We have made great progress on our build – though in best ‘Grand Designs’ tradition we are a bit be behind and some way over budget! We love it though. Our architect John (John Allen Architecture) has done an excellent job making best use of the available space without looking completely nuts! Our builder Paul (PTR Construction) has once again, realised our architect’s plans brilliantly.
This will be our living area allowing us to create a second bedroom in our part of the original barn (the red brick area on the left hand side of the photo). We have lived in a one bedroom flat for six years now and it has been a little limiting – so one can come for dinner or stay.
The design references farm buildings with the black tin (which also links to the black timber areas on the Guest wing) but also has a mid-century twist with the windows and galvanised canopy. We can’t wait for it to be finished but realistically not until the end of the summer. As most of the external work as been done it shouldn’t have any impact on your stay (to be honest it hasn’t really so far anyway).
When we refurbished the barn and built the guest wing seven years ago, in keeping with all ‘Grand Designs’ – type projects we ended up way over budget. We just about managed to get it finished and roughly furbished, but we didn’t even have enough cash to build decks for the guest rooms let alone spend any money on our personal area. So our space remained pretty much as we found it when we arrived.
We live at the far end of the barn and we always make sure that the door to it from the ‘Insta side’ of things remains firmly closed so that no one can see inside. Part of the problem is a lack of space – no storage and only one bedroom. Embarrassingly when friends have come to stay, they have taken a room at the B&B and paid for the privilege. We have also been super anti -social with no space in which to entertain friends and family. Bruce and I have been together for seventeen years and given that we spent seven years renovating our house in Peckham, we have only spent one year of our time living like ‘grown ups’. We are a bit bored of living like this to be honest.
So about a year ago we sat down with our architect friend John, and started to map out a fairly modest extension to give us a little more space and a generally nicer environment in which to live. There is a strange little patch of ground that separates the barn from the drive (some distance from the guest areas you will be pleased to know) and the challenge was to create a space that made the most of the area.
The result will be quite an unusual building. In the middle will sit a conventional double height volume with a pitched roof and around it angular flat roofed spaces will take the build to the very edge of the plot. Everything will be wrapped in black corrugated iron. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste but we’ve seen a similar finish on John’s home – it looks great!
Before we could start building we had to clear the area including our neighbour’s Leylandii hedge. Having done this it is strangely open and we can more clearly seen how close the barn is to next door (which would have been the farmhouse). Fortunately we have very supportive neighbours and they quite enjoy our builds (well that’s what they tell us anyway).
Once the land is cleared you have to start digging to create the footings, add drainage, insulation etc … That said we hadn’t quite realized just deep we would have to dig as there is quite a difference in height between the drive and the back door. After all the digging it does look more like we are building a swimming pool than a set of footings.
Fortunately the land is very sandy with no clay to worry the builder (the story about never build your house on sand turns out not to be quite true). In fact when you get down a few feet the sand is bright yellow as if it’s straight from the beach. Then once you have spent days digging the hole you start to fill it (in the case of the sand it’s the same sand that we dug up in the first place!).
That’s as far as we have got. ….
The whole build is set to take five to six months – though some of this will be refurbishing the existing barn. If you have any questions or concerns please do just ask!
Whet your appetite
We are so lucky to have many fantastic producers of food in Suffolk. We are also fortunate to have some really great places in which to eat it– whether it’s seafood served from a humble fishing shack, a three course meal at a top gastro pub or a delicious donut from Orford’s famous Pump Street Bakery.
That said, we keenly felt the loss of a couple of our favourite restaurants during the first Covid lockdown – Darsham Nurseries and Mains. They were the ‘go to’ restaurants for both our guests and when we fancied a meal out ourselves.
Much as we happily walk down the road to our brilliant local pub – The Parrot & Punchbowl (or simply ‘The Parrot’) – it’s always good to discover some new places. These are some recent finds:
The Suffolk (www.the_suffolk.co.uk – originally a Covid relocation of Soho’s L’Escargot, The Suffolk is here to stay and is already very much a fixture on Aldeburgh’s high street (and soon to be with rooms – though perhaps I shouldn’t dwell on that- and a rooftop bar). The menu changes but you will always find delicious lobster and oysters on the menu.
Southwold Canteen (www.oldhospitalhub.co.uk) – Darsham Nurseries is dead – long live the Southwold Canteen!. The chef, Nicola Hordern, has bought her amazing flair and creativity, from Darsham Nurseries to this quiet community location set away from the hubbub of Southwold’s High Street. It has the vibe of a neighbourhood eaterie, with a seasonal menu prepared using wonderful ingredients, cooked beautifully served up with super friendly service. Lunch only at the moment – so go easy at breakfast!
