For a Refreshing Change!


 We are all aware how important preperations are.  It takes minutes to spray a car but days to get rid of the rust, dents, and scratches - likewise, painting a wall in your home is done within a few hours, but the whole job will look terrible if you dont prepare the wall's first. Landscaping is the same.  Anyone within reason can lay a Patio or a new lawn, but if the base isn't right - the finish wont be.

1 - CLEARANCE Part 1:

It says 'Part 1' on the heading, and for good reason.  Most gardens are full of stuff that needs to be cleared out of the way.  I mean things like the barbeque, patio furniture, kids toys, trampolines, swings and slides, dustbins, compost bins, basically everything that is not growing !   All this stuff needs to be put in an area that you know will not be worked on.  If there is not an area that needs work, then pick a soiled area well away from the proposed Patio and place it all there.  There is nothing worse than having to move the same pile of stuff about five or more times as you are trying to work.  Armed with good gloves, your old trousers and steel toe capped foot protection we can go to the next stage.

2 - CLEARANCE Part 2:

This is where we start to do some work.  You should have sat down by now and being quite stern with yourself, have decided what plants are staying and what are going.  The one's that are going need to come out, and come out by the root.  Don't muck about trying to dig out an established plant with a spade, shovel or even worse - a fork.  Get a hold of a Mattock (try for less than £20).  With this tool you will use it as a lever, a chopper, a trentcher and what we want here, a digger.  If the plant to be removed is quite big, prune it down so you can get at it with the mattock, but leave the plants strongest branches remaining - these are used as levers to assist in the plants own removal. The pruned plant should just have long broomstick branches pointing straight up from the plant itself.  If it's a bushy shrub, leave five or seven branches that can all be grabbed together as one to help with it's removal. What you are trying to make here are quite simply 'handles' so you can grab it out and give a bit of leverage.

Imagine what shape a life saving ring is, a circle with a hole in it.  That's the sort of shape to dig. When you dig around the plant, dig a complete circle around the root, cutting through any stubborn roots by turning the mattock tool around so it's now a chopper.  When you have completed the circle all around the root at least six inches deep,  stand astride the plant swing the mattock down and between your legs to sever the main tap root that grows straight down underneath the plant - you may not see it, but it's there. Do at least ten good swings till the mattock cutting edge is past the halfway point of the plant.  At this point you should be able to just get a hold of the tall branches you left on the plant and push them over to one side and then the other, you will hear a few cracks and the plant will be out.  Be a little more fussy once it's out going over the area again with the mattock to remove any other roots that may still be there.  Repeat this process for all the plants that require removal.  No broken shovels,spades or forks. If you do need to use a shovel, get one with a long handle. These feel awkward at first but they don't give you a backache after a day working with them, and these one's have fibre handles, so no splinters ! - they have been using this type in France, Spain and Italy for hundreds of years !  Images of both are below, and is the place to get them.



                       The Mattock                                 The Long-Handled Shovel

Assuming you have now cleared out all your unwanted plants (remember to remove any bulbs if you had them as well!), we now get to the levels.

The first level to worry about is the Patio.  A finished Patio, that is, the actual bit you walk upon, should be one and a half bricks below your damp course membrane.  This is a line of tarred sheeting that is waterproof and is cemented into a course of bricks in your house to stop any moisture getting up from the ground and into the walls of your house. It's typically at about the step level of your back door and should be seen every now and then between the bricks as a thin black tarry line.  Your finished total height of Patio should be one and a half bricks below this line.

A new patio needs a new base to sit upon. You can't lay slabs on sand or soil for cheapness (unless your selling the place), as these will move about in a very short period of time and will rock, wobble and crack.  A proper base should be what is known as 'Type1' or 'MOT' and available from any builders merchant.  This base needs to be put down at four inches thick. The cement sticking down your patio slabs will be about an inch and a half  thick, and lastly another inch and a quarter for the thickness of your slab.  Add this lot up and you get just under seven inches.  So, now you know, you need to dig out seven inches BELOW the damp course membrane?  But wait !  You have to be an inch and a half below that damp course !!!   So, a brick is around four inches plus a half brick is two - now we add it all up to a total of thirteen inches from the damp course down. This is the deepest we need to go for the perfect patio. Any deeper and you will be spending loads on more base material - any less and the patio may fail.

Now you know how deep you have to go, we need a guide so we're not guessing. Get off to B+Q's and buy some roofing battens - quite cheap each one is about an inch by a half inch in size. Cut these into two foot long sections - about a dozen should do for now.  You will need a club hammer and a long accurate spirit level, a six foot long level is about right.  Starting at the house, bang one of the stakes into the ground close to the house on a corner, then at intervals along the house, using the spirit level to get them bang-on level. Remember that the tops of these stakes should be the FINISHED patio height - that means the brick and a half below the damp course - so the tops are 6" lower than your damp course - only along the stakes that are next to the house. With a line of stakes now next to the house all level with each other and all the same height as the 6" below the damp course line in your house, you now need to get another line of stakes in with the slope required for water run-off from the patio.

