The Four Cement Mixer Household


Agapanthus ‘Zachary’ has been a magnet for butterflies and bees this past weekend.


Well let’s leave the dust behind us shall we (only for a little while mind) and get out into the fresh air. It is summer after all, even though I’ve had far less time to enjoy it than I’d have liked. But don’t be fooled into thinking we’re talking hammocks, Pimms and lazy afternoons with a picnic down by the river. Because we’re not.



Previously, on rusty duck.

If you recall we’d I’d decided way back at the start of the year that renovating the major portion of the ground floor of a house would be insufficiently demanding as a project on its own. Of course I couldn’t have been expected to anticipate the requirement to hoick up beams and totally rebuild walls, a narrowly averted but potentially catastrophic water leak or our spectacular recreation of the Namibian desert on the sitting room floor (now could I?). But even so. No, she who shall remain nameless decided, in the spirit of progress, to embark on a major landscaping project at the same time.



We have dug down so far and shifted so much earth I’ve no doubt the workings can be seen from space.

The idea is to use the excavated spoil to extend the level of the lawn (seen at the far end in this shot) towards the camera and continue the low lonicera hedge to form a natural boundary between this new level and the river area below.



Structural blockwork will hold back the tons of earth and shillet in new terraced beds, three levels in total by the time we’re done.



Natural stone provides the facing for each wall.

And to prove that Sod’s Law is still around to haunt us, this is where we have properly messed up. It seemed the logical thing to go to a local quarry for the stone. First because the stone would be true to the local vernacular and second, it was the best chance we had to match up with the original terrace walls in front of the house. Accepting that the original walls have had decades over which to weather, their stone is, indisputably, dark grey.

As indeed was the stone in the quarry when we made the special trip out there to inspect it. A price was agreed and hands were shaken, as is the way. When the first lorry load (six tons) had been tipped onto the drive we noticed that it came heavily coated in mud. No problem, we thought, the mud will come off. Mike gave the heap of stone a quick going over with a pressure washer..



Devon ironstone. Sedimentary rock with iron deposits. Eeeep.

Rather more red than grey. Because what does iron do when exposed to air? It oxidises. Basically, it rusts. We’ve tried splitting the chunks of stone but while the cut edge may start out grey the ‘rust’ can appear within a matter of days. We even gave a rock to the sand blaster with instructions to do his worst. But no. Yoghurt will be the long term answer methinks. And probably a great deal of it too.



There may not be Pimms but we do have the tent.. the gazebo has made the job weatherproof!



It isn’t just us cursing the stone.

There are some very large chunks of it and the waller is having to angle grind many of them to make it all fit. I am keen to avoid too much of the crazy paving look. On top of that we’ve made his life doubly hard by asking him to lay the stones so that the faces less affected by the iron deposits, such as there are, predominate. It’s going to be a much longer job than any of us would have wanted but that’s just the way it is. Fortunate perhaps that I have somewhere to over winter all the plants I’d been saving for here!

Eagle-eyed reader that you are, you’ll already have spotted that there’s more..



Footings dug ready for the new greenhouse..



Concrete base in progress, reinforced with rebar..

Mike mixed the whole lot in just one day while the waller poured it into position. Over five tons..



A visit from the building inspectors..



The lower area inside the footings at front will take an underground water reservoir in due course. The narrower section at back provides for integral cold frames.

A low stone wall will now be built on top of the concrete base to support the aluminium structure of the greenhouse. The tolerances allowed by the manufacturer are minuscule. For the external dimensions, length and width of the greenhouse, we’re only permitted to be 5mm out. Around the door opening the tolerance is zero. Such rigour demands a squarer, more regular, stone than we’ve used on the terrace walls..

..and a specialist builder. He arrived on site yesterday. With a whole new array of equipment and supplies..




The house renovators have a cement mixer. That’s it at the back.

The terrace waller has a cement mixer.

The greenhouse wall builder has a cement mixer.

And, not to be outdone, we even have a cement mixer of our own. An antique example left behind by the previous owner after the house and its outbuildings were meant to have been cleared. It’s been in the garage ever since.


