Category Archives: DIY

Vertical gardening verdict

Just over two months ago I wrote about how we were going to try vertical gardening to bring to life an ugly fence.

Well, here is the finished product, in all it’s grassy glory:


Looking lush.

Not bad, if you can recall we imagined it to look something like this:

Green wall

Imagining what a vertical garden might look like.

Nearly all of the plants we purchased were tubestock and they’ve grown rapidly.


A colourful mix.

The plants in the picture above are:


Growing grasses.

The plants in the photo above are:

I’m pretty impressed with the results. It’s turned out (so far) better than I expected. The plants make a huge difference to the feel of the outdoor area, particularly in the afternoon as the sun goes down and catches on the shiny grasses. Plus, it has the added benefit of being the only garden bed we haven’t had to wrap in chicken wire to keep the dogs out!


Looking lush.


Looking lush.


Doing it ourselves: the landscaping saga! Part two: Dirt

After all the garden edging was completed, we decided to buy some soil. You need at least 50 mm (but 100 mm is best) of turf underlay soil. We’re on clay, clay and more clay, so we went with the 100 mm, and it worked out a little deeper in some locations as well.

You can get turf underlay from heaps of different places. My advice is to shop around. $35-40 per tonne seems to be about the usual price, but we managed to get great quality soil for $29 per tonne from Burgess Soil. The premium native mix soil was about $31 per tonne. When James asked for delivery they said they don’t deliver to our area. When he said we’d be ordering just under 70 tonnes they changed their mind and delivered for free!

I have honestly never seen so much dirt!




The darker coloured dirt in that last photo is a native soil mix suitable for growing native plants.

A mate of James’ spread quite a bit of the dirt around in the back yard with his little excavator, a few hours worth at around $80 per hour. The rest of it was up to us, a wheelbarrow, two shovels and a rake. It was a fair bit of work, but we got there in the end.

Doing it ourselves: the landscaping saga! Part one: Garden Edging

My loyal followers, I am sorry for being absolutely slack and not blogging much at all lately! We have been so exceptionally busy with a wicked combination of work, end-of-year madness and all of this landscaping.

After we fumbled our way though the letterbox construction and the fencing went up, we decided the next thing to start on would be the garden edging. We started on the easiest section on 20/11/14. We’re still not finished some sections!

There are a number of ways you can install garden edging but as per our landscaping plan we decided to stick with pavers. There are a couple of advantages to pavers:

  • they won’t rot, unlike sleepers and other kinds of timber garden edging
  • they won’t discolor or become brittle, unlike plastic garden edging
  • they provide a good barrier between the turf and the garden beds, limiting opportunities for the grass to invade the garden bed
  • they shouldn’t move out of place as easily as most other kinds of edging.

The downside is they can be time consuming to lay!


  • Pavers. You want something solid the whole way through and roughly 200 x 100 x 50 mm in size. They come in a number of colours and can get them from most nurseries and hardware stores like Bunnings. They’re sometimes called a “havenbrick”. They tend to cost about $1 each but are available for less if you shop around. We brought ours from Turtle Nursery (85c each). To work out how many you will need, measure up all the lengths of where the bricks will go and divide by the length of the paver (usually 200 mm).
  • Cement. It’s hard to estimate the amount of cement you’ll need but there are lots of online calculators that can give you a rough idea, like this one.
  • Brickies sand. The landscape supplier should be able to tell you how much sand you’ll need depending on how much concrete you’re buying.


  • trowel
  • either a wheelbarrow and shovel for mixing the cement, or a cement mixer
  • shovel for making the ground level
  • string line and pegs
  • string line spirit level
  • tape measure
  • rubber mallet
  • hammer and chisel, or angle grinder to cut pavers (if you have to)


1. Level the ground as best you can with the shovel.

2. Set up a string line to help guide where your edging will go. You’ll need to use a peg to secure each end and stretch the line tight. Check that it’s level using a string line level and that the height of the string matches what your finished height of the edging will be.

