Saturday, 23 August 2014

Insulating the Kitchen

We've been putting off insulating the kitchen, focussing instead on the other downstairs rooms, until we've had several consecutive days to work on it. There are a number of reasons why, although it's a smaller area of wall than, say, the sitting room, it was always going to take longer. The kitchen units on the external wall, which include the sinks and the water heater (that is: lots of plumbing and electrics) all needed moving; so did the little units to either side of the cooker; the pantry is fiddly (the shelves are, for various reasons, basically un-removeable), and so it was always going to take several days. If it weren't the kitchen, that wouldn't be so bad, but we really couldn't face doing the work over two weekends, and being without use of the kitchen for nine days.

And that's assuming it all went to plan.

So, instead, we've waited until this weekend, which comes at the start of a week off. We only have four days, as on Wednesday we're travelling down to Ludlow, ahead of Katie's wedding on Thursday. Hopefully, though, four days are enough.

It took a long time to get the units removed (inevitably, they weren't installed with ease of removal in mind), but we got them out of the way, and have stripped the wall back and insulated it. Unlike in the other rooms, we've done the window reveals and boards as we've gone.

Tonight's gone on rather, but we've probably broken the back of it.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

More Perennial Plugs

As expected (though we didn't think it would follow quite so hot on emptying the module trays last night), today we received 96 perennial plugs: 24 each of 'Mussinni' catmint (nepeta), echinacea 'Deep Rose', achillea 'Cassis', and a dozen each of 'Blue Queen' salvia, and 'Lady Strathden' geum. Interestingly, the cats don't seem as interested in the catmint as our other plants, grown from seed or 'Walkers Low', which bodes well for actually being able to plant it out.

Forgot to mention: I was finally able to mow the lawn yesterday, too, after not being able to coincide good weather and time for three weeks. The games lawn really needed it, but actually the rest wasn't too bad.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Late Summer Flowers

After weeks of sweetpea arrangements, they're starting to come to an end, and so this week's centrepiece arrangement is a bit different (apologies for the shaky photo).

Golden rod, achillea, echinacea, grasses, and lysimachia in this week's flower arrangement (© Ian 2014)

We went up on the hillside, too, and it's very pleasing how the apple walk and graftlings are coming on. The apple walk's structure is a lot clearer than I thought it would be, in its first year, and the shoots need tying in again. In the graft bed, I'm delighted that we seem to have three viable Hessle pears, two each of the apples, Crimson Superb and Craggy's Seedling (a third, of each, is in the walk, grafted directly). There's only one of each of quinces Ivan and Vranja, and medlar Dutch, which is, admittedly, all we needed to make the effort a success. Sadly, the medlar Royal didn't take, in any of the three attempts, but there you go. I make that a 12 out of 21 success rate, for my first grafting attempts.

Tonight, we potted on three giant scabious, a load of Lysimachia ephemera, and a tray of Hidcote lavenders; all seed-grown, the first and last from the RHS. That's freed up a couple of module trays for some perennial plugs that will arrive soon.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Back Sitting Room Wall

After finishing very late last night (early this morning), we only got started today at 10-ish, but wanted to press on to get the room back to normal today. We had a few problems with the radiator, but the electrics and plumbing were much simpler, as predicted, with only two radiator pipes dropping down the wall.

We think we've worked out that the big window was, originally, a door on the left (looking from inside), because the bottom part of the wall has been rebuilt with some cement blocks and newer mortar. Similarly, we think there was a window on the other end of the current window, for the same reason. The new window is much bigger, of course, and has a new concrete lintel inside. It's good fun, uncovering how the house has changed over the past two centuries.

Back wall of the sitting room, stripped back to stone (© Ian 2014)

We managed to get the battens on, the insulation in, and the plasterboard back up, apart from the right hand end. There's less space here, because of the cellar door, so we need an even-thinner insulation solution. Maybe next weekend, when we tackle the kitchen, which needs the same thing, we'll finish up.

Sitting Room

Although we haven't finished insulating the dining room, it's a much less inconvenient room to have half-done than the sitting room, so this weekend we focused on getting the sitting room done, in the hope that two consecutive days would suffice, and it could return to normality by the end of them.

