The summer garden

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Daylesford has had splendid weather so far this summer. Cool nights, warm afternoons, occasional rain. The garden has certainly loved it. Gooseberries are plentiful at the moment, other things bud with promise still… It has just had a major haircut and is looking neater than what is perhaps the wilder norm. Actually, looking at these pictures I think it looks pretty rampant still but that is what happens, look away for a second and the wily tendrils are running the show again.

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Birdsnest in the vines

The back veranda has started to smell like a winery with the overwhelming amount of grapes being over ripe, so I decided to cut some back. Had to stop though, as I found a birdsnest. I think it is a honey eater, I have had a lot of them this year. It’s amazing that they have chosen that spot as it is right outside the back door. Clearly it takes a lot of noise to bother this little bird.

The bees like the grapes too, if a bird has pecked a grape, piercing the skin, the bees have access to the sweet grape and hurry to get some back to their hive which is only next door.

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Think of something pretty

and it won’t be this.

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Nor will it be this tree, embedded in the wall. As you can see, I have ringbarked it so it at least won’t get any bigger until I can get around to it.

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Before I start fixing up the building I will have to remove this mess. Digging, digging…

Here is something pretty instead. The grapes are nearly ripe! They may be small, but so sweet and delicious.

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Hello Possums! The boat is done.

Because I have the benefit of being 12 inside yet with the decision making capacities of someone WAY older, if I feel the urge to have a boat in the garden then I can! Hooray! See the older Boat post if you like, here’s a recap picture: Actual boat and the general plan.

It was in worse nick than I had hoped for. Here is the floor once I ripped it out. When I tried to scrape the old paint I was actually scraping away the boat itself. There’s no denying it, this will always be a fragile friend.

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Once the floor was gone I could see the sleepers I had rested the boat on. I covered the whole lot with weedmat, byebye ivy! Water will still be able to run through the weedmat. Then I used three lengths of sturdy treated pine and nailed them down. The well itself is 1,8 metres long, it is a deceptively large boat really.

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From here it was a simple thing to screw down some decking. Just a little fiddly as each board has to be slightly longer than the next (and angled) as the well is shaped from narrow to wide. The thing in the middle is to take the centre support for the seat which will come soon.

monets boat 7On On the outside I attached braces to the sleepers to keep the boat steady. New seat, some new ply on top of the old, some fibreglass work  which is a delight, like papier mache for outdoors but HARD to get right, I am settling for strong and not pretty. The whole job is a bit rough really, but I feel there are limits to how much money and effort I am prepared to put on something essentially quite derelict.

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Monet’s boat would not be that if it didn’t have a hut at one end.

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I also made an awning in very thin plywood to keep most of the leaves out. As for durability, the whole boat is made from that stuff so I guess it will last for as long as the boat will.

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The possums play pirates in the boat at night. Or something. It became an obvious name! It is no longer Monet’s boat, but Dame Edna Everage’s.

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Rain at last!

Rain today, a good time to photograph a grateful garden. Victoria has only had a fraction of its normal rain for the season, so I (and the garden) enjoyed it tremendously.

rain9For the first time, the gooseberries are actually fruiting! I am so excited. It’s been three years of waiting… Apparently, gooseberries thrive on neglect so they are a good plant for me. You can take upright hardwood cuttings in autumn, might try that and grow some more. I have read that they really like windy sites, and I have just the spot outside the front. Merciless winds come straight up the hill. This particular bush is in a sheltered location and receives no particular favours at all, apart from an annual sprinkling of organic fertiliser. And rain, today.

rain7rain4Both honeysuckle and jasmine flower at the same time, such beautiful scents.

rain3I lost a packet of snowpeas a while ago, only to find it had dropped in the laundry trough and was totally soaked. Of course, this meant I now had to plant snow peas everywhere. Some didn’t come up, but the potted fig tree has a successful friend, and the strawberries have unexpected company as well. My garden is a surprise, sometimes!

rain5rain1I love how the garden is growing up and filling out. Only three years ago it was mostly lawn and concrete paths. Obviously the big established trees and shrubs were there before. I can’t do lawn. So much care, growing, growing, mowing, mowing. Planting something I don’t have to constantly care for is far superior for me.