Watson and Walpole (www.watsonandwalpole.com) – this has been a regular destination for us and guests over the last year or so. The Watson of the title was the original TV Hotel Inspector and has brought her eye for detail to this buzzing restaurant (though despite her formidable TV persona I hasten to add it is relaxed and informal). It’s in Framlingham – so a bit of a trek – but this regional Italian dishes are definitely well worth the effort. I have to confess I am a little addicted to their zucchini fries, unadventurous as that is. They also have an excellent vegan menu.
Greyhound Inn at Pettristree (www.greyhoundpettristree.co.uk) – this pub near Wickham Market has always been on our radar because it had a good reputation, however it changed ownership a few weeks back and word quickly got out that it is well worth a visit. We can confirm that indeed it is! A beautiful Suffolk pub set in a quiet, out of the way village. The food is modern British with everything cooked to perfection. Here is my delicious oxtail ravioli starter.
We have long described our garden as a ‘work in progress’. When I say that to guests they always says that gardens are never finished – after seven years it seems like a good time to take stock.
When we arrived the garden was mostly grass, old bushes and giant conifers. So many conifers! Bruce headed off to learn how to wield a chain saw and start felling. There was no real plan with the garden other than to try and create something close to the house as quickly as possible.
I am in no way a garden designer and while I did have some ideas at the start there was a lot of making it up as I went along. Apart from a few mature trees it was a blank canvas which in a way is a great thing and in other ways a little overwhelming.
We have long described our garden as a ‘work in progress’. When I say that to guests they always says that gardens are never finished – after seven years it seems like a good time to take stock.
When we arrived the garden was mostly grass, old bushes and giant conifers. So many conifers! Bruce headed off to learn how to wield a chain saw and start felling.
There was no real plan with the garden other than to try and create something close to the house as quickly as possible. I am in no way a garden designer and while I did have some ideas at the start there was a lot of making it up as I went along. Apart from a few mature trees it was a blank canvas which in a way is a great thing but it also has its challenges.
Although we have spent quite a lot of money on the garden we have tried to keep it within a reasonable budget. There is no fancy hard landscaping, no dramatic water features and no help! To keep the costs down we plant a lot of self sowers and move them around, we have raided WI plant sales on numerous occasions. We are also lucky enough to have some great local nurseries – Ladybird and the Walled Garden – and some further afield – especially plantsman Preference and Knoll. More recently we have been able to get a wholesale account with a Suffolk based nursery that allows us to buy affordable small pots in larger numbers.
Initially we bought a poly tunnel but we got a bit bored of it been blown into the woods so eventually bought a green house. It’s not fancy (it’s still made of plastic) but it really helps with growing from seeds (though this year I hardly managed to germinate a single one – no idea what I was doing wrong. Fortunately Bruce has had more success with his veggies).
We have been told that Suffolk is so dry that technically is semi-arid (we are close to Essex that apparently as the same rainfall as Jerusalem). Rain can be very patchy (this year has been a real challenge and no doubt there will be a fair few losses) and if you add the fact that soil is effectively pure sand then what little water we receive quickly soaks away. We invested in a huge subterranean water tank to collect the rain off our huge roof.
Early on, someone sensibly suggested that we contact local tree surgeons who often have a surplus of chippings. Before we knew it, we had a mountain of chippings that covered the lawn (and continued to do so for at least a couple of years – which explains the weed-ridden state of our lawn). After the chippings have aged a while we use then to cover the beds. It doesn’t mean a lot of barrow journeys but it’s worth it – moisture is kept in the soil, weeds are by and large kept at bay and over time the soil is improved.
Initially I pretty much threw in whatever I could find in the garden centre. If there were three then I bought three and if there were five I bought five. Only in the last couple of years have I planned areas more but also bought in numbers to try and increase the repetition. So not unusually for such a large garden, we have created some separate rooms to provide some variety. Here is a quick summary:
• White garden – we initially said that this was influenced by Sissinghurst but after a guest told us that she was the archivist here we stopped saying it (that’s where we got the idea but in no way do we think that we are on a par with them).
• Cottage garden – this is a riot of blues, pinks and white. I think that this is the weakest part of the garden. I didn’t realise how hard it was to maintain this kind of the garden through the seasons. It all falls over by July. It’s also full of couch grass. Grr.
