Monday, August 13, 2012

The Cottage at Belle Hill

I always wanted a dollhouse when I was a little girl, and the Cottage at Belle Hill has become like a life-sized version of that dream dollhouse. Originally this little cottage was the slave quarters/kitchen for the main house and had been moved (as we’ve discovered) twice in its 200-year history on the property to this spot where it sits now.

Twenty-four years ago it had deteriorated to not much more than a shed. Then it underwent its first renovation, which included the addition of electricity, plumbing, a little kitchen in the corner, and the old ladder to the loft was replaced with actual stairs. It still only had two rooms and the loft, but it was quite functional at the time as a little Guesthouse.

By 2010 it was looking a bit worse for wear, so we decided to fix it up again and this time add an addition. This is how it looked at the beginning of the second renovation.

So we drew up the plans, framed in and roofed the new room….

And took out the back wall on what was the kitchen side of the house.

The entire renovation was a tremendous amount of work, but it was also a lot of fun. Especially after the construction part was finished and it was time to start painting the dollhouse. I admit I did get a bit carried away with the colors, but I was inspired by this funky little place we’d stayed in a few years earlier in Queenscliff Australia. The trick was to incorporate that funky look into a little country cottage. I ended up sitting on an upside down bucket for days in the empty house with seemingly hundreds of paint chips trying to make up my mind. When I’d finally made my choices I wasn’t at all sure how crazy it would look when I was done, but decided the only way to find out was just to do it and see.

What was once the old kitchen….

Became the new sitting room….

The old sitting room became the new bedroom…

The old bathroom was extended to include a laundry room…

And the new kitchen was born…

The stairs to the loft were redone as well, and some repairs were done in the loft around the old chimney which included removing an old stove pipe that use to lead up from the woodstove in the old kitchen…


I think it came out quite well in the end, even if it did end up a bit funkier than I thought it would be. But funky or not it’s quite a cozy little place for family and friends to stay when they come visiting. And it was really a fun project.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Overhaul Of The Vegetable Garden

By 2009 the veg garden at Belle Hill had become completely unmanageable. What wasn't overrun with weeds was being eaten by honeysuckle.

I attempted to dig the weeds out by the roots, but it wasn't long before I realized that would not be nearly enough. The honeysuckle had eaten most of the fence on one side and I think the roots had grown half way to China. So I decided something much more drastic would have to be done. It was time to start all over from scratch. I continued working on the inside and Patrick tackled the honeysuckle.

It was a mell of a hess out there but we kept at it. After finally getting the honeysuckle cut to the ground we had to get a man with a backhoe to come and dig up all the roots. But finally we were ready to start putting it back together.

I had to do something to prevent it from returning to a weed patch so while Patrick built the frames for the beds I went to work cutting and laying out plastic sheeting between where the beds would be. Leaving enough of the plastic to go up under the edges of the raised beds so that the only thing exposed would be the beds themselves.

The plan was for 6 beds, each 6' wide by 10' long. Once the frames were made we put them in place and I secured the plastic under the edges inside the frames, then turned and leveled the soil.

The next step took us several trips in the truck to haul in enough mulch to give it all a thick cover.

Then it was time to start building the new fence.

Once the fence was built I was concerned about weeds creeping back in from the outside as well as the mulch creeping out, and also about having to weed whack around all those pickets. I imagined that I'd get through a lot of weed whacking string doing that so I went back to the hardware store and got some garden edging. I pulled the plastic sheeting under the fence line and made a lip of garden edging at the base all the way around the outside. Problem solved.

That worked pretty well (even if I do say so myself :) I was careful not to let the mulch get too close to the fence so wouldn't have to push it all back out of the way when it came time to paint it. I remember thinking that when I finally got to the painting part it would be like putting the icing on the cake. It turned out however to be a real pain. Every one of those pickets has 4 sides, and two of those sides were only 1 inch wide and hard to get at. A paint sprayer would have been a lot easier. But it did finally turn out very nicely.

The next problem to solve was what to use to keep the weeds in the beds under control. After trying a couple of different things, I finally found the perfect solution. Newspapers work the best because they let the water soak through and keep the weeds from growing, but they tend to blow away without a ton of something holding them down. I ended up using brown landscaping cloth. Brown is a bit hard to find, but black tends to over heat the ground. It worked wonderfully, as long as you don't try and put it all down on a windy day.

The next thing I tackled was to try and figure out a way to grow tomatoes without having to keep staking and re-staking them up. And find a way to keep them off the ground and be sure that they get good air circulation. I did some research on the internet and this is what I came up with.

This photo is from last year and Patrick has re-built these cages for me for this season, it's a wooden frame with welded wire sitting on cinder blocks and the tomatoes grow up through the wire. On top is a round welded wire cage that they can be tied to as they continue to grow with twisty garden wire.  It's very easy to keep them trimmed at the bottom so leaves and tomatoes don't lay on the wet ground, and easy to prune around the cages as well. Doing it this way, at least for me has made growing tomatoes a lot easier and my production is up as well.

This whole project was a lot of work, but the time it has saved in daily maintenance since it was completed makes it well worth it. And the best part is NO WEEDS!

My only other issue was that I hated having to go all the way over the the veg garden each time I needed to snip some parsley or chives. So last year I solved that problem as well. We pulled out all the azalea bushes (that weren't doing very well anyway) from in front of the kitchen porch and I moved the herb garden to just outside my kitchen door.

It makes much better sense to have it nearer the kitchen and it's a very sunny location so the herbs love it. This year will be its second year here and I hope it does as well if not better that last year. We'll see!