Monday, 20 October 2014

Suddenly, there was a pond: Part 3

I was running 10 days late on the b**k by the time Pete was ready to start planting the pond, so when he asked me if I wanted to go to the wholesale nursery with him to choose plants, I was in a bit of a dilemma.
On the one hand, I should have been working; and having been in and out of London every day for most of September, the last thing I wanted to do was to spend four hours on the motorway (two hours there, two hours back) AGAIN. On the other hand, several herds of wild horses would have been necessary to prevent me from going.

The nursery Pete uses is called North Hill Nurseries, in Chobham, Surrey. It's strictly trade only, but I was very impressed by the range and the quality of the plants. Considering this was the beginning of October, they had a fantastic selection - most of the retail nurseries have either sold out of everything by now, or the plants look pretty sorry for themselves. These Actaea matsumurae 'White Pearl' caught my eye immediately.

I knew I wanted lots of grasses, because they give a very natural, fluid effect, and pretty good year-round interest as well. In winter, the fluffy seed heads add texture to the garden, and look fabulous covered in frost.

These are schizostylis, or kaffir lily, part of the huge selection of perennials available. I didn't buy these, but I have admired them in Patient Gardener's front garden, so it may be just a matter of time before I acquire some.

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'! I have been dying to get my sticky little paws on one of these for ages. A must-have - AND they are resistant to honey fungus.

More fabulous perennials. Pete was trying to persuade me to get some astilbes but I have an irrational prejudice against these plants. I don't know why - perhaps because I think the bright pink ones look so unnatural. I'd rather have something like Aruncus dioicus.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' - a really lovely white hydrangea which looks good anywhere.

And here's the finished pond! Well, not quite finished, because the electrician has to come and connect the pump cable to the electricity supply. Pete and his team filled it with just enough water to submerge the marginals and the water lily in the centre, but we've had so much rain recently, the level has already risen by at least an inch.

The cats don't seem to mind the loss of their lavatory - they seem delighted with their new drinking fountain.

I can't wait to see the waterfall running. In the meantime, I am going to start planting the surrounding area to match the pond planting. Just before the waterfall meets the pond, there is a stepping stone across, so I'm going to create some sort of path around the pond here. I'll probably use gravel.

There are so many plants here: miscanthus; phormiums - a variety I hadn't seen before called 'Surfer Bronze'; Physocarpus (a purple one and a gold-leaved one); hostas; ferns; Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate'; hardy geraniums; foxgloves; asters; Japanese anemones ('Honorine Jobert'). The list goes on and on. It's got a sort of prairie look to it, which I love (if you can have a prairie next to a pond). 

The best thing about the pond (apart from the fact that it's a gorgeus pond) is that it provides a focus for this bit of the garden, which has always looked a bit scruffy. I'm now much more inspired about what to do with the rest of it  - I'll plant the same sort of things up the slope here and continue the theme.
Did I do the planting round the pond myself? Are you kidding? Pete and his team did it. If it had been left to me, it would all still be sitting in pots on the drive.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Suddenly, there was a pond: Part 2

So, the pond was dug, the concrete rendering was done, the underlay and the butyl rubber liner had gone down, and it was time to start putting the stone into place.
I have to stress that this is an expensive way to build a pond. It's perfectly possible to dig a hole, line it with butyl rubber (use sand and underlay beneath it), put a bit of stone round the edge to make it look pretty, fill it up with water and away you go.
However, I wanted a natural pond, and the problem with putting stone only around the edge is that in order to hide every bit of liner, the stone has to overhang. (Otherwise, in summer when the water tends to evaporate slightly, you can see black liner.) This means it's more difficult for creatures such as frogs to get in and out.
To get around this problem, you can have a gently sloping "beach" area, but because my garden gently slopes both north to south and east to west, it would have been difficult to make this look level while at the same time keeping it stable. It was easier, and looks better, to have shelf areas within the pond, and to cover the liner completely with stone and gravel.

In the picture above,  you can see the black pipe that will take the water from the pump to the top of the waterfall.

Here's another view: you can see the black pipe disappearing under the jetty, where the pump is housed. Notice the border of liner around the pond? Read on and you will see how that disappears.

This area to the right of the jetty, with all the gravel, is the reed bed, which will keep the pond water healthy. This works on the same principle as a domestic reed bed sewage system, and although I'm not a freshwater biologist, I'll have a go at explaining how that works.
Reeds are able to transfer oxygen from their leaves down to their roots, which is how they survive in a waterlogged habitat. This creates both aerobic and anaerobic conditions in the soil, which encourages a huge range of micro-organisms to flourish. These micro-organisms break down the waste, and the reeds themselves take up a certain amount in the form of nutrition.
In the past, in smaller ponds, I've used a UV clarifier, but there are lots of reasons NOT to use these. First, if the bulb goes (which it does once a year in my experience), the clarifier stops working - and very often, if you have a modern trip system, the dead bulb trips the fusebox. Not amusing in the middle of winter.
Second, the flow rate has to be just right. If it is too fast, the water passes through the clarifier without being treated. If it is too slow, the algae can reproduce quicker than the clarifier can treat the water.
Third, the clarifier only treats algae - not blanket weed (or string algae). Fourth, a UV clarifier uses electricity, and while it doesn't cost that much in the great scheme of things, I feel a bit guilty about using power when I don't need to.
It seemed to me much more sensible to have a eco-system that would look after itself and create a healthy habitat for pond life naturally.

