Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Pond Building Saga Continues!

 Right, a bit of a warning before we start....it's a long one this one! You might want to pop to the loo, make a nice cup of tea or get a glass of your favourite tipple to keep you company as we go! We're off back to last summer again.
Before we could start on the bottom pond properly, we had to sort out the waterfall stone out of the top pond - it's never straightforward is it?! The waterfall stone was a 50p offcut from the local stonemason's scrap pile a few years ago and was never a brilliant stone. It really didn't like the hard winters of 2010 and 2011 - the frost and snow caused it to split along its natural striations and the top pond slowly went down by about 3 inches, which was somewhat worrying at first as we spotted the water level drop but didn't know the cause. I spent ages one weekend carefully working my way around the entire edge of the pond, moving stones, checking that the edge support hadn't failed, looking for tears etc, but all to no avail - which left a split waterfall stone as the only answer.

We aquired an old stone step from somewhere (but I can't remember where as it was so long ago!), which was a bit big and needed cutting to size.I shifted the streamside stones out of the way then Himself and I gently peeled the glued liner away from the original, broken stone, lifted it out....and it fell to pieces, so at least our deduction about the cause of the water level drop was proved correct!!!

The only time Himself really pays heed to the old 'elf n safety' is when he's using the chainsaw or the stone cutter and duely kevlar gatered, gloved and helmetted up he set about cutting the stone to size, having measured and checked several times each side that had to be cut .
It has to be said at this point that our dear, happy, cheerful neighbour Mrs AnotherBloodyEyesore was absolutely delighted by the stone cutting and yelled jaunty encouragement over the hedge at us for a good ten minutes! She is such a joy! ;-P

Once cutting was completed Himself put it in place and tickled about with it until it was completely level.

 Then he stuck the liner onto it.....

 made a little dam wall out of gaffer tape to check his levels

and we filled the pond back up to its original and correct level. After two years of low water it was lovely to have it back to normal again....however, I then had to try and retro-fit all the streamside stones back into their old - and sometimes new places.


It didn't end upquite the same as previously, but I was still happy with the result.



Himself had a little respite from playing with big boys toys by spending time packing sand onto the shelves on the bottom pond in preparation for the arty-farty stone placement. Last-Born, as you can see, was fully engaged in the whole pond building process and in there getting down and dirty with us - not!


 The following weekend The Wonderful Pete (TWP) came up to help. He has done this so often that there is no way we can ever repay his imense kindness....other than with lots of good food and nice wine or beer when he's with us, obviously!
Anyway, we started off shifting the stones onto the pond shelf using  the scaffold poles to hoist them in.....

but the second stone bent the pole, so we had to bring the big guns in! Given that we  were working on a sloping site with veeeeerrrrry heavy stones, it seemed prudent to fill the trugs with stones and put them on the scaffold boards for a bit of extra ballast.....just in case! It may not be elegant, but it does work.


 With lots of hoisting, pulling, puffing, panting and just the occasional  rude word,

we got the big rocks in  place along the back of the pond to create a supporting wall

and then down the far side of the pond where the shelf is at its widest point.

Once the big rocks were in their 'right' places ...which did involve shifting one or two of them into different places a couple of times until the Art Department (me) was happy with them...even if Himself and TWP were less than impressed with me! I then hoiked various smaller stones around happily for about 3 weeks, or maybe it just felt like that?! until I was happy with the overall effect.

Then we ran the stream to get the levels in the bottom pond right and see how it all looked.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, even though the pond's hard landscaping wasn't complete some plants managed to jump in and get settled down...don't know how that happened! I then spent some time building up the bottom part of the stream and the waterfall - contrary to popular family belief, this was NOT faffing about with rocks and stones, this was serious naturalisation of an artificial pond!
It's surprisingly hard to get it right!
I then moved onto the not-yet-garden and planted various plants that I nicked from other parts of the garden and some grotty unloved Hebes I bought for pennies from the 'rescue' table at the local garden centre.