3. Mix the concrete,

4. Start laying out the bricks. Plop a bit of the cement on the ground next to your string line and lay the paver on top, using the rubber mallet to tap it into place. Check that the edge and the top of the paver lines up with the string line. Check that the top of the paver is level as well (not tilted to one side or the other) using a small spirit level or the string line spirit level. Keep laying pavers, butting the ends together with no cement in between. When you’ve got a few in the line, go back and add extra cement to each side of the pavers, sloping the cement down on each side to help strengthen the line of pavers and keep everything in place.


Finished garden edging, looking down from above.

Finished garden edging, looking down from above.

Two lines of pavers to form the front garden bed.

Two lines of pavers to form the front garden bed. The garden bed will need to be dug out a little to make room for the plants.

Hints and tips:

  • You’ll be bent over all day- make sure you look after your back!
  • Try as best as you can to avoid having to cut pavers, but if you just can’t avoid it there are a few ways that work. Check out this for some ideas.
  • If you find you need to build the level up (we did!) you should try to get the brickwork laid on the hardest soil. For us, this meant laying on the natural clay. You can use extra cement to raise a paver up a little, but if you need to raise it a lot you may want to consider some retaining blocks or, do what we did and lay a left over house brick under the paver first.
  • It’s important to get the pavers in the right spot and get them as level as you can but don’t loose your marbles over it. By the time the hedge/grass/shrubs grow in around it you won’t notice that little mistake you made.
  • Go with the cement mixer if you can get your hands on one. Ask around, maybe a neighbour or a friend has one you can borrow? If not, they are available for hire.
  • Get lots of help!


Luke takes over the concrete mixing.

Luke takes over the concrete mixing.

James dad brings the wonderful invention of a cement mixer into the fold.

James’ dad brings the wonderful invention of a cement mixer into the fold.

James mum gets ready to lay MORE DAMN BRICKS.

James’ mum gets ready to lay MORE DAMN BRICKS.

Building the letterbox

If you can remember, our landscaping quote from Wisdom Landscapes was, well, outrageous. We’ve decided to do as much of it as we can ourselves and use individual suppliers to get things like fencing done.

Wisdom Landscape quoted us $900 for a masonry letterbox to be installed and painted in the white moroka paint. Presumably this meant we had to paint it with an exterior colour paint ourselves.

Thinking there is a lot of other things we’d like to do with $900, we decided to give it a go ourselves. The fact that neither one of us has ever laid a brick in our lives before did not deter us. How hard can it be?

Well, as long as you don’t need it to be absolutely perfect, it’s worth giving it a try. It cost us about $300 and a day’s worth of work (not including paint drying time).

Here’s how we did it:

Please note, we are absolutely NOT brick laying experts! 

Materials we used:

  • Some bits of timber (straight bits, not wonky bits) for the formwork. We rummaged through our neighbour’s scrap heaps- no point buying new if you can help it.
  • Pegs to secure the formwork. You can use smaller bits of timber for this or even some scrap metal. We found some metal off-cuts in our neighbours scrap heap that worked perfectly.
  • Timber screws. You might need some of these to secure the corners of the formwork together. You might get away with it if you use lots of pegs.
  • About 2 bags of ready-mix concrete. The builder had left us some leftovers from the build.
  • About a bucket of gravel. Again, there was lots of blue metal gavel in our back yard from the build so we raked that up.
  • Steel reinforcement mesh. You probably don’t need this but we found some laying around.
  • About 110 bricks. We used leftovers from the build. Otherwise, drive around some new estates to see if there are any freebees on offer.
  • About 8 20 kg bags of sand and cement. Available from most hardware stores.
  • Letterbox face plate, extension sleeve and rear plate, or a kit.
  • Newspaper holder face plate (if you want one of those). Usually, you will need a 300 mm long piece of PVC pipe (ours was 100 mm diameter but it will depend on what sized face plate you have- check the back of the packet for instructions).
  • Silicone.
  • Moroka or render paint and a primer. We used Dulux Textures Primer and Medium Cover to go with our moroka look on the parapets. You could use the Full Cover to look more like render. Don’t forget to get it tinted in the colour you want. They can be tinted in a wide range of colours, including Colorbond colours. The 4 L bucket should be enough for a letterbox.


