Project #1 - Own Home

From Mockery to Rockery – A Pinterest-inspired Garden Renovation

At the end of August, around my birthday, I found myself on annual leave as per usual. I had 12 days of free time to rest and focus on my own needs, but also to catch up on some much needed maintenance of my own home.

For good reason, our bungalow renovation project has taken priority, but since the work there has wound down I’ve gained even more time to focus on my own home. My house has a tiny, but prominent, front garden and this became a priority, and I had a load of fun doing it, too.

I wanted to overhaul this space because, quite honestly, it became a mess. The reason why it became a mess is because of last year’s terrible events, which meant I couldn’t look after it at all. It’s taken some time after that ordeal for me to regain the strength to do something like this, as this kind of work is much more physically demanding than anything I did at the bungalow. The space, which was always called The Rockery, became not only an embarrassment as it was visible to everyone passing by, but an ugly reminder of a time I’d rather forget.

Here’s the “before” shot.

I also tackled a couple of strips of gravel either side of the front door. These had weed membranes but they failed to keep weeds at bay.

In fact, I tackled these strips first. I armed myself with the following tools and materials:

  • Trowel
  • Rake
  • New weed membranes
  • Scissors
  • Some more of the Cotswold Stone gravel that is already here, as it needed topping up and redistributing
  • A chair to sit on when I needed to give my legs a break (getting down on the ground is an issue now)
  • A mask, as the dry weather made the underlying soil very dusty

I raked out as many of the stones as possible and ripped out the old membranes. This had the effect of pulling out a lot of the weeds. The left hand strip is surprisingly deep, going down perhaps 15-20 cm in the middle.

I cut the membrane to size and concealed the edge by poking it downwards and ensuring the stones properly covered it. The process was then repeated for the other side, which was easier as it’s narrower and shallower.

Some additional gravel was bought from B&Q. When I did this initially I got it from Tesco, but I couldn’t find any in the stores near me so they may have stopped selling it.

I am aware that in this next photo there are even weeds growing under the door behind the slabs, but here’s how the entrance looked at this point. There’s some dirt about but I’m hoping that a few days of rain will wash this away.

Now onto the Rockery. To begin with, the process was very much the same. This patch didn’t even have a membrane at all so I raked out the slate, pulled out all those dead weeds, and laid one. I then put all the slate back on top.

It’s worth pointing out at this stage that here in the UK, we have had an extremely hot and dry summer. We have even had 40 degrees Celsius for the first ever time, as well as pretty much the driest summer on record. Norfolk, like many counties, is in a drought. Lots of gardens have really suffered as people have struggled to keep them watered, including me. I am aware that for that reason, the lavender doesn’t look its best right now, and neither does that bush by the wall.

I needed to get some more slate to cover the membrane, but it was at this point where I decided maybe it was worth not just restoring the space, but really making something of it. I got myself on Pinterest and made a new board called “Rockery” and saved a few ideas. One I really liked involved stones spilling out of an urn and cascading down, resembling a river. Having considered several different ideas I decided I liked that idea best and I was really inspired, so I gave it a go myself.

I visited lots of different places, but couldn’t find an urn. I had to make do with a plant pot.

I used the large stones already here to set it up at an angle and placed a bit of the new gravel (marble pebbles from B&Q) on the stones off to the sides to give it some depth.

There’s a shop near me called Bulldog Barns, which sells various things that people have brought in for resale. It’s mostly shabby chic, which isn’t really my thing but I still like going there as some things are really nice and unique. I saw they had some rocks that had been hollowed out and they act as plant pots. I’d not seen anything like this before, so I got one, and then another a few days later on another visit.

I put cyclamens in this one. The other one, shown a little further down in this post, contains pansies, celosia argentea and dianthus.

The finishing touches were to fill the second planter and add some larger stones to divide the two textures and give the impression of a river bank.

This garden is tiny – just three square metres. It’s common for people to spend a lot of money on their dream gardens, as in thousands of pounds or even tens of thousands if it’s a big home. This project clearly had a much smaller spend due to its size (it was about £250 all in).

It’s money well spent, though, and I’m not just talking about my own space here. I mean in general. Here are the ways this project has benefitted me:

  • For the first time in a while, I’ve felt proud of my own home. The house looks so much better to passing people and first impressions are important.
  • I had a lot of fun doing it. This was definitely time off well spent.
  • Having a garden to tend to is great for mental health.
  • A well-kept garden can even add to the value of a home and it’s likely this has done given the condition before.
  • I’ve gained skills working with outdoor spaces.

Often people give tips in blog posts like this. I’m not sure I have the level of experience with garden work to give advice but I can at least list a few of the thoughts that went into this project.

  • Lavender is a prominent feature in people’s front gardens around here. I wanted to choose flowers of colours that would complement this.
  • I spent a fair amount of time looking up ideas beforehand and deciding what would work best for the space.
  • I’m aware of the concept that odd numbers work best when arranging flowers. Though there are two planters, one has three bunches of flowers and the other has five.
  • I wanted to keep it low maintenance and rockeries lend themselves to being easier to look after than a traditional garden with lots of plants. You also tend to get fewer weeds with a correctly laid membrane and a decently thick layer of gravel. I think the previous membranes failed due to me, through inexperience, laying the membrane on top of weeds thinking they’d die off. They didn’t.
  • Because rockeries have more rocks and fewer plants, they need watering less. This house doesn’t have a water supply downstairs so the only way to water the plants is to fetch it from upstairs so lots of trips up and down the stairs would be necessary. The more plants I have, the worse this would get.

It looks like someone’s cat approves of my work as well.

See you soon,


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