Garden makeover, Phase One.

Scabiosa, Bee approved beauty of a flowering plant.

I’ve shared various snippets of our garden transformations over the last several months, but until now haven’t managed to get it all down in one place. I’ve been waiting to take ‘the right shot’, for the weather to be just right, but in doing so time has gone by and some of the beautiful plants have finished flowering. So I decided to just get my shit together and write this post! It’s going to be a long one and very photo heavy, but I hope you enjoy following the journey we have been on to get to where we are now.

The garden project was divided into 2 phases, the first is the space immediately outside the extension, the area that was most affecting us day to day. The second phase, the She Shed, Man Shed (better known as the rotten, evil looking thing in the corner!), Playhouse etc will happen later this year, or more likely next year now.

The starting point.

I did some clearing last year, talked about more in my previous blog post, The art of Compromise. I removed some trees and a very overgrown waste of space ‘flower bed’ that took up over a metre and a half of the garden, the full length of the wall.

Back when Stu’s woodstore addiction got a little out of hand! This was several years ago.

You can just make out the view of one of the old woodstores, the garden felt cluttered and messy.

Work on the extension finished last September and so we got on with living our new and improved life and with Winter approaching gave the garden little thought. I was contented, for the time being, with our new internal space. You can read much more about that in the massively detailed post I wrote about the build process – How to extend your home with style, for less than you might think.

But of course, I wasn’t going to be happy looking out at the sad, ugly garden for long, so earlier this year I started formulating a plan, gathering inspiration (you can follow my Pinterest board here) and sweet talking my husband!

This was what we started with back in June –

And my plan –

Photos – Pinterest

Stu was onboard with pouring our own giant concrete pads, to form a simple, low maintenance patio outside the extension and this is what we started work intending to do.

I wanted a large raised bed as really there aren’t many other areas I could plant in the garden. I think it’s important in a small ish space to make some big statements. We’re fortunate to have a large grass square at the front of the house, where the girls can ride bikes, kick a ball around, so there was no need for keeping open spaces in the back garden.

The girls were very keen to help out.
This bastard of a tree stump took 2 of us many hours to remove.
We’re so fortunate to have this beautiful drystone wall at the back of the garden. It’s spent many years almost completely hidden, overgrown, but after a lot of effort it’s now shown off to it’s full glory.

I had been admiring black fences on Pinterest and knew this was exactly what our ugly, scruffy fence needed. It’s very well built, by my Husband, but was looking very sorry for itself. Stu took a bit of convincing, but I marched off to Homebase and bought a big tub of Cuprinol Ducksback in black and just got on with it. Stu was in love within half an hour of me starting to paint.

The black makes a real statement and turns this old fence into something new and exciting. It’s rather magic how colours just pop against the dark, matt background.
The ground level was dug down several inches to allow for the thickness of the slabs we intended to pour. We used this soil to fill the large raised bed.

It was part way through groundworks that Stu had a massive change of heart and declared that he no longer wanted to use concrete. His concerns were both financial and the level of work involved. To say I was a bit pissed off would be the understatement of the century, I was fuming! I was working to a plan and could see exactly what it was going to become.

But, as ever, I had to remind myself that there are two of us living here and it’s as much his garden as mine (grrrrrr!!!) so it was back to making a new plan, a compromise.

I begrudgingly went along with Stu’s opinion, which was to have gravel, but I convinced him that pebbles would be better, both practically (there are a few cats in the area and we all know what they like to do in other people’s gardens!) but also for comfort under foot and overall look. I also stipulated that this new plan would have to include the beautiful, rather ££ Oak railway sleepers we had admired at the Timber Merchant (The Timber Store). Somehow Stu agreed, so my initial annoyance over the changes started to diminish a little.

After much market research we decided on Scottish Pebbles and bought 2 large dumpy bags approx 800kg each), 1 of 20-40mm and the other 30-50mm. We bought online from Proturf, as they were the best price inc delivery, but I experienced a few problems inc totally rubbish customer service and so would not recommend them.

Dry/Wet – when they arrived I was less than happy about the brownness of the stones when wet, but they have grown on me since.
I love the variation in the colour of these Oak sleepers, as well as the knots and gnarly bits. We used cheaper green wood sleepers to make the raised beds, which I then painted with the Cuprinol Ducksback in black.

So the new plan was drawn up and we ploughed on.

The sleepers were cut into random lengths then we set them out so that they form a walkway across what would be a sea of pebbles. We both took it in turns to pace across, making sure the pieces of wood allowed for a comfortable, natural stride.

