I ♥ my garden - episode 2 - compost and espalier fruit

Monday, 20 June 2016

Hello there. Seems like I have a lot of catching up to do… Again. 

In my last post, I left the garden looking lush and green and halfway decent back in October. And then things of course spiraled out of control..#ehem 

But let's start on a cheery note first, shall we ?! Super fast forward to right now.

Hello flowers & vegs (and hügelkultur beds)

But to get there, it's been a long, bleak season... Fast backwards to December when everything just looked miserable. 


And then in late winter,  I put some of my plans into action and ruined (what was left of) the lawn in the process…


So here's the plan. Basically, I’m going to split up this garden into two parts with a very different look and feel. The front part (close to the house and terrace) will be a kitchen and ornamental garden, with espaliered fruit bushes and trees on the left, south-facing wall (as seen here), a big vegetable patch in the middle (so it would have been bye-bye lawn anyway)and a big herbaceous border to the right.
The second and rear part of the garden - starting at the arching hazelnut - will have a wilder, woodland garden feel. I haven’t given this part too much thought yet, as my priority for this year is to sort out the front half. Flowers and food - that’s right up my sleeve. Right!

So this first phase was all about  putting the structure and basics of the garden into place. 

The amazing gardening guys from La Ferme Nos Pilifs came by in February and started turning some of my plans into reality. I’m very grateful for the fantastic job and all the hard work they did. So if you’re in Brussels and need some help with your garden, go hire these guys !

They built this amazing composting corner from scratch, which is prolonged by a soft fruit hedge (on the left here - with wires for raspberries and blackberries to climb along). 

The whole thing is also creating a physical separation between the two parts of the garden, but with enough space to the right to easily access the back (I am thinking of adding a garden gate here - for no particular reason other than I think that garden gates are über cute. We’ll see.). 
Once the fruit and the pieris in front of the compost (plus all the other plants I’m planning to add) will grow, they will also create a visual separation from the back garden and avoid the tunnel effect that you often have in these long, narrow town gardens. Blocking the straight view to the end of the garden will give you the illusion that the space is much bigger than it already is. Or so I’ve read in some fancy gardening books.

Of course the kitties were eager to do their quality check


And from there on, it's been all about the pretty stuff.

I ♥ my garden - episode 1 - the original jungle

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Just a word of warning. This started out as a quick post intending to give you an overview of what the garden first looked like and maybe lightly hinting at some changes I intend to undertake. Hahaha. Good joke ! I ended up with a 5 page Word document (yes, I like to prepare my blog posts in Word… call me nerd) and still, I hadn’t finished.
So in an effort not to bore my readers to death, I’ve split this topic up into several posts. Not sure how many, since I’m still not finished… We’ll see.

But here we go, with episode 1 - the “before” ! Which in many ways is actually much nicer than the “during” (no “after” yet, I’m afraid). Anyway. I’ll shut up now and get to it.

One of the main drives behind my decision to move was the yearning for a bigger outdoor space and ideally a garden. Yes, my cat herd would certainly benefit from more space, but most importantly so would I. If you’ve followed along over the years, you will have noticed that I’m not much of a traveler, but I do love to visit the UK. I mean, with car boot sales and antiques centres on every corner, could there be a better holiday destination for a self-professed vintage addict ? But over time (and I’ve been visiting England for more than 25 years), I also fell in love with that particularly British enthusiasm for fine gardens and gardening. One of my greatest pleasures during my UK vacations is visiting historic gardens and assisting my brother in his allotment and tiny suburban garden. Call me freak.
So when I visited my (future) new home, I immediately fell in love, not only with the charming interior, but also with the enormous outdoor space and all the potential it offered.

Here’s another pic I took during the second walk-through back in June (I can’t believe how lush and green everything was then !).

And here are some later ones from back in October (I think I took these right after signing tthe purchase deed).

As you can see, it’s a typical, rectangular walled town garden (with the neighbors' very nosy ginger cat paying a visit). I’m still impressed by its size though: a good 6 m wide by 30 m long, so about 180 m² in total (that’s about 1940 square feet in American). It’s even the biggest garden I visited during my home search and - bloody hell ! - I can’t believe it’s mine… MINE ! Btw, it makes me laugh when I hear this sort of space called a “small” garden on shows like BBC’s Gardener’s World… I mean, come on. It’s more than double the size of my flat. And to have this much outdoor space right inside a busy city centre area? It’s a real luxury ! And by no means “small”.

As you can see on the photos everything was pretty much left to its own devices for years. Shrubs are consequently very overgrown and my building neighbors used part of it as a dumping ground for a lot of their rubbish (I’m still trying to get them to move their stuff. Arrrggghh)... There is one very lovely feature though - about half-way into the garden - a very old and massive hazelnut bush (more of a tree really) is arching over the whole width of the garden and creating a very agreeable seating area underneath.
I’m sure I’ll mention this more than once. But dude, am I looking forward for spring and summer !

Floor plan time

Friday, 19 February 2016

Before I plunge headlong into decoration rants, I think this would be an appropriate time to help you get a better sense of the layout.
Several followers on Instagram commented on how big the space looked. But I think it's mostly the impressive 4.80m ceiling height that gives this impression. Plus having posted mainly photos of the empty space certainly helps. Plus having posted mostly photos of the empty space certainly helps. But believe me, now that my equally impressive amount of stuff is in here, it feels much less spacious... According to the architect's floor plan my home is "only" about 75m² (that's 807 square feet according to Google). So I think we can all agree it's actually a rather modest size.