Is there a collective noun for a gathering of cement mixers?



2019-08-06T09:37:11+01:00August 6th, 2019|Tags: |


  1. Kerry August 6, 2019 at 10:01 am - Reply

    Love your sense of humour in the face of adversity! But – I rather like the mixed colours of the walls – would make a nice background to the veg and flowers. Tumbling tomatoes or nasturtiums over the edge . . . keep an eye on those two little darlings though, they’d nip off your goodies in no time at all – not to mention mum and dad getting in on the act!
    It seems things are turning to the light at the end of the tunnel stage in the garden. All ready for the next growing season. Here’s hoping the house has passed the point of nasty surprises now.

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 7:56 pm - Reply

      Yes, the little darlings are a mixed blessing. Apart from the nibbling they were climbing around the footings of the greenhouse and I feared they might fall in! Mum and Dad appear a little preoccupied at the moment, him chasing her around and around a large fern down by the river. I think the next generation of little darlings may be foremost in his mind.

  2. derrickjknight August 6, 2019 at 10:19 am - Reply

    And you have managed to produce excellent photographs and entertaining prose. I think spinney might be the collective noun you are looking for

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 7:57 pm - Reply

      Perfect! I knew I could rely on you 🙂

  3. Barbara H. August 6, 2019 at 11:42 am - Reply

    To my eyes which have no expectations of matching other stone, the walls look very good. But yes, it all must be a little (a lot?) overwhelming. Progress is good.

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 8:01 pm - Reply

      There are days when it’s difficult to know which way to turn first. Tomorrow all trades will be on site and therefore, potentially, all three working cement mixers fully operational. After that the weather goes rapidly downhill so who knows what will happen next..

  4. Pauline August 6, 2019 at 11:44 am - Reply

    A conglomeration of cement mixers sounds about right! Love your agapanthus and your stone, I know it doesn’t match, but will you see it when the beds are planted up?

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 8:05 pm - Reply

      It does sound right!
      The bottom wall is the one we’ll see the most. But I’ve asked for planting pockets. Erigeron karvinskianus I love you.

  5. Mary August 6, 2019 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    Un mélange de bétonnières. Things always sound a bit sexier in French. Even cement mixers.

    I must say, you twol seem to be single-handedly employing every artisan construction outfit in southwest England. I suspect there will be a downturn in the construction business when your work is completed–a day you can hardly imagine will ever arrive, I suspect. Would that I were there I would deliver you a case of gin.

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 8:12 pm - Reply

      I agree, even cement mixers!
      Would that you were here we would have a very merry time entertaining you on the patio with as many gin cocktails as we could muster between us. The builder was saying today that when he initially started the job he reckoned two weeks. That was back in April..

  6. karen August 6, 2019 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    Cutest ever building inspectors. Can’t wait to see the greenhouse. Good luck with the projects, Jessica. All looks fabulous. Karen

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 8:19 pm - Reply

      Thanks Karen. The greenhouse is a bit of an indulgence, but it will keep me going until the glorious day comes when I am free to just potter in it and enjoy the garden. Optimism rules.

  7. Anne August 6, 2019 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    Onwards and upwards Jessica. How about a “churn” of cement mixers?

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 8:21 pm - Reply

      Ha ha! Yes, definitely. Brilliant.

  8. Linda August 6, 2019 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    So I had better bring my own cement mixer if I come for a visit 🤣 just to fit in with the others.

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 8:25 pm - Reply

      Yep. You can’t get through the gate without one these days. But I would love to be a fly on the wall when you go through customs!

  9. Denise August 6, 2019 at 1:23 pm - Reply

    I like the stones. For what it’s worth. 🙂

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 8:28 pm - Reply

      I am warming to them, especially as they seem to be fading a bit already. They may have seen the benefit of a fine coat of mortar. The stuff that comes out of the three cement mixers as they’re cleaned at the end of the day may prove to be the perfect consistency.

