Charmed? I’m Not So Sure

It was lovely this morning and after my last post about warm colours in interiors, I wanted to see if the local gardens reflected the seasonal colours of nature. Not yet was the answer, but in general front gardens locally were in a pitiful state. What a disappointment!

I live in an area where there are a number of estates that were developed by benefactors in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries for returned servicemen and their families, so from the buildings, there is charm a plenty, but I had to look really hard to find any gardens that reflected this and provided what the estate agents call ‘kerb appeal’. Even those with sale boards looked unloved and neglected. Many had motorcycles parked in them, some had overflowing bins and others were simply full of weeds – some taller than I. Because I’ve always liked the buildings in this area, I’ve assumed, automatically I suppose, that the gardens lived up to the same level of beauty. How wrong I was!

front garden parking

But why is this? For someone on a tight budget, with little cash to spare, spending some time in the garden offers big reward for small outlay. Seriously.

If you’re keen on doing work inside, anything you can do in the garden will be doubly rewarding because the changes you make allow you to grown plants that will give you continuous pleasure throughout the year. Buying a big planter and popping a box ball or bay tree in it – for example – and standing it by the front door, will set you back about £50 – less than your food bill for the week, most likely.

And why did I say a big planter? Because once it’s filled with soil, no-one will be able to lift it and spirit it away!

bay trees either side of door

Gardening is not a specialist sport, yet new homeowners seem to be really afraid of it. I learned about gardens and plants from my mother and grandmothers, all keen plants women. I don’t profess to have a very great knowledge at all, but the minute I found myself with a garden that needed tending, I couldn’t bear the idea of it looking like I didn’t love it. Not only that, being outdoors and watching the local wildlife become accustomed to your presence is lovely. You feel really connected to your neighbourhood. It’s incredible that we can live in such a built up area, but still have such a diversity of birds live all around us.

So, I started by asking a lot of questions. Garden centres love to give advice and some run loyalty schemes too. It’s so inspiring to talk to someone who really knows their subject and then to be able to act on their words. (In the next instalment of the Shed Roof Project you will see exactly what I mean.) Don’t forget, everyone has to start somewhere – even Alan Titchmarsh must once have known nothing about gardens! The most basic of equipment will get you going. Secateurs, a hand trowel and hand fork are enough for a general garden tidy up. But, if things are out of control, you’ll need a full sized garden fork (about £30) and buy gardening gloves – dealing with roses or blackberry is hard work without them.

How do you know what is a weed and what isn’t, I hear you ask? Again, to quote Alan Titchmarsh, a weed is only a plant in the wrong place, so even trees can be considered weeds if you take that point of view and anything in your garden that you don’t like – or is evident in wild profusion – can probably come out, or at least be controlled forcibly.

The very best thing about gardens is that like hair, they grow back! And then you start to feel more confident and actually start to choose what you want to grow, what you want to pave and what you want to enhance. It’s no more challenging than decorating a room and with so much talk about indoor/outdoor living, your garden is living space.

So, from my wanders I’ve collected a selection of the best front gardens that are achievable for ‘beginners’. Yes, some of them may be rented, but why does that mean you can’t take pleasure from where you live? Anything in a planter can go with you when you move!

maisonette entrance
maisonettes with toning front doors

These two show what a difference having something green around your front door does to the impact of the property – so much nicer than motorcycles. If you simply can’t plant anything, then having both maisonette doors painted in toning shades looks like you care about where you live.

door furniture

Giving some thought to your ‘door furniture’ (knocker, post slot and house number) really co-ordinates the appearance of your front garden. It’s simple and effective, though a more expensive option than putting in planters – hardware is costly!

paint used on front wall

My favourite! I love the way these homeowners have co-ordinated their window trim colour and pulled it forward to the front wall. Then, they’ve contained the privet hedge inside the wall. It looks really smart and quite sculptural when contrasted with the wisteria climbing on the house.

cottage simplicity

The owners of this cottage have done all three things – co-ordinated door furniture, paint colour and added plants to the front. Both the wisteria and privet are young plants which over time will take shape according to how the owners trim them. This really is about you choosing how you want the plants to look. With regular trimming the roots establish and the plant grows more densely.

landscaping outside deco house


These last pictures two are aspirational. Both have been done by landscapers and have had careful thought given to how the planting and hard landscaping (paving) will impact on the property. What works in both of these projects is the way the materials have been used to compliment the building.

