Thursday, 15 January 2015 17:32

Being Libra


Decisions, decisions, decisions – do you love them or hate them? I love them but, as a fairly typical Libran, I find them tricky. I can see both sides of almost any argument. I don't really believe in any of this stuff - mankind divided into twelve types - but I do seem to be a typical Libran. New aquaintances guess I am a stronger sign, like Leo or Taurus, but other Librans spot me a mile off. Very weird.

Anyway, in business I have taught myself to make decisions more quickly than I would naturally. In my private life I find them more difficult and, in the garden build, I have had to spend the last some months making really major ones. Trees for example, are expensive, important and long lasting. Smaller plants are cheaper and easier to remove or re-position if you find they don’t work. However, on the whole, it is not planting decisions that have been troubling me. It’s the hard stuff - stone, gravel and bricks.

Around here there is a wide range of local stone and brick colours from grey through creamy yellows to reds, so really I could choose any colours for the hard bits in my garden. But, like a child in a sweet shop, the more choice I have, the larger the problem becomes and the longer it takes to decide. And, after all, hard landscaping is pretty permanent. This is a one-time decision unless you have pots of money and time to remedy a mistake. I want, and need, to get it right first time.

I need stone for the kitchen and pond terraces and within the two major paths. I need bricks for the greenhouse dwarf wall and the mini walls around the terrace and I need something – bricks, wood, stone? - in the two key paths and as edgings generally.

A reminder of the garden plan

I managed to make one major decision relatively quickly (over about six weeks), which is to use ‘Cathedral’ limestone for the flagstones on the terraces and in the paths. And now the kitchen terrace has been laid (mostly), so there is no going back. It is lightly yellow/pink/grey with hints of darker orange, is not too riven but has enough ‘surface’ to make it non-slippy.  And, now it’s down, I am happy. It’s not as unusual as the stone I had on my London terrace but that was a one-off delivery from China and seems unrepeatable. Believe me I have tried.

So now, everything else is sort of going to have ‘hang off” or “work with” its colours. Lots of people have come up with ideas. Dermot has, of course, as have my wonderful neighbours, one of whom happens to be an RHS award winning garden designer, Robert Kennett.

You should understand that I have been inspired by a photograph of a path in a great book called ‘Gardening in a Small Space’ by Lance Hattatt. I thoroughly recommend this book and you can buy it for almost nothing (sadly) on Amazon.

I think this path is completely beautiful and want my two major paths to look like this  - ie the long, straight, 6ft wide path from the kitchen terrace which goes down the garden under the rose arches to the pond terrace, and the curving, 4ft wide one which runs from my side gate to the Kennett’s garden gate which joins our gardens together.

This path is grey stones and gravel and, for a long time, it caused me to toy with grey as a colour. Grey sets off the green of grass and plants so well. But I have decided against it. I am going with warmer colours again. Another decision made at last. But which warmer colours and how warm?

And I can’t copy the path in the photo exactly ie using railway sleepers as edges, because they won’t bend for the curving path. But I want to recreate the ‘essence’ of it with its pattern, using different sizes and textures of stone and gravel.

So I searched first for an edging replacement for the sleepers. There are modern things that look like ‘tile on edge’ which might have been suitable (see below) but, on receiving a sample, they looked too pink and too modern.

So I have ‘decided’ to use bricks on their edge, crossways, to create the contrasting, wide edge to the paths. Questions remaining: whole bricks or bricks cut in half and what to use for the smaller cross/inbetween bits to go with the Cathedral limestone, and which gravel?

OK - so far, so good. General decisions made. Actual material decisions certainly not made. Ughh! More brain strain, online searches and driving around stores and even local quarries.

I started with the search for bricks. In my London garden I used reclaimed London yellow stocks very successfully.

London hard lanscaping and bricks in 2002 before all the plants arrived and grew!

So I started the search with reclaims but blanched at the prices. In 2003 reclaims were 45-50p per brick and I didn’t need very many. Now they are now around £1.00 - £1.20 per brick, sometimes plus VAT and definitely plus delivery. And I need roughly 2,352  (even assuming the ones on the perimeter of the paths are cut in half) - serious money.

Also, Dermot, despite my success with reclaimed bricks in London, was very nervous about using them, especially on the ground in the paths because they are not frost safe and can ‘blow’.  Therefore I agreed we had to find suitable new bricks. So, off I set in search, online.

Many months later, apparently I have now broken all records at for sample requests. I am assured by Gary (who seems to be a boss there) that no one has ever requested (or is even likely to request in future) as many brick samples as I have. The kitchen, workshop and garden were full of bricks and brick slip samples in multi variants of greys, yellows, oranges and reds (yes I still had not made the “not grey” decision at that stage).

I realised there was a real danger I would get a reputation for indecisiveness locally. The myriad delivery van guys around here (who are getting to know me rather too well) would arrive with a heavy parcel and say ‘not decided on your bricks yet Rosie?” as they handed the next sample over. I felt like Lady Bracknell* fearing she would be ridiculed at the local station for missing too many trains. Sigh!

Obviously I also looked at walls I liked made of new bricks - all over the internet and locally -but the nicest, by far, is the one Mum and Dad had built in their new garden six years ago.

So I sent photos of this wall to “matching brick” experts who all disagreed on the brick type. More samples arrived and, inevitably, none was exactly it. But, under pressure to make a decision, I finally chose three modern bricks – one for the path edging, one for the greenhouse base and walls and one for in the paths – only to discover they were the same price per brick as reclaimed bricks and, anyway, weren’t available at all, anywhere. So much for new bricks and back to square one!

It was all deeply frustrating and depressing. So, I girded my credit card and decided that reclaimed bricks had to be the answer, despite Dermot’s frost worries. Decision made – phew! I ordered a suitable quantity of reclaimed soft rubbers (orangey) for the path edging and London red stocks for the walls. They were deeply expensive and came from North London but are very beautiful.
Inevitably, Adrian and Dave - the brickies who came to build the walls for the greenhouse base in the red stocks - took one look at them and decided the walls had to be built in the soft rubbers. All change, but actually the result is simply wonderful. The greenhouse walls are completely beautiful and the London red stocks are looking good as the path edgings.

And there have been upsides from this very frustrating search for bricks. As part of my search, I found Wells Reclamation – a magical place full of the most extraordinary things (and where I found the stones to go with the limestone in my paths and an old sink for by the greenhouse – hooray!) and Wells City itself. If you haven’t been there you must visit. It’s England’s smallest city and has one of the most amazing Cathedrals with an incredible clock, unbelievable sculptures, beautiful greens, cloisters, old streets, the Bishop’s Palace and great shops. It’s a lovely, wee city the size of a small town and is entirely walkable.


Wells cathedral from the green

Whilst all this decision making has been going on Dermot laid the cement base just in time for the shed to arrive, and for the greenhouse so the walls could be built, did all the new fencing, and laid scalpings on the paths and Chris 2 has cut hundreds if not thousands of bricks in half – so it’s beginning to come together at last. All the work done is captured in the short video above.

And now I have all the hard landscaping materials – well almost all. I still have to choose the rockery/pond stones and the gravel. It’s taken months and more money than planned but I am very pleased with the way it will look. So, as these decisions are pretty permanent, I am happy. I have also made lots of decisions re the planting, bought many plants and discovered many nurseries  - but that’s in the next blog!

* The Importance of Being Ernest, Oscar Wilde (Act IV)