• Grass Garden – This is the area behind the guest rooms. Initially after the build this area was a mass of weeds. In fact after six months there was virtually a forest of tree lupins. Funnily enough guests loved it and ignored all the nettles and docks – ‘I love the countryside!’ was a common response. Now it has been planted with all sorts of ornamental grasses and wild flowers. Funnily enough we have spent quite a lot of money to create something that developed naturally!
• Japanese Inspired garden – this has only partly been completed. It’s been a bit of challenge – little rain, no running water and no rocks – all the constituent parts of the Japanese Garden. So much so that Guests look blankly when I mention it. I’m not surprised really. Give me a couple of years and all will become clear.
• Gravel Garden – this was the first part of the garden that we planted – because it was a long way from the house and the building work. For a long while it was a narrow strip leading to nowhere. Now there is a destination – a large space with a fire pit and a BBQ area. This new area was only planted at the end of 2021. After a dry summer it has a long way to go – I have been a bit complacent and things are not thriving. There are limits to how dry a dry garden can be if the plants haven’t had enough time to bed in
• Driveway – this is the most recent addition to the garden. For a long time the drive was lined with bamboo, bramble and old shrubs. At the end of 2022 we dug it all up in order to lay a cable for our car chargers. It’s now a mass of blue, yellow and orange. It’s struggling at the moment but hopefully it will be a welcoming site in the years to be (and not scratch the paintwork of cars). There are still some areas that are to be put in place – the area lining the lawn and the final section of the Japanese Garden. Jobs for the autumn and the winter!
So that’s a little introduction… I guess that the obvious thing to say is ‘come and see it for yourself!’.
Electric Cars & Bikes
This is not the most exciting blog – but it is quite a significant one.
When we started we thought that we had enough parking. Having been open for a few years now, it’s been very apparent that we don’t. Guests aren’t sure where to leave their cars and frequently the answer is on the grass (to my frustration). The turning circle around a couple of birch trees proved challenging for some drivers with car inadvertently straying on to the garden. Not amused.
So we have now demolished our ugly concrete garage and in its place there is a large area for guest cars. I haven’t checked the measurements but it must be almost the size of a tennis court.
Not only have a created a place for cars but have also installed a couple of charging points for electric cars. We are seeing more and more electric cars and have only been able to provide a ‘trickle’ charge over night by plugging in a domestic extension cable. Not only did it not really provide much of a charge it was an accident just waiting to happen. Two points will really futureproof ourselves as we move to electric vehicles to address climate change.
In order to connect the charging points we had to lay cabling from the house down to the charging points. It was a great opportunity to remove all the tatty greenery from the side of the drive. Perhaps it looked great thirty years ago but by the time we arrived it was mostly bramble (just waiting to scratch your car’s paintwork), running bamboo and dying old shrubs. Over a couple of weeks this was all removed and a beautiful, contemporary fence added to provide our neighbours with some privacy. It has subsequently been stained black in keeping with our decking and will hopefully provide a dramatic backdrop to bright planting (orange, yellow and blue).
Of course it is not all about cars. As a relatively flat county, Suffolk is a destination for many cyclists. Many of our guests come with some lovely bikes and up to know we have had to put them in our laundry room. Not ideal as bike chains and white cotton sheets rarely mix well. So we have built a bike shed by the new car park. We also plan to get our bikes serviced (shamefully they have had punctures for years) so that guests can leave their cars and get out into the countryside on two cycles rather than four.
There was quite a considerable price tag attached to this work and we are very grateful to East Suffolk Council for providing 75% of the cost as part of their ‘Plan for the Future’ grant scheme. Having been closed for nine months due to Covid, there is absolutely no way that we could have done all this without help.
The first part of the garden to be planted, about five years ago, was a gravel strip running from the car park to the start of the woodland, in between the grass (I hesitate to call it a lawn as it is in such a terrible mess after having buried in chippings for years) and the vegetable patch. Over the last few years the plants have spread until such a point that people don’t realise that it is something that they can walk through – gravel garden, what gravel? Still, quite pretty no?
It might be slightly overgrown but Lola manages to find her way through somehow…
Even though its planting is far from perfect I have always liked it – especially in the late summer sunshine. This year I was particularly proud of the towering echiums that made it through last winter’s snows and flowering through much of this year. Fingers crossed that they self seed…
That narrow strip however was never intended to be the main part of the gravel garden – merely the entrance to it. This summer I finally embarked on the main project – to create a larger gravel garden that would also house a BBQ, fire pit and eating area away from the house (partly to provide a new space but also to ensure that any flames are as far away from the house as possible – especially after some guests decided to use a throw away BBQ on the room five deck and set it alight). I must have been in a very optimistic mood when I started out as I thought that it would only take me a month to create – even against the backdrop of a busy summer of guests.
