One, two, three, SOW!

Seed packets

What better way to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day than to plant potatoes? We have asked a few of the neighbours if it is a good time to plant them this time of year in our part of Ireland (the west) and they have all said we should be alright to put them in. For the last two weeks we have been keeping them in our porch, a cold and bright place and now the potatoes have good little shoots growing. We have not grown potatoes here before but we have opted for the tyre method where the potatoes are grown in a tyre and as they grow more tyres and soil are added to earth them up and produce a large crop. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out.

Potatoes and tyres

Planting potatoes

In between the tyres we put fluffed up sheeps wool to avoid creating a slug hotel where the slugs could hang out and go on nightly raids to the nearby just sown rows of carrots, radishes, parsnips and turnips. To avoid potato blight we are planning to make a strong nettle and comfrey tea that can be watered down and used at every watering. A friend told us about this method and he has grown healthy potatoes this way. As we are growing everything organically we would like to avoid chemicals and if anyone has other tips on how to avoid blight, please write about them in the comment section.

 Placing wool


 We also planted a lot of things today that need to be grown in pots to get off to a good start. As we have a tiny cottage and not much room inside, we invented a way last year to grow as much as possible under our circumstances. All through the year we save our toilet rolls and along with free newspapers, free plastic boxes from the supermarket and a bit of plastic wrap we create a practical, slug-proof and hygienic environment for our little seedlings. They can be planted straight in the ground in their rolls, or into a larger pot for growing on with no root disturbance.

 Seeds and boxes

We wanted to grow peas, beans, sunflowers and a variety of gourds and squashes so opted for a mix of multi-purpose and seed compost with added perlite as our growing medium. The toilet rolls can be stuffed quite full and placed on newspaper, tightly packed together for stability. We watered the full boxes and let them stand for a few hours to saturate the cardboard and let excess water run away.

 soil mx

a few rolls

full box

Planting all the seeds was great fun, with one person using the dibber to the correct depth, one person planting the seeds and one person writing down all the varieties for the different rows in the box. We then watered the boxes again to set the seeds in, let them drain off for a further couple of hours and wound the plastic wrap around the whole box a few times. Last year we let the seeds stay sealed up like this for about a month, with no water or air added. The box became a perfect micro climate and all the seedlings came out strong and healthy.


boxes wrapped up

We keep the boxes in our gazebo and the seedlings do not seem to mind the frost, even when the ground is white and frozen in the mornings. The boxes and the gazebo keep them snug and they get enough light to not grow weak and straggly.

Plants for less.


 We, like most gardeners love to cram in a lot of shrubs, trees, perennials and grasses into our garden. Unfortunately we do not have the means to pay for full priced plants in the garden centre, but over the last couple of years we have found out that it is not so unfortunate after all. At certain times of the year we visit the sales at our local garden centre. Especially in spring, we have been very fortunate as they sell out a lot of last year’s perennials and grasses at as much as 75-80% off the original price. These plants may look a bit worse for wear, but when you get them out of the pot you almost always find that they have a great root system and are just perfect for planting out in the garden. We have bought almost all our plants in this way and have had very few casualties.

 root close up

sale label

A couple of weeks ago we picked up five potted grasses at a sale and we only paid €15 for the lot instead of the full €75. Today we finally had a bit of time to plant them. We started by forking the ground over lightly to remove all the couch grass that unfortunately has a tendency to creep across and root on any bare piece of land in our garden. We had some shrubs and grasses from last spring’s sale growing in this area and just wanted to add some more grasses to make for a beautiful and hopefully easily maintained part of the garden.

bed with cardboard

wheel barrow

bed half done

We planted all the grasses, adding a lot of well rotted manure to the planting holes and put down a double layer of cardboard boxes, to suppress the weeds and help with moisture retention if we get a warm and dry summer. We always put down cardboard and mulch on top of it around all small trees and shrubs as without the competition from weeds, they grow up to twice as fast. Our local supermarket is happy for any boxes we take away as they have to pay to recycle them. We have picked up many thousands over the last couple of years. We use them on all our paths as well, under the wood-chip mulch. As mulch for our newly planted grass area we put on a 15 cm layer of shredded Laylandii and we hope this will be enough to work as a weed suppressant for this year and hopefully by next year our ornamental grasses will have taken off and can handle the competition better.

 grass from circle

We do think it looks pretty, as the dark colour of the mulch contrasts beautifully with the golden and variegated grasses. We are so much looking forward to see how it will turn out in the summer.

