in one go (wouldn’t that be nice), so it’s going to keep us busy for the next few years!