  10. Kristin Russo August 6, 2019 at 2:58 pm - Reply

    It’s beautiful! And I think the rusty stones will go very nicely in the end with all things rusty duck. Thank you for sharing!

    • Morag August 6, 2019 at 4:37 pm - Reply

      An aggregate of cement mixers? I like the look of the stone work. It’ll be fab when it’s all done. Less drawn out having so much on the go simultaneously, but intense!

      • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 8:40 pm - Reply

        An aggregate! Now that is a very clever answer. I love words which have a double meaning.
        Our theory was that by doing two projects together it would hasten the day we could call it all done. But yes, it’s been very intense and I’m not at all sure I would recommend it as a strategy!

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 8:31 pm - Reply

      You know, that thought hadn’t crossed my mind until you mentioned it. More rusty ironwork in the potager may well be the way forward, if only as a distraction!

  11. Linda from Each Little World August 6, 2019 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    Order and beauty slowly emerging from chaos!

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 8:32 pm - Reply

      Very slowly!

  12. Kris P August 6, 2019 at 7:07 pm - Reply

    You are a glutton for punishment! (Is that an expression used in the UK?) Regardless, I’m VERY envious of the terracing project, and the greenhouse, although the latter is arguably of little use in a climate like mine. I’ve done pretty much nothing on my back slope since my second encounter with what I believe were fire ants there. My husband is open to hiring help to do something with the area but not until after the home remodel project is done – so next year at best. Best wishes with all your projects. May they proceed without any further complications!

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 8:50 pm - Reply

      It’s definitely an expression used in the UK. I’m not sure I deliberately seek out punishment but it certainly knows the quickest route to the door.
      From what I’ve picked up on the geography of your garden you’ll have exactly the same problem as we have had: getting any heavy earth moving equipment down to the slope. Little diggers can do the job but they’re much slower and therefore more expensive in days hired. Isn’t it always the way. Our man has to pass through a pinch point less than a metre wide but he a cute machine with tracks which pull in underneath it and can be moved outwards again when he reaches the site. There are ways.

  13. pollymacleod August 6, 2019 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    I’ve been absent from my own blog and reading my favourite blogs, but I have caught up with you from your holiday in Australia – beautiful photos, to your current projects, phew have you been busy! I think your stone walls look lovely. You could have donned your wellies and perched on the precipitous bank for a short Pimms break 🙂

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 8:54 pm - Reply

      Like you I love Australia. I could go back anytime and there are no shortage of photo opportunities with the colours of the land, sea and sky.
      It’s just been a glass or two of wine in the evening. Despite my best intentions I usually end up needing it!

  14. Charles August 6, 2019 at 11:12 pm - Reply

    Have you arranged water and power for your greenhouse. When we moved in I was delighted to inherit a red cedar greenhouse. It had a mains connection for power and water and it has proved very useful.

    The scale of your building work is staggering. When it finishes will you secretly miss it or will you go secretly take on other projects? If you could build in the winter and garden in the summer that would probably be more fun.

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 9:14 pm - Reply

      The greenhouse collects water from its roof and stores it in an underground tank. We were mulling over the possibility of having mains water as well, but then the tank was delivered and it’s enormous. I could quite easily take a bath in it. Hopefully Devon rain will do the honours (there’s an overflow, fear not!) but failing that we can always run a hosepipe down to the greenhouse and refill the tank via the gutter. They’ve dug a channel for power. Just needs connecting up.
      I reckon there’s enough smaller projects to keep boredom at bay for the foreseeable future. But we’ve spent more on the greenhouse than perhaps we should have done because that’s where I intend to spend many of my days when all this is done. I reckon it’s just out of WiFi range. And I won’t be able to hear the phone. Or the doorbell.

  15. Sue Garrett August 6, 2019 at 11:22 pm - Reply

    It makes our bathroom refurbishment look,easy peas.

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 9:16 pm - Reply

      No bathroom refurbishment is easy peasy!

  16. Penelope Hommeyer August 7, 2019 at 1:47 am - Reply

    Each post is more wondrous than the last… its all going to be soooo lovely

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 9:17 pm - Reply

      It has to be, I’m not sure I could cope with going through all of this if it isn’t!

