It was cold (not as cold as Chicago mind you..), but sunny last Sunday so we decided to undertake our annual garden winter pruning and tidy up.
Every year I learn about the care of one more plant in our garden, and this year I learnt that you are to cut peonies right down to the ground in winter after their leaves and flowers have all died down, so that was my first (easy!) task. (Cut down stalks shown in the bottom left image)
Then it was down to the various annual tasks:
We had the large cedar tree pruned in the week as our ladder isn’t tall enough, (even with its crown chopped off!). To save on cost we said we’d pick up the trimmings so we sorted that out.
We also pruned all our roses, as is our February tradition, and removed the wild rose with its aggressively sharp prickly stems. The wild rose had grown tall over the years leaving an unattractive tangle of thorny stems (with no flowers) up to a height of 1.5m at its base – so we decided we’d replace it with something else.
We gave our two deciduous trees a trimming to keep them full and bushy, and within reach. The one at the very bottom of our garden (pictured), had new growth of almost 2m in the heat of last summer!
All of the twigs were then chopped down to wood burner size so we can use them as kindling wood next year once they’ve dried out – as we did last year with the help of my dad!
I just realised that I haven’t shared with you a floorplan of what we are up to! So here it is. The area shaded in blue is currently external space, or what is typically called a ‘side return’ here, so the works will bascially double the size of our kitchen/ eating area! Whoo hoo! Space to move! Space for three of us to be in the kitchen without stepping on eachother’s feet! Space to play!
- First ‘F’ – Full height integrated refridgerator
- Second ‘F’ – Below counter integrated freezer
- DW – Dishwasher
- C&T – Coffee & Toast Station
- W/D – Stacked Washer and Dryer (Space for Mop, ironing board, broom etc. beside it)
- PAN – Pantry for dried goods
- OV – Wall mounted oven and microwave
…while we’re on the topic of washing machines… another decision which we had to make was whether to stack our washer and dryer, or sit them side by side on the floor with a counter and hanging rail, and shelves above.
As we don’t have a utility room, but merely a 600mm deep utility cupboard, we opted for the stacked version. This gives us much needed tall storage space for another charging station, the mop, ironing board, and the Dyson docking station. Once we decided to put a toilet cloakroom under the staircase, our cupboard for awkward, bulky small appliances dissappeared. I also figured that we don’t really need a countertop as I tend to fold clothes infront of the television anyway, or alternatively I could fold them on the dining room table looking out into our garden rather than staring at a wall.
While searching for inspiration on Pinterest, I also found these raised washing machine and dryer cupboards. I think this is a great idea as you wouldn’t need to bend down to see to the back of the drum…. Kind of like a raised wall oven but for clothes. (Although they would have to be VERY strong sturdy cupboards to take the weight!)
Here are a few things I learnt along the way:
- The dryer always goes on the top if you are stacking (as the spin cycle for the washing machine makes more vibrations so you don’t want that on top where it can wander off).
- You don’t just plonk the dryer on top of the washing machine or over time it will just vibrate its way into another position.
- When stacking a washer and dryer, they need to be the same manufacturer or the stacking kit won’t work.
- Most washing machines typically have the door hinged on the left, and the dryer hinged on the right. This is so when positioned side by side, its easier to move clothes from the washing machine (step one, so on the left), to the dryer (step two, typically positioned on the right) When stacking, this is vaguely annoying – but very few manufacturers offer door swing choice.
- Take account of door swings when positioning your appliances – you don’t want a situation where you have to squeeze between the door and a wall to get your clothes out.
- Don’t forget dryer vents, and ventilation for your cupboard (either a mechanical fan in the wall, or a slatted door).
- We’ve positioned our utility cupboard right next to the exterior door to keep duct runs short (longer duct runs lead to inefficiency), and also so its a shorter journey to the exterior clothes line in the summer!
One of the appliances that we need to buy for our side extension is a new washing machine. The previous owners kindly left us theirs, but it is nearing the end of its life and has had a few glitches lately. Having decided on a Bosch Dryer, (NEF, the manufacturer who made our dishwasher, fridge and freezer, and who is basically an upscale Bosch, doesn’t make dryers) we decided to opt for a Bosch washing machine to match – but which one?