The wonderful fortnight (or possibly longer than that) of early glorious Summer weather we had been experiencing passed, replaced by torrential rain, but we were like things possessed, every spare moment was spent in the garden working towards our end goal and when we weren’t out there we were caught up in discussion about one element or another, enjoying the Chelsea Flower show coverage on TV, gathering more inspiration.

I knew I wanted natural looking, sporadic planting, so after a trip to one of my favourite local Garden Centre’s, Pengelly Plant Centre, armed with some Alpines, Succulents, herbs and grasses, I set about placing them, planting out (cutting the weed suppressent matting underneath to allow them to root properly) and then filling around with the pebbles.

It took almost a day to move all the pebbles from out the front of the house, to the back, with 1 wheelbarrow, that’s a lot of back breaking shovelling and I was soaked through to the skin, but it felt really good being out and feeling the ache of physical exersion when you finally got to collapse into bed at night.

Finally we had banished the mud and pulled the house and garden together, one making the other all the more special.

The table we made is one of my favourite details, you can read and see lots more about it’s construction here.

I’m completely in love with this vintage cane chair, picked up locally for £7, make sure you check Facebook Market Place regularly, there are some real treasures to be found.

The process of transforming our outside space has been quite therapeutic for me. We are by no means finished, but that’s the magic of a project like this, it can only get better with time and attention. I think it has brought Stu and I closer, though perhaps also slightly broken Stu’s back!! but we get pleasure from all our hard work every single day, whether we’re out there eating dinner at the table we made together, or admiring the view from inside.

The planting isn’t finished yet, but I doubt it ever will be. A garden is an ever changing place, somewhere to experiment and learn.

I’ve stuck with mostly greens and purples, I wanted the space to feel calm and have things of interest all year round, so I plan to add in some more plants in the Autumn, when I can visit the garden centre and see what’s looking particularly lovely then.

Bargain Bug hotel from eBay.

For now I have used Cosmos (Lidl bargains, they just keep flowering and flowering!) Scabiosa (my total fave and a massive hit with our ever increasing bee population) Verbena, Lavender, Thyme, Agapanthus (synonymous with Cornish gardens) Hostas, Bamboo (safely contained in a large sunken barrel), BananaSea Thrift, Sedum, Saxifrage. 

We also have Blueberry and Black/Red Currant Bushes, which until now have lived a sad life in ugly plastic pots, it feels good to give them their own permanent home.

I’ve planted herbs in places that will get brushed against or stood on occasionally, so you get a lovely aromatic waft as you pass, Jasmine is climbing the fence and I hope next year it will be big enough to fill the garden with it’s sweet scent.
Wow, if you made it this far well done and thank you! I’m sure I’ve missed lots out, so please ask if you have any questions.

I hope you enjoyed this insight into our most recent big project, I’m so happy to be at the point of properly sharing with you, as well as enjoying our new space, it’s a very healing thing, creating a garden, I feel I have poured some of my soul into it and every new flower or little Bee I see is like a positive affirmation, that it was the right thing to do, that it is appreciated and enjoyed by many.

That day I pretended Ercol made garden furniture!

Link for the firebowl as I’ve already been asked a bajillion times on Instagram! Wish I had shares in the company (fyi I don’t!) It isn’t black, as the pictures would suggest, it’s more gunmetal grey and it does rust, which I quite like the look of, but you could paint it should you feel so inclined.

Don’t forget to Pin this post to come back to, are you planning a garden transformation soon? Perhaps you’ve already done one. I’d love to hear about it.

35 Comments Add yours

  1. Ella says:

    Wow Alice I love what you’ve done. I’ve admired your garden on insta but to see all the hard work involved makes it even more impressive! Ella x (your Scilly fan😘)

    1. Thanks lovely lady, we were definitely on a mission!!!

  2. Gillian Roe says:

    Amazing! You’ve worked wonders and totally transformed the space. I especially like your use of colour in the planting. X

    1. Thank you very my much Gillian ❤

  3. An AMAZING project! What a place it has begun!!

  4. inspiredrobyn2 says:

    magical make over 🙂

    1. Thank you ❤❤🌿

  5. Trudy says:

    What a creative mind – simple yet effective transformation! I’m on a journey of transforming an unloved abandoned garden I inherited when I moved into this property. What you and your family have managed to achieve has greatly inspired me. It has been hard work starting from scratch but I’ve come to view it as a working progress and you have confirmed this for me. I was undecided and stuck between decking, slab or lintel/gravel patio but I do love your sleeper/pebbles idea very much (hopefully it will keep neighbouring cats from fouling in my garden). Thank you and well done!