Of course it was much more time-consuming than I expected, taking the best part of four or five months and it’s not quite finished even now. First the grass had to be lifted (manually of course – absolutely no point rotavating it all into the ground only for it to reappear in a few weeks), barrow and distribute about twelve bulk bags of gravel and of course plant the plants.
Budget means that most of the plants are necessarily small and they will take a while to mature. Wherever possible I have also grown from seed (with limited success I have to be honest) or transplanted self-sown seedlings from other parts of the garden. Even after a few weeks I am pretty pleased with how the plants are settling in.
The plants are pretty standard garden fare – Rudbeckia, Thalictrum, Artichoke, Hemerocalis, Agapanthus, Rosemary, various Euphorbia, Eryngium, Lilies – but hopefully over time I will add some more unusual plants.
We have added in some sun chairs and have finally added in the much promised fire pit.
Let it snow
In the six years that we have been here we have only had ‘proper snow’ twice – both courtesy of the ‘Beast from the East’ .
The snow has been delivered on Arctic winds which have seen temperatures drop and the previous mild weather quickly became a distant memory. Fortunately with our woods between us and the coast, the house and garden have been protected from the worst of the easterlies and the snow didn’t drift too much (not that drifts stopped Lola when we were out on walks – seeing them more as hurdles to be leaped).
As you can see the zig zag of the roof has really been emphasised by the snow – especially with the shingles darkened by the snow flurries.
Of course there was some sunshine too which made everything gleam. The areas recently cleared became a huge blanket of snow. Let’s hope the small plants so recently planted have survived several days of ice and sub zero temperatures.
These are the room decks. We didn’t bother clearing them as, with the Lockdown, we are closed. What a shame to have no one here to enjoy the wintry panorama..
It’s almost a year since we dug the pond – the first stage of a Japanese-inspired garden. As it turned out we had more time on our hands in 2020 then we expected and that meant that we could create the next part – our take on a Zen garden.
When I say ‘Zen’ I am not trying to pretend that I have any deep insight into this ancient style (and certainly not the philosophy). The intention is to create a quiet, restful place that leaves space for the mind to fill. Not full of showy flowers, focusing instead on greens from ferns, pines and bamboo. At the garden’s centre would be a raked, gravel ‘sea’ with a mossy mountainous island rising from it….
The end result is simple but it is deceptively time-consuming to put in place. To create a sea and mountains means of course shifting lots of soil. In order to convincingly suggest an expanse of water surrounded by the land you need the water to be flat and to ensure that the enclosing mountains ‘keep the water in’. Digging the pond almost killed me so I won’t pretend that I enjoyed days more digging – even if it is sand.
The starting point was a fairly anonymous area next to the large cedar, just beyond room five and heading out towards the woods. When we first arrived the area was covered mostly conifers. I then tried to start a rose garden but it didn’t work – too dry and too much shade. We all make mistakes but there were plenty of places to move them to.
Once the grass, bramble and the odd bit of errant bamboo had been removed we brought in the local tree surgeons to remove the old conifer stumps.
Once the stumps had gone there was a blank canvas. Soil was moved around (randomly?) to try and create the sea and mountains – whilst at the same time having to keep a certain black Labrador occupied.
Fortunately I had plenty of offcuts from the pond liner that somehow managed to almost exactly cover the base of the ‘sea’. I did use a spirit level to try and ensure that it was flat but it was still a challenge and your eyes can play tricks on you – whatever your tools might say.
The final addition was of course gravel – provided by a UK company that focuses entirely on Japanese supplies. Apparently it is the type that is used in Japanese Temple gardens – perhaps the only authentic part of the whole thing!
The sea is then ‘bordered’ at one end with a curving brick path (the bricks having been saved from the demolition of the original cottage). Strictly using artificial materials in Japanese gardens is a no no – but it’s good to recycle and we don’t have the money for anything more appropriate. Hopefully come the spring it will be lined by iris. Though as I grew them from seed last year – perhaps I am being rather ambitious.
The brick path marks the boundary of the last part of the Japanese Garden….. hopefully that will be coming soon.
From the start we wanted a pond – but it takes a Covid lockdown to provide enough time to make one!
The Pond is the first part of a larger Japanese influenced ‘Stroll’ garden – with the aim of creating a peaceful understated space to sit and relax.