  • Wheelbarrow or something to mix the cement in
  • Shovel for mixing cement
  • Bricklaying trowel
  • Rubber mallet
  • Hammer
  • Measuring tape
  • Medium sized spirit level
  • Drill (if you’re using screws in your formwork)
  • Silicone gun
  • screwdriver for assembling your letterbox (unless yours comes pre-assembled! Lucky you…)
  • Paint brush and roller (we just used a brush- can get away with that for the primer).
  • Lambswool mitt. Note, if you choose the full cover you need to apply with a roller- see back of packet for instructions.

Seems like a lot of tools, but we had a lot of it from other DIY jobs. See what you can borrow from a friend.


Laying the slab

1. Clear the area and roughly level the ground. If you’ve got grass already you’ll need to dig that out and cut into the soil a bit so the letterbox doesn’t move around.

2. Set up your formwork. We had one straight side already (the front path) and so we just extended out from that. Make sure it’s the right size and use your spirit level to make sure it’s straight and level. You need to get this right or you’ll have a Leaning Tower Of Letterbox.

It’s worth noting that an alternative to formwork is actually digging a letterbox shaped hole in the ground and then filling that with the concrete (using the ground as your formwork). You may need to do this if your land is already landscaped (ie, the top of the path is level with the grass).

How to use a spirit level

James setting out the formwork.

James setting out the formwork.

James setting out the formwork.

James setting out the formwork.

Completed formwork.

Completed formwork.

3. Fill the base of the formwork with the gravel and level. Try and compact it by stamping it with a bit of timber.

Gravel base

Gravel base

4. If you did manage to find a bit of scrap reinforcement metal, here is where you would add it on top. Prop it up off the surface of the gravel with a couple of rocks. We used a bit of smashed brick (plenty of that lying around!). This is so that it adds strength to the concrete slab. The concrete needs to get under and around it.

Scrap rio

Scrap rienforcement metal

5. Time to add the concrete. Empty the bag in to the wheelbarrow and mix it according to it’s directions, or have a look here. Pour the concrete in and jiggle it around to remove air pockets and make sure it goes under the metal reinforcement and grabs hold of the gravel on the base. James just used a bit of steel to jiggle it (I’m sure there is a technical term but I’m sticking with jiggle.)


Removing air pockets.

6. Level and smooth the surface using a piece of timber with a straight edge. Slide backwards and forwards as you move along- this is called screeding.


Leveling and smoothing.

7. Wait for the concrete to set and dry. We waited a week (which is the convenient length of time between weekends) but a drier mix tends to set faster.

Brick laying

8. Get your bricks ready. You don’t want to be searching for bricks while the mortar is setting so pile them up close to where you’re working.

9. Mix your mortar. We only mixed one bag at a time because we’re bricklaying novices. It sets fast and if you’re slow at laying the bricks you’ll run out of time. Follow the directions on the bag to mix your mortar. It should stick to an upturned trowel when mixed properly.

10. Start laying the bricks. There are lots of videos online about how to do this. All of them make it look really easy. You’ll feel like a goof at the start but once you get going you’ll stop worrying about it so much. My advice is to check each course (layer) with the spirit level. If you get one layer wonky the rest will follow on! We didn’t check it nearly enough (too lazy!) and ours is a little wonky but we’re covering it with the texture paint anyway. We didn’t use a string guide but you might find that easier. The last brick in on the corners is much harder to squeeze in. Your rubber mallet will fix that! Make sure you clean off any lumps of mortar (scrape it off or a wet sponge works well) as you go.

The Art of Brick Laying

This picture makes it look solid but actually we just went around the edge of the slab and the inside is hollow. We just filled the hollow bit with broken bricks when were close to finishing.