Once I'd finally finished playing getting it to the point where I was happy with it, it all got left until a couple of weeks ago - yes folks, this year!!! when I decided that I really couldn't bear the lack of proper garden or skanky, messy and frankly slightly unsafe hotchpotch of flagstones and mud that made up part of the still unfinished path for a minute longer. So I started off by transplanting all the 'mind your own business', moss and other ground covering plants that had been taking over aprts of the path that has been in situ for 2 or 3 years so that I had a clear view of things first. It took a surprisingly long time to do that!

I followed this up with a bit of excavating down to the sandstone path  foundations I'd put in about 4 years ago (things really don't happen quickly on this project!) and getting the levels right, followed by a few hours of digging of slots to get the old roof tiles in to create a nice level edge to both sides of the path - aided by a bit of stick carefully broken to the right length to act as my path-width measurer ...technology? Bhah!
and finished off by laying the weed supressant membrane and covering it in a couple of inches of pea gravel......followed by some serious arty-farty pretty gravel soothing to make me happy! Doesn't take much does it?! :-P


So I now have a complete and safe route to both bridges....and as it's a bit steep in places I might well end up putting stepping stones into the gravel as I suspect I may find lots of gravel down by the bottom bridge!

The plants in the pond were put in last year, as were most of the plants around the edges, but I have plans! They mainly involve Hebes, Box balls, moss and the like, but possibly not more bamboo - unless a very pretty one catches my eye!

To finish off then, a little quiz!
Spot the name of one of my favourite films in this photo! A smugness award to the first person to get it :-)


Sunday, 26 January 2014

Life In A Time Warp!

Okay, look, I know - and I'm feeling guilty about it, alright?! I haven't posted in forever, I missed doing my Christmas and New Year post altogether and it's suddenly the end of January and I don't know how I got here so quickly...so the only answer is that  there's a problem with my space-time continuum again and I'm stuck in a time warp that is distorting everything and making October actually just yesterday for me!!!

So, guilt gone and I've accepted I am now really in January - it must be true because I know it's been raining forever and I'm heartily sick of it. It's a wonder Britain doesn't sink with the weight of all that water on our sodden land!

I'm going to use my useful time warp and transport us back to the hazy, crazy but not so lazy days of last summer to show you the work on the bottom pond...at last! :-D
Ooops, I've just realised from looking at the dates on the photos that building the reservoir actually happened in April 2012, but we didn't get any further then because the awful weather set in for the rest of the summer and it was never dry enough for long enough to get the pond finished!

Right. Get yourselves a nice cup of tea, or whatever takes your fancy, and sit back and enjoy the ride!

Given that Himself is a reincarnated Victorian engineer, it wouldn't have been right if  we'd built a reservoir without him having to produce some wonderful contraption to help it along.
He made 2 cruciform wheels of spokes.....
 to go in place once he'd cleared out,shaped, sized,  levelled and put sand in the bottom of the long dug out reservoir pit. He then made a cylinder of 2 layers of hardboard - the inner one was shiny side out, the outer one was shiny side in and was 2" bigger in diameter - the reasons for this will become clear in a minute!
 The two cruciforms wedged the inner cylinder in place and kept it circular. The outer cylinder, being bigger, left a 2" gap for concrete to be poured in and we used offcuts of tea house insulation  to wedge the out cylinder in place. I'm a really good mixer of concrete (she said, modestly!)
 Once the concrete was set, we took it all apart, raised the cylinders and cruciforms up and repeated the process twice more - with a week between each move to let the concrete harden off. It was hard work and Himself proved to be a bit of a contortionist as he clambered inelegantly in and out of the hole with increasing amounts of stuff in it!
 The result? A beautifully cast concrete reservoir! Himself is a star!
 Now you're probably wondering why we needed a reservoir? Well even if you weren't wondering, I'm still going to tell you. The top pond is considerably larger than the bottom pond. It holds appoximately 6000 litres (or 1300 gallons if you prefer) and the bottom pond only holds about 2000 litres (500 gallons), so every time we switched on the pump to run the stream, the bottom pond water level went down about 2 feet - because the water level  in the top pond needed to rise by a couple of inches in order to get over the lip of the waterfall stone - but more about that later!