A bottle wall with a difference.

 glass wall

We have always been fascinated by all the beautiful pictures of glass bottle walls on the internet, and have known for a long time that we wanted to incorporate some into our home. In fact, we started collecting bottles and jars and making up bottle bricks years before we had the chance to purchase our house.  When planning our extension, we went to a local joinery and looked at window seconds. There were a lot of PVC- windows and we were measuring away, considering how we might be able to fit them into our design, when the owner said; ‘Those sash windows are for sale as well’.

glass wall with cat

We were delighted as we had not even dreamt about coming across solid wood, double glazed sash windows, complete with traditional weights. We were able to buy the windows for less than a tenth of the original price, as they had been ordered to measure, but it turned out the measurements given had been wrong and they did not fit. One of the windows had a lovely arch at the top and we decided to complement the design with two arches of bottle walling.

 glass wall arches

We built frames out of 4” by 2” timber as you can see in the picture. We added crosspieces ever so often to stabilize the wall and make each bottle wall section into a manageable size. The construction was easy, we started by putting on two rows of cement mortar, with some insulation in the middle and put down our first row of bottles.  Any old jars, small bottles and glasses can be used. If you want to use wine bottles, you need to score and cut them first with a glass cutter.  Sometime it works to put a jar on top of a bottle and sometimes you need to put two jars together. We made up a bottle brick out of two cut wine bottles, and used it as a measure when we constructed all our bricks. For sealing the bottle bricks we used brown parcel tape and duct tape. When our first row was down, we put on more cement mortar, some insulation in the middle and more bricks, staggered in relation to the first row. It is very important to add small nails into the timber on the sides and into all the cross pieces to hold the cement mortar. We kept building in this manner, filling each section with  bottle bricks.

wall base

first layer


wall half way

To give the wall a beautiful finish on the inside, we added blue glass mosaic tiles in between all the bottle bricks and across the spaces where the crosspieces are. We smoothed out the cement mortar and all that is needed now is a final layer of grout on the inside walls and a good clean of all the bricks.

 glass wall detail

We wanted lots of light so decided to incorporate some old cut glass bowls into our walls. When the sun light hits the bowls it refracts in the cut glass. We have never seen this done before but we are very happy with the sparkling, bright result. We made these bricks by taping two similar size bowls together. They end up not as deep as the others, but this adds textural interest to the wall.

 glass wall bowl

On the outside we still need to finish up, by adding some more cement mortar and smooth out the wall. We are thinking about tiling the spaces in between the bottles and grout, for a durable, maintenance free wall.

glass wall outside

Cushions for pennies.

sofa cushions 1

Just before Christmas, on one of our common Charity shop rambles, we came across some lovely fabrics. The first was a light green, American screen printed fabric from Braemore Design, the second a turquoise design with branches and birds from Design Edition Limited, 1981 and the third an unknown dark blue and red, Eastern European looking fabric. We got them for the bargain price of circa €1 each. The question was what to do with these as there was not enough of any one fabric for a large project.  We are planning a sofa built into the wall in our extension and the choice fell upon using our lovely finds, to make large cushions  for it. We already had some Laura Ashley rose printed fabric, a gift from a neighbour,  that fit nicely into the design.

 sofa cushions 3

Patchwork has been used for hundreds of years to make use of smaller pieces of fabric and creating a beautiful whole. We decided to do a very simple version for our sofa cushions. Anyone with basic sewing skills can manage a project like this, and you can adjust it to suit your taste and requirements. Here follows a description of how we made ours, if you would like to give it a go.

sofa cushions 12

 We used some 65x65cm inner cushions from IKEA, so the squares of fabric needed to start out as 75x75cm squares. We prefer tearing the fabric squares over cutting them, as it makes for  perfect straight edges.  Fold your fabric square into a triangle corner to corner and press the fold with your iron. Cut on the fold and fold the remaining triangles again, press and cut. You will end up with your square cut up in four equal triangles.  For four cushions you need four different fabrics.  If your fabrics have an up and down in the design, you might want to keep them all in the right direction on your finished cushions.  Put them out in a line on the floor all in the same direction and take the top piece from your first square, the left piece from your second square, the bottom piece from your third square and the right piece from your forth square. Put the pieces together for your first cushion and move on to do the same thing again, but this time start with the left piece from your first square, the bottom piece from your second square and so on, until all the pieces are used up. Sew two pieces together, press the seams, sew the other two pieces together and finally sew the whole lot into a square. We pressed the seams from the back and sewed again, close to the seam. This makes for a decorative finish but also strengthens the covers and they can stand up to numerous washes.

