spring in the garden

Winter wasn’t very kind to the garden. So many plants withered to almost or absolute nothing. We were both despondent when March came around and there seemed to be as much bare soil as there was last June when we’d just started planting out. Two months later, though, and things are looking up. Plants we thought had died off have sprung back to life. We had some geraniums that I thought were evergreen but are, we now see, in fact deciduous, and they’ve filled out their patch and started flowering. The sweet woodruff died back to scraggy stems, booyaa was convinced it was never coming back, but it’s now a mass of bright green leaves and I spy the start of tiny flowers. (They’re such pretty plants. I hope they spread soon.)

sweet woodruff late winter starting to show new growth

sweet woodruff late winter starting to show new growth

sweet woodruff in May

sweet woodruff in May

The rose bushes are two distinct stories. The older one (by a year) is zooming up the rose arch. Every few days I have to tie in another wayward branch as it reaches out to scratch you as you walk by. The younger rose has put on some growth but it suffered more over winter, and has had to fight harder to make its spring comeback. There are already over a dozen buds on them, which is about the total of last year from May to September. Looks like I might get an actual bunch of roses (as opposed to a single bloom) by my bed this year.

We had a number of biennials, mostly acquired from the lovely Ben at Higgledy Garden. Some of them didn’t make it – Betsy trampling, slugs, don’t know what else – but we prudently kept some in pots in our little nursery in the side return. So anything that didn’t make it over winter direct sown has been planted out in the past two weeks.

We tried direct sowing some wildflowers and other bits and pieces, but we don’t seem to have much luck. One patch was decimated by the pigeons (thanks guys!) and the other, well, maybe it dried out or didn’t get enough sun, I don’t know. So I’ve resown everything in those little coir pots and all the windowsills are groaning under the weight of seed trays. It’s working. We’ll have a second round of cosmos to plant out in a couple more weeks, we’ve got more alyssum (last year’s is still going, but you can’t have too much of that delicious honey scent, I say) california poppy and cornflowers (those colours will zing!) for the pots by the front door, calendula for Betsy’s garden (they’re non-toxic to dogs, so if she eats them it’s ok) and masses of dill to fill in any gaps in the main garden with feathery green leaves.

The chamomile that gets trodden on (and that Betsy likes to pee on) is looking a bit bashed and we’ve lost one or two plants over winter, but all around the edge of the patio where it’s been mostly protected by stacks of pots and the barbecue, so Betsy has kept off it, it’s lush and vibrant and gorgeous. I’ve just planted out another two dozen tiny plants to fill in gaps and start on the path to the shed. And there’s a tray of chamomile growing in the downstairs bathroom. It takes forever to grow into a viable plant. It’s a real slow burner. But by the end of June we’ll have another 40 or 50 plants to expand our scented pathways.

tiny little columbine has survived the winter too

tiny little columbine has survived the winter too

We bought a bench. We were going to upcycle the storage chest into a bench (and we still might) but we both knew it would take us a long time to get around to it. So, having seen a bench I loved, I scoured the internet for a similar but much cheaper option. It’s not first choice, design-wise, but now it’s in the garden I don’t care. The last two days I’ve been out with my morning coffee at 8am when it’s still quiet and enjoyed the sun, the birds tweeting and checking up on the plants everywhere. Watching things grow on a day-to-day basis is such a joy. Then Betsy barges in and tramples on tender plants, or barks at the birds and spoils my reverie. But still. (No photo yet. Will do that when it’s in its proper place.)

the pulmonaria made it through winter

the pulmonaria made it through winter

booyaa planted tons of bulbs last autumn. We bought some species tulips, crocuses and mixed snowdrops, which came up and cheered us from January to March. Then the big tulips started to come through in April. They took their time opening, but the garden right now is a riot of big, blowsy flowers. They’re all pretty over the top, especially compared to my usual restrained palette. We have huge white-tinged-with-green flowers, they’re as big as peonies. Then slim, pointed ones in a deep purple (much darker and more velvety in real life than they come out in the photo). Then there are some bright pink multi-headed ones, just about to open up. We can see the glossy, strappy leaves of alliums poking through, too. June should see a haze of purple take over the garden if they all come up.

blowsy tulips

Last year’s nigella has self-seeded everywhere. We had some in a couple of pots and a neighbour gave us some dried seed heads which I tied upside down from an obelisk and now we’re awash with them. I’ve noticed that between the nigella, chamomile, cosmos and dill we’re going to be very feathery come high summer.

self-sown nigella and new shrubs along the fence

self-sown nigella and new shrubs along the fence

The deciduous honeysuckle, which has barely grown and never flowered since we got it – counts on fingers – 8 years ago, is romping up its obelisk like a crazy thing. It will need cutting back and retraining since it’s all lopsided from being retrofitted to the structure, but I’m quietly confident it’s happy now, we’ll get some flowers soon, and next year, with some careful tying-in, it will cover the obelisk from top to bottom.