Front wall, before work (© Ian 2014)

Back wall, before work (© Ian 2014)

We started with the front wall, which we knew was going to be trickier, stripping off the plaster to reveal the stonework. In doing so, we uncovered some complicated wiring for the room's lights, as well as the outside lamp-post in the front garden. Additionally, the wall under the window was, like that in the dining room, much lower on the internal leaf than the external. This was a bit of a pain, as it meant that the radiator brackets go partly onto stonework, partly onto timber frame. We're also going to need some more cavity slab to fill the space.

Eventually, though we sorted out the wiring, and radiator pipes: the former's now much improved, as there are two double sockets (was a double and a single), provision for an outside RCD socket (much desired, as it will allow Christmas lights in the front garden), the switches for the room lights are now in a more sensible location (inside the doorway into the dining room), and the outside lightswitch is separate.

We got the battens on the wall, the insulation secured, and the plasterboards attached, and all by 0220 on Sunday morning. Oops.

Horizontal battens attached; verticals ready; insulation is next (© Ian 2014)

However, it was done, and this was the much trickier of the walls (having electrics, a more complicated windowsill, and being a little larger), so we'd pushed on to get it finished. As a note: we're deliberately leaving the tops of the windows, and the reveals: we need to get the walls proper, with the radiators, done before we can turn the heating on. We'll then have some finishing up to do, but the heating won't be affected.

The insulated front wall, taken the next morning (© Ian 2014)

Friday, 15 August 2014


We had thought we might get some weeding and lawn-mowing done this evening, but discovered two problems with that plan when we went outside.

Firstly, it was still a bit damp, and the mower doesn't collect wet clippings very well, which means a big raking-up job in addition to the mowing, of which I am not enamoured.

Secondly, there have clearly been deer rampaging through the garden in the last few days, and they've done distressing damage. They've stripped the leaves, flowers, and pods from the runner beans, climbing beans, peas, and French beans (no legumes this year, I suspect, now); nibbled the chicory and Japanese ginger; damaged a forsythia in the copse bed, munched some of a neighbouring heuchera or two; eaten a lot of the strawberry foliage (not necessarily a problem, this one, as that was due for trimming back, anyway); destroyed the last of the spinach; eaten several stems of tay- and loganberries (losing next year's crop); and—as best I can ascertain—done some sort of deer dance on top of the onions. I think it's their route from kitchen garden to games lawn.

Fortunately, the onions were pretty much going over, and ready to be lifted, although they also did a lot of damage to the weed membrane we grow the onions through, which means I'll have to replace, tediously, some of it. Nonetheless, it meant that this evening's job was lifting the onions, trimming their tops, and setting them out on racks in the wood shelter to dry.

We've put some deterrent barriers in what we think the deer's routes in have been: a few gaps in the bottom hedge, some tunnels between kitchen garden and games lawn, and over the wall behind the beech bench. Hopefully that will help. Liz is more sanguine about this than me, and reckons it's a price we pay for enjoying deer roaming on the hillside. I look at the losses and damage to plants, crops, and trees, and think thoughts of venison.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Preparing the Dining Room

Since Friday afternoon, we've had Rachel, Philip, Luke, Elizabeth, Robert, Liz, and Ash with us. We were really lucky with the weather, which meant we could spend yesterday afternoon outside, and have a barbecue. Today's been a lot worse, with high winds and heavy rain. However, as they left yesterday evening and after breakfast, respectively, we've had an opportunity to do some work inside.

This is what the dining room looked like at lunchtime.

Garden side of the dining room (© Ian 2014)

Front side of the dining room (© Ian 2014)

And this is what it was like when we finished for the day. We still need to fix the rest of the horizontal battens, and then attach the insulation, vertical battens, and plasterboard, but we didn't think we'd get any work done this weekend, so that's good.