In the next photo, the green hosepipe shows the shape of the finished pond. It had only been, up to this point, a hole with a liner in it so that we could get the water levels right and check that the stream worked. It had never been properly dug out, shaped, shelved and 'done'. Part of the problem in getting it done was that I wanted the pond to extend across the skanky old path, part of which I'd already removed, hence the manky flagstones......

 and it was at the top of some equally skanky old steps!!! Yeah, yeah, I know ...first I build ponds under treees, then I put them at the top of steps!
We pumped the water out of the pond hole to let us access the hole.
 Anyway Himself , as ever, had a cunning plan to deal with my idiocy! He took out the old steps, used a few chunky pieces of pond stones to construct a dry stone wall to join up with the hideous old wall on the right (which at some point will be replaced with a nice wall!) and then he backfilled it with the topsoil we'd had lying in a heap from when we originally dug out the pond hole about 5 years ago!
I then had the dubious pleasure of clearing several years worth of leaves, gunge, frogs, newts and assorted other squirmy things out of the  bottom of the hole. Balancing somewhat precariously on the edge of a hole where the bottom was juuuust deeper than I could safely reach did wonders for my core muscles - ouch!
 Then liner was then removed and Himself went all technical again. I pointed out where I wanted the shelves to be. He then carefully worked out all the levels and did the scary bit of drilling the hole through the concrete to put the outlet pipe in place. No use having a reservoir if you can't get water in or out of it!
 The outlet pipe was fitted - after a bit of a struggle in a confined space again, but at least there were no cruciforms in there this time!
 and backfilled with soil, then a layer of  builders sand on top.
 The tank was lined with fleecy pond underlay
 and then, with Ower Dave's help, a specially made 'top hat' shaped butyl liner was carefully put into place and glued down.
 The rest of the pond was properly dug to size and levels. Ower Dave lined it all with fine sand - that I had spent hours making from the sandstone I'd dug out of the pond holes years ago and stashed up the garden on some tarpaulin. It just needed a bit of bashing and putting through a griddle.
 We filled the reservoir, checking carefully for any leaks - and, of course, there weren't any!
 The fleece liner  was put in place and swept clean of any small stones and grit
 before the butyl liner was finally laid...after sitting in the shed for 2 years!
 Himself cut the hole in the liner for the outlet pipe and fastened the outlet seal in place
  and we left it to fill up with water
 ...and it stayed that way for a whole year!
To be continued........!
Oh, and Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Life?! Don't Talk To Me About Life!

Okay, so Winter didn't end until the middle of May, Spring ran by at full tilt, Summer was glorious but I'm not quite sure how we got to October SO quickly. Where has this year gone? I can't believe that it's over 3 months since my last post...really not sure how time has flown by at such a lick - maybe there's a hole in the space-time continuum again?!

Actually, I think it's because despite the very late start, we've actually had a fabulous summer and actually done lots of 'stuff - unlike last year where we constantly getting rained off!.One thing we have done is finally completed one side of the front garden project that we began way back in March 2010....yes, that does say 2010! Things happen slowly around here  :-P

Anyway, the front garden has gone from this - the laurels were taken out by our Tree Surgeon, his lads and their Land Rover winch.....as you do!
Then I brought in a bit of hired in teenage muscle from the school where I'm a Governor. They cleared some smaller roots, weeded the whole area and dug a trench to reduce the pressure on our old and somewhat wonky dry stone wall...a trench which I promptly began filling in with stones from the cleared area to help with drainage...yeah, right! Nothing to do with not being prepared to slog barrowloads for stones uphill to the stone mountain...how come everywhere is uphill in our garden?!

To this in Autumn of 2012 after Himself had rotivated it:

And in April this year after re-weeding, much raking and rolling to levelling:

With this - Himself's lastest invention!

To this! A glorious, lush, green open space of approximately 220sq metres.......that is currently being covered in Autumn leaves! 

So all I need to do to do now (HAH- ALL!!!) is to finish clearing the other side of the drive - which is only about half the size, sort out/ fill in the huge holes where the laurel stumps were, get it something like level despite the rapidly changing gradiant of the slope and then get Himself in to finish the job and seed it. Simples! Should be done in time for Spring seeding...should be!