 sofa cushions 7

We had some old curtains that would make great cushion backs, but they were white, not a wise choice with four teenagers in the house, so we dyed them in the washing machine into a neutral brown. We tore them down the middle and turned the pieces around, overlapping each other along the middle, to make a slit opening on the back of each cushion. Place your backing fabric facing right side up and the sewn squares on top, right side down. Pin and sew around the edge. Cut the corners close to the seam [see picture] and turn right side out. Press and stitch close to the edge and then again further in, to create a wing all around the edge.

 sofa cushions 2

sofa cushions 5

sofa cushions 6

sofa cushions 8

sofa cushions 9

Using  fabrics in this way is very satisfying as you end up with a cohesive design when starting out with quite different individual pieces. Using old fabrics is economical, fun and good for the environment. We made 8 large cushion covers for a total of €13.50. In the pictures the covers are modeled on our sofa in our combined living and bedroom. We can’t wait until we have our extension finished and they can be moved into their intended place.

sofa cushions 10

sofa cushions 11

Tiling your memories.

Fireplace detail 3

Before moving into our home in January 2013 we needed to fix the fireplace in the kitchen. It is an open fire that has a back boiler and the hot water it produces can be used for baths and to heat the radiators. Unfortunately it had not been properly installed so there was a huge cavity next to the boiler and fumes could escape into the kitchen. The fireplace was nicely tiled but all of it had to come down, due to the repairs we had to carry out. So we were left with a blank canvas. We wanted to reuse the white tiles that had been on there and the ones taken of the kitchen walls as well as some white tiles friends had given us. We also wanted to incorporate a lot of pieces of broken plates and china. Every time we go for a walk we always keep an eye open for pieces of broken crockery. We have found some lovely pieces in the garden of our house as well, when planting trees and shrubs. They are especially nice to include as they belong to the history of the house. Some of them could go back to the 1920s when the house was built. As we are a family of six with no dishwasher, we also get quite a few broken pieces of our own. In fact our dinner plates are all old, some from our parents and grandparents and whenever we see a nice old pattern in the charity shop we buy it, even if it is just one or two plates. In this way it does not matter when a plate breaks as we will be happy to recycle it in a mosaic project, and there are always replacements at the ready. Including old crockery, coins and memorabilia really makes your tiling project unique and personal. Our apologies as some images are slightly out of focus, but they will still give you an idea of the project.

 Fireplace 1

There were a couple of pipes going from the back boiler to the tank and we had to build a cover for them. When it was done it looked so much like a house, that we had no choice but to make it into one. To bring some energy into the design we decided to make swirls and spirals from all the small crockery pieces, representing movement and gusts of wind. All our white tiles were used as a calming background to the colourful swirls.

 Fireplace 2

For a job like this, the readymade tile adhesive you can buy in a big tub or bucket is the best thing. We used small plastic toothed spreaders, which you can get in your tile or hardware shop. It is a fiddly job but very meditative and rewarding. Keep checking that your work is flat by putting the palm of your hand against it. Only spread the adhesive over a small section at a time.

 Fireplace 3

When it was all set and dry we used the powdered grout, mixing some grey and white for a nice colour. Follow the instructions on the package and keep wiping all your little pieces carefully when the grout is half hard to remove it from the tops but leave it in the gaps. A second grouting might be necessary. We also added a big Ash log for a mantle piece.

 Fireplace finished.

Fireplace detail.

We found the lovely metal tiles around the frame in a tile skip outside our local tile shop. They were happy for us to take away as many tiles as we wanted, but please remember to bring gloves and ask politely if you are planning an excursion. We really hope you will get inspired to try a mosaic project of your own. A table top, flowerpot or pot stand will get you going and then there will be no stopping you.