Stripped dining room wall (© Ian 2014)

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Wall Insulation

We've had a long and rather tiring weekend, making a start on the internal wall insulation. Although we'd hoped to get started straight away (which would have meant we got further), we suspect that our potatoes have been hit by blight, so we actually started by digging up the remaining earlies (a few Royal Jerseys, the British Queen, and the main crop Lady Balfour). Especially in the case of the maincrop, it's several weeks earlier than one would ideally harvest them, but the haulms have collapsed, and so the tubers won't get any bigger. If it is blight, too, the sooner we get the tubers out, the more likely they are to store and be usable.

The yield, however, is somewhat lamentable.

We're going to rethink potato growing, I suspect, and decide whether, in light of a couple of poor years, it's worth the space and effort, for a crop that isn't actually expensive to buy. We might decide to grow a couple of packs of Lady Christl, say, which come out early (leaving useful later space), taste really good, and have been very reliable; but ditch the maincrop. Instead, we'll have a think about some alternatives, possibly including Jerusalem artichokes (possibly in the back corner, where perennials might do better than annuals, and where their height would help), oca, and maybe dahlias. We'll have to see. I'm also going to consider whether we should turn off the automatic irrigation, as this might be exacerbating blight—it's not been a damp summer, so blight is a little unexpected. Certainly, we need to continue our plan of heavy mulching.

While out there, I also watered the vegetable garden with chafer grub/wireworm nematodes, Heterorhabditis megidis.

Having made it back inside, we only started work inside at about three, and had to stop at six because Cath and Jason were round for dinner. In that time, we managed to make a complete mess of the master bedroom and ensuite, ripping the old plaster off the external walls, including the plain white floor-to-ceiling tiles of the bedroom. Quite the mess.

The master bedroom before IWI work (© Ian 2014)

The dressing room before work (© Ian 2014)

En suite before work (© Ian 2014)

The en suite before work (the most tasteful of the three, a blue floral pattern) (© Ian 2014)

Today, we got an early start, and having moved the bidet and toilet out of the way, finished the de-plastering. Then we battened, insulation foil, and plasterboarded the bedroom, taking the oppportunity to move the single socket on the left of the room to a more useful position, while making it a double, and added a second double to the right of the room, using a previously 'lost' socket hidden behind the radiator.

The master bedroom's wall stripped back to stone (© Ian 2014)

Horizontal battens in place (© Ian 2014)

The master bedroom with vertical battens, and one of the plasterboards (© Ian 2014)

The end/gable wall of the en suite stripped back to plaster, and with the 'missing' wall on left under the window (© Ian 2014)

We still need to do the same in the bathroom, as well as sort out the window reveals and windowsill, which may actually be rather later. We need, really, to get the walls proper done as soon as we can, because the radiators will be impossible to work round once the heating's on: we can do the other tidying up bits in more leisure in later autumn and winter.

In taking down the tiles in the bathroom, I was very surprised to find that the wall under one of the windows is a single stone skin, with a timber frame, which explains why that wall was always cold: it's even less insulating that the rest of the (500mm sandstone) walls, as it's only about 200mm thick. We'll replace the timber frame, but I'll fill it with glass wool slab, which will really help.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014


I've made the most of decent weather today (it looks a bit dodgy for the next week), and painted the window frames in the garage. For the same reason, I mowed the lawn last night: very little growth, because it's been dry, but that did make it easier).

The windows look a lot neater now, although this photo's from the (unpainted) inside.

'Garage' interior (© Ian 2014)

I spent a bit of time messing around getting ready for installing an outside tap near the back door (near the greenhouse): there's only an internal tap, which isn't ideal, so I'm going to add a pair of external ones. Hole duly drilled in thick stone wall, and parts ordered for completing the job on some later date.

Other than that, I wasted a lot of time resolving a botched delivery that should have brought us plasterboard, plaster, and battening timber for the wall insulation, which tried to arrive on a 22t lorry, in clear contrast to my clear instruction to bring nothing bigger than 7t. Irritating, as they'll now have to deliver on Saturday morning, which, hopefully, won't badly delay getting started. I did manage to start getting the shelves up in the bedroom, though, and they're rather nice. We ordered planed oak boards from our friendly local timber merchant (ages ago, in January): I'm very fond of oak. I'll be finishing them tomorrow night, hopefully, but it might spill into Friday.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Planting and Plastering

The first jobs for today were planting out the plants we bought at Tatton Park yesterday. Apart from the carniverous plants (kitchen and sitting room), and the brunnera (copse bed), the rest have gone into the long border. I need to add proper labels before we lose track of them, as they all came from show gardens as they were dismantled, and thus without labels.

