Solar Lights: the good the bad and the very pretty Monday, Apr 18 2011 

I’ve been experimenting with solar lights in the garden.  Lighting schemes transform a landscape into a fairyland or fantasy if done well.  They can shine gloriously up into the canopy of ancient trees, line a winding footpath beckoning you on or sparkle like diamonds in the night breeze.

Rather than spend a fortune on wiring up the garden, and then a subsequent fortune on electricity, I’ve been giving solar a go.  As it doesn’t cost the earth.

And this is what I’ve found.

Firstly, you can buy very cheap solar lights – as little as $20.  You can install them yourself easily.  They do work, and they don’t break.  However, the reason why they are cheap, is that they are very faint as they generally only have one tiny LED.  They emit more of a glow than a beam.  The more LEDs the brighter.

So it is worth spending more.

Solar fairy lights are fabulous.  You can buy them in strings of 50, 100, 200 and more.  Again, the more you pay, the more little lights you get.  And with fairy lights, more is more.  You don’t want a stingy smattering.  You want diamond laden branches, sparkling through the dusk.  So spend more.  Make sure you get super bright LED lights.

The ones I purchased last up to eight hours.  I’ve never tested this as I’m always asleep by then!  In the photo above (my camera isn’t good enough to really capture it), is a string of 60 lights.  You can see that it’s nowhere near enough for a dramatic effect even in a small tree.  I’m going to have to buy more…. but I wanted to test them first.

LEDs are available in different colours so you can be as wild as you like.  As you can imagine, I stuck to white. 

One of the fabulous things about solar lights is that you don’t have to worry about turning them on – as the light fades, they illuminate, surprising you in a lovely way.

If it has been raining for a couple of days, the light will be very dim.  Otherwise, they seem to fire up every night.

Solar is definitely the way forward – but spend up.  You do get what you pay for.


Indoor-outdoor living: veranda before and after Monday, Feb 7 2011 

Veranda before

Sometimes I look at the before photos of the house (see above) and wonder that I purchased it!   This ‘lean-to’ was painted Mission Brown (remember the 1970’s??).  The brick of the house was unattractive.  It had few saving graces.

I did get the house rendered professionally (by an amazing Croatian family – who did an amazing job).  Then I set to on the paintwork myself.  What a difference a coat of white paint makes.  I chose Winter White in an outdoor paint formulated to withstand the Australian sun (after shown below).

White painted veranda after

The tiles were replaced, as I mention here.  The leaning brush was taken down and nature reed used to cover the lattice both for privacy, and for a more up-to-date look.  Here is another ‘before’ below.

Inside veranda before

This is the exact same view after.  Can you believe it?

Veranda indoor outdoor living

The chairs are the same.  I just painted them white and recovered the cushions.

day bed outdoor living veranda design interiors

I made the day bed myself.  That’s something for another post. 

You can see more on the outdoor patio area makeover here – but just a reminder of this view before…

roof garden patio before

…and after….

veranda with view to patio

I planted lilies all along behind the day bed to break it all up with greenery.  These Madonna Lilies are renowned for their ability to purify the air.  Not that we have much issue with that – but it’s nice to know!  They love it here – lots of light but no direct sun.

Day bed veranda indoor outdoor living design

I really wanted this to feel like a proper room, so I have used all the things that I’d put in a sitting room.  Whilst it is exposed, it doesn’t get direct weather.  So I chose to use indoor fabrics (not weather proof ones) as I like the feel of real velvet, and real linen. 

Day bed veranda indoor seating outdoor living design

Loads of cushions make it feel luxurious and relaxed.  I’ve kept the base colour scheme neutral so that if I feel like a change, all I need do is alter the cushion covers.

Patio and roof garden design: before and after Friday, Jan 14 2011 

roof garden patio before

This was the patio as it was when I bought this house…. I called it my prison exercise yard.  It was a square of ugly brick walls, with pink tiles.  There was so much not to like.  The 2cm of thick grey grout between each tile.  The flesh pink of the tiles themselves, that clashed with the yellow-grey brick.  A selection of half-dead plants and disused furniture cluttered the area.

veranda before

This has been one of the most rewarding projects.  I had the walls rendered to cover the brick, and eventually I paved over the old tiles with a fake travertine ceramic (real travertine picks up mould and dirt as it is porous).

I then set about designing a planting scheme.  Here is what I learned along the way:

veranda after

In a small area, stick to two or three plants only.   Any more and it looks cluttered and messy.  I put Lilly Pilly (an Australian native that is very similar to European Box) hedges around the edge and used Magnolia Little Gem and Junipers as accent plants.