honeysuckle climbing skywards

honeysuckle climbing skywards

Garden bargain hunting has gone well this year, with the discovery of lovely terracotta pots from Wilko at £10 each. They look just like your traditional Italian pots, rolled top and all, that normally cost an arm and a leg, but they’re a tenner! I can’t quite get over it. So we’ve bought lots of them. We’ll have plants moving round the garden to fill in gaps and these look just lovely in among the greenery.

you can spot one of the big rolled-top pots here

you can spot one of the big rolled-top pots here

The side return’s little nursery has been great and saved us so much money. It’s just a metal wire shelf unit we picked up for about ten pounds at Wilko but because the side return is fairly sheltered we’ve been able to overwinter young plants there, and now it’s spring we’re hardening off seedlings and growing them on before they go out into the garden. It’s meant we haven’t bought many full-size plants or plugs from the garden centre, other than a couple I picked up on a whim. (I’ve got a lovely marguerite that I just couldn’t walk past, and some trailing lobelia for containers and baskets.)

We’re trying slug-killer nematodes for the first time this year. We’ll be doing the second treatment this weekend. You do two treatments, six weeks apart, to first kill them and then break the breeding cycle. We still have a few snails around, but there’s a lot less damage to plants than we’ve had in previous years. Fingers crossed. Also on pest/disease/garden downsides: we’ve not had too much bother with weeds over winter and into spring. i’ve pulled out a few blades of couch grass trying to muscle in on the chamomile and there’s something that looks like speedwell that I’m just leaving because I like it. There’s another weed/wildflower depending on your take which next door are inundated with that creeps into our side that I’ve been ripping out. (I’ve forgotten its name. Big bright green leaves, tiny blue flowers. Like a forget-me-not’s ugly big sister.) We have a stripe of unidentified seedlings that I’m hoping I sowed last year and they’ve finally germinated. Otherwise we’re about to get eaten by triffids, because boy are they growing fast. The tiny tender buds on the roses are starting to attract aphids so it’s time for Vitax 2-in-1 – it worked last year to clear them and let the buds grow to full flowers.

pots of pansies along Betsy's fence

pots of pansies along Betsy’s fence

DIY-wise, we’ll be painting the shed and the storage bench – just as soon as I can decide which colour to choose – and making a brick platform to put our new bench on. (The bench is currently sitting with its legs about five centimetres submerged into the soft topsoil.) I’ve made a start on painting the back door, though I didn’t get the last coat on before rain stopped play last weekend. It will need replacing soon, but we’re hoping three coats of paint and some woodfiller will keep it going for another year or two. And the patio and side return need cleaning. The rose-coloured stone has an unpleasant greenish hue. I’m going to try a mild cleaner and scrubbing brush first. If that fails I’ll be asking a friend to lend us his pressure washer.

And that’s your springtime garden round up for 2016. It’s been hard work and there’ve been plenty of disappointments along the way but even now, only half finished, it’s a lovely place to spend your time. As it fills out towards mid-summer it’s going to get better and better. It will be full to bursting with plants and flowers, scents and textures, buzzing bees and fluttering butterflies.

uphill gardening

A before and after photo, lest we forget how far we’ve come.

We’ve spent most of the past four weekends working on the garden.

Once the landscapers moved out, booyaa painted the fence while I kept Betsy entertained (out of the way and not liable to get herself covered in paint).

booyaa painting "Betsy's fence"

booyaa painting “Betsy’s fence”

Then we planted the roses, one each side of the rose arch. The star jasmine, after being in a pot for about 7 years, has its own obelisk to scramble up and the honeysuckle too. We have another dinky honeysuckle that’s gone in by the fence, so it’ll grow up a trellis we’ll attach to the fence in the next week or so.

The roses going in the ground, at last

The roses going in the ground, at last

I bought a box full of chamomile lawn plugs to get things started while we wait for our tiny seedlings to develop, so they’ve gone round the stepping stones and patio. There’s some alyssum seedlings gone in the next tier, behind the chamomile, though that’s struggling to bed in. So starting from the path/patio and moving towards the fence it goes: very low-growing chamomile, then slightly taller alyssum and then sloping up to taller plants — cosmos, nigella — and shrubs — a daphne, dogwood, mock orange — beyond them until you get to things like the verbena which towers over the fence.

We found an oriental poppy growing in a pot, though neither of us remember sowing it, so that’s gone in. We have 3 gaura plants which hopefully will colonise the corner as you walk in the gate, and a dozen small lavender plants on the other side of the gate, ready to scent the whole garden.

Because of the delay getting the landscaping done we started off a few plants in pots and some of those have been transferred. Others are still in their pots, dotted around the garden. But there are still huuuuuge gaps. There’s, honestly, more bare soil than plant at the moment. We’ve sown lots of seeds as biennials ready for Spring, but there really isn’t much more we can put in the ground at the moment.

The one thing I’m concerned about with so much empty ground is the ease with which weeds will take hold. There are very many stringy roots under the topsoil which could surge into life, and at this time of year, with lots of rain and sunshine, any weed that can will be forging ahead. So we’ll be working that hoe. (Gangsta jokes straight to the compost heap. Thanks.)