Unfortunately before we could start we had to hack back the rampant bamboo that we had allowed to get out of control. People don’t often consider a pickaxe a gardening tool but it is absolutely the right one for the job. You also need to be super vigilant as the smallest piece of root is enough to send a shoot rocketing into the air. I can’t help but think that the shoots look slightly evil!
Once the ground had been cleared of the bamboo and nettles we had to dig the hole. The shape is a traditional Japanese one – apparently originally based on a Chinese character for ‘heart’. Fortunately the soil is very sandy and relatively easy to shovel. It was exhausting nonetheless – it needs to be at least a metre deep in areas to ensure that it never freezes over at the weekend. Several days in and I was wondering why we didn’t use a digger. Ultimately it was good exercise and it did mean that I could keep an eye on the stray bamboo roots. At the some point it did look as though open cast mining had arrived at the Suffolk Coast.
Unfortunately we had to fill the pond with tap water. It’s not ideal – a waste of drinking water – but to try and wait for rain water in Suffolk could take years. It does mean with all that chlorine it was initially a very wildlife – friendly environment. That said, it is amazing how quickly life finds it’s way in. Pond skaters, water boatmen and mosquito larvae (!) moved in pretty quickly. Fortunately for us (less for the mosquitos), after a couple of weeks, our neighbor came round, with an ice cream tub full of smooth newts.
They had been quietly hibernating under a concrete slab. They were a little surprised to be tipped (gently of course) into the pond, but they have settled in. The pond has three pebble beaches and shallow areas to allow creatures to find their way in and out. Next year we will be on the look out for frog spawn to add to our amphibian collection.
A few weeks later, once the pond had settled in and sourced ten Rudd (muddy brown with orange fins) from a friend’s pond and then added in a couple Tench (bottom feeders that I haven’t actually seen – but they are there). They are now swim around in a shoal. We just have to hope that the herons don’t spot them or else it would be short lived. They seem happy enough as the pond is now full of fry.
We have planted plants on the banks with traditional Japanese plants – Japanese holly, that can be clipped into mounds, azalea, hostas, acers, Solomon’s Seal, black Ophiopogon, Liriope and ferns. They are all small plants so they look a little teletubby at the moment but hopefully they will mature in a few years into something respectable.
Five Acre Barn news
Well its almost been a year since the last Five Acre Barn post. I realise that there are probably not many (any) people hanging on our every update…. but if you have a blog then I think that you are supposed to write something on a regular basis.
So here is a quick update.
Summer was incredibly busy – we had at least one guest staying with us every day from mid May to mid September. This was our third summer and it is great to see ourselves getting busier with plenty of guests returning for repeat visits and others being the result of recommendations. We have been lucky enough to get some very generous TripAdvisor and Google reviews which all help give potential guests the confidence to book. We also joined the Alastair Sawday platform with the aim of accessing the seemingly elusive week day market.
As in 2019 we hosted some of the talent from the Latitude Festival. It’s a real novelty for us to meet people in the public eye and it’s even better when they turn out to be so lovely and appreciative. Here is a photo of Colin from Mull Historical Society rehearsing his session with Bernard Butler. How cool is that?
We have also hosted a few photo shoots – for Volvo and for local fashion label Lavenham. Again it’s a real insight into a life that we have never had anything to do with in our past lives (I’m an accountant and Bruce was a Royal Navy Officer!). Unfortunately for the Lavenham team it poured with rain throughout (very un-Suffolk) but they soldiered on. Here they are in a huddle, capturing one of the models on the deck of room five.
We were offered an opportunity to be dressed and photographed in their (very cool) clothes but we decided that that really wouldn’t be a good idea!
We have also been lucky enough to have been featured in a couple of Interiors magazines – Country Living Modern Rustic and more recently House Beautiful. It’s very flattering to think that we are worthy of being included. It’s also fascinating to see how the professional photographers capture a room – hint always use natural light. Unsurprisingly they don’t follow my approach of standing in a corner up against a wall as if I were an estate agent trying to make the room seem as large as possible.
In other news…. we continue to work hard on the garden. The vegetable patch and gravel garden – some of the first areas we created – were wrestled back from the control of nettles and brambles. They had fallen by the way side as our attention went elsewhere. Of course it’s a constant battle but at least they don’t look as embarrassing as they did previously The area in front of the guest bedrooms has been extended further (see our previous post on the stumpery) and planted with grasses. It will need some time to mature as well as some additional planting (one guest with a drone showed us an aerial view of the area and it seemed to be a mass of earthy spaces from the air), but we are happy with the results so far. Here’s a photo from the autumn on a rather dull day.
I think that that is about all our news. Watch this space if I can think of something vaguely interesting to say!