We've also finished the bottom pond up in the Japanese garden - but as that is several blog posts in its own right you'll have to hang on a bit!

We've had a superb year with the fruit and vegetables. You may remember that last year my vegetable garden looked like this:

So many of my vegetables drowned, rotted or just didn't bother poking their heads above ground because it was so cold and wet for so much of the summer...seriously depressing after all the work I'd put into getting everything ready in spring and we got very little that was edible as even the stuff that did manage to grow ended up woody and tasteless. You can read about last year's garden disaster here if you plough through past the trip to the Lake District, the wedding and the Olympics! 

This year has been a different matter altogether :-D The long, long winter meant I didn't even plant any seeds until April when the light started to improve and nothing was planted out until early June when the weather started getting better and better. the result? A lush green verdant vegetable garden!

Carrots - taken me SEVEN years to get decent carrots!, parsnips, 3 sorts of cabbages, spinach, rainbow chard, kale, French beans, runner beans......

....leeks, peas, raspberries, eating apples, cooking apples, redcurrants, blackcurrants, gooseberries, rhubarb and my first ever blueberries.The bare soil is where the potatoes, onions and garlic had been - which is soon to be planted with broad beans to overwinter. The overwintering onions and garlic are going in where the carrots are about to come out!

 The greenhouse was equally productive, with 5 different types of tomatoes, cucumbers and my first aubergine to ever get to an edible size!

The 4 varieties of chillies and the 2 types of peppers cropped superbly and most are now nestled happily in my freezer.

We did have some anomolies amongst the 'Costulo Fiorentino' tomatoes - but I ate the red parts and am still here to tell the tale!

'Fort Sweetcorn' protected our best ever sweetcorn crop from the ravaging attacks of the foxes and badgers, allowing us to finally enjoy our full crop of sweetcorn rather than just getting the oddments the animals had kindly left behind! We've had roughly 50 corn cobs - all delicious so far :-)

Because I had interplanted, 'Fort Sweetcorn' had the added bonus of protecting the squashes as well. These 3 varieties cropped well but the Butternut squashes didn't and I have NO idea why.

A recent and decent hour's work!
...and the next day's pickings!



All of which lead to a flurry of cooking...this is the early stages of 'Old Dowerhouse Chutney' - a recipe from the Blessed Delia which has become a family favourite! :-)



This was one afternoon's work (it's a phone photo, so not as good a quality)

My grand total so far is:
8 jars of raspberry jam
8 jars of plum jam
8 jars of blackcurrant jam (with lbs and lbs of extra fruit in the freezer)
2 jars of Spitfire Sauce
4 jars of pickled cucumber
4 jars of pickled onions
3 jars of green tomato ketchup
3 jars of chilli oil
11 jars of green tomato chutney
14 jars of Old Dowerhouse chutney and
after my first ever experiment with American canning
5 jars of pickled French beans

The cooking apples are almost ready...but I'll need to stew and freeze most of them which may lead to a freezer crisis as both my freezers are full to bursting point. I'll just have to eat a lot in order to make the space then *sigh* .... a tough job, but I'm sure Himself won't be averse to helping out!

The only things that didn't work were the salad crops and herbs ...because the slugs and snails feasted on them :-(  I did plant some salad crops in trays in the greenhouse, which worked quite well but we didn't have the big crop I was hoping to get out of the ground.

That didn't bother me too much, but one event broke my heart!

My much loved (by me anyway!) 21 year old Land Rover finally failed its M.O.T., needing over £2k's worth of work on its chassis ... maybe I'd driven him through too many rivers and through too much deep mud over the years? - aaah, happy times!

Anyway, Himself sold him to the owner of the panel shop nextdoor to the garage and he's going to strip him down, rebuild him and then use him, so at least he will carry on being loved by someone else. I don't think I could have stood it if he's gone for scrap!

The final journey - and, yes dear readers, I wept!

He's been replaced by an eco-friendly, fuel efficient really girlie Kia Picanto...just not in the same league really. It's SO girlie that I couldn't even bring myself to put up a photo of it! Himself has promised me that I can have another Land Rover when we get rich......! Ho hum!