In light of the popularity of my garden Instagram posts over the past couple of months, I’ve decided to share our garden transformation with you.
Over on Instagram I aptly named our garden transformation ‘Project Garden’. We wanted to do something with the garden but had no intention of going full steam ahead to get it finished. We decided to just take our time doing it in stages.
When we first moved in to this house the back garden was over grown to say the least. Trees all over the place causing shaded areas on the grass. Weeds taking over the place. Dead patches on the grass and a really uneven level. Not the type of garden you can enjoy! We kept it tidy and manageable but no matter what we did over the years it just looked shoddy. It was time to transform it.
Ok, if you’ve read a few of my other posts, specifically the one on how to transform your house for free or cheap. You’ll know I’m a right tight git. If I can get it mega cheap or free, I’ll have it. The same applied to the garden. We wanted it to look good but as cost effective as possible.
I’m no garden architect. But we had a plan of how we wanted it to look. So I set out with a set of Alfie’s crayons and a few pieces of A4 paper and started to draw a few ideas. I measured the garden width and length so that I could work out the square footage. If your curious on how to do this, it’s simple. Width(m) x Length(m)= Area (sqm). I will admit, it was loosely planned. It was all in my head. Apart from the basic layout. But, we decided to go for a gravel garden. Not massively practical when you have kids and a dog. But, neither is grass. Astro Turf was just too expensive.
Let the work commence
With a rough plan in place, the first thing we needed to do was trim the trees right back. We decided to topiary them. We trimmed them right back so that most of the foliage was toward the top of the fence. Still giving us privacy but creating the the feel of space.
Next we created a blank canvas by removing the turf and creating some depth. We needed approx a 30mm depth for the gravel. To make things more complicated we had to get the uneven lawn level. So we needed to remove a 60mm depth in parts. It was a lot of manual work as we couldn’t get a small digger to the back garden. Out came the spades! We also roped in the help of the kids and my oldest daughters boyfriend. It was a perfect way to prove his worth to my daughter. It took a good few hours to remove 27 sqm of soil and turf… by hand.
Levelling the garden
Luckily, after 60mm of soil, approximately 1.5 tonnes was removed, the soil was really good, healthy soil. It meant we didn’t need to rotavate the soil. After lining the layout with string and creating a height line,We simply turned the soil over. We spent a few hours breaking the soil up. Then we raked, and raked, and raked until we got to the right level across the garden.
We then needed to compact the soil. Hiring a wacker plate isn’t cheap. Scaffolding boards, however, were free. So we laid them down and all went on a family walk / jump around the garden. Quite a few times.
Brick garden edging
Adding a brick edge has 2 purposes. It gave the Garden a defined, crisp edge. It also creates a boundary for when the gravel is laid. It will stop the gravel over flowing into the borders. A quick search on Facebook market place and I came across some block paving bricks. Yes, free!
I dug out a trench around the string line, that I created earlier. Then created a cement course and laid just one course of brick all around the perimeter. I wanted to add bit of contour to match the existing curved border of the patio. So I created two curved bedding plant areas, at either end of the garden.
So, most of the hard work is done. After doing all this hard work, I didn’t want to undo it all by having weeds pop up in a few months. So I decided to go for a black polypropylene weed membrane. The soft black fabric stuff wasn’t going to cut the mustard. There’s a few reasons why I chose the polypropylene:
- The gravel will be walked on by the dog, daily. And the kids will likely trample all over it. The polypropylene will withstand the sharp edges of the gravel, preventing tears. Tears = holes. Holes = weed access
- The polypropylene membrane is a tightly woven membrane, so allows water to pass through but makes it much more difficult for perennial weeds to tear through.
- The membrane won’t disintegrate like with fabric stuff. So will last much longer.
The downside to having a polypropylene membrane is that it isn’t that eco friendly. However, there has to be a balance. More on this shortly.
The membrane was laid and overlapped by 10mm then pegged into the ground. All the edges were then carefully tucked in with a spade, to reduce any gaps on the edges and prevent weeds coming up the edges.
The area to be gravelled is 4m x 6m. That equals 24sqm. We chose pea gravel. Bit boring I know but we like it. We also needed a 30mm depth of gravel. Using a ‘gravel calculator’ online we needed 1.20 tonnes of gravel. That’s 2 of them massive bags. But had to pay £30 and wait over a week for delivery… err… no, I don’t think so.
So I set out on a mission to find some gravel on Facebook market place. For free… and guess what.. I found some. A lot of it too. Yes it was used. and yes, it needed cleaning. So with a roll of the eyes by Mrs F, we went to collect it. Marvellous. I won’t lie here, this bit was back breaking and time consuming, but was worth it for the savings we made. We literally cleaned 1.20 tonnes of gravel by hand. In a plastic tote box that I drilled loads of holes in. First I plonked a few circle stepping stones (which I got for free!) just incase we wanted planters in the future. Then once we picked up momentum, it was quite easy. Scoop, Wash, chuck, scoop, wash, chuck.
Levelling gravel was relatively straight forward.. Then, with a rake we just spread it out, so it looks evenly coated. Then we had another family walk around the garden. This was to trod the gravel in at the lowest point of the depth. We could then see where we needed additional gravel. And we repeated the process until we got our 30mm depth of gravel.
Little tip: If you walk on gravel and your feet sink, you’ve got too much. You want a nice stable crunching sound as you walk.
As you’ve already figured out, I’m a proper tight git. Plants are not cheap. Initially, we wanted fairly established shrubs and bedding plants, as we didn’t want to wait a year for them to establish. But established plants and shrubs are really expensive.
So on a trip to a couple of garden centres we spot the clearance section. Full of established plants. All be it most of them had seen better days or were dead. So we bought them. Ha, yes I am slightly mad but I like to see potential in knackered things. Got them home, planted them in plenty of good mulched compost and gave them a good watering. Although, I can’t take credit for the watering, that was Mother Nature. She decided to put the project on hold for 2 weeks while she rained down a monsoon! Luckily, we had instant glorious sun thereafter.
Bedding plants and perennial shrubs
The immense rain and glorious heat and sun shortly after, triggered the photosynthesis process into overdrive and Bobs you’re uncle, lovely budding and flowering plants! These then got planted along with some other perennial shrubs and existing shrubs around the perimeter of the garden.
The plants we chose were:
- Carex grass
- Marguerite Daisies
- Bay tree
- Golden Euonymus
As I mentioned earlier. There was a balance with using a non eco friendly membrane. well, this was it. We wanted to attract other wildlife, such as bees. And it worked, because there’s a steady stream of bees and other small wildlife pollinating.
Note: a perennial shrub is a shrub that last a really long time and transforms through the seasons. For example it could just stay green in winter, but in summer it comes in full bloom and cycles.
Stone garden features
Finally, it was just down to some small finishing touches. A stone bench and a stone bird bath to finish it all off. And yes they were free too. A bit grubby but nothing a hosepipe couldn’t sort out.
A labour of love
It’s been great redoing the garden. We think the end result is great. With the slight exception of the rear fence. There was some confusion over who’s fence it was but after a discussion it was agreed that it will be replaced.
Even so, It’s so nice to actually enjoy the space you create, in addition to seeing new wildlife appear in your garden. It was hard work and back breaking. But worth every step of it. I thoroughly enjoyed doing my daily updates on Instagram, they gave many people a lot of giggles. Have a look through the posts on my grid to see every step.
What do you think of our Garden transformation?