Brick by brick.

Brick by brick.

11. When your brickwork gets high enough you’ll need to put your letterbox sleeve in. Unfortunately I forgot to take photos of this bit! You’ll need to assemble your letterbox according to it’s instructions and then set the sleeve bit in the brick. It should go in on a bed of mortar, just like the bricks. You can brick around it. Most of the letterbox sleeves we saw were “2 bricks wide” so we didn’t have to cut many bricks.

Letterbox bits

Letterbox bits: face and rear plate, universal sleeve, newspaper holder, PVC pipe. You’ll need to assemble according to the packet.

12. When you get to the top you’ll want to fill in the void with some more bricks and finish with a layer of mortar. Make sure you measure your brickwork to make sure it’s the right height! We didn’t – here it is “finished” but one course too short! We had to go back and add another layer.



13. Let the brickwork set and dry. Again we waited a week but it probably doesn’t need that long.

Applying the texture

14. Give the brickwork a hose and a scrub to remove any dirt and dust. If you have dropped some mortar where it shouldn’t be you can remove it, carefully!, with some vinegar and a brush. Just dab some vinegar on with a sponge and scrub. Make sure you wash it thoroughly with water to rinse any vinegar off.

15. Apply the textures primer according to the directions. We just used a brush and made sure to cover all the brickwork and mortar. It needs to be applied more thickly than paint and you’ll only need one coat so make it count! Tape around any bits you don’t want to paint. Let it dry for at least 4 hours before adding the textured paint.


Letterbox with white primer paint.

16. Using the lambswool mitt you can scoop the textured paint out of the bucket and apply it to the letterbox. Follow the directions for more information.  Lay it on thick! You’ll need two coats of this one.


Despite the look on my face, it’s actually really fun!

Finishing off

17. After everything is dry you can go ahead and fix on the letterbox face plates. All done!

This photo was taken a while after we finished it and, as you can see, is very dirty around the bottom from the clay.

Finished letterbox- only a little bit wonky! Note, this photo was taken a while after we finished it and, as you can see, it’s very dirty around the bottom from the clay.

DIY storage ottoman

Our “study”, as it’s labelled in the plans, is in full sight. There is no door, there are three windows the face the street and it’s visible from the main living areas. When you come in the front door there is a giant cut out in the wall which directs your attention TO THE STUDY.

I don’t know about you, but our computer area usually looks like home to 5 or 6 gremlins.

So we’ve had to be a bit more strategic with our mess-hiding this time around. Enter the storage ottoman.

Ottomans are just about everywhere you go these days and they’re certainly a versatile little invention. Need a foot rest that doubles as an extra seat for guests?

ishandchi ottomanGot too many books for the book case?

CrateOttoman1_MonMakesThingsDoes your pet bed take up too much valuable floor space?

pet bedWondering what to do with all your shoes?


Or, like me, just in need of stashing some paperwork?

How to make an ottoman filing systemI’ve looked around and I couldn’t find a storage ottoman that would comfortably double as a seat and fall into a price category I could justify. So I talked James into the idea that it would be wonderful to make our own 😉

There are many, many tutorials out there on how to make an ottoman. Just type it into google or pinterest and away you go. I loosely followed the tutorial from Better Homes and Gardens. It looked pretty simple and the dimensions were perfect for what I wanted. The only thing that didn’t work out easy for me was the concealed hinges. They were a nightmare! I would recommend following the directions on the packet of hinges you buy rather than the tutorial. I would also recommend going with regular old door hinges instead!

The tutorial has directions to paint the box but I decided to cover mine in fabric. All I did was glue on some batting, make a fabric sleeve to slip over the box and then stapled it all down nice and neat. I didn’t even bother with painting the inside, since you won’t see it when it’s full of junk anyway!

And here is our finished product.

ottoman closed

ottoman open

wpid-20141118_161432.jpgHow much did it cost?

