So far, other than the the blog about keeping the cows out, I haven’t mentioned much about my outside space. Having so much to focus on inside, I’ve been taking a bit of a ‘head in sand’ approach to the outside – if I pretend it doesn’t exist, maybe it will sort itself out. With the inevitable result that I now have 2½ acres of total wilderness, mostly consisting of 6ft high weeds, nettles and thistles. A haven for all that wildlife I mentioned in my last blog!
But with the second conservatory finally installed, (the saga of which which requires a whole blog to itself), I decided I would make the effort to tidy up the little square of ground that sits outside the kitchen and the cottage.
It’s South-West facing, and a lovely sun-trap in the evenings. So, my plan was to build a decking, with some strategically placed raised herb beds at either end; the perfect place to sit out in the long summer evenings with a G&T, the scents of mint, rosemary, thyme, wafting around in the breeze – (though obviously, this being Scotland, still well wrapped up in jumpers, scarves and gloves and being eaten alive by midges). You get the idea…
So I found a website where you just put your garden measurements in and it works out everything you need. And duly placed my order for 16m² of decking. For once there were no delivery issues, so it was all there waiting to be built the following weekend. Excellent. An afternoon’s work and it’ll be G&T all round!
Well how hard can it be? I mean, I’m probably showing my age here, but I watched that ‘Groundforce’ programme on telly in the 90’s. That chap Tommy could apparently knock up a garden decking area in a couple of hours.
Huh. He’s either a builder genius, or that was TV trickery. Or, more likely, he had a whole team of willing workers to call upon.
As with everything else at the barn, building my decking was never going to be that straight-forward.
Problem number 1: Size matters
Well to be honest, this one was entirely self-inflicted. What’s that DIY mantra – “Measure twice, cut once”.
Right. Well I did measure, more than twice. But kept forgetting to write the measurements down. Or wrote them down on random scraps of paper that I couldn’t find later. Or wrote them down in a very vague way that didn’t really take account of where the fence and the gate were….
So I had to redesign the whole thing after all the supplies had been delivered.
Two areas of decking of 3.6m x 2.4m and 3m x 2.4m became two areas of decking of 3m x 1.8m and 4.8m x 2.4m with an overlapping step. Lots more work involved than originally intended!
Problem number 2: rotten rock
I recall a conversation with the local farmer in the early days of the build. He told me he’d considered buying the place himself, but had decided against it because “it’s all built on rotten rock”. Not having a clue what he was talking about I just nodded, smiled and agreed in a vague non-committing way.
I found out what he meant the first time I tried to dig a hole in the ground to put my fence posts up – I don’t dig holes in my ground. I have to chisel them.
I needed 26 post holes for my decking. It took forever to dig/chisel them out.
If I was lucky, I could get down about 20cm before I hit rock. Sometimes boulders or bits of rock small enough to dig out; sometimes large areas of soft rock that could be broken up with a chisel. But occasionally a large piece of granite too hard to break and too big to dig out. Which meant starting all over again and moving the hole, or making an executive decision that it was deep enough to safely secure the post.
(A word to the wise here – don’t try this at the end of a long day, when you’re tired, cold, damp and the light is failing. You will inevitably miss the chisel and bring a 4lb club hammer down on your hands; I didn’t actually break my finger, but it was unusable for a few days!)
Problem number 3: building on a hill
The other major problem I had (which I bet Tommy never did) was trying to construct the frame halfway up a hill single-handedly. In an ideal world you should construct the frame on flat ground so you can keep it all nice and square as you build. But just like inside the barn, there is nothing flat or even about my land, so my frame was twisting about in every direction as I tried to put it together.
At times it felt like I was wrestling with a giant wooden octopus
I also made the mistake of constructing the frame before I dug the holes. With the result that I ended up have to saw one or two of the legs off to accommodate the ‘impossible to move rocks’ in the bottom of some of the holes.
Fortunately, once it was all concreted in place, it was all nice and square and so the rest was relatively easy. The decking planks I’d ordered were pre-cut to the correct length, so even with all my last minute redesigning, there wasn’t too much cutting involved.
Now all I need is a bit of summer and a G&T. Oh, and some way of keeping the midges at bay…