It has a classic layout for a Brussels apartment, in that it has 3 enfilade rooms - sort of a 19th century idea of an open floor plan - with a bedroom and a bathroom in a lateral annex (the bathroom annex usually being a later addition). One room flowing into another and those amazing doorways aligning with each other, definitely is a lovely feature. It does however present certain design challenges as well - the most important one being the lack of natural light in the middle room. But more on that another time.

 Let's start our tour with the front room (the one at the bottom of the floor plan). In previous posts it appeared in all its baby, ehem, light blue glory. It has two beautiful oak frame windows towards the street (the ones with the art nouvau flower patterns), an awesome white marble fireplace (sadly non functioning) and it used to have an original double door towards the building hallway, which I had moved to close off the wall behind them. 

If you're curious to see what this room looks like now, here's a little peek.

Like I said. Not so empty anymore.

Let's move on to the middle room, shall we ? It's about the same size as the front room and has the same original oak flooring. The original mantle also still lives here. Although in this instance I can’t say I’m too overjoyed with that, as - how would I put it politely - this fireplace tends somewhat towards the Victorian gothic (horror) style... (Nothing a good old black wall can’t fix though). Besides the lack of light, this room also presents another difficulty, as the entrance door to the apartment goes straight into this room. No hall. Not even a vestibule. You open the door and tada - you’re right in the living room…

This gives you a tiny preview.

Moving along to the back of the apartment (towards the garden), in the third - but much narrower - en-suite room, you will find the kitchen. This room has amazing cement floor tiles and the best light of all, thanks to large sliding doors to the outside. When I moved in, it was however nearly empty and I had to have a new/temporary kitchen installed. As it turns out, not as fun as it sounds… Definitely more on that at a later time.

Another IG glimpse.

Finally to the right of the kitchen, you access the bedroom and, through there, the bathroom. Yes, I know, for most people this might not be an ideal set-up, as guests have to go through the rather private bedroom if they want to make it the loo… But - not to boast here - I’m probably not most people… For years I’ve been showing bedroom, bathroom and various private parts (of my home !) all over the web. So “privacy” is a relative notion as far as I’m concerned. Anyway. Trust me. I already have some ideas on how to improve this layout in any case.

Hhmm. Apparently I didn’t take any IG snapshotes of the bathroom… I’ll try and remediate this during the weekend.

So here we are. Now you know exactly where everything is.

Renovations fast forward

Friday, 12 February 2016

I admire how some bloggers buy a fixer upper and then spend an amazing amount of time and energy doing all the renovations themselves. Learning how to tile, do electrical, rebuild whole parts of their houses via youtube. All the while, holding down a full time job and being generally super stylish all over the interweb…

Let me spare you the suspense. I am clearly not one those super humans ! Nor do I want to put undue pressure on myself in becoming one. I have exactly zero interest (or patience) in acquiring certain skills. Calling in the pros and having the job done in a minimum amount of time and a maximum amount of quality and perfectionism - that is my preferred way of tackling a building job.

So if you’re looking for blog content about grueling house renovations - move along ! The best I can offer you is this post, because, as mentioned in my previous missive, when I bought my new home it was pretty much in tip top condition. And that is just fine by me.

As you can see, the previous owner had already spared no expense doing a really good quality renovation. All the electricity had been redone and was up to code. The walls had been newly plastered and painted. The bathroom is brand new. She installed double glazing in the original front windows. She even hired a specialist to restore the “art nouveau” glass insets. And she paid special attention to maintaining all the original 19th century features that give this apartment it’s special charm (floors, doors, mouldings and mantles are all original).

I mean look at these pictures. It was all pretty much move in ready…

Remember these are only the “before” pics, right ? Right !

So what did I really have to change here, you’re probably wondering ?! Well. Some things had to go for purely esthetical reasons. Blue and beige wall colours ? Not my thing. The bathroom and kitchen sinks ? Not my taste either…Having a surround build around the circuit breaker panel in the bedroom ? That goes without saying.

Other jobs - like extra insulation on the exterior bathroom walls - were however a real necessity. So was having the wooden floors sealed - with an extra mat finish (!). Because you know, when you live with an unruly cat herd who loves to wee, puke and occasionally poo where they’re not supposed to… you enjoy having floors that are easy to clean and do not stain… New gas and water line in the kitchen ? Also a must have.

Removing the double doors from the front room (the ones going out to the building hall) and rebuilding the wall ? That was partly done for practical reasons (less noise and more energy efficiency) and aesthetics as well. Otherwise I wouldn’t have had a large wall in that room against which to place furniture, decor and plants.

For documentation sake, here's a few pics of the whole process.

I’m proud to announce : none of the above I did myself ! Yes, I hired a building company to do all the heavy lifting for me. And like I said, that is just fine by me. I’m very pleased with the job they’ve done. If you’re in the Brussels region and in need of a serious builder, do contact BBCS sprl. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Now that the boring (renovation) stuff is out of the way, let’s move on to the fun bits, shall we ?

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