Verandah roof terrace after interiors design patio

As a focal point in the centre I bought an old bronze water feature, with a double fountain.  I don’t have this wired up, but the rain keeps it full (and when necessary I top it up).  My gorgeous cat is fascinated!

bronze statue little boy water carrier patio garden design

I planted a pot of gardenia in the corner as I can’t resist their heavenly perfume.  But overall, I wanted a French Formal garden look, so I kept flowers to a minimum, (and only white ones), and went for geometric shapes and hedging (structure) rather than wild planting.  In a small area I felt anything else would be overwhelming.

white gardenia flower

I selected plants that are evergreen (easy in Australia) as I want this to look verdant all year round as I see it from the kitchen and dining areas.

potted magolia little gem patio design

I sought advice from a horticulturist on which plants would do best in this environment.  Having spent the first 30 years of my life in England, I’m no expert on Australian plants (although I am improving).  Plants can be expensive and I didn’t want them dying on me!

Bronze statue Verandah roof terrace after interiors design patio

To make it feel more like a garden (and less like a concrete patio) I hid the walls by planting hedges in front of them.  Initially I was concerned that this might make the area feel smaller, as I was losing about 60cm all around the perimeter.  but just as moving your furniture away from the walls doesn’t make your room feel smaller, so this just made the area feel more garden-like.

As this is actually a garden built on the roof of the living room below, the only soil is that in planters and pots.  Size matters here.  Go as large as you can for the benefit of the plant…

Bronze statue Verandah roof terrace after interiors design patio2

I bought the plants from a wholesale nursery, which was about a third of the price of retail.  You can’t pick out your own plants, but I was prepared to sacrifice that for the financial savings I was making.

White magnolia flower

The water feature attracts lots of native birds.  This is a gorgeous Galah.  And this is why the cats are always on their hind legs – drinking very the water that the birds have bathed in?  What could be more delicious?!

galah bird bath fountain roof garden patio design

Here is another ‘before’ shot, from above.  I didn’t change the lattice work, which gives privacy around the edge of the roof garden, and would have been pricey.  It was very sturdy and in good condition.  Instead I covered it with nature-reed.  I think this looks a little more modern and interesting.  I also considered growing creepers or vines over it, but this fitted with my simple, formal scheme best.

patio before from above

I used large planters.  Fewer large pots look much better than lots of little ones (which I had before).  The larger the pot, the happier the plant – it doesn’t dry out so easily, it has more soil and nutrients and can grow more healthily.  

It also works to keep to one pot design.  Lots of different ones again look messy and cluttered.  I used different pots for my focal plants, and otherwise kept to a neutral vanilla ceramic euro-trough.   This was a big lesson for me.  Few pots, all of the same type, are what you need for visual impact!

roof garden patio design lilli pilli

This last photo is a tantalising glimpse of the indoor-outdoor living area I created.  I’ll post before and after photos of that shortly.  I was aiming for  Hamptons-style area in which to relax, but on a non-existent budget.

verandah roof garden patio garden design

Sculpture for your garden: ideas and inspiration Wednesday, Nov 3 2010 

The most wonderful exhibition of the year is on for three weeks in Sydney – Sculpture by the Sea.  It’s the most fabulous combination of spectacular views – around the coastline and across the Pacific Ocean, with fun, beautiful, innovative and wacky sculpture.  There are over 100 pieces of art, and a stunning cliff-top walk.  And it’s all free!

Garden Sculpture

This fabulous tube of paint is squirting all over Bondi Beach!  It is such fun – so much energy and movement..

Sculpture by the Sea

 I loved this beautiful asymmetrical archway that seems to be part of its environment.

Stunning outdoor sculpture

This chicken was one of my favourites – it’s beautifully made from thousands of welded circles of metal.  Inside, it has ‘eggs’ which light up.  And as for the palm tree sticking out of its backside… well it’s just too funny.  And it is also beautiful.

Chicken sculpture

This wonderful flamenco-style, colourful piece is made of loads of recycled plastic tops, all connected together.  It’s a commentary on how slugs leave a trail of slime and humans leave a trail of litter and pollution…. Of course I love the fact that it’s made of recycled elements and that the artist has created something so beautiful out of it.  The patience it must have taken to connect every single plastic cap together defies belief.

Recycled plastic sculpture

Recycled sculpture

Another (totally crazy!) recycling idea is this unusual piece, which is made out of dryer lint.  Yes!  That grotty stuff you scrape out has made a gorgeous piece of art called ‘Sea Cells’.

recycled dryer lint sculpture

Having a bad day?  This one (Anguish) says it all!  I love his double sets of eyes and fingers (and toes)

Anguish garden sculpture

I coveted this simple idea: beautiful smooth boulders wrapped in stainless steel.

Steel wrapped boulder sculpture

I can just imagine a pile of these in my garden…  It’s like jewelry for your rocks.  Subtle and intriguing.

If you’re having trouble with your lawn – why not give up and roll it back?  A witty tin opener reveals interest beneath the turf…

Tin opener turf garden sculpture

Finally – a beautifully carved sandstone crab crawls out from under a rock:

Sandstone crab

If you’re in Sydney – you should definitely see this year’s exhibition.  And if you’re not – why not come and visit for next year’s?