Polegate Cottage: Three Months On

It’s been three months since we bought the house next door. The idea is to convert The Watch House and Polegate Cottage into one home, giving us a library, an additional bathroom and two more bedrooms for guests. We need to make a good job of it as we might never be able to afford to move away! It turns out that quality builders in this neck of the woods are rarer than hen’s teeth but, finally, we have a good crew lined up and work will begin in the spring.

A collection of foliage plants almost obscure the front door at Polegate Cottage
A collection of foliage plants almost obscure the front door at Polegate Cottage

The cost of the conversion has exceeded my highest expectations. Consequently we are proceeding in two stages, offering me the opportunity to go bankrupt twice. The kitchen ‘wing’, which we want to turn into a conservatory, bathroom and store, will have to wait for some time. This is a pity as I had grand plans for our new conservatory and plants waiting in the wings. The upside is that I get to keep the aluminium greenhouse we inherited, which would have been demolished had we carried out the project in one go. It has been 22 years since I last had a greenhouse to play with so I am stupidly excited. There are a few broken and missing panes, the door doesn’t slide open properly and the window opener is kaput. Apart from that it’s structurally sound. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sprucing it up inside and out, erecting staging and generally preparing the greenhouse to overwinter anything that needs a little winter protection. I won’t go as far as heating it this year, but an electrical supply is to hand for the future.

Plants disguise our rather utilitarian and unloved greenhouse
Plants disguise our rather utilitarian and unloved greenhouse

Given we only picked up the keys to Polegate Cottage on June 2nd, it’s incredible how the garden has been transformed by a few pots of tender perennials and annuals. Many are spares from The Watch House or recent acquisitions which I am still assessing. We had hoped the building works would get underway this autumn, so I was reluctant to do anything too fancy in terms of creating a new layout. Instead I have had fun experimenting with plants that would neither fit nor suit our main garden, with groupings in strong reds, oranges and magentas, or cool silvers, mauves, pinks and purples. Succulents, including Cotyledon orbiculata, lampranthus, semperviums and aeoniums, have enjoyed the warm sheltered conditions. Watering has become more of a chore than I anticipated, although the pots have rapidly filled out, shading the surface of the compost and reducing the rate at which they dry out.

Canna iridiflora (x ehemanii) has flourished, but will need winter shelter
Canna iridiflora (x ehemanii) has flourished, but will need winter shelter
A fuchsia that we inherited seems to have designs on world domination - it's already 8ft across
The hardy fuchsia we inherited seems to have designs on world domination – it’s already 8ft across
Spare plants of Dahlia 'Firepot' have found a home in our new garden
Spares of Dahlia ‘Firepot’ have found a home in our new garden

Looking back it’s extraordinary how everything has grown so prolifically even though planting continued well into August. This reinforces my belief that many gardening jobs are perfectly alright left a little later than the text books suggest. Senecio cristobalensis (red-leaved velvet senecio) has rocketed up in front of a window and is now producing lots of beautiful, velvety side shoots. This giant of a plant will be coming inside over winter as I can’t bear to let the frost cut it off in its prime. Tiny plantlets of Aeonium ‘Velour’ and Aeonium hierrense have developed generous rosettes of foliage and Canna iridiflora has revelled in the bright light reflected by the greenhouse. I have positioned pots of Dahlia ‘Happy Halloween’ in between to complement the canna’s drooping, lipstick-pink blooms.

Snails are a big problem at Polegate Cottage, just as they are next door, especially now that all the babies have hatched out. Each and every dahlia leaf seems to have become dinner for a minute mollusc.

Senecio cristobalensis just grows and grows and grows....
Fun and furry, Senecio cristobalensis just grows and grows and grows….

In a few weeks I will be off on my travels, leaving me with the question of whether to bring plants indoors before or after I go. In a normal year I am prepared to gamble and leave things outside until late October, but one never knows when the first frosts might fall.

I am glad that I took the plunge and made the most of the new garden as next year it’s likely that I’ll need to wait until late spring / early summer before I can plant it up again. Builders, however highly recommended, are no great respecters of gardens, so I’ll just have to bide my time and move in swiftly when they leave.

Wishing you all a good week in your garden.

In the foreground, Aeonium 'Velour' which started out as a plant no bigger than the palm of my hand
In the foreground, Aeonium ‘Velour’ which started out as a plant no bigger than the palm of my hand

 

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15 thoughts on “Polegate Cottage: Three Months On

  1. We bought our home in April. It has an acre of land. The builders have spent as much time here as we have. Budgets flew out of the window. The garden was badly neglected. The topsoil is about 2″ on flint / chalk. The garden is my refuge. I know very little about gardening so I will follow your progress and learn. I don’t have a greenhouse but I am tempted! I admire the progress you are making but wait till the work starts. Good luck.

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    1. Well, we have chalk and flint in common Andrew. We have lived in our house for nearly 10 years and I can only recall one year when we didn’t have some kind of major project going on. I look at it sometimes and wonder where all the time, money and effort went. Yet we get so much energy from making improvements and changing things. It really feels like our home now and I hope next door will too. I am very concerned about budgets – I have seen too many episodes of Grand Designs to be fooled into thinking they’ll be adhered to. Perhaps treat yourself to that greenhouse once everything else is done? Good luck to you too πŸ™‚ Dan

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  2. I’m so ‘over’ watering already and we’re only just coming out of winter! Your potted plants clearly get looked after very well though; they all look extremely healthy. I’m wondering, aside from the watering, how much is down to peat based compost (which we can’t get) and how much is diligent fertilising. Either way, it’s such an exciting, if expensive, project for you. Look forward to seeing it all come together.

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    1. I’m afraid peat is an ingredient in almost every commercially available compost here, although the proportion varies. I use pre mixed John Innes no.3 to which I add grit for most things. I feed fortnightly with a liquid seaweed fertiliser. The agapanthus get special food high in potash. You may have to come with me on the long haul if you want to see the project completed πŸ™‚

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  3. Beautiful photos, and I know it is serious but I did have to chuckle at your comment about going bankrupt twice. πŸ™‚ A greenhouse in great condition or in need of TLC is still a wonderful asset, and I just know you’ll fix it up and have it full ASAP. So, what will the name of the new house be? The Watch House or Polegate Cottage or does each one continue to retain its name?

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  4. A newcomer to your wonderfully inspiring blog! We’ve recently become owners to a 150ft garden with infinite possibilities, most of our work so far has been clearing & removing waste but now excited to get stuck in. Due to neglected state it appears we’ve been a haven for snails, slugs, woodlice, ants nests etc… not wanting to use pesticides or completely eliminate the natural state do you have any tips for tipping the balance?

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    1. Welcome Anna! Thanks for your lovely comments and congratulations on your new garden – 150ft is quite some size! By removing a lot of the cover in your garden you will naturally reduce the amount of habitat for pests. Then it’s a case of persisience. Ants and woodlice are not a big problem per se. Slugs you can reduce using a water-in nematode, but probably not cost effective in a large garden. You could try beer traps or wool pellets around precious plants. Snails are harder to erradicate and it’s taken me 9 years of picking them off and ‘re-homing’ them to bring their numbers down. Hard winters will also help. Until you have slugs and snails under control it’s best not to plant anything that’s too tempting to them! Good Luck and please look in again. Dan

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  5. Many thanks Dan, will get going on the traps and wool pellets, the impatient part got the better of me; got lots of plants waiting to get homed πŸ˜€

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