This afternoon, we've stripped the wall paper from the side wall of our bedroom, and from the main wall of the dressing room, and re-plastered both. That's in preparation for putting up the new shelves on both these walls that we've had planned for several months, which I hope to do on Wednesday, all being well. That gets the shelf boards out of the way, along with everything that will go on these shelves, and should make installing the wall insulation easier: that starts next weekend, we plan.

Customary 'before' photo (© Ian 2014)

And gratuitous sleepy/supervisory cat photo (© Ian 2014)

Sunday, 27 July 2014

RHS Tatton Park 2014

This morning, at about 0815, we set off for Tatton Park, as we have the last couple of years, to the RHS flower show. It takes about an hour, and having parked and walked to the showground, we were in the queue at about 0940, giving us a quarter hour to start looking at the show catalogue (and map) before being let in at just before 10. I've been impressed, this year and last, at how quickly they scan the bar-coded tickets and get you in.

There were some really good show gardens, this year. We particularly liked a heritage/allotment fruit and veg stall from a group of local allotmenteers, and were struck by a scarlet mountain spinach (orache) that we've never seen in the flesh before. It's a possible potager plant next year.Grasses were much in evidence, as well as chocolate cosmos, sanguisorba, crocosmia, and brunnera. That suited us nicely, as we've many grasses that could be used in combination. We have one sanguisorba, 'Tanna', and a brunnera, 'Jack Frost', both bought at Tatton last year, and came looking for more brunnera. We have a few crocosmia, but one caught our eye today that is apparently a fairly new introduction; Twilight Fairy 'Gold'. It has lovely bronzed foliage, but sadly wasn't for sale from the show garden (the Young Designer of the Year garden by Sam Ovens).

We saw a couple of water features we liked, which might inform later plans.

(© Ian 2014)

(© Ian 2014)

This garden had a rebar construction for its runner beans: apparently I'm not the only one using rebar to construct supports! It also had a rather good green wall, one of which Liz still wants to find a space for.

These garden seats were very good, and next door we saw some very weather resistant swing seats by the well-named Yorkshire Swingseat Company.

(© Ian 2014)

(© Ian 2014)

One feature that we enjoyed was a collection of eight vignette gardens that encapsulated larger gardens' feel in small plots. They're all from Cheshire, and included Arley Hall, which is actually just down the road from Tatton Park, and we thought looked worth a real visit, based on their 'taster' garden.

(© Ian 2014)

The floral marquee was, as ever, phenomenally stocked by nurseries, and although we only bought two plants, the other displays were excellent, and gave us contact details for a number of specialist nurseries. One, near Cambridge, might be a good source of alpines, if we do decide to put a green roof on the mini-sheds. There were a couple of hosta specialists, too, for when we dig the bog garden.

(© Ian 2014)

The two plants we bought were both from the Hampshire Carnivorous Plants: one was a Sarracenia hybrid (a North American Pitcher Plant), which suited us because it actively requires a good cold winter spell, probably in the unheated greenhouse. The other is a dangling/hanging sort of plant, a Monkey Cup called 'Linda' (a hybrid, Nepenthes cv 'Linda') despite being a dioecious male. It now hangs, slightly threateningly, in the sitting room.

For us, though, the Young Designer Gardens were the best. We felt that the television coverage (Thursday and Friday evening) actually let these down, and all three, but particularly Alex Schofield's, were much better in the flesh. In fact, everything else we purchased came from these three gardens.

