4 years ago we began overhauling our garden, the building work for the extension had left it rather battered, though it had never been much to brag about before that point if I’m honest.
Our home is developing over time, we’ve never had a big lump sum of money to just tackle everything all at once, that would be lovely, but I do question whether long term I’d be happy with decisions made all at once. There is something to be said for living and learning about the space you inhabit, planning and dreaming how certain changes could benefit you and your family, adapting as you go along.
I had thought I was going to dive straight into the build of our deck (the main point of this blog, a long overdue subject seeing as it was built last summer), but now I’m here I feel that it might be best to divide this piece in to 2 parts, part 1 giving context, the before, the ideas and part 2, to follow soon after, getting right into the creation of one of the best decisions we have made for our home.
During and after the building work-
Here are 2 past blog posts which are worth a read if you’re new around here, they’ll help you to properly understand the full journey our little house has been on so far –
During Phase 1 of the garden work, the shed side wasn’t touched, or rather it became the dumping ground to allow the groundwork to progress here. The thing with any kind of landscaping/ gardening is that it absorbs money like you wouldn’t believe. You always need twice as much material as you thought, 1 of each plant is never enough, you need multiples for impact and growing from seed just takes so long!
It’s a money drain, but the very best kind, I never regret a penny spent out there, as it gives me so much joy.
I knew the shed side of the garden would need a much bigger budget and I still hadn’t decided/ convinced Stu on what I wanted to do, so we just got on with living and enjoying what we had achieved so far.
Garden Phase 2 – The Problems.
● Storage. Our house is modest in size, we make it work for us, but part of that making it work is that we utilise storage out in the shed(s).
The old, ugly, evil looking shed in the far corner (which I had been campaigning to be rid of for years) was very convenient storage for fire wood/ the lawn mower etc. The other shed holds normal shed stuff, as well as surfboards, a few of the larger toys, the majority of our larder type food, creating more space in the kitchen.
I wanted to lose the small shed in the corner, to reveal the beautiful old Oak tree behind.
● The “lawn” or rather the lack of. Grass is definitely a more affordable solution to cover a larger area in a garden, but grass doesn’t like to grow underneath trees, it doesn’t like objects being left on it, it doesn’t like to grow under furniture. Once the Weeping Birch was in leaf a large percentage of this side of the garden would become mud, that mud would become a trail of mess leading right into the house and a constant source of stress in our home.
The back door of the extension is immediately in the garden, wonderful, yes, but it means there isn’t any division between dirty and clean.
Something needed to change.
There have been a few versions of before on this side, all of which have been a compromise, all of which always had one thing in common. Mud.
The She Shed/ Playhouse stage was one of the better ones, you can read more about that creation here.
I began to make tweaks to how this end of the garden linked with the house in early Spring last year. I extended the small bed that followed the corner of the extension, forever in search of more space to grow beautiful things.
Having previously resigned myself to the fact we wouldn’t be doing anything major here that year, my mind began to wonder and before I knew it I had decided that I would find a way to make it happen sooner. I couldn’t wait any longer, my garden is my escape, especially during such a difficult time during Covid and it deserved to be the best it could be!
At this point we didn’t have a budget in mind, I had some money saved for “something” but I always start with affordable ideas and then those ideas tend to get blown out of proportion and before I know it I’m trying to create a Grand Designs idea on a fiver!
I went through the motions, creating a Pinterest board, exploring different ground covering options, for a time I decided we’d just cover the area with some form of gravel, to finally be rid of the mud and progress from there further down the line.
I moved on from the idea of stones though, when I realised there was no way of linking this idea to the pebbles, which were already in place at the other end of the garden and making it feel cohesive. I didn’t want to use pebbles anywhere else.
So I imagined we had some more money to put towards the project and began to explore the idea of decking.
I found this image incredibly inspiring, it’s the garden of Stylizimo and I think this was the point at which I knew for sure the direction I wanted to head in.
A deck done well is a beautiful thing, demonstrated above, a deck done badly though is not only an eyesore, but also something that will plague you with problems for many years to come. I knew that what ever we did needed to be a step up from a standard creation, but there were many factors to consider.
What kind of deck?
Where to even begin with deciding what material to go for? I was firmly in the real wood camp, to start, I adore wood, it features heavily in our home in many different forms and I was keen to mirror this outside. But then I began to ponder the idea of composite, spurred on by some comments from various people, intrigued by the features it is lauded for – the promise of less maintenance, greater durability, anti slip, scratch resistance, product guarantees…
I was definitely feeling myself begin to lean towards this idea, so I went to look at samples, as well as ordering some in the post too.