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It is officially spring

You know that spring is on the way when…

The buds are breaking on the magnolia.

spring3The rhubarb pushes up through the ground.

spring4The flowerbuds hint at beauty to come (the dovecote is new, by the way. Sometimes I make one for the gallery too)

spring5… and the woodshed is very nearly empty.

woodshed spring2Nearly t-shirt weather, bare legs and no socks! Though I confess that I will miss winter, it is a season I love. An opinion not shared by many but what is there not to love about grey skies, a total absence of insects and snakes, the beauty of a bare landscape, fog, frost, layered clothing, I can go on forever. Farewell winter, ’til next time. It’s been fun.

A miner’s couch for the Pip

I am gathering furniture for the next seating place at the Pip, hoping to have it ready before summer but who knows? Could just as well be ready next year, or next week. It is a good idea in my mind to get your essentials ready for when you need them. I bought this old miner’s couch, probably cedar, from a woman in Glenlyon. So lucky, I usually have to travel for hours to pick up my finds. It is a bit rough though, in original condition apart from a replaced leg. The wire base is full of dirt, and what seems to be entwined chicken feathers.

miners couch 6miners couch 1Nine happy hours of hand sanding lots of fiddly bits. The old cracked varnish comes off easily enough. Sigh.

miners couch 4The wire base has an interesting construction, you can tension it if it has gone slack by turning these bolts.

miners couch5The old owner said that ”the spring base has hay stuck to it” but no, it is most definitely feathers. I freed them with tweezers and pliers and the last hour of daylight, as I had a final test of just how far my patience would stretch. Finally, I gave it a coat of Danish Oil which brought out the wood colour beautifully. This is a most wonderful product, so easy and pleasant to use and smells divine. If you are into furniture oils as a perfume, anyway…   The mattress just needs the final touch of a cushion or two, that will have to wait until final placement. Hooray!

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Plant markers

I have been wanting plant markers for ages, but only after buying a curry plant yesterday did I actually do it. The curry plant is not the most interesting looking of shrubs, and would rarely be recognised for what it is unless I added a label. The second hand shop down the road furnished me with a gang of spoons (still need more!). I dipped them in white oilpaint and stuck them in my fence to drip dry.

plant markersSo far, so good. I dropped one in the paint tin and had to fish it out with sticks and very painty slippy fingers. It is the one stuck in the ground. Very difficult. It is not as homogenous looking as the others, probably the best one really. Then it started raining and oilpaint in the rain is NOT a good idea as it pocks. Now I had to bring them inside in a hurry and it’s not easy to find homes for sticky drippy spoons. Recommendation: check the forecast. I had a perfect finish, now no more. Here is my dropped spoon.

plant markers 3Some permanent marker and the job is done. When I planted my apple trees I chose them for their names, don’t you think King of Pippins is a great choice for Queensberry Pip? And by the way, the Curry plant, Helichrysum italicum, is a herb. It has a subtle flavour reminiscent of curry and can be used however you like, but best with mild foods like eggs, potatoes, fish or yoghurt. Chop leaves finely.

Someone gave me a boat!

I have a neighbour of the best kind who knows everyone. When he saw me drawing a plan which called for an old boat he said he knew someone who might have a spare broken boat. They did! And not only that, they actually gave it to me. My neighbour now found himself facing my need to get said boat home, and he has a truck… This is what happens when you have a truck, people want you to put things on it.

In the front garden is a spot just behind the willow tree, tucked in behind hedges and ivy. No one goes there, as there is nothing to see or do. This is about to change! Presenting… My boat. A real beauty! It even has a mast, albeit not attached. The plan is to make something in the style of Monet’s boat, his floating studio which had a striped awning and a little hut at the back. Mine is smaller but I think I can achieve the general idea.

douard-manet-claude-monet-and-his-wife-in-his-floating-studio-1874Mine is remarkably similar… Graceful, I’d say. It’s had a good run of being on the water and now it is time for a new purpose.

monets boatmonets boat 4It even has a mast, but how to attach it puzzles me. This is the hole which clearly is meant for the mast, but how? It has to  get down deeper than a centimetre, surely.