Fireplace detail 2

Building a Gazebo with a living roof. Part 2.

winter 2014 259

Following on from our last post, with all the henge pieces nailed to the uprights we moved on to the roof. The easiest way to do that was to make a reciprocal roof. For this design you need an upright post called a ‘deadman’. The formula for the deadman = height of henge + ( diameter of roof beams (thin end) x number of roof beams ) this should stand on a block of wood that is easy to remove. With a reciprocal roof there is a hole in the middle where the beams do not touch. The smaller the hole the steeper the roof, the larger the shallower. We decided we wanted a 70 cm. diameter hole, so we put our deadman 35 cm. from the centre. The first roof beam goes from the top of one of the posts and leans on the deadman. The second roof beam leans on the first and we temporarily tied them together before nailing, to allow for some adjustments. We worked our way through to the last beam which is the tricky one as it goes over the previous beam and under the first. So all the beams are sitting on the one before. The following two pictures are from another roof but show the process clearly.

reciprocal roof.

Roof beams.

You can remove your deadman safely once all the beams have been nailed together and nailed to the top of the henges. Pre drilling the nail holes is advised to stop the wood from splitting. We left our deadman in place as the Leylandii is very springy and made a bouncy roof. We then strung polypropylene rope in a spiral to support the tarpaulin. We fixed it with wire staples to all the beams. We have not seen this technique used before but we wanted a cheap and easy way to have some support between the beams. It works well and we have since used it on our extension. The polypropylene does not break down as it is not exposed to UV light.

Roof with ropes.

Centre of roof.

The tarpaulin was draped over the ropes and cut off, leaving an excess overhanging the edges. We then rolled this around a piece of wood, in each section and nailed it on top of the beams. This makes a solid edge that stops the soil from washing away. We then covered it with a layer of material, we had been given some carpet backing that was suitable. You could use hessian, old canvas or old carpets. We covered this with a thin layer of soil and seeded it, the roots of the plants grew into the fabric and bound the roof together. We also used some bird netting to hold the soil in place while the plants were growing. It is still there and now the whole roof is very green and flowers grow all over it. We used Clover and mixed meadow flower seeds as well as the grass that was in the soil. This year we have added some Nasturtium seeds and we are hoping they will trail over the edge. We had some off cuts of wood that we used for low walls. On each upright we added a piece of wood to each side that we nailed the off cuts to.

Gazebo view.


For the floor we put down some quarry dust to level it and then a layer of permeable plastic weed control followed by a layer of Leylandii mulch. This has worked really well, with no weeds after nearly two years. This gazebo cost next to nothing. One bag of cement, one reinforcement-bar, tarpaulin, a coil of rope, some 4inch and 6inch nails, some 2×1 rolling pieces of wood and some flower seeds. All in all less than €100. A very low price to pay for a practical, beautiful and comfortable outdoor room. We use it all year around, for meals, playing music, having friends around and doing homework. Have a go, it is quite easy and fun. 

Gazebo in winter.

Building a Gazebo with a living roof. Part 1.

We live in the West of Ireland. It rains a lot here and we wanted somewhere to sit under cover in the garden. After we built our Gazebo, we discovered it was also a lovely place to sit in the shade on a hot summers day. When we moved in to our home it was surrounded with thick, tall Leylandii hedges. There was no light in most of the garden and the whole place felt very enclosed and cut off from the surrounding country side. We decided to replace the hedges with espalier Apple trees, Oak, Beech, Hawthorn, Hazel, Chestnut, Elder, and some other varieties. This is much better for wildlife.


It left us with lots of cut down trunks and smaller branches. We mulched all the small bits for paths and the Gazebo floor. We used much of what was left to construct the Gazebo, choosing the most interesting shapes. This is a project much easier than it looks, so anyone can have a go. The main construction was finished in four days with only two of us working. A few of you could do it over a couple of weekends, giving you time for the concrete in the bases to set.

Start of by deciding how big you want it. Ours is about 3.5 meters across on the inside. Remember that a big Gazebo will require thicker wood. Put a stake in the middle and mark out a circle using a piece of string. Divide it into eight equal parts or any number you choose.


Getting ready.

We put our uprights on bases as our original trees were trimmed to 1.8 meters. This left our timber a little short. You could do this or dig holes for your small concrete foundations. We put our bases straight on the ground using cardboard moulds. We lined these with stones and poured concrete in the middle with a piece of reinforcement-bar in the center protruding about 10 cm. We drilled a hole in the base of each post and just stood them on the bases. The next step is joining all the tops of the upright post with a ‘henge’ piece.

Concrete base.

In our next post we will tell you how we made our roof.

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