(© Ian 2014)

Acquisitions were:
  • From Alex Schofield's garden:
    • Brunnera; I need to check the cultivar
    • Astrantia 'Gill Richardson'
    • Sanguisorba (S. officionalis)'Tanna'
    • Sedum (S. spectabile) 'Matrona'
  • From Clare Broadbent's garden:
    • Echinacea 'Secret Love'
    • Eupatorium, I think E. purpureum
  • From Sam Ovens' garden:
    • Scabious 'Pink Mist'

(© Ian 2014)

Wednesday, 23 July 2014


On Friday evening, we lifted the Red Duke of York, the Lady Christl, and some of the International Kidney/Jersey Royal potatoes, as the haulms were clearly going over. They're being washed and bagged up, slowly.

This has created some space, particularly where the earlies were, in the bottom bed, and allowed us to plant out a number of brassicas there yesterday evening: Romanescu cauliflowers, January King savoy cabbages, Mystique cauliflowers, and Rudolph purple sprouting broccoli. We've also sown two rows of Golden Ball turnips, between these and the Defender courgettes. They, incidentally, are just getting into full speed, and producing almost daily courgettes. They seem more upright plants than our previous courgettes, as well as generating better textured (less prone to disintegrating in the pan) courgettes, and I'm rather pleased. I reckon we'll be into a glut in a couple of weeks.

Tonight's been less exciting, as I've mown the lawn—whereas Liz has collected enough sweet peas for eight vases. We're definitely into 'glut' for them.

Sweetpea Centrepiece (© Ian 2014)

Sunday, 20 July 2014


Today started with a soft-fruit picking session. The raspberries are nearly over: probably one, maybe two more pickings left. However, the gooseberries are really just starting: the fuzziest, first variety at the top of the bed, Invicta (which also seems to have bigger fruit) is mostly ready, and some of the red and golden Hinnonmaki are there, too. While I prickled myself collecting these, and then a bowl full of blackcurrants, Liz collected about 80% of the redcurrants. The whitecurrants are always a bit later, and some of the red weren't ready yet...but it's still a lot of fruit. The bushes have now properly hit their stride, in their fifth year (we planted them in December 2009), although one of the blackcurrants isn't doing nearly as well as the other two. That's a shame, as blackcurrants are my favourite (compared to red/white/pink...I don't know how I'd choose a soft fruit, let alone a fruit, as a favourite), but there you go. I'm hoping that a couple of year's good mulching and pruning might see it straight. Alternatively, it may not be getting as much irrigation, as it's at the top of its bed (which is, literally, the highest point of the kitchen garden, and furthest from the watering system inlet).

A few clumps of ragwort have been growing in the orchard, and while certainly not an infestation (there's a nearby field which is just a mess of ragwort—and, worryingly, is a horse paddock), I wanted to remove it before it sets seed. When we bought the land, there was, comparatively, quite a lot, which a year of strimming and pulling has mostly resolved. Anyway; I pulled up what I found, and checked in on the graftlings, which all seem to be doing ok.

When I'd done so, Liz had weeded beech bench bed, and the bed to either side, and had also put down cardboard mulch sheets around the beech. That was a prerequisite for spreading chippings around the beech, which will now have much less competition for light, water, and soil, and look a lot tidier. I moved the turf stacked in front of them, and the spoil heap of stones (including a couple of large lumps of concrete, and several stones worthy of walling or pond-side). Between us, we've laid out weed-membrane, and covered it with chippings, to form a path down that side of the lawn. During the winter, when we're bringing wood up from the wood shelter, that path quickly gets muddy, so this should be a better route, now.

This was really part of a larger chipping-spreading activity, as we've put a path (membrane and chippings) through the middle of the herb garden. It's not planted, apart from the lavender lines crossing it, and having the lined path will mean a bit less weeding. The un-dug part of the potager, which has had weed membrane down on it for some time, has now also had a layer of chippings, which makes it look much more attractive than black membrane.

Putting this path down meant moving four box that were an edge in the old design, but are no longer, as the edges have moved, and aren't going to be box any more. The four plants have moved into the long border, replacing clumps of alchemilla, and will gradually form balls.

Lastly, I've had to add more strings to the legume supports, as they finally, slowly, start to grow. They went out too late, really, delayed by the work on the back of the house, so it's not going to be a productive pea and bean year, sadly.