monets boat 3  It is in rather poor condition. I pushed on the bow (that’s the pointy front of a boat) and it crumbled against my weight. Also, the bottom is totally gone. This is really not a problem for me, as I plan to lay a new wooden floor. But what will I attach it too? Is it all as bad as the floor and the sides and and and? The only good wood you can see here is the sleeper it is resting on.

monets boat 2For now it can sit and wait, could be a good spring time project. I drew some rough guidelines just in case I feel the need to go to the hardware sometime soon. I will do a new post when I have something to show, but it will take some time. Just too excited for now not to show the boat as it is!monets boat 5

A flower arrangement

I am not very interested in flower arrangements. Mostly guests get something I just randomly pruned from the garden, but I do try sometimes. Here is what I consider one of my more successful attempts. I call it Baby Tears with Zebras. The zebras are not eating anywhere near fast enough and are now threatened to be totally engulfed by the Baby Tears. For those of you not in the know, Baby Tears is a plant.

Garden shed

I agree, it looks a little too bright and tidy. Too many pots as well. Never mind, it will get better with a little staging, age, dirt and sun damage. This is in the far corner of the garden where nothing happens. I am preparing to eventually maybe replace the garage with something else (all in good time) so need to keep this teeny tiny shed for STUFF. It is really just a pretty facade, the rest is what you expect from a shed. Rusty spades, that kind of thing. But housed nicely.

I tried to imitate the standard Swedish house colour, a very particular red which is used all over the countryside as a byproduct of the mining industry. It is called Falu Red (comes from Falun).The traditional paint consists of water, rye flour, linseed oil and tailings from the copper mine. I just used a Dulux tint. Anyone who has ever been to Sweden will instantly be reminded of their trip, or so I hope!

Side door

Just to the side of the flower bike (another blog post) was a really rather sad door. Here it is, now retired.

garden door3I kept the rest of the wall and made it black. As I know by now, if I want something to disappear in the garden, I paint it black. The door was another story. You handle doors so much, you get close to them. Therefore, I prefer something a little bit special than this. I mean there is nothing exactly WRONG with it, it just lets the rest of the wall down a bit. I shall donate it to the local tip shop. Maybe someone will have mercy and give it a new purpose. Enough about that door, there is a new one to be made. Below is what the finished result looks like. Well, when I say ”finished” I mean I still have a bit of painting to do. Close enough to photograph it anyway.

garden doorWhen you stand back a bit you can see the lemon tree planter, the bike and the new door. You would never know the bins are lurking behind the planter box.  There are lemons on the tree already!

garden door2If you want to make a very simple (no joinery, can’t fail, strong) but rather laborious door, here’s how:

Tools needed: tinsnips, hammer, drill, circular saw, tape measure, pencil, caulking gun to squeeze out the building adhesive.

Materials needed: Hoop iron (comes in rolls, I get the ones with regular holes along the centre. It is used in construction, usually), sheet of pretty thin galvanised steel, spray paint (I used black and grey), steel wool, sheet of outdoor plywood, 70×19 treated pine decking (or other wood you might have hanging around), clouts (short fat galvanised nails), galvanised screws, building adhesive. Lock (if you want one), handle.

garden door 6My door is about 78x 210cm. Start by cutting with the circular saw the exact fit of your door. Next cut the decking, four for the length, one as a top cap which will be the width of the door, and four for the width minus the width of the board, so than they can fit along the edges exactly.  Cut the galvanised sheet of steel to be smaller than the door, but just fitting under the edge frame. If you cut it to the door edges exactly, you will run into serious trouble when you fit locks, if you have to shave a bit off for a better fit etc. No need to go all the way out!

Because the galvanised iron is so shiny, I do a loose and rough spray paint first. Somehow I am missing several pics, but you will see what I mean when you look at the steel soon. When the paint is dry, I scrub most of it off with steel wool, then maybe paint a little more until I am happy. Whilst you are spraying, cut the hoop iron into correct lenghts and spray them black.

garden door 17See what I mean about the spraypainting below? So much softer than shiny steel, to my eyes anyway. Use construction adhesive and glue the sheet to the plywood. The ply might want to curl but I say NO to curling! Weigh it down with your long pieces of wood with something heavy like a brick or three on top. Missing picture of this too, you have to imagine it.