We are talking about putting some grass seed down across the very back of the garden to widen the path and make it easier to get to the shed and the back gate. Neither of us really wants to do this, but we can’t see a way to fill up the garden here while maintaining access to the back gate. (The ground here is a couple of inches higher than we’d anticipated plus the amount of chamomile plugs we’d need, well, we vastly underestimated. We can’t afford to fill that whole section with bought chamomile. It’ll have to wait until we’ve grown it from seed ourselves.)

Along the side return we’ve got a white geranium, some sweet woodruff (very pretty leaves, tiny white flowers in early Summer and a sweet scent to it) and sweet violets. There are lots of gaps here too, but I have sweet woodruff seeds to grow to fill out the border for next Spring. We’ll probably get some Mind-your-own-business to sow along the very edge of the path, to creep along and make a green cover. This area is mostly shaded by the fence. It gets some morning sun, but we’re opting for plants for shade. I hope we made the right call.

The side return (covered with mesh until the plants spread enough to stop someone digging up all the soil...)

The side return (covered with mesh until the plants spread enough to stop someone digging up all the soil…)

We’ve bought some plant hangers to make an edible wall on the side return. The plan for next year is to have a basket of tumbling strawberries — plenty of sunshine up there and they’re out of the reach of slugs and Betsy. The other pots will have kitchen herbs in them, ready to snip and take into the kitchen as needed. Right now, it’s just the basket with some summer bedding in.

And we’ve set up booyaa’s “weird alien plant garden”. This is a half drainpipe, hanging on brackets off the fence along the side return, and it’s filled with tiny little sempervivum (houseleeks) and sedum plants in a few inches of gravel. They’re fascinating little plants and very cute, too. It makes an interesting little feature to look at through the kitchen window as you’re waiting for the kettle to boil.

booyaa's alien landscape

booyaa’s alien landscape

We celebrated our new garden one warm Saturday evening with a few bottles of Sol and a barbecue. Betsy was allowed in the grown ups’ garden while we had dinner and she set about sniffing every square inch of soil. It says something when she’s more interested in the ground than the fish on her dad’s plate. What a pleasure, sitting in what promises to be a really pretty, sweetly-scented garden. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve enjoyed everyday moments like hanging washing out, or wandering around checking up on the plants, to see how they’re settling in. The gentle freshness from the sweet woodruff when it rains and wafts of lavender are lovely.

BBQ time!

BBQ time!

Rip it up and start again

It’s happening! The builders are here, clearing the gravel as I type.

Your traditional Essex builder, there.

Your traditional Essex builder, there.

Say goodbye to an unloved, underused, difficult space and hello to a lovely new garden.

The plan is to pave the side return, leaving a tiny strip to fill with scented, shade-loving plants. Then we’ll put a small fence across, about a metre from the end of the house to make an enclosed L-shaped garden so that Betsy can run about with minimal supervision. I’ve chosen edible plants for that part so that, since she’s probably going to eat them anyway, Betsy will be safe. We’ll have a piece of turf along the back of the house to start with but I’ll swap that to chamomile lawn as we grow the seedlings (they’re supposedly a bugger to germinate, so I’m expecting it to take a while to get enough to cover the whole patch).

On the other side of the low fence there’ll be the grown ups garden. A few stepping stones will lead through a rose arch (see! grown up!) and onto a small patio in the centre, then the path continues from the other side out to the back gate. The patio will have a few pots of lavender and other scented plants and we’ll have a tiny table and chairs, just for two. (We have spare folding chairs, don’t panic, visitors!) I want to put chamomile lawn along the edge of the path so as you walk you crush the plants and release the scent.

To either side will be flower beds. We have the bones of the beds already, with our dogwood, mock orange, verbena bonariensis and so on. We may need a few more perennials to make sure it doesn’t look too bare in winter, but we’ll fill it out with masses of annuals like cosmos and nigella for summer. There’s not that much space there anyway, so it shouldn’t take too much to pack it with flowers.

Originally we planned to have a utility area at the back for the shed and somewhere to store the recycling, and shield it from view with a line of bamboo. But, since we and a few neighbours cleared the shared pathway that runs along the back of our gardens, we’ve decided we’ll leave the rubbish and recycling out there, and we’ll tart up the old storage bench to make a second seating area. It’s a tiny garden, to go with our tiny house, so two seating areas may seem excessive, but the end of the garden gets the last rays of sunlight in the evening, and it might be nice to sit there with a glass of wine after dinner.

More as it happens.

sitting on the fence

We spent the bank holiday weekend painting the garden fence.

I say we. It’s not easy painting a fence with one arm in a sling… so booyaa did the vast majority of the work. I don’t know where he finds the energy, but I’m grateful for it nonetheless.

We’ve been putting up with a very un-boolou garden for a year, and this year we’ve decided that it’s going to get done. Partly it stems from when we were painting the dining room and we took it in turns to keep Betsy entertained in the garden. Sitting out in the sunshine next to the small flower bed we created last year was really very pleasant and we’d both love to use the garden more than we do (which is barely at all). Between the uneven surface, the skiddy gravel, the trip hazard manhole covers, the slope upwards to the back, and the overhanging trees full of shade and pigeons*… well, it’s not a very welcoming space.