The first question was front or top loaded? We were leaning towards the front loaded washing machine so that we could stack the dryer on top, and have space for the ironing board, mops and the hoover beside it.
This article from Digital Trends answered most of my questions, and confirmed our decision to opt for a front loader. In a nutshell front loaders are:
- More water efficient
- More energy efficient
- Gentler on clothes as they don’t use a paddle agitator
- Take longer to run a cycle (not an issue if you get a machine with a delayed start timer)
- Require you to bend down to empty them (not an issue at our age… yet!)
- Are more susceptible to mould around the door (apparently the solution to this is a self clean cycle and leaving the door open)
I obtained planning permission for our side extension 4 years ago… (renewed a year ago for those of you who were worrying about the three year expiry), and now the time has come when those plans are going to turn into reality!
In the beginning of December I contacted seven recommended contractors (Thanks Fred and Stu!), providing them with floor plans and a few photos to see if they would be interested in bidding on the job, and whether they would be able to start work in February. Of those seven, four remained valid candidates.
I was hoping to finish up all of my drawings and specification for our Phase 5 side extension over the Christmas holidays, but of course that was wildly optimistic and I really only found time to think about the project and have some quite heated debates about hobs and ovens (Pun intended!)
After years of sketching, and figuring and planning, and then a final push of two long weeks of late nights, I finally got all of the construction drawings completed, the outline specification for all the construction elements finalised (at least for costing purposes) and the complete NBS specification written up and issued two four contractors for costing. Phew! I think I must have made about 300 decisions already for this project, and at least 100 of them in the past week – so I’m feeling somewhat brain fried! There are still a few key decisions to go… but I’ve got a little bit of time to make them in… and I’m hoping you can help! I’ll share with you some of my research and reasonings over the next few weeks… so watch this space.
So here we go!
I realised I never posted the final garden wall photos… so here is the completed article back in mid November when the trees still had some leaves and autumn colour.
So that the wall (built of new yellow brick), fit in better with the coal coated London Stock brick of our house, I asked the hard landscaping company to mix in all of the bricks I had salvaged from our chimney re-build for the outer leaf of the two brick wide wall. Its a nice story to re-use the bricks, and to know that they didn’t travel far from their original home on the top of our house. There were about 30 bricks which we saved in total when the height was reduced to make it more stable. You can see them as they are they are the darker and blackened ones.
The chimney pots are also from our chimney re-build. I tried to sell them, but without any luck, so they now act as a cute ‘feature’ in this little corner of our garden. I’ve popped a pot filled with bleeding heart flowers in the top of the tall one which should look nice in the summer. (Thank you Nick and Sarah for the gift!).
Our latest home improvement is a new raised garden bed which was completed a month ago now. I haven’t posted photos until now, because like everything – nothing is ever simple and we had some challenges to overcome!
For Ada’s first birthday we wanted to plant her a tree, but needed somewhere to put it. So we by combining the two narrow raised beds at the end of our garden into one wider, taller bed we created the ideal spot.
We got three quotes, and works started fairly quickly. Above is an image of the concrete foundation that was poured beneath the wall to ensure a stable, level surface. The footprints were made by Archie, our neighbours cat who decided to make a quick inspection.
After the wall was built, however, our neighbours at the end of our garden complained about the work (even though there was no change to the height of the earth against their house), requesting that we renew the membrane between our wall and theirs to ensure no damp penetrated through. There was already some corrugated plastic sheeting installed by the previous owner – so I just hadn’t thought of it.
One order of basement cavity tanking membrane (which took a week to arrive), and a solid day of poor Alex re-digging out a trench down to foundation level later… we were almost back to where we started. The membrane is like big rigid bubble wrap, creating an airspace between itself and the wall it abuts. This way, any water that gets through, just percolates down to the foundation, rather than sitting against a soft permeable brick and potentially causing damp.
In hindsight (what a wonderful thing), we should have lined the full length of the new brick wall too, as eventually the bricks will get quite damp next to the earth (they are just yellow London stock brick, not dense engineering brick), but perhaps that’s a project for another time….