My initial reaction was emotionless, these things felt dead and soulless, you might laugh at this, but so often a material, colour or design detail I use gives me a rush of emotion and that’s how I know it’s the one for me.
The Millboard Weathered Oak was the only one that did anything to excite me. As a small sample slither it looked very fake and rather evil looking, as though it had come from a haunted house. But seen over a larger surface area, I admit it did have something about it.
But here are the things that ultimately put me off and brought me back around to using the real thing.
● Cost – It’s incredibly expensive, not just at face value, you have to factor in that the extra benefits that apparently come with composite (longevity, guarantees etc) are all based on decks laid by professionals who specialise in composite materials, with some companies, if you don’t use an accredited fitter, then they don’t promise the guarantee.
● Substructure. Millboard for example recommend that you use their purpose designed subframe, to ensure longevity of the product. That subframe, which will most likely need to be built by someone with extensive experience with those products, will cost you more than the decking boards themselves, doubling the cost of the deck overall.
● Environmental concerns – the chemicals used to make many of these products are incredibly poisonous, to both humans and the environment. Yes, there are options which are more “eco friendly”, but they’re more expensive and I didn’t find enough information to make me feel 100% ok about the choice.
Other put offs, from a mixed bag of sources – many had found their composite wasn’t actually non slip (especially the textured ones which facilitated the growth of Algae just as well as grooved wood decking). It did scratch, it was unbearably hot under foot (in particular the darker colours), difficult + costly to correct any issues…
And finally, the overriding decision maker for me was that I felt sad that we wouldn’t be using real wood, that if I headed out to the garden with bare feet, as I so often do, that I wouldn’t have a natural material under my feet.
There are many who are thrilled with their choice of composite decking, but for me there were too many unknowns and I was totally put off. Decision made.
Moving ahead with the “plan”.
I use the word “plan” loosely here, in fact the above sketch is the only thing I can find, relating to this project, which I had put down on paper!
After talking with several local landscaping firms I went with C&G Garden Builds, a local company recommended by several people and who turned out to be 2 guys I went to school with, Chris and George. I loved that they instantly got my vision, which was mostly still just in my head at that point, they had great advice to give and really made me feel like this project was in very capable, safe hands. The job was booked in for late July (a few months wait) and I could then get on with making my decisions about the wood.
We tackled the storage issue first, the ugly little corner shed needed to go, so we set about extending the larger one.
The whole original structure had been made from reclaimed wood, pallets and bits and bobs and the beauty of this is adapting and adding to the design is relatively easy. Easy in the sense that I didn’t do any of it and it happened within a week and thus, that must have been easy for Stu, right?!
Here’s a wonderful example of smoke and mirrors. Above is the reality of a sweet little Easter Party I threw the girls last year, during Lockdown 1.0. The girls enjoyed it thoroughly, children don’t really see the “problem” areas do they.
Here’s what you saw at the time!
This area at the side of the house is function over prettiness for the time being. We all need a place to store the boring parts of life, like bins, garden waste, a place to be messy, cut wood and not worry.
Finally the old shed in the corner could be removed (we used a side from it to make a beautiful temporary fence).
I can’t tell you how happy this day made me, even in it’s raw, messy state I could already see how amazing this newly gained space would be to the garden, with the beautiful old Oak tree emerging from the stone wall. We’re incredibly lucky to have these established, original parts to the space, already giving the garden a sense of having been here a long time.
Having cleared the space as best we could, we were now at the point where there wasn’t much else for us to do ourselves and it was a case of waiting patiently (not one of my strong suits) for our C&G slot to come along.
All the while Covid is raging through the world and our lives had been thrown upside down like everyone else’s. How things would go with the Alice in Scandiland Shop were a worry, schools were closed and I admit that spending money on the garden didn’t feel like the best choice, given these factors. This said, the end decision was that we would just go for it and hope everything would turn out ok with our jobs. I’m so glad we took that leap of faith.
I’m going to pause here…
I expect you’re feeling a tad overwhelmed. That’s exactly how I’ve felt at the thought of trying to get all this down, now that I’ve truly started I’m not surprised I haven’t found the time thus far!
I didn’t feel I could write the blog about the deck, without first setting the scene and talking about the process the garden and my head has been through..
Read Part 2 – Garden Makeover – Creating a Hardwood Deck here, watch our deck built from the mud up, find out what wood we decided on in the end, along with lots more information (including cost) and the exciting *almost* finished photos.
Thank you for reading, I hope you’ve enjoyed and found it useful so far? See you back here tomorrow?