We now have a quote for landscaping that’s affordable, and are pencilled in for the last week of June for the work to happen. Between now and then we need to clear out the junk that’s accumulated at the back of the garden, paint the fence, pot up the plants we’ve not long since put in the ground (hugely nervous about that) and grow some annuals to fill out what will be about ten times our current growing space.

So this weekend we tackled the fence. I faffed about choosing the colour using the Cuprinol website colour tester. My first choice was ash black, which mimics the scorched weatherboard of the local (well, Suffolk) architecture, but decided it would be too strong a look for our small garden, and certainly wouldn’t look very urban Victorian terrace. I couldn’t possibly go ‘Forest Green’ or ‘Conker’ or whatever those fake-natural dark shades are, so I chose “Muted Clay” which looked modern and fresh, and a mid-tone greige (that’s grey-beige to the non-initiated). I hoped the ugly concrete fence posts would blend in a little, as they really stand out against the orangey-brown colour we started with and guessed that the green of the plants would stand out nicely against a light, neutral colour.

The weather was forecast to be dry but cloudy, so we thought we’d get the whole fence painted once round. We were even optimistic enough to think we might get both coats done. Ha ha ha. How naive we were. Rain stopped play after 3 panels on the first coat. It dried up again later and while I was cooking dinner booyaa went and stormed through to the end of one side. We got one coat on half of the fence done by the end of the day.

Orange-greige side-by-side comparison

Orange-greige side-by-side comparison

We think the fence was all replaced at the same time, but because it’s weathered differently in places the paint has changed the colour in a subtly different way too. The gate at the back, which is a better quality finish than the fence, has a much stronger colour. The barely touched by sun panels along the side return have changed the least. I mean, they’re not orange any more, but they’re not as strongly coloured as other parts of the fence. After just one coat the fence looked like it had had all the colour bleached out of it. It was a ghost fence.

Shades of greige

Different finish on different wood

Thank heavens for bank holidays, eh? Monday was forecast cloudy with possible showers in the afternoon. We got started after breakfast and finished the first coat on the rest of the fence and started on the second coat by early afternoon. We ran out of paint halfway through the second coat. With no more of our chosen colour in the local Wilko’s, and neither of us fancying a trip to B&Q on a bank holiday Monday, we’re hoping Wilko’s will have more in stock during the week so we can finish off next weekend. But for now, we’ve re-Betsy-proofed the garden and called it a day.

Where the second coat has dried it still looks like we’ve got a ghost fence. The plants show up really well against it, both of us are pleased to see the back of the orangey-brown colour we had before, and it achieves the aim of drowning out the otherwise really noticeable concrete fence posts. The fresh green plants look great against it, and I can’t wait for something blue to flower because I think that’s going to look really vibrant. But on its own it’s a bit meh. Lucky we’ll have a garden full of cosmos and cornflowers in a couple of months.

Side return

The Ghost Fence in all its glory

*Dad says they’re collared doves. They look like what most of us heathens think of as wood pigeons. They’re big, noisy things, that’s the important point.

50 shades of grey

Oh boy. This was finished months ago but I haven’t revisited the blog to update it.

The living room is a small room with one sash window which gets no direct sunlight all day and the front door which opens directly from the street. There’s a boarded-up fireplace which we intend to open up when we can afford to get the chimneys repaired and install a woodburner. One alcove to the side of the chimney breast has a low-level built-in cupboard and three shelves. The room was painted pale blue when we moved in, with woodwork in the usual white. It always felt cold and fairly unwelcoming.

When we were deciding how to decorate in here we had two main concerns. One was the front door sticking out like a sore thumb. See Exhibit A:

Day 0: living room

white door and plasticky frame

The other was that it’s dark and cold all the time. We decided the best way to deal with is was to make it a dark but warm room. We never get sunlight here. A tiny shaft of setting sun comes through the fanlight just before sunset. That’s it. So, after raking through magazines and books (boy is Pinterest helpful here, even if it is a bit of a pain to use these days. Thanks spammers!) we bought some dark paint testers. We both adored the charcoal grey but decided it might be just a bit too dark, and opted for what my mum calls “battleship grey”.

Next was to find a solution for the front door and its shiny whiteness. It’s a new door, with pvc mouldings and a fake wood grain effect. Looks fine from the outside and from a distance, but close up it’s pretty ugly. I found a special (and non-scary) primer which we could then paint an undercoat and eggshell over. It’s designed especially to prime pvc windows and — somewhat bizarrely — block smoke stains from coming through subsequent coats of paint.

So, I picked a week when I had reduced commitments workwise and got stuck in. The room was empty as we’d just had the floor fitted, so a few plastic dust sheets went on the floor and I spent hours fiddling with masking tape, then up and down the step ladder, nervously applying the specialist primer, then an undercoat to the door, window and shelves. The undercoat was so very dark and even after two coats it still looked horrendous. I know that next time I do this I’ll get the primer tinted, too, as that will help.


special primer plus two coats of undercoat

We painted the ceiling F&B Wimborne White. To look at it you’d probably think it was just white, but I know it looks less harsh than a brilliant white would. I swear I’ll never use ordinary white paint again. Then I finished the woodwork, all of it: door, window, radiator, shelves, cupboard, skirting in F&B Plummett eggshell. Two coats of eggshell went on like a dream, despite our unprofessional approach to painting, and the finish is just beautiful. Smooth as silk.