The next step is below. Mark out where your hoop iron lenghts will go. I chose a pattern of regularity. This is a sedate door, a responsible door. You can just tell by the checks, the steel and the grey/black.

Now your real job starts. Drill holes through the steel for the nails. I start a couple, bung in the clouts, and then go on drilling. If you try to drill them all at once, they will be out of place, guaranteed. Because the clouts go right through the ply, I put a piece of wood under the door for me to hammer into. I remove it as I go.

garden door 18garden door 15Here we are, with clouts in place. I used a bit over a kilo of clouts, I think. It is a LOT.

garden door 12When I have finished a row or two, I turn the ply over and it will look like this. Hammer sideways to bend all the nails. I guess this is not an issue if you use very thick ply, but I am trying not to have a super heavy door. It will be heavy enough as it is.

garden door 13It will now look like this. Pretty.

garden door 10As you go on, hammering and flattening, it will begin to look like this. Yes, your arm will hurt but work through the pain. Only another thousand nails to go! When you are all done, glue and screw in the frame. I screw from the bad side into the good one, so no screw holes happen on the front. Then I put in screws from the back panel go in from the back, because I actually don’t care about this back at all.

garden door 7In fact, I care so little that I used the leftovers from the steel which was not big enough to patch up the back. It will all be painted black, and will actually not be that noticable later. Really. And even if it is, I won’t care. I would have left the bashed up ply as it was but I think the surface would have been too compromised for water attack so I used a lot of glue and stuck on my steel scraps. Of course, you can use a new sheet, or more ply, or thicker ply to start off with, whatever. I did this.

garden door 8garden door 9Here we are, back looking at the top. Can you see the sandwiched ply between the two bits of decking? I ran the circular saw along the edge, to trim it off nicely. I have also done an undercoat, waiting to paint it black. To cap it off I screwed a final short pirce of decking to the top, will prevent water entering the ply. Now fit the lock. I couldn’t find a lock which would fit my non standard thickness. My door is 5 mm thicker than the locks available to me, so I modified it by cutting off a piece of wood to one side and adding a bit on the other. Frankly, I should have thought about this and designed the door to suit my chosen lock. I repent and suggest you buy the lock forst, and make it easy for yourself. I also found an old handle in the trusty shed.

garden door2Back to this again! I am actually pretty satisfied. Here is a picture of me, happy with my day. Hooray!

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Spring garden

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Spring! The last frost is gone (only two weeks ago) and the garden is at that wonderful point before you have to hack away with a machete to keep it in check, yet growing nicely. See the waterlily leaves in the wine barrel? Just starting.

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I had to put my hand out as a size comparison for the blooms on this rhododendron. It is incredible. I didn’t plant this, it would have been planted by Alf Hedland, the old gardener at the Botanic Gardens who once lived here. He was keen on rhododendrons, I’ve been told. Thank you, Alf, from the bottom of my heart, for all the beautiful plants you left.

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Rhubarb, doing its spring thing. I don’t provide breakfast at the Pip, you have to provide your own. I can give you a recipe and the rhubard however, just BYO yoghurt.

Recipe for Stewed Rhubarb – great breakfast or dessert!

Buy some plain or vanilla yoghurt. Pick a stalk or two of rhubarb, cut off the leaf and destring the stalk, chop in pieces. Get an apple too (though not necessary) and chop. Or squeeze an orange, not necessary either. Put all in small pan on the stove with some sugar and a little water, bring to the boil, turn down and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve with the yoghurt.

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Loganberry just starting, might not be loganberry, lost the label… See the difference between the stone walls in the back and the front? The back were original, they are all volcanic lava. Lightweight stones, no substance at all. This is because Wombat Hill is a volcano, and around Daylesford you see this stone a lot. The stonework in the rest of the garden I added, and it is made from stone from Pyrenees Quarries in Castlemaine. This is a playground for lovers of stone. If you are on a budget, there is a large pile at the back where they put the stone which they don’t want. Odd shapes and sizes, too odd to lay easily etc. You can fill a trailer for a very small amount of money compared to the other stone, if you are prepared to work with all the irregularities. I am! They also sort the slate out in good and odd, and you can get a pallet of odd if you are lucky with your timing. It sells the minute they put it out, usually.