From Spotlight:

Foam cushion, $19
Wadding, $12 (with plenty left over)
Fabric, $18 (I brought 2m but could have gotten away with 1.5)

From Bunnings:

Ply wood, $16 (at Bunnings they will cut all the pieces for you if you ask!)
Spray adhesive, $17
Hinges, $12
Upholstery nails, $3
Castors, $1
Screws, $6

All up: $104

The rest we had lying around. Not bad, I reckon.

Moving hints and tips

Moving house is a nightmare. There is no easy way around it, especially if you’re on a budget. Even if you have removalists do all the packing, moving and unpacking there is still things you’ll have to do yourself.

We were lucky enough to have family to give us a hand. They traveled far and wide for the privilege of a work-out that rivals boot camp. Some of them even traveled from a far away place called Narooma. Hopefully we can return the favor sometime.

Because we were renting we also had to clean the house to meet inspection to get our bond back. We cleaned as we went and it was worth the effort to never have to go back to that place!

Starting about 8 weeks out from the move we took the opportunity to go through everything we owned and cull what we could. You can print off our Moving Checklist here. Click here for the Moving Checklist – Word Doc.

Here are some other hints and tricks for the self-movers:

Don’t move it

Give it away or sell it! Have a garage sale or do the modern day equivalent- Gumtree or ebay. We made a couple of hundred dollars by selling stuff we didn’t need anymore and that subsidised the truck rental.


You can buy boxes from all sorts of places but they’re usually $4 a box! We used over 50 boxes (various sizes) so it adds up fast. My advice is to collect freebies! We were both able to get boxes in great condition from work. We also got wine boxes from the local grog shop- these make moving any bottles easy. We were able to get smaller boxes from the local supermarket. Many larger supermarkets will set aside boxes for you if you call them in advance. Polystyrene boxes are great for breakables- try the local fruit shop for those.

Thinking outside the box

Try some alternatives. We ended up purchasing some large plastic crates for all of James’ tools and camping equipment. These were easy to carry and we didn’t have to unpack them. You can also get flexible plastic tubs for the same price as a cardboard box and they were great for carting around the cleaning supplies and things like towels.


While we’re thinking outside the box, do not underestimate the power of the vaccum storage bag. These are available just about everywhere (shop around if you can- prices vary significantly) and are perfect for storing blankets, throw rugs, cushions, bulky clothes and bedding. Best bit is they’re see-through so you don’t have to rip open a box to see what’s inside. You can put them straight in the linen cupboard and you won’t have to unpack them until you need them. Also, there is something super satisfying about the way it shrinks everything!

Mattress protectors

You can buy large mattress storage bags from storage places or moving suppliers, as well as good old ebay. These are large plastic bags that will stop the mattress from getting dirty when you put it in the truck. Well worth it. You can also get some for fabric lounges.

Moving clothes

Sure, you can pack your clothes. Or, you can just leave them on a hanger and wrap them in a bin bag. Easy-peasy and they go straight in the new house wardrobe.


Moving Hanging Clothes |


If you can, pull the drawers out of the chest of drawers and leave the clothes in them. Wrap some cling-wrap around it if think you’ll need it.

Do NOT use newspaper

Don’t use newspaper to wrap your valuables- it leaves black marks on things. Things that work well are butcher’s paper, paper napkins (we had a huge pack of those lying around) and paper plates. Yep, paper plates. Just sandwich them in between your real plates. I was also able to get second-hand bubble wrap from work.


Label your boxes with:

  • a number so you can count how many boxes you have
  • contents, be specific!
  • room it needs to go in at the new house eg, study

Put the label on the side. If you put it on the top you won’t be able to read it when the boxes are stacked.

Packing tape

Go with the good quality stuff. You don’t have time for dodgy tape. A tape dispenser can be worthwhile too.

Everything else

Go back to point one:

Moving Tips - Tired of packing? Convince yourself that you don't like the rest of your stuff.

What’s your secret moving tip?