The walls were done in the same colour, Plummett, in Estate Emulsion, which gives a very flat matt finish. We cut in quite generously with a good quality angled brush then two coats with a roller. There was one patch that needed going over where the first coat went on a bit too thin, but the bulk of the work was done in a day.

Having the walls and all the woodwork in the same colour means we were able to cover up some “irregularities”, like where there was a weird gap in the skirting, the door now blends in and at night seems just like part of the wall. I love that the less broken up space feels tidier, uniform.


yay for the door blending in

Depending on the time of day the room varies from a mid- to dark-grey. But it’s beautifully rich and has tones of blue and purple in it. Yes, it’s quite dark, but it’s not a room we use much during the day and it really comes into its own in the evenings, with the warm, cosy feel of dark walls.

my corner, being all cosy

my corner, being all cosy

We’ve chosen a few copper accessories and some strong ochre/gold colours around the place. I knitted a cushion including ochre, copper and a teal blue and we’re slowly increasing the colour in the room. Putting pictures on the walls really helped to bring the room together.

I made that!

I made that!

I painted the old hallway shoe cupboard (separate how-to post coming up) in an even darker grey with a bright gold inside, and that’s got a new lease of life since I still can’t quite conscience £280 for the console table I want. Mum and Dad brought me the octagonal table that had been sitting in the spare room with the second tv on it for the past 15 years. It’s now tucked in the corner at my side of the sofa. It’s nice and high to give me plenty of light when I’m knitting. The light was a bit of a find. A copper tube base twisted into a tripod and a plain black shade from John Lewis for a bargainous £40.

old shoe cupboard looking smart in its new clothes

old shoe cupboard looking smart in its new clothes

The sofa was a bit of a push-the-boat-out. It was expensive but it’s lovely. It’s comfy, hardwearing, elegant and has a big gap behind the curved back where Tinker can hide. I knew she’d love it, and indeed she did, sneaking treats and hiding behind the sofa when she visited. Someone managed to not get a photo…

new sofa looking tempting there

new sofa looking welcoming

Still to do: find or make a cosy rug. The chevrons are excellent but it’s not a very easy rug to look after, plus, despite insulating the floor in here, we could do with a warm rug on the floor. I’m seriously considering making one, something like this. I’ve got some yarn to make a pouf-footstool type thing. It’s a rich ochre and will look great next to the greys. Then we need new curtains. We’re going to have a set of curtains covering the door and the window, pretty much wall-to-wall, so it keeps the warmth in during the winter. It’s pretty pricey to get curtains that wide and I’m not up to making something like that, so we’ll have to wait a couple of months before we can do that. In the meantime, we’ve got some lightweight silvery-coloured curtains from Wilko’s for about £20. They don’t do much for the temperature but they do add to the cocoony feel late at night.

We were both somewhat apprehensive about the colour scheme in here. It made sense, but we still weren’t sure it would work. Luckily, we both love it. We’re really proud of the change we’ve made to what was an uninteresting and not very welcoming room. Random visitors (delivery lady, broadband engineer) have commented on how lovely it is. Friends and family have also complimented us on how well it works. It feels great to come in and here and feel the welcoming vibe. And it’s us. I feel very strongly that this house should reflect us and our way of life. I don’t want an identikit of whatever the high street thinks your house should look like. I want it to be different, welcoming and very clearly ours, and I think we’ve achieved it.

progress! six months on

Are we there yet?

The bathroom isn’t finished. I know. How long does it take? Well, we were away on holiday for a week and the bathroom fitters were going to complete the bathroom then. We got back to find a few things that needed changing (some of which, it turned out, we couldn’t change) and a couple of things which that the builders wanted to discuss before going ahead.

Things I wasn’t happy about but we couldn’t change mostly came down to a combination of wonky and fragile walls.

The toilet unit, after all that fuss, has a gap of about 15mm at the top rather than sitting flush with the wall. (flush! a joke! totally not on purpose.) The argument goes that the unit is snug at the bottom but the wall is wonky on both the vertical and horizontal plane so by the time we get to the top there’s a noticeable gap. (Solution is to put a trailing plant on top of the unit to mask the side. I think it might work. Fake it till you make it and all that.)

The electrics were a bit of a nightmare too. We’ve ended up with 3 unattractive boxes on the wall above and to the side of the door. One is an isolator for the fan and it’s in a fairly good place and not too prominent. The next one would ordinarily go the other side of the ceiling and you wouldn’t see it but that room’s loft space is almost inaccessible so it’s on the wall instead. A bit wonky, unfortunately, and not intended to be on display. Finally, there needs to be an isolator type box for the Saniflo and the volume of cables requires a big chunky box. There was an alternative suggestion, when I said it looked awfully messy and I’d like a better solution, to put all threee boxes in a single box. I said “Yeah! Let’s do that!” and then they said, “Except your bricks crumble as soon as you look at them and we wouldn’t want to have to make yet another channel through that space which should have a lintel but doesn’t.” Basically the ceiling might fall down… So that’s pretty much ruled that out.

