I have never been so thankful for our garden – it’s been our little sanctuary for the last seven weeks or so and I’d imagine we’re going to be spending even more time in it in the months to come. The space is working extra hard for us at the moment, too, with dedicated sections for different activities. We have a gym area, a tiki bar, Wayne’s office, a seating area and a hot tub, along with an outdoor cinema, which we set upwhen the weather is nice enough. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a huge garden (it’s roughly 40 x 60 foot), but we’ve packed a lot in.
It didn’t used to look anything like this. When we moved in, over 10 years ago, the garden was almost unrecognisable – overgrown like a jungle, with old outbuildings that resembled something out of a horror movie. One of the sheds was so full of cobwebs I had nightmares for weeks, and when we were emptying it we found rusty old Bunsen burners and tons of glass jars filled with nuts, bolts and weird things growing in them that we couldn’t decipher. Strangely enough, that shed was the only thing that we kept (I’ll get onto this a bit later) except for the brick-built garage. Yes, I know, a garage in your garden isn’t the norm, but it’s an old 1930s house and I think the cars were small enough back then to be able to drive up the side of the house and park there – nowadays you wouldn’t have a chance in hell and, besides, the side of the house has just been turned into a side extension (blog on this to come!). Wayne uses the garage to store all of his tools, of which there are quite a few – he’s renovated the whole house, though, so I can’t really complain. We painted it and replaced the door to make it a little more aesthetically pleasing!
Anyway, back to what it used to be like… there was an old pond at the bottom of the garden that was empty of water but full of rubble, and a log store that was completely falling apart. We knew it needed landscaping, but we were on a budget – with a whole house to renovate, we didn’t have the funds to get people in, so it was down to us (and by us, I mean mostly Wayne as my DIY skills are limited) to do the work. He hired a bulldozer and a small dumper truck, along with a skip, and started the laborious job of digging it out. Around four tonnes of earth was removed, before he levelled it and laid decking (from B&Q) and faux grass. Now, was much as I’d have loved the real thing, both of us rarely seem to have the time to mow a lawn, especially back then, so it made sense. One word of advice I’d give for anyone looking at artificial lawns is that you do get what you pay for – a lot of the really cheap designs look completely fake, whereas the more expensive you go, the more realistic. Ours was somewhere in the middle and we bought it from eBay.
At around the same time and after several, er, ‘discussions’ about who would have the downstairs spare room as their office, we decided to invest in a cabin for the garden, which would become Wayne’s office and man cave. He laid a concrete base for it and bought a wood cabin from eBay, which was delivered in sections and fitted together like Lego. We’ve since helped family members source similar for themselves at Tuin.
Wayne’s cabin is double glazed and cost around £2,500 – I know he’d love to upgrade, as there are so many amazing ones around, but to be honest, the one he has works perfectly for us. He ran electrics out to it from the fuse box, using 10ml armoured cable, so he has lighting and heating (he uses an oil-filled radiator), and it is double glazed. He has space for a big wall of shelving, where he stores all of the wires, cables and gadgets that he seems to hoard, and has even built an ‘extension’ onto the side, which we use as extra storage for garden furniture. I can’t tell you how much that cabin is used, not just for Wayne to work from, but also when we need a bit of space from each other during this strange time. He can retreat out there and watch TV or work, and I get the house to myself – it suits us both. Over the last few weeks it’s been given a freshen up, using a Sandtex exterior paint in Cloudy Day, which is a light blue-grey colour.
I remember one day, years ago, when I worked for Style at Home magazine, I came home after going to a John Lewis press show, having seen a tiny tiki bar they were due to start selling (they have something similar here). I love a cocktail and thought it was a really fun garden addition. I showed Wayne and nothing more was said. It could have been weeks or even months later, I don’t remember, but I’d been away somewhere, and I came home to find him building his own version for me! He’s not a builder or carpenter, I should add, he’s just very good at these type of things. He’d made the structure using 4 x 2 timber, 18ml ply and 100 x 100ml fence posts, and ensured it was waterproof by fitting the roof with thick vapour barrier, with a waterproof overwrap, and then stapling feather edge on top of that for an authentic tiki look. It has a door and around the base of the bar’s exterior he used bamboo screening – it really looks the part! Inside, it’s even better, with a wooden worktop that sits above lots of compartments for storing ingredients – he even ran electrics out to it so that I can plug in a blender when I’m making a cocktail that requires one. Oh, and I forgot the LED lights – always a staple in our house (Wayne is obsessed), which keep it lit up at night. We painted the back walls using a chalkboard paint, which my friend drew some cocktail illustrations on, and then the finishing touches were some old tin cocktail signs and wall-mounted optics for spirit bottles. It’s not sophisticated, but it’s fun and it’s been a brilliant addition over the years, especially when we’ve held parties. My dad played bartender at our last garden party and made the strongest Pina colada known to man!
This image was shot years ago for Style at Home magazine and is a lot more colourful than it is now (we added in loads of colourful, tropical props), but it gives you an idea of the size and look of our tiki bar. During this lockdown, I’ve been making a jug of cocktail every now and then (there’s a couple of IGTV videos here) to share with the neighbours. Wayne fixed some wood to our adjoining fence as a platform/tray and we have a little ritual where the neighbours put their glasses on the tray, then back off while I go and fill the glasses up with the cocktail (without touching them). It works a treat, and means we can enjoy happy hour together from a social distance.
We also have our outdoor cinema (I’ve written a post on this here) and I’m looking forward to using it this summer. There’s nothing better than watching a film under the stars, and we invested in a couple of patio heaters, a chimnea and a fire pit to keep us warm when the night gets cool. I might even watch it from the hot tub, with a glass of wine! We’ve got a pizza oven that makes an appearance every now and again, too, especially on movie nights – this is the one we have from Homebase.
Lastly, and this isn’t such an attractive building, but remember that old shed that had all the spider’s webs in that I told you we reused? Well, we have indoor cats (Chas and Dave), and because we live on a busy main road we didn’t feel it was right to let them out, but also wanted them to be able to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine – so Wayne turned it into an outdoor cat house for them. He built a tunnel that goes along the side of the garden (from a catflap in our dining room), into the old shed, which he built all different levels inside and added some logs as scratching posts for them. He took one side of the shed off and replaced it with an extra-strong metal mesh (it needed to be stronger than chicken wire, so that foxes couldn’t get in and the cats couldn’t get out) and they even have a balcony bit where they can lay in the sun. They love coming outside, especially when we’re out, and although I feel guilty (a lot) about them not being able to explore the garden properly, they’ve never known any different and we went on our vet’s advice. You can see the cat house in one of the photos above.
So that’s our garden! This year I need to get some more festoon lights to string overhead, and I could do with some new cushions, but other than that I’m pretty happy with it. I’d love to hear what you think, and if it’s inspired you to add anything to your own garden?