  17. bittster August 7, 2019 at 3:00 am - Reply

    Oh my gosh. I thought the sandblasting downstairs was the last massive hurdle to clear. You are officially crazy! I hope you have a sanctuary somewhere in which to decompress when you need to get away. The sweep of lawn will be fantastic, I can’t believe how open and light your garden (garden area, since it’s still short a few plantings!) has become.

    • Jessica August 7, 2019 at 9:25 pm - Reply

      There is one more massive hurdle to clear. They are taking down the ceilings in the sitting and dining rooms this week. And then hopefully that’s the last of the destruction and we’re into building back up. A turning point!
      It does all feel very open at the moment but it will soon be more natural again when it turns back to green. I hope we don’t lose the light though. The trees around the perimeter will need careful managing.

  18. Beth@PlantPostings August 8, 2019 at 4:03 am - Reply

    Woah, you guys are amazing! I can’t wait to see how this all ends up. It will be incredible!

    • Jessica August 10, 2019 at 7:57 am - Reply

      It will still be a lot of work, to get it all tidied and planted up, even when the building work is done. But I hope it will be worth it!

  19. sustainablemum August 8, 2019 at 10:02 am - Reply

    I have been away from here for a long time and now I come back and you are still in the thick of major work. You must have an enormous amount of patience! It will look amazing when it is all done…………your mention of cement mixers reminds me of a time I contacted a friend to find out how her house renovations were getting on, the reply was that all she had in the kitchen was a very big hole and a cement mixer, only one mind.

    • Jessica August 10, 2019 at 8:17 am - Reply

      So good to hear from you again. I hope all is well with you all and the garden.
      Patience isn’t one of my virtues sadly. I get excited at the start of a project and again at the end but the long bit in the middle is quite a trial.
      The hurdles we must overcome for the sake of renovation! It makes arriving at the finish line all the more satisfying.

  20. janesmudgeegarden August 11, 2019 at 5:36 am - Reply

    A rumble of cement mixers? I haven’t commented for a while, but I’ve been following your progress with great interest. I thought nothing could top the indoor dramas, but perhaps the garden is coming close. The stone walls are looking wonderful.

    • Jessica August 11, 2019 at 11:40 am - Reply

      Rumble sounds about right, especially when they’re all going at once!
      It’s a race now to get the walls built before the greenhouse arrives and the autumn rains. As if the summer rains haven’t been enough.

  21. Diana Studer August 12, 2019 at 12:25 am - Reply

    I wonder – we had huge Table Mountain Sandstone boulders in our first Camps Bay garden, One by the front door, which the builder whacked a chunk off so the scaffolding was steady. After we had told them NOT to touch the rocks.
    It left a ‘bloody raw’ patch like a grazed knee. But after many months it mellowed and weathered back to the neutral not red sand colour.
    Patience … wall will be ready once the house is (sorry)

    • Jessica August 12, 2019 at 10:02 pm - Reply

      The builder’s damage to the rock would have sent me into apoplexy.
      The stone here does seem to be mellowing already, for which I’m very grateful. A winter of all that the weather can throw at it can only help the process. Patience is not something I’m particularly good at, but will have to do here methinks. Plus yoghurt..

  22. Torrington Tina August 13, 2019 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    I see I was beaten to ‘an aggregate’. Love the building inspectors.

    • Jessica August 13, 2019 at 8:21 pm - Reply

      Aggregate is a good one isn’t it. I think Mike has frightened off the building inspectors. They were getting a little too curious. And it was the second night running..

  23. Torrington Tina August 14, 2019 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    Is Mike any good at frightening off hares as well, I don’t seem to having much luck at that.
    My computer and broadband are behaving so well (about time too and long may it continue) that I seem to be able to leave comments by both iPhone and computer so now I have no excuses.
    Keep going!

    • Jessica August 14, 2019 at 10:14 pm - Reply

      Don’t tempt fate! 😉

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