I don’t like the placement of the extractor fan. It’s too prominent. Because the ceiling slopes on that side it means the fan is very much within eye-level range, so I’d have preferred it tucked a little more into the corner. But meh. I can live with it. (Qué remedio.)

They didn’t fit a shower pump as there was a misunderstanding between the plumber and the project manager, and it’s not as cheap or straightforward as they’d led me to believe, so they want us to live with the shower and make our minds up later.

The floor needed sealing very last of all, and that happened on Friday. Since then we’ve started on the painting. booyaa spent hours on Saturday sanding down the plaster over the crumbled bits and channels they made for cables. That was quite a feat. Today he masked off the bathroom and did the first coat. We think the colour will turn out to be the right choice, but we’ll reserve judgement until the second coat is on and the accessories are in.

mid-painting, which is why you can see masking tape, and a pot of paint in the shower...

mid-painting, which is why you can see masking tape round the tiles, and a pot of paint in the shower…

One exciting thing is that we’ve both had middle-of-the-night trips to the loo without tripping down the stairs. Hurrah! And we’ve both tried out the shower. Hurrah! The shower is very nice. I love walking straight in with no doors. It also looks nice with its curves. And the overhead drench showerhead is just amazing. I’m so used to wetting my hair by tipping my head back but with this one practically your whole body is getting wet at the same time. The thermostat is great. You set it at the right temperature and it won’t go above or below it. We tested out the water pressure. While I was in the shower booyaa flushed the downstairs toilet and ran the taps. I noticed a drop of pressure but at least it didn’t turn cold. We think we’ll go ahead with the shower pump having experienced the pressure drop. In the mornings here the pressure is really low as everyone in the street is competing for water from the mains. I had cold showers for days on end because the pressure was too low for the boilet to kick in. No point having a fancypants bathroom if you can’t have a good strong shower.


tricky getting a good shot of the whole shower but hopefully you can appreciate the beautiful curved glass, which is not that green in real life

What have we learned so far, now we’re near the end?
Have all the walls straightened before you start. I would definitely, were I to do this again, have the whole room reskimmed to get it as straight as possible.
Don’t go away, even when you think the builders have nearly finished. It’s so much easier to choose to do something a particular way than change it after it’s been done the way you wouldn’t have chosen.
The picture you have in your head is absolutely the Perfect World scenario. Dial down your expectations. If you don’t, you’ll be disappointed with the real thing when it’s presented to you.


bathroom building: week two

Over the weekend we cleaned up the fine layer of dust covering everything in the house. We swept and mopped the floors. We washed anything that wasn’t put away in a cupboard. It was a cycle of rinse the cloth, wipe it down. Rinse the cloth, wipe it down. So that was fun.

But we also walked in and out of the bathroom-to-be being very excited about our almost-bathroom.


Mr Plumber turned up with piles of bits and bobs for the day’s work. He got to about 11 am before things went a bit wrong. The plaster fell off the bottom 12 inches of the sections of wall that were so far untiled. He had to fill in the gaps and slowly build up the layers of plaster, which meant he couldn’t tile them today.

Hey, let's watch plaster dry.

Hey, let’s watch plaster dry.

However, he did manage to tile the corner of the shower and he did a bit more plumbing. I know this because he kept turning the water off.

Stand by with your loofah! We nearly have a shower!

Stand by with your loofah! We nearly have a shower!


Today Mr Plumber broke the bad news that we were going to run out of tiles. He dashed off to a local tile merchant but the nearest he could find was not near enough.

I ordered two more boxes of tiles from our online retailer and bit the bullet on the delivery charge. We’d bought enough in the first batch to qualify for free delivery. Bit annoying. My spatial awareness and/or measuring tape skills are obviously poorer than I thought.

Mr Plumber rearranged his plans so that he could make progress while waiting for the remaining tiles to arrive. And that means we now have grout! first row of black tiles! pencil tiles!

grout-no grout

grout-no grout

row of black tiles at the bottom, black pencil tiles at the top

row of black tiles at the bottom, black pencil tiles at the top

It’s starting to get that art deco feel we were aiming for. Even Mr Plumber’s boss commended my choice for creating something in keeping with the age and style of the house. proud face


Mr Plumber tidied up the last of the pipework ready to fit the towel heater and the basin unit and finished laying plyboard over the floorboards. Then he got on with laying the mosaic flooring.

He needs to finish the edges and do the grout. But still! Look! Floor!

fancy marble floor tiles

fancy marble floor tiles


The desperately-awaited spare tiles have arrived. Though they were delivered to the wrong house. I don’t know. Really. How hard is it? (The delivery company then made the mistake of sending me a request for feedback. So I called them incompetent. They replied with a grovelling apology and told me that the delivery driver will be ‘on probation’ for 3 months now. Which seems somewhat excessive, but if it teaches him to read instructions then so be it.)