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The raspberries are not ready, but there will be a fabulous crop this year. I tried to make the bees stay in the picture with their fat little legs as they are working hard but they refused to cooperate, were too busy to appear on camera.

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Blueberry in the foreground. Apparently, these bushes can grow to quite big sizes but I am yet to see it. They are in their second year only, have seen little growth so far except for one bush which is a little older. I dug it up from my garden at home and moved it. That it survived at all is a miracle as blueberries dislike their roots being touched. You even have to be careful when weeding that you don’t upset them. They also fail to thrive if you give them tapwater. Fortunately, the whole garden is on rainwater but that hasn’t helped yet. But I can see several berries starting to form… Hooray!

Flower bike and planterbox DIY

There is a large and bland wall at one side of the house, originally green. I first thought I’d replace the entire wall but have since had second thoughts. Now, I am just going to fix it, paint it black to make it disappear, replace a door and draw the eye to something more attractive. I think a flowerbike, bright red, will do the job to make you not look at the wall.

Here is the bike, finished.

plantbox59and here is the old bike as it was when I found it under the house.

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First I cleaned it up and sprayed it red, to make it stand out against the black backdrop.

Now I need to make some planter boxes, a straight one for the back and an angled one for the front. I use a sliding saw which is accurate and easy. If you don’t have access to one, you can use anything at all, it will just be harder to be precise. Doesn’t matter hugely in a project like this. If you plan to do a lot of carpentry, I recommend this to be the third investment after a drill and a circular saw. Your life will never be the same. For this project you will also need a drill, a hammer, some tinsnips. All the techniques used are the same as I would use for making bookshelves, kitchens, any basic carpentry. The first thing I ever made on my own was a box, it was for keeping vinyl records in. Yes, I admit that it was a while back… Basically, if you can make a box, you can make a kitchen, which is just a series of boxes and planes of varying complexity.

plantbox35I have used actual baskets on a different bike I did some years ago, but baskets don’t last very long. I thought I’d do something else this time. The wood I have used is a sturdy treated pine which I plan to line with plastic. I don’t recommend using anything which will not stand up to water very well, seems like a wasted effort. I have a love-hate relationship with treated pine. I love it because it is affordable and durable, and hate it because you can’t sand it (toxic, remember!), or manipulate it like some other woods. For this project it is fine, though. Don’t make birdhouses from treated pine. Any eggs hatched in the house will be infertile, losing a generation of breeding birds.

planterbox1Here is a really good trick to get exactly the same length of your pieces of wood. I only ever mark the first piece I am cutting, the rest are copies of the original. If I am doing loads of pieces the same length, I mark the original piece and cut all from that. It is guaranteed success and fast.

Lay the cut original on the piece you want to cut on the saw. Put a finger on the end of the boards so you can feel that they are exactly level.

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Lower the blade on your saw without any power. Nudge both pieces of wood up to sit closely against the UNMOVING blade, still holding the finger at the end, like this:plantbox16

plantbox22Now just lift off the original piece, hold the wood still, run your cut.

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plantbox9The result is two identical pieces, no need to measure and mark! When you put a mark on wood, it is very hard to gage exactly where the saw blade should go, as the cut itself takes out a mm or so. With this method, there is no guesswork.

When I cut the front box I wanted an angled side at one end. I found the woods no longer matched up, as the angled pieces meeting the front are shorter, like this.

plantbox7Easy fix, just put it on the saw and slice off a little bit. Really, it won’t matter by the time you have flowers spilling out all over it but I did it anyway. Because I have the saw!

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Next we need to assemble the pieces. I use screws, make sure they are made for exterior use or they will rust. As I have chosen to go double depth, I also need to add a small piece of wood to help hold it all together. Single depth would be fine with some plants, but I want to allow for deeper roots as I don’t intend to run out and water every five seconds. Shallow soil heats up very fast here in summer. For this reason, I wouldn’t paint a planter black.