It needs to be said here at this point that you will not be very successful at getting your stakes in the ground unless you dig a small trench with the mattock as you go. You should have a trench running along by the house with the stakes in place. Now place the level on the very first stake you put in, but coming out away from the house - this tells you where the next stake goes, so dig out your small trench and place your stake - but this stake has to be slighly lower than the one at the house for the water fall-off, so, get it in level first of all, then look at the spirit level and give the stake a slight tap until the bubble moves just touching the black line then stop - that's your fall-off level.  From this stake you can now go along parallel with the house digging your trench as you go.  This second line of stakes should all be level with each other but show the bubble on the spirit level just on the black line if the level was laid from the house stake to this new second line.  Pheww !   Still with me on this?

As you are digging away, you should be putting all this excess soil in the skip, unless there is a very low area of the garden that needs to be built up.  You need to regulary get rid of this excess soil - as-you-go is a good idea, otherwise you will be trampling it into irregular mounds, and as a few hours goes by, the garden will start to resemble a World War 2 battlefield !

With your second line of stakes now in place and your excess soil out of the way, you should now be able to stand back and see stakes all in trenches and the trenches make square patters all over the area - quite pretty actually ! And, in summary the line of stakes next to your house should be 6" lower than the damp course line in your house brickwork.

When looking at all these high square shapes, these are what's got to be dug out. Treat each square as it's own little job and after softening with the mattock use the shovel to move to the skip via the barrow.  Normally this area of the work would be done within a day if we were doing the job - it may take you longer, don't cheat, get it all out, better to be just a little too deep than too shallow.  This is the basics of the preperation for the patio keeping it all as short as I can.  I have not touched on the drains around your house or if you need drains laid in anywhere to catch water from the lawn, a conservatory , lean-to or other structure.  If this part of the tutorial has helped you, let me know via email and maybe I would expand on this at some point.  But, for now, thats the preperation for the patio area out of the way.


Now all the hard stuff is out of the way we can concentrate on the areas that will be the planted areas.

You should have already gone over the beds at the clearance #1 stage when removing the plants and unwanted shrubs, so work here should be minimal.  You just need to improve the soil itself so when your new plants go in, they will thrive.   Another trip to B+Q's or Homebase for some compost - and plenty of it !   For every square metre of bed area you should be putting a full large bag - I dont quote bag sizes here as all stores do different sizes and when I do state a size they change it ! - so a big bag is one that comes up to your waist if you stood it on it's end, one of these for every large pace on your beds.  Split these open and rake out evenly over the bed, then this is the time for the good old fork - off you go, a good fork tynes depth please all over, and any compost left over? spread this on the surface after forking and let the worms do the rest.  That ends the bed preperations. Easy Huh?


This question has got to be asked at this stage, this is the point where if you need to sort out a new concrete base for the shed or other structure, there may be digging involved and therefore preperation and mess.  I am sure that I do not need to guide you through the methods of making a concrete base for a structure - again, email me if you need the step-by-step?


This is the last area of preperation deliberately.   You have been marching all over this area when doing everything else, so there was no point in touching it any earlier.

What is the height of your lawn going to be?  You have stakes still in the ground up by the patio, and you know that the top of these stakes are the finished height... so, your lawn should ideally be about an inch below the height of the patio, so when it rains, the water comes off the patio and onto the grass to soak away. *If you do have a drainage problem read how we do it in the 'Revamp' section and adopt the idea.

The patio was quite complicated with depths of excavations and all that.  All you need to remember here on the lawn is a turf allowance of an inch and two inches for some new top-soil - that's three inches below the height of your patio stakes nearest the grass, or the stakes the farthest away from the house, depending where your standing. Use the stake idea as we used on the patio, but this time just push in bamboo plant canes to give you a guide as to if any soil needs to be removed from the grass area. Remember these canes would be so the tops are three inches below the tops of your patio stakes.  If your garden is only small and your eye is good, you may not have to do the canes in the lawn area - but stick a few in with the level anyway, it takes seconds and you can see just how good your eye was !


OK, let's think about this ... the patio areas done .... the beds are prepared .... the bases are all dug out for my shed, and the lawn area is all ready for soil and new grass.

At this point it's up to you !   Can you see anything else that may generate yet more soil or debris?  This is where nothing else should ever go out to the skip - from your existing garden I mean.  The skip will still be needed when you have the debris from all the rest of the work you have to do, but for now, nothing else should be going out of the garden from this point forward.  Give yourself a pat on the back, use that second pot of Deep Heat Vapour Rub for the lower back and shoulders - have a week off - you deserve it.   Whilst you are off with your feet up, think about lighting and electrics.  Do you want a power socket in the shed?  Do you want some low voltage lighting fitted into your patio so you can watch your guests drink your beer?  Maybe you would like to go for the new / safe fibre optic lighting?  Whatever, now is the time to think about the cable placement whilst the ground is excavated and soft. This now ends this section on Preperation.

Please proceed on to The Buildings