    1. Thank you for your kind words Trudy, best of luck with your ongoing project. I’m hoping to get out in the garden soon and give it the attention it needs after a hard winter x

      1. Marina says:

        Alice, I love what you have done with your garden! My husband and I have started working on our garden this week and I had actually planned to do something similar in ours when I stumbled across your blog! May I ask where you sourced the timber sleepers from? x

      2. Hello Marina, thank you for reading, I’m pleased you enjoyed it and found it useful.
        The sleepers came from a local Timber Merchant.

        All the best, Alice

  6. Alice says:

    Hi. I love what you’ve done with your house & garden and looking to do something similar with my (uninspiring seventies) home! I wanted to ask you if the pebbles are comfortable to walk on? My partner is taking some convincing, even with the addition of railway sleeper stepping ‘stones’. We’ve got two little girls and want the garden to be comfortable for them, (yet I want it to look good, of course. ☺️) I’d love to hear your thoughts after living with it for a while? Thankyou!

  7. jennywren134 says:

    I love your garden! I was just wondering how the paint on your fence is fairing up? We’ve had bad experiences with brand name paints for our fences and our decking and it always needs re-doing after 1 winter, but yours is still looking lovely.x

    1. Thanks lovely, ummm…the paint could be better to be honest and yep, it needs redoing 🙈

  8. Sarah says:

    Your garden is my inspiration – gorgeous!! How are you liking the pebble/sleeper patio still? Is it comfortable and do the kids like walking on the pebbles barefoot? We were looking for a low key, cheaper alternative to patio slabs and also didn’t want too much groundwork needing down in preparation as we have Cotswold slate chippings down already from the previous owners. With your idea I imagine we can just sign those out, out down weed suppressant and out pebbles etc on top?! Thanks, Sarah

    1. Thanks so much Sarah. I’ll be honest, the pebbles weren’t my choice, they were my husband’s as plan A didn’t work out. They look good, not the best to walk on but fine. They don’t seem to bother the girls.

  9. Krystyna says:

    Hi Alice,

    I love the garden!

    Can I ask which way you’re garden is facing?

    My gardens north facing and I’m wondering how that might affect which plants we choose.

    Thanks 😊

    1. Hello, our garden is South West facing, so lots of sun for most of the day. North facing will definitely have an impact on what plants you can have, but I’m sure there will still be lots of lovely options.

  10. ClaireT says:

    I know the pebbles weren’t your first choice, but looking at it compared with the pics of your preferred more formal concrete slabs, I think the end result is much better. It’s more informal and whimsical. I love it!

    1. Thank you xx

  11. Aiste says:

    A lovely end result! What sleepers did you use please, were they treated? Planed?

    1. Hello, we used cheaper treated sleepers for main structure of the raised beds and the more expensive ones are oak. Those are not treated.

  12. Rob says:

    Love the transformation and it’s got me thinking. Are the sleepers slippery in the winter to walk over or after it’s been raining?

    1. Thank you Rob. They can be, they just need a scrub from time to time x

  13. Sarah says:

    Gorgeous! It’s exactly the sort of look i’d like to create. We’ve picked the same stones as you, but I’ve noticed that yours must be as deep as the sleeper. We’re planning to walk on them, no stepping stones, do you think we need to have a layer as deep as yours?

    1. Hi Sarah, ours are a bit too deep to be honest, if using sleepers, set them into the ground a bit more 😊👍🏻

  14. Susan says:

    Hi Alice I love what you’ve done here and it’s inspired me with a bare patch of garden I have which I was going to grass as no budget for patio, but I like the pebble/sleeper idea much more and we would also use as eating area. I’m going to have to do in slow stages budget wise so this year was just going to put down the weed suppressant and the sleepers and then aim for the pebble/planting in the spring. When you say set them into the ground a bit more – are they on top of the weed suppressant, so would you just bang them down as hard as poss?! Is weed suppressant/pebbles easy to maintain, I have visions of my weeds all popping up through it!

    1. Hi Susan, I would dig out a recess in the ground for the sleeper, then lay the weed suppressant membrane.

      We barely have any weeds, those that do are self seeded in the stones and easy to pull up.

  15. I have just discovered your blog Alice! What fabulous content! Love x

    1. Thank you so much Emma x

  16. Lucy says:

    Can I ask, when you put the sleepers down did you anchor them in place? or just put them where you wanted them then put stones around?

    1. Hello Lucy, we staked them in place, making sure the wood was well below the level the stones would be 😃

  17. Nick says:

    Hey, this is our inspiration to make our garden more of an attractive space. You’ve set the bar high! I see the sleepers are staked to stop them moving etc. Did you need to bed them down on to anything to help get them level?


    1. Hello and thank you.

      No, we didn’t bed the sleepers down, the small stakes keep them in place, along with the stones.

      Enjoy your garden plans.


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