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Now some paint, I have chosen green. I would have preferred a slightly different shade, but found a bucket of this in the shed. It will do fine. In regards to paint, there is a great way to get free paint, handy for smaller jobs. Go to your tip and see the paint mountain! Since you are supposed to give the paint in to the tip rather than binning it, they build up a large collection. As long as you can still read the labels, it is just perfectly fine paint that someone has cleared out of their shed. When I painted my pencil fence I needed an awful lot of different paint, far more than I was prepared to pay for (was happy to pay for exactly none, actually) and so I headed to the tip. Here is a pic of the fence, totally irrelevant to this project but never mind:

pencilfenceSee what I mean? To get the different shades, I added increasing amounts of white. Save the world and your wallet and get some unwanted paint!

After painting, I added some steel strapping. Not really necessary, but I think it looks great and will also have the bonus of making the planter very strong. This stuff is sold in rolls. The true purpose of strapping is to be nailed in huge spans diagonally across your walls and roof before cladding it, to act as bracing. Also you use it for tying down your roof to your walls. Like I said, this is strong stuff. I use it for so many things. I sprayed mine black first, cut with tinsnips. If you have no tinsnips, a hacksaw will do too.

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Nail the strapping on with a clout (short nail with large galvanised head) in every hole.

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You will note that it can’t go round in one go on the angled box. I just let it finish, and will now cover my corners with a piece of scrap metal, like this. If you have a shed, chances are it will be hiding plenty of odd bits like this. If it doesn’t, start collecting. Don’t throw things out too quickly, you never know when a piece of metal comes in handy. The local tip can be a great source. Of course you can also head to the hardware but if you can give new life to something, why not use it? This metal is very stiff, so is impossible to bend with anything less than violence. Put it over the edge of a strong surface, cover with a piece of wood where you want the fold, and start beating.

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Before nailing on the corners (and I had to predrill all the holes, as my metal was far too thick to nail) trim any angles, if you are doing an angled version.

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I discovered the bike was too far away from the wall, couldn’t attach the boxes as I had planned. I cut off a handle with the angle grinder (or hacksaw, if you don’t have one) and suddenly the bike was in the right position. I also used pliers to snip off all the wires. Who needs brakes and gears when there’s no handle?

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Now the bike needs to be attached to the wall. Depending on the wall, work out your best options. Mine is just a sheet of metal, so I have used tekscrews, fat strong screws with a hexagonal head. Here it is from the back wall side:

plantbox69and straight into the basket… It doesn’t matter if they stick out, you can cut them with a grinder or leave them.

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The boxes will be very heavy when they are full of wet soil. They are resting on the wheels of the bike, but also need attaching to it. I used more strapping with tekscrews. Make sure the tires have no air in them. The air will go anyway over time, assuming there was any to begin with, and it will leave the boxes slanting. Somewhere in the shed I have a tin of tyre black, whenever I find it I shall make the tyres a little better.

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I also wanted to add a totally pointless handle to one of my boxes, found one in the shed.

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Line boxes with strong plastic, I use builder’s plastic, the stuff you lay under concrete slabs for instance. It will last well unless it is exposed to the sun. Make drainage holes in the bottom. You can buy as much or as little as you want as it comes by the metre.

plantbox60Plant up! I am not intending to spend much time caring for the plants in this box. The position is very exposed as it gets full strength winds in winter and scorching afternoon sun in summer. I have to plant the hardiest that I have. I will try some succulents and some seaside daisies which I have dug up elsewhere in the garden. I would go geraniums if it wasn’t for the frost, but they die back here. Treat your garden like a nursery. Dig something up, divide, take cuttings. Hopefully it will all take and look splendid in a month or so! In total, this job cost a little bit of wood, a few screws, nails and paint, everything else was recycled. If you want to make a flowerbike, head to the tip. You will find the paint, the steel, the bike itself, probably a handle, maybe even the wood. A great little budgetjob, using unwanted things to make a slightly more attractive world.

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The next job here will be to make a new door to replace this exciting specimen. I have a plan…