Garden Projects FAQs

My tools are always jumbled in the shed and I would like to construct a very simple rack to hold them.

A straightforward rack can be made from offcuts of timber probably already in your possession. You will need a length of softwood to form the back, say 1-1.5 m (3 ¼ -5 ft) of 100 x 25 mm (4×1 in) section. Into this you can fit 25 mm (1 in) diameter dowels about 100 mm (4 in) long and about 100 mm (4 in) apart—a spacing that will accommodate virtually all garden tools. When making holes (with a spade bit or a hole-saw) to accept the dowels, bore them at a slight downward angle, so that the dowel pegs will slope upwards when the rack is in position. Bore the holes right through the timber to prevent glue pressure building up when the dowels are tapped in. When complete the rack can be neatly screwed into position.

The front of my house is rather stark, and window boxes would help to cheer things up. What is the best size for these, and how can I make them?

Most off-the-peg boxes do not fit the window sill, and look awkward as a result. A box should fit snugly between the reveals. Invariably a simple design looks best, and a box should be a minimum of 200 mm (8 in) deep to sustain plant growth. The bottom, ends, and sides should be made from 25 mm (1 in) thick timber, and the legs from 50 mm (2 in) square section, which is chamfered off to compensate for a sloping sill. Bore a number of 13 mm (½ in) holes in the bottom for drainage, and glue and screw the whole box together, either painting it with wood primer, undercoat, and topcoat or treating it with timber preservative (not creosote) for protection.

The felt on my shed roof has deteriorated and is now letting in rain. Is it easy to replace?

First remove all the old material. The heads often snap off old galvanised nails, so make sure no sharp points are left oustanding. Check the boards underneath and replace any that are rotten, treating both new and old timber with preservative. Bituminous felt should be laid in wide sections, the strips nearest the eaves first so that subsequent lengths overlap these. Fold the edges under before nailing with 13 mm (½ in) galvanised clout nails. Use a strip at least 375 mm (15 in) wide to go over the ridge.

I want to build a sandpit. Does this need any foundation, and what sort of sand should I use?

Sandpits are irresistible to small children, and so they should if possible be sited within view of the house. The pit should be dug 450 mm (18 in) deep in ground that is not subject to waterlogging. Ram a 150 mm (6 in) layer of hardcore into the bottom. In order to prevent the sides crumbling they should be lined with boards; elm wood is ideal. Cover the hardcore with a 50 mm (2 in) layer of washed pea-gravel and finally top up the pit with silver or washed river-sand. In order to discourage nocturnal visitors, a cover is essential; a waterproof one will keep the sand dry, and if it is firm and strong it can double as a play surface.

I have a fine old ash tree that would make an ideal host for a swing or tree house. Do you think I could fit these safely?

Ash has a tendency to snap under load, so check that the limbs are really stout and in first-class condition (this would be a good opportunity to carry out any necessary tree surgery)- A simple swing can be made from a single nylon rope, securely attached to a limb and passed down to an old car tyre.

Tree houses should not be built too high off the ground; in any case the lowest forks are both strongest and most accessible. The floor should be made from a simple framework of 100 x 50 mm (4 x 2 in) section softwood timbers, topped with a sheet of 19 mm thick exterior-grade ply.

This is an excellent project for the young do-it-yourselfer under supervision. Fit the floor into position and bore 13 mm (½ in) holes in the floor supports so that nylon ropes can be passed through and tied to adjacent branches. A simple knotted rope ladder can be provided for access, while an old tarpaulin or tent makes an excellent roof.

We have just moved to a house with a tiny backyard. We are completely repaving this and I would like to incorporate a paddling pool. I do not want the usual plastic type stuck in the middle.

As you are making a clean sweep select a sunny spot close to a house wall, and leave a gap in the paving approximately 1.2 m (4 ft) square. Dig this out to a depth of 225 mm (9 in) and ram 75 mm (3 in) of hardcore into the bottom. In the remaining 150 mm (6 in) form a dish with a maximum depth of 100 mm (4 in), using a 4:1 mix of mortar, finished with a wooden float to give a non-slip finish. The water splash can either be filled by hand or served by a pipe and stopcock from the adjacent house wall.

I wish to extend the growing season in my greenhouse without heating. I have seen that there are double glazing systems available, but can I fit them myself?

A simple system can be made up at minimal cost using PVC or polythene sheeting. With a timber framed house sheets can be fixed with drawing pins and joined with clear adhesive tape, while suction pads are available for aluminium houses. Make sure there is a gap of at least 13 mm (½ in) between the glass and sheet; and remember that, although the system will retain heat, it will also cut down the intensity of light available to your plants.

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