Now that the top of the waterfall area has been lined in stone, it's beginning to look as if it has always been there. The idea was to replicate a natural stone "outcrop" on the slope. Here's Rufus making one of his regular tours of inspection here. I had no idea he was such an expert on landscape architecture.

The jetty is finished! I suspect this will be everyone's favourite place to sit come next summer. You can see how the stone has been laid to hide the edge of the liner, and also hide the pump under the jetty.

This gives a better view of how the waterfall comes down into the pond. The guys have laid the stone following the lines of the rock strata, which also helps it look natural.
It had taken eight days of work to get to this stage, and the build schedule was 10 days in total. It was time to start thinking about plants - and I'll tell you about that in my next post.

Friday, 17 October 2014

And suddenly, there was a pond in my garden

I haven't blogged for ages because I've been busy writing a book. More on that another time, because I don't want to hear the word "book" again for a while.
Anyway, the day before my deadline, the guys who were going to build my pond turned up. (Isn't that always the way?) Suddenly, there was a digger, a skip, a tip-up truck, four men and a large hole in my garden. It was so exciting!
I'd always intended to have a pond in the garden, but finding someone to build proved unexpectedly difficult. A couple of pond specialists who lived to the west of me turned me down, because my garden was more than half an hour's drive away.
In the end, I found Pete Sims and his team on the internet. They were based in Reading, but work all over the Home Counties, so although they were an hour away, this didn't seem a problem. (I've often found this - if people are used to going into London or the South-east to work, the idea of commuting doesn't bother them so much.)
I liked the look of Pete's work - he seemed to be able to do a range of designs - and I asked him if he'd come and give me a quote. He came over and we spent a happy afternoon talking about ponds, plants and gardens. He seemed like someone who would not only do the job, but do it with enthusiasm.
Pete didn't draw me a plan. We went into the garden and I showed him where I wanted the pond, and waved my arms around and said: "I want something vaguely like that." I wanted a naturalistic pond, that would look good with the local stone. I wanted a jetty or a bridge of some sort where I could sit or kneel and look at what was going on down in the water. And I wanted a waterfall or moving water of some kind, mainly to deter mosquitoes from breeding.
Pete paced out the area and suggested how my ideas might take shape, and when his team arrived to start the build, he drew the outline on to the grass with blue paint. Then they built the pond. It was as simple as that.
Ideally, he would have used Cotswold stone, but the local stone is quite soft and we didn't think it would stand up to life in a pond. Instead, Pete used Purbeck stone, from Dorset, which is harder (and full of fossils), but pretty much the same honey colour.
Here's how it started:

First, catch your digger. Here it is arriving, closely followed by the skip. Unbelievably, the digger managed to squeeze through that wooden arch behind it.

The site for the pond. When I first moved to the house, there was a huge dead tree here, which had suckered around the trunk. A forest of brambles had grown up amongst the suckers. That was all dug out a while ago, and since then, this bit has been used for dumping or burning garden rubbish.
Here's another view of the site, below.

The scoops for the digger had straight edges, so that if by any chance you snagged a pipe or cable, it wouldn't be ripped out. There were three sizes of scoops, so it was possible to do quite delicate work.

The digging begins. Note the blue paint on the right.

And the digging goes on ...


And on... You can see how stony the soil is here

In the meantime, I knew I could rely on Rufus to keep an eye on everything.

By Day 2, the outline of the pond was more or less complete. We had lovely weather for the build, typical of September, with misty mornings turning to warm sunshine as the day wore on.

Rufus insisted on briefing his co-workers every morning. (I made them a cup of tea.)

And he also helped with the dig.

While Luigi was delighted to discover what he thought was a giant cat litter tray.

When the digging was completed, the pond was rendered in concrete, which helps stabilise the shape, and the shelves for the marginal plants.

The bit at the top of the pond, by the digger, is going to be the waterfall. It will be operated by a pump, which will circulate the water.

Day 3, and the concrete is lined with sand, before the liner goes in. The frame for the jetty is installed, and you can clearly see the steps that will form the shallow waterfall. In the meantime, the stone has arrived from Dorset, and the guys lay it out around the pond so they can see what sizes and shapes they have.
The garden slopes all over the place here, and I'm ashamed to say that I was a bit worried about whether the jetty would be level. When the guys went home, I borrowed one of their big spirit levels, and laid it on the frame. It was dead straight.

Rufus decides it's time to take a well-earned rest. In my next post, I'll show you what happened in Week 2.