The Deco house for example, is of a liver coloured brick, its not the most attractive colour but because the steps to the front door have been created in sandstone, this adds a warmth to the brick and really enhances the entrance. Using the pale limestone gravel adds further lightness to the front which is east facing and is shaded from midday. They’ve layered the colours used by keeping the door pale and repeating it on the shutters then, simply adding some decorative lighting completes the structure of the project and the plantings are able to soften the brickwork by breaking up the hard horizontal lines. Lovely.

Finally, the courtyard garden is part of a new development behind the cottage featured above. The developer has acknowledged how important the exterior is to the success of the project by making sure that the pathways running up to the apartments go through the garden. The plantings are simple: lavenders, geraniums, box balls and shrubs, (with fig trees planted under the raised balconies – that could be a problem – they grow huge) but this look is easy to maintain and that is why they’ve chosen it. This is a good starting point – find the colours you like in a garden and then source the plants that will give you the easiest way of achieving it. Go on! I know you can do it.

Warm Colours Warm

As the weather changes – we were promised sunshine this weekend and 24 degrees – it’s easy to see why warm colours are much more inviting. Regardless of fashion and trends, unconsciously we veer towards warmer tones because we want to feel warm at home, both physically and emotionally. If we don’t get the brightness of sunlight outside, we can at least create a warmth inside with the colours we choose when we decorate.

The Colour Wheel

Naturally reds, oranges and yellows have a warmer feel – on the Colour Wheel they are known as the warm palette. You can see that they are grouped together and that roughly half the wheel has a warmer visual tone. It may help you to know that red and yellow are primary colours – they can not be created by mixing any other colours. Orange is a secondary colour, created by mixing red and yellow, which is why they relate so well – orange is the child of red and yellow.

Within this warm family, there are other shades created by mixing orange with yellow or with red. These are called tertiary colours and it is this kinship that gives us the autumnal shades that are neither very red or very yellow, what we’ve become accustomed to calling earth tones. This tonal value continues into the diluted colours where the colour is less intense – and it is these ‘neutrals’ that make good background partners to support stronger colours – from either a cool or warm palette.

Designers Guild paint chart

What you may not know though, is that colour creates an emotional response, which is something that Colour Psychologist Karen Haller helps her clients understand. Humans respond to colour – black and yellow means danger, red means stop and green means go. And the colours opposite each other on the Colour Wheel have the effect of competing with each other.

Called complementary colours, they increase the intensity of their opposite partner. To decode it slightly, each primary colour (red, yellow and blue) has a secondary colour opposite it created by mixing the other two primary colours together, so the complementary colour of red is green, blue equals orange and yellow equals purple. They add a visual pop that can sometimes be very striking.

Used to effect, this can be the beginning of a very individual scheme, but if a pairing as dramatic as this was unintentional, the result can be unsettling. Whether we know it or not, the colour on our walls will have an impact on how we feel about our homes. And this is where the visual warmth of even neutral shades gives us a sense of comfort or unease.

balancing warm and soothing shades

If your life is very fast paced and you are constantly busy, then a room that is decorated in vibrant shades of red and orange may do the opposite of relaxing you, but if you were to use them as accent colours with a more soothing background, you’d be creating a balance of intensity and calm, which would allow you to destress, to use your home as a way of coping with the outside world.

In using soft whites as the background, the vibrant tones of this leather sofa introduce a level of colour that invites you to sit and relax. Not only is the leather a practical option in a family home, but even in this very sunny room, red really does mean stop. It links to the other furnishings without actually dominating and simply welcomes you in.

red invites you to stop and sit

Because colour creates a response within us, it helps to know what you want to achieve from a room. Do you want it to soothe or to stimulate? To feel warm or cool? If cooking is a creative pass time for you, a very white room may not be inspiring. If your bathroom is where you go to wind down, lots of small tiles may feel too busy, if your bedroom gets the setting sun, cool colours may be more soothing – even though the base colour of the scheme may be an earth tone, from our warm palette above.

bath, kitchen, bedroom

This way of thinking may not be ‘on trend’, but interior space is about comfort and what makes you feel at home. Twice a year the designers create new collections of fabrics, wallpapers and furniture to tempt and delight us, but if these trends don’t fit with your idea of what home is, you don’t have to embrace them.

After all, spending money on something that doesn’t make you feel comfortable, isn’t money well spent.

Visible Storage

The minute the new school year starts, I get in the mood for a good clean out. I don’t think I can call it a spring clean in September when it’s been feeling so autumnal, but maybe it has something to do with having the children around all summer – mess just seems to follow in their wake. All those shoes can go back into wardrobes again, all the books/dvd’s/games can be put back onto shelves, all those stray socks – can be binned!