Saturday, 19 July 2014


Now that the windows are in, we've been able to add the plasterboard reveals to either side, and cut a plywood board to form a windowsill. It's all taken rather longer than intended, but is now sorted, and all the windows look really good from inside.

Window Installation

The last couple of weeks have had the garage in a slightly suspended state, with floor, ceiling, and walls (kind of: plasterboarding them will be rather later this year) finished, but the window apertures boarded over while the joiner works his magic. This hiatus was deliberate, and fortunate: the holes for the windows haven't worked out exactly the same size as expected, and they're certainly not identical, so it's been good to have them complete before measuring them 'in the flesh', rather than off-plan.

On Wednesday, however, the windows arrived. And they fit. The installer had to pop back on Thursday to tidy up, but they were in and looking good by the end of Wednesday. Now I just need to paint them...several times...before autumn.

The garage from inside, with boarded up windows (© Ian 2014)

From outside, awaiting windows on Wednesday morning (© Ian 2014)

And with windows in, on Wednesday evening (© Ian 2014)

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Apple Walk Arches

Earlier this year, we planted the twenty-two trees of the apple walk, each one next to a tube that formed the base of an archway. In time, each tree will be trained up the arch (with horizontal espaliers on one side), forming a living arched walk. Of course, we're some time off that point; but several of the trees have grown strongly this year, and have reached to the top of the steel tube already (about 1m). That's meant that I've had to get round to adding the arches themselves, in order to have something to continue tying apple growth on to—and that's been today's work.

I ordered a number of 6m length, 10mm diameter reinforcing bars (rebar) some months ago, and they've sat outside the kitchen waiting since then. I constructed a bending jig out of timber, and used this to help shape the arches. Each one is a semicircle of 2.4m diameter, with straight legs around 90cm long (I had to trim kinked ends off the rebar, so they're not identical). These are then slotted into the tubes, and fixed using three A4 M5 bolts at the right height. Before they went in, I painted the straight sections: painting the rest will be another day's work, in the next couple of months).

Once they were all in, I've added a horizontal rod at the level of the third espalier tier (1.2m height), and one along the apex of the arches. I still have 4½ rebars left, which will probably all be needed in diagonal braces between arches (to stop them leaning over as one). Again, that's another day's work: bending 11 arches by hand is quite enough effort for one hot July day.

I did, however, prune and tie in the new apple growth: they're doing very well. All but a couple have the first tier well formed (Hunt House took a long time coming into growth, and is rather behind); many have a second tier tied down and growing out; a couple (Cat's Head and Grandpa Buxton) even have a third tier started, and one or two more will get there this year). I've had to order more soft-tie wire!

Elsewhere: the sweet peas keep coming.

This week's sweet pea centrepiece (© Ian 2014)

Sunday, 13 July 2014


We've enjoyed a weekend in Cambridge, doing nostalgic things like picnicking on the backs, going punting, and wandering round college gardens. I'll cut straight to the photos.

The Cam, from Garret Hostel Bridge (the back of Trinity Hall) (© Ian 2014)

The University Library (© Ian 2014)

The History Faculty (© Ian 2014)

Clare Bridge, and the back of King's (© Ian 2014)

Topiary in King's (© Ian 2014)

King's College Gatehouse (© Ian 2014)

Liz, Philip and Katherine (© Ian 2014)

Clare College Gardens (© Ian 2014)

Clare College Gardens (© Ian 2014)

Clare College Gardens (© Ian 2014)

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Bramble-Tip Wine

I totally forgot to do this yesterday, so after mowing the lawn this evening, I've transferred the bramble-tip wine (pint of bramble tips, steeped overnight, boiled for fifteen minutes, poured onto sugar, yeast added when cooled, and sat for ten days) into a demi john. It smells surprisingly enticing: I'm looking forward to trying it in a few months.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Flower Arrangements

For which Liz must take the credit.

26th July (photo © Ian 2014)

2nd August (photo © Ian 2014)

9th August (photo © Ian 2014)

And three more window decorations from 9th (all photos © Ian 2014):