So, the remaining tiles are on, some are already grouted. The mosaic floor edges were a pain. Mr Plumber had to cut each of those tiny hexagons in half to finish the edges. I felt so bad when I realised that was going to take him half a day.

Then he put the toilet in its place, ready to build the box for around the Saniflo and… it wouldn’t fit as expected. Usually, I’m told, there’s a cut out right at the back the toilet, where most of us don’t ever venture, and the macerator sits in there nice and tidy. Not our loo. The cutaway at the back isn’t deep enough. There was much gnashing of teeth. We’d need a big boxed in area and even if it was tiled, it would probably still look rubbish.

So – deep breath – we’ve ordered a back-to-wall toilet with a concealed cistern unit. Now, I was considering one of these when I first started looking at bathroom suites, but it didn’t seem worth the extra expense. But there you go. Concealed cistern, slimline unit to match the basin unit and a very modern back-to-wall toilet are all now on order. The earliest regular delivery was next week so me and the bathroom fitting company are going halves on next-day delivery instead. They’re also going to buy the no-longer-required toilet off us at cost price, which leaves us not so terribly out of pocket.

It will look a lot better this way, I know, but I keep thinking we probably could’ve avoided the extra expense, not to mention stress, if things had been measured more precisely right at the start.

Let’s cheer ourselves up with some photos of the rest of the bathroom being tiled and the floor edging looking all smart and ready for grouting.

that's it, we're all tiled!

that’s it, we’re all tiled!

yesterday's corner, now with added grout!

yesterday’s corner, now with added grout!


Mr Plumber spent a great deal of time cleaning the floor tiles of excess grout so they’re ready to seal. There’s still a fine coating of grout on them, so they’re going to need another good scrub once the grout has set properly. Poor Mr Plumber.

But, tada! We very nearly have a finished bathroom!

Look at all that space! I love the floor. Can't wait to see it properly cleaned of grout.

Look at all that space! I love the floor. Can’t wait to see it properly cleaned of grout.

The new toilet plus unit arrived early afternoon and it’s in place but not yet plumbed in. It will look very smart, it has very clean lines. (Talking of clean. Has anyone else thought about being the first person ever to use a toilet? That little gem thanks to a friend from work [Hi Dan!].)

Meet the toilet of doom, or at least frustration. Fancy shape, though, isn't it?

Meet the toilet of doom, or at least frustration. Fancy shape, though, isn’t it?

The basin unit is in place, but again, there’s some plumbing left to do. The basin is a cute shape with a straight lines AND curves thing going on. Much like the loo. So that’s a nice but unexpected outcome, the matching, sort of, styles.

Basin and unit by the window – handles yet to fit

Basin and unit by the window – handles yet to fit

Square but curved, see? Modern-with-a-nod-to-Victorian tap.

Square but curved, see? Modern-with-a-nod-to-Victorian tap.

Still to do are a few bits of plumbing and electrics. Downstairs, the shower pump needs fitting and the pipes that come out of the boiler still need fixing to the wall and/or boxing in, depending on where they are. In the bathroom itself the lights and the extractor need fitting. The towel heater, shower fixture with the thermostat and riser and whatnot, and the shower screen are all still to fit.

Nearly there…

bathroom building: week one

The bathroom building begins! Here’s how week one went.


The plumber pulled up the floorboards, and investigated the existing pipework from the heating. He dismantled the boxing round the boiler and attached pipes to take the water upstairs.

First gotcha came along, with a problem of how to get the pipes from our main water entry point through the floor. An error of judgement during the planning stage meant they thought the boiler was under the bathroom-to-be, but it’s not. Directly above the boiler is the flat roof. A phone call to the boss resolved the issue. There’ll be some more pipework on show in the back lobby, but we care not a jot. It’s a place of passage, we won’t notice it. There’s going to be a small box in the kitchen to cover up where the pipes go upstairs, but again, we don’t mind. It’ll be fine once it’s painted. Plus, hopefully we’ll have the kitchen redone in a couple of years and we tackle hiding pipes neatly then.

We had to duck under dangling pipes to get into the downstairs bathroom, which was interesting. They’re now partly hooked up, so we’re free from accidental middle-of-the-night garotting.

pulling up floorboards

pulling up floorboards


3 men with drills, stone cutters, hammers and chisels took the house apart. We have gaps in the brickwork, pipes dangling out of internal and external walls, great chasms cut into the walls of the bathroom.

There’s dust EVERYWHERE.

starting to make holes in walls

starting to make holes in walls


The plumber spent the day finishing off the pipework. All the pipes are now in place and joined up. They’re not all fixed down, but we have water upstairs now. high fives

The electrics are half done with cables ready for the extractor fan and the mirror light. The socket and light switch have gone.

The floor is partly covered in ply, there’s a layer of cement and the shower tray is set into it. My first purchase to be used. Have I made the right choice? It looks smaller than I thought. minor panic

An hour later booyaa came home and said something along the lines of, “Whoa, that’s huge.” So maybe it was just bathroom planner’s nerves.

shower tray sitting on its cement base

shower tray sitting on its cement base


The tiles are going on! It’s really starting to look like a bathroom. There’s a wall and a half done so far. They’re not grouted yet, so it’ll look cleaner with white grout instead of grey adhesive.