But, seriously, there’s something very therapeutic about knowing your possessions have places to ‘live’ and then putting them there! Especially if it is somewhere you can see everyday as you walk around your home.

displaying favourite things

And this is where the decorating magazines miss the point – no disrespect – I absolutely love poring over them, the photographs are always fabulous and beautifully styled, but they are geared toward aspirations, not the every day. They forget that display space and storage doesn’t have to be custom build or site specific to be effective. It simply has to be in an appropriate place.

For example the piano above is rarely used and sits in this home’s front room. The patina of the wood has such a pleasing glow to it, that creating a display space from the lid enhances both the piano, the objects and finishes the room more sympathetically than a built in alcove unit would do.

What I’m getting at is all homes have furniture that doesn’t get used very often which could be given a secondary use to display or store your possessions decoratively. Look around, so long as it isn’t in danger of being knocked over by ‘passing traffic’, it can become storage – or to be more precise Display AS Storage, because when you think about the job being done, display is simply visible storage.

shelving to enhance a room

To illustrate what I mean, in this family home, the piano is used almost daily. They didn’t want anything placed on the lid that would hinder them opening it as needed. The bookshelves had been built simply to contain books, until they realised they had nowhere else for photographs and objects. So with a careful re-arrangement, the books have been placed to the ends of the shelves to allow the photographs and objects to be the central focus. The shelves now ‘display’ the items they house and enhance the red running through the scheme.

display space

In contrast, this home-owner (who, by the way also owns a piano!) has a collection of china that she specifically wanted to house in the rear reception room, so the shelving was built around the sizes of the objects to be placed there. The arrangement was chosen to show each piece to advantage and to enhance the deco feel of the interior.

In collaboration with her designer, the client edited her possessions according to the scheme she wanted – if she felt it no longer worked – out it went. This kind of approach makes every object a focal point and for the collector, not known for minimalist tendencies, allows their home to have a certain tranquility. Nothing outside this collection is housed in this space.

storage display in a studio space

Finally this studio space houses both business files and decorative objects. As the studio is a creative space, the functional nature of the storage hasn’t been allowed to dictate the arrangement of the objects housed. This may not be as practical as filling the shelves to their limits, but in terms of making any space inviting, if thought is given to how the storage is going to be used, it can still be decorative or even become a feature.

And that, you will find very pleasing!

The Shed Roof Project – part 1…

I have a bit of a thing about sheds. There’s something very pleasing about their proportions, maybe it’s a ghost of my childhood love of doll’s houses. Anyway, earlier this year it became apparent that my green shed roof was in serious danger of bringing the whole shed down in a crumpled heap of bricks and ivy. It looked so beautiful though!

snowy garden
ivy clad shed

And the first thing I want to say is, I had been seduced by how it looked. Don’t be fooled by beauty when it comes to property! If it’s unsound – and you own it – it isn’t beautiful. It will cost you money and invite so much unwanted advice that you will wish you’d never raised the subject.

Most people want to make money from their property when they sell and being romantic about it is like saying you don’t care about your investment. It doesn’t matter in the slightest if ivy is a wonderful food source for wildlife – if your shed is like a swamp inside (and believe me, mine was – I put an old school bag of my son’s out there and within a month, it was covered in mildew) its a waste of usable space and you need to reclaim it from the plant – or the neglect – that is strangling it.

Ivy is a thug, if you don’t keep it well trimmed it will choke everything, plants, buildings and gateways. My added problem is that the ivy ‘bush’ (more like constrictor) was owned by my neighbour, so I had to pluck up the courage and go and talk to someone I had never met (the ivy comes from the garden behind mine) and tell him I wanted to ‘kill’ his plant!

He was surprisingly nice about it actually and said that nothing had been done to the ivy for about 30 years! Thirty years is a long time not to maintain something and as I’ve owned the house for two years now, there was nothing I could do but what I had planned – remove and replace the shed roof. So right there, I had the task of replacement and the neglect had not been mine.

removing the ivy

Richard got up there with a hand saw and ripped that massive plant apart. My job was to cart away the rubbish…

Nine trips to the dump later – and that was just the ivy, not the roof covering – we had to stop because Richard was due to have surgery on his shoulder…and this was heavy work. Sheer dogged determination, it was a horrible job and right at that moment I was so annoyed with the people who had owned the house before me. How could they have done nothing to keep that ivy in check?

To be continued…