I recently got around to repainting the wooden cabin at the end of my garden and chose Cuprinol's Garden Shades in delightful Seagrass colour. I discovered something rather unexpected however, that others would be well advised to heed before they embark on a similar mission!

This paint is dead clever and develops a waxy surface in order to repel rainwater and protect your wood. Unfortunately, being a water-based paint, this means it may also repel your attempts to apply a second coat! As you can see in my picture above, it's like painting on glass and the new paint just beads up into globules as it can't stick to the previous coat.

It distressed me rather when I discovered this phenomenon and a call to Cuprinol followed as soon as I could look up their number. After a bit of a wait a very knowledgable young lady gave me the lowdown on what was going wrong. She recommended I rub the surface down with methylated spirits to break down that waxy layer and I'm glad to say that this did indeed do the trick, though it adds a whole lot of extra faff to the process.

I note that on the can it does say "allow 2-8 hours between coats" and with the benefit of hindsight and the explanation from Cuprinol, I see that this is presumably intended as a range with an upper bound. I had left it for a week, and this allowed that waxy surface to develop, so I should have recoated much sooner. However this text is decidely ambigious and can easily be read as a minimum only, stated as a range due to differing drying times according to conditions. It is especially likely that your average reader will interpret it so, as most paint cans provide just a minimum. Interestingly their website states it a bit differently: "Where a second coat is required, allow up to 8 hours in between coats." It still neglects to explain why this is, the importance of it, and what to do if you are unable to comply.

So be warned that the innocuous statement on the can is actually very important. Sadly this means you have to set aside enough time in one block to coat everything once, allow it to dry sufficiently then recoat. Otherwise you'll have to get the meths out. Either way this adds a major inconvenience and the cynic in me suspects that's why they're reluctant to explain it properly on the can. The nice lady on the phone did say that they get loads of phone calls about this exact problem and are considering how they can improve the instructions. I want to see a very clear explanation of what happens and why, in a big bold box that draws attention. It should also describe the meths workaround. To do anything less is to fail the customer.

FWIW, I'm now very pleased with the results and will use the product again. I would have been so much happier if I hadn't had to go through this saga, which involved holding on their expensive-from-a-mobile phone line for ages, and a major expedition to find somewhere with meths in stock.

BrickPath 2

I have a fair amount of lawn in my garden, which is looking pretty ropey right now, but I'm working on it! However I'm intending to convert a lot of it to more intriguing beds and paths. This project details one little part of that grand plan. In the picture above, I've removed the turf from a corner, which originally had just a narrow bed at the back against the trellis.

BrickPath 3

My plan was to put a curving brick path through this new area, leaving an eye-shaped island that will probably host a small tree and other planting high enough and rumbustious enough to make the path a little voyage of discovery. A very little voyage, but adding much-needed intrigue.

I started by using the garden hose to experiment with the shape of the path, using some bricks to get the width right. What a beautiful shape!

Those bricks, and indeed all the bricks I will use, are from the rear chimney on the house, which was removed in a recent loft conversion (the chimney, not the house). They are a mix of old handmade red clay bricks and nasty moulded modern things, but they have some character, including sooty marks, and I think mixed up they're going to look the part.

I'm not sure how well they will survive the harsh winters that seem to be the new normal. I strongly suspect they will suffer from frost damage and it will be interesting to find out whether it's the old or new that perform better. I have plenty left to repair the damage. For the record, ideally you'd use engineering bricks, but I don't have any and I feel it would lack the charm of a crumbling old brick path.

BrickPath 4

Having established the basic shape and scored a mark in the soil with the edge of a spade along the hosepipe, I dug it out about a brick deep plus a couple of centimetres for the sand. I also added 5cm or so on either side to give room for manoeuvre.

Theoretically I should use pegs in the ground, string and spirit levels to establish a perfectly level, flat path, but that's just not my style, and the two ends are not at the same level anyway. I used a couple of bits of straight wood and my eye to make sure that the soil bed was basically level with no major local bumps or hollows. Again I invoke 'rustic' as an excuse for my slapdashery.

BrickPath 5

Do you know why sharp sand is called sharp sand? Because the individual grains are all knobbly and 'sharp', compared to non-sharp sand which has smooth, rounded grains. This helps them to lock together and form a firm base. I've used four bags of sharp sand and with the aid of a rake and a piece of wood the width of the path dragged over it, I've turned it into a smooth base ready for my bricks. I spent quite a while trying to get this right, as it will be reflected in the final result.

By the way, I bought six bags of sand from Wickes for the grand total of £10.86, and that was my entire spend on this project. The rest is bricks and tools I already had, and my own labour.

BrickPath 1

I figured it was best to lay one whole run the length of the path, to establish and tweak the basic curve. Then of course the subsequent runs are a bit longer each time around the curve, so we need half-bricks here and there to keep a good pattern going.

I used a bolster chisel and club hammer to cut the bricks by hand, which takes a bit of technique, a certain amount of practise and a lot of patience, especially when it's raining and you can't see through your goggles (you don't want brick chips in your eye). I think most people would find this the most challenging part of the project if they haven't done it before. You can get machines to do it nicely and with no effort on your part, which would be worthwhile if doing anything much bigger. A straight path would only require half-bricks at the ends of course.

BrickPath 6

Once I'd got all the bricks down it looked pretty good, but only then did I fork over the beds either side, being very careful not to disturb my new path. I had been agonising over whether to do that first or last. I feared that if I did it first I might loosen the firm bed for my path, compacted nicely as it was under the old lawn. Also, it would have made working around the path and seeing the edges a lot harder, so I'm glad I did it this way around.

BrickPath 7

Finally, I did that digging of the compacted soil, and packed it up to the edge of my bricks, ready to receive plants. Then I brushed more sharp sand into all of the cracks to finish off the path itself. That took a surprisingly long time and a few goes as the bricks settled and new holes opened up. Using very dry sand really helps it to fall down those cracks so I dried mine out in the sun before using it.

I'm very pleased with the result, but time will tell whether it's really any good. Next project is the planting either side of it.


I recently had the privilege of interviewing TV presenter Chris Packham for my other site: He was a very straightforward and knowledgeable chap who's clearly passionate about what he does. It was interesting to get an insight into his own garden full of birds, his photography kit and activities, and the deeper topics of the cut and thrust of modern conservation.

It's in three instalments: one, two, three. Personally I think the third is the best!


With a big expanse of South (ish) facing fence and an empty patch of soil I decided to plant a grape. It will be interesting to see how it does in our English climes, though global warming may be on my side. With any luck I'll be reporting back in a few years with pictures of lush bunches and even bottles of the finest home-produced wine. I can but hope. The variety is Pinot Blanc, which is apparently fast growing.

And yes, I know that weeding is urgently required (and in fact has been done since this picture was taken).