It’s very tempting to sing Down in the Tube Station at Midnight in here.

And that’s it until Monday.


Smaller tiles are fiddly and take longer to fit. Which is obvious when you think about it. But if we’d chosen large format tiles, as is the trend these days, they would have looked horrendous because of our wobbly walls. The plumber, with his tiler’s hat on today, said we’re much better off with smaller tiles. He’s able to compensate for the bumps and lack of square corners. If we’d used large format tiles they would have been wonky, or, presumably, we’d have to have the walls replastered first.

showered up

We decided we wanted a bathroom upstairs. We had no idea how much it would cost, but going to the loo in the middle of the night with the perilous staircase we have, well, it’s not much fun. Having a shower in the bath? I’m so over it. Time for a real, walk-in shower. We considered upgrading the downstairs bathroom to have a decent shower in it which would have been a relatively cheap upgrade, but that wouldn’t fix the coming-downstairs-half-asleep issue.

So we got some quotes from bathroom fitters, took the one who actually turned up when he said he would, and got planning.

We didn’t go to a one-stop bathroom shop as I expected that to be really expensive. It’s undoubtedly more stressful doing it yourself, but it means we got to choose our products from the places we wanted them from, rather from the range a high street bathroom shop offers. I felt like the bathroom fitters were advising me on the best I could have for my situation, not on what would cost the most, because they would only get paid for the work they did. It made no difference to them what type of taps I wanted.

Going through our requirements and wishes with the bathroom fitters meant changing a few things I’d chosen as they wouldn’t work. There were a couple of issues I hadn’t considered. Things I learned:


If you currently have a bathroom downstairs in an extension added on to the kitchen, and you’re planning on installing a brand new bathroom upstairs you need to consider how to get the water up there and the waste back out again. You will probably need to put pipes up from the kitchen or wherever your boiler is through the ceiling and into the room above. You might end up with a few pipes running up the wall in your kitchen or new boxing inside a kitchen cabinet.

There’s a minimum ‘fall’ required for waste. So you can’t have a straightforward horizontal pipe from your shower running under the floorboards to join the pipes that run down the outside wall, as it’ll just clog up. And without putting you off your breakfast, the toilet is an even more tricky matter. We were persuaded that a Saniflo was our only option without having to cut the backs out of kitchen cupboards to accommodate some considerable boxing. We plan to renovate the kitchen and remove the existing bathroom, but we can’t do that yet, otherwise we could combine the two projects and resolve the waste issue. Never mind. Saniflo it is. (Don’t read the Mumsnet thread on the joys/horrors of fitting a Saniflo if you’re remotely squeamish.)


The floor is at a slight angle in that room – great for shower waste, not so great for getting nice neat rows of tiles. Equally, wobbly walls with crumbly plaster. Fun tiling times! The tiler tells me that smaller tiles are more accommodating for getting a good finish on wonky walls. Big tiles are quicker to fit. We’ve got brick tiles which he says are fairly forgiving, as long as they cut well. Another “who knew!” moment – different tiles are more/less easy to cut. It’s obvious when you think about it, but some are fragile and will crack raggedly. Others make a good clean break. Our marble mosaic tiles are probably not cuttable, so let’s hope the hexagonal form fits round the curved shower tray.


Despite it being an old house we don’t need to strengthen the floor before we put in the sanitary ware. I had assumed we would. There’s a lot of very heavy stuff going in that room. But two different plumber-builders said it’s not necessary, so let’s trust them. They will seal the floor with plywood sheets before they tile, but we could have had that done under the floorboards and not had floor tiles. That would have been a much cheaper option, so consider that if you like the painted floorboards look and are on a tight budget.


I want a super-drenchy shower so we need a pump. In our case it’s getting installed next to the boiler downstairs and will kick in automatically when the hot water is turned on in the upstairs bathroom. The pump is a pricey piece of kit, but unless your house is blessed with amazingly high pressure water flow, you’ll need one for a decent shower experience. Especially if the boiler is downstairs. If you have a water tank in the loft you might be ok. Aah, gravity.

So that’s what I learned. Here’s what we had to do to get this ready.


The study never really finished becoming a study. I worked in there a few times but thanks to foot-thick walls (sturdy house, this) the wifi signal collapsed before it got to my desk. So I mostly worked at the dining room table. I never finished unpacking and sorting everything out. It became a bit of a dumping ground for things that didn’t have a home. When we made the decision to install the bathroom we started creating a study corner in the guest room, but never dealt with the random stuff left in the ex-study.

The week before the bathroom fitters were due to arrive we finally faced our demons. We opened the boxes and sorted them into bin/recycling; find a home for them in the house; repack and put the box in the loft. We tidied the guest room and organised the boxes of bathroom stuff so that the plumber and tiler and whoever could actually get in and do their work.

empty room, ready for bathroomising

empty room, ready for bathroomising

boxes of sanitary ware and fittings

boxes of sanitary ware and fittings

piles of tiles

piles of tiles

NEXT: bathroom fitting, day by day.