• Kay

Expert Help


At 7:30am this morning, a man from a groundworks company that Patrick is working with on another site arrived to assess the basement situation. He agreed that the wall of earth closest to the garage was unstable and the hole needed to be propped more securely. He left to collect more wood to do the job that morning. The engineer arrived at 9:30am and agreed with the assessment made by the groundworks man. He and Patrick then discussed how to proceed and decided that we should concentrate on the half of the hole closest to the buildings and get the floor slab in, start building the walls, filling the blocks with concrete and backfilling course by course. This will be slow, but less risky than building up the wall in one go.

The groundworks people returned and put cross pieces of very substantial wood against the vulnerable wall and fixed three props at a lower level, in addition to the three existing, higher props. When they left, they assured Aideen that the hole was now safe.

Aideen and Martin spent the remaining part of the day digging the hole for Mayflower who is scheduled to be moved this Sunday. They dug a boat shaped hole with a ramp to help slide her into place.

I then went to dig up plants that one of our visitors wanted removed from her garden. She has several types of plant that self-seed prolifically and she finds it helpful if I periodically come and remove some. This is incredibly beneficial for us, as we can always use more plants. The list included hellebores, wild cyclamen, anemones and pulmonarias, which I intended to add to the organ pipe bed. There were also other things like tradescantia, agapanthus and a few random plants that she no longer wanted. As soon as I got home I started putting things in and managed to put the anemones and pulmunarias in before I started teaching.


Worryingly Bad Weather!


We have a Garden Visit this afternoon, but before that, Diane concentrated on clearing the area of the basement that we will be working on. I help her to move the bigger objects and we create a lip around the top of the basement hole to reduce water flowing into the hole. We have tarpaulins hanging over the walls to try and keep them dry, so Diane and I slide scaffold boards underneath the tarpaulin at the edges to create a lip. We then weigh everything down with boards and slabs.

Very worryingly, the weather forecast is awful, with heavy rain due. I carry on planting and manage to put in all of the hellebores before the visitors arrive.

Our visitors from Rickmansworth Ladies Group, our penultimate visit of the season, arrive at 2:30pm. It was this groups first trip out since lockdown and they were very happy to be out with their friends. Luckily, it did not rain during the tour. Not long after serving refreshments, I had to go in to teach. Later in the evening it started to rain very heavily.

Patrick, who is worried sick about the hole, went to check things and he found the bolts on the props were loose. So, Aideen and Meave went down into the hole to tighten them up, we do not understand why they were loose. I come out at the end of my teaching in the pouring rain to find them and they were heading back to the house, thank God. The rain is horrendous and we are all worried. Patrick sends a message to the groundworks people and hopefully they will come again tomorrow.


Watercress in the Bath!


It rained heavily all night, just what we didn’t need. The only thing that can be said for it is that the pond filled up a bit more. Patrick is in a terrible state, barely sleeping and not finishing his dinner, which is unheard of!

In the morning, we go outside to look at the hole and there has been further slippage from the walls. We wait anxiously for a visit from the engineer in the afternoon to advise us on the situation. In the meantime, I collect my new glasses which I certainly will not be wearing in the basement hole and continue planting tradescantias and agapanthus.

Having seen our friends’ tremendous success with moving his blueberries into pots in the greenhouse, I decide to remove my sorry specimens from the bath in the fruit cage and put them in fresh ericaceous compost in pots in the tunnel. I replace them with watercress in the bath which certainly sounds as if it should work!

When the engineer arrives, it is clear that he is very concerned. Patrick and I discuss possible remedies for about an hour. The engineer is not convinced ‘piling’ will work at this stage and puts forward the idea of using much stronger shuttering. The problem is installing this with the existing props in their current position and then, going forward, trying to put in the steelwork for the floor slab and building the walls with the props in place. The engineer contacts some groundworks companies that he trusts and Patrick and I are left to continue worrying.

The weather forecast is awful and it is much colder. Patrick is at his wits end worrying that his precious garage, which contains his office (our main source of income), is going to drop into the hole!


Patrick’s Plan


Very early this morning Patrick wakes me up…he has an idea. His idea is to start putting soil back into the hole, primarily beside the basement wall adjoining the garage. He thinks that if we build it up high enough (leaving all props and boards in place and burying them) that not only will it support the crumbling side of the hole, but it will enable us to make a broader, more secure area for a piling rig to come in and put in a piling wall. The idea is quite extreme. We have spent weeks digging out a massive hole, paying for machinery, labour and grab lorries to remove earth/sand and now he plans to put the sand back in the hole! However, I can see where he is coming from and he seems much happier with this plan in mind. He starts to text the engineer and we go ahead with meeting his recommended ground works man. This gentleman is a man of few words, who just stands and stares into the hole for ages in silence.

Martin, our faithful digger driver, has returned to site and once the groundsman has left, he immediately started digging and shifting earth. The initial earth is coming from ‘battering’ the sides of the other half of the hole, which means creating a slope on the walls to make them far more stable. This needed to be done anyway and we can use the soil to pile against the unstable wall.

We are then visited by the engineer from the original groundworks company who is very happy to see that we are backfilling the hole, even though we are burying his acro-props and wood. He is trying to sort out the right sized machine to do the piling and suggests giving us a price for putting in the floor slab.

At this stage, I think we are all happy to consider handing the job over (or at least part of it) to someone else. Although, it will take a lot of guided tours and cakes to pay for it!

I stay by the side of the hole watching Martin and keeping an eye on proceedings, helping

him check that the earth is going into the right places and that the digger is safe and stable. Martin does an amazing job, it takes real skill to manoeuvre the bucket around the props and pour the soil exactly where it is needed. He works incredibly fast (I think he was relieved to be doing something constructive) and soon there is an impressive heap of earth against the wall. Patrick is so much happier and for the first time in days seems to be more confident that we will get through this crisis. After a break for tea and cake, Aideen ropes me into helping to paint Mayflower's bottom with thick black bitumen paint. This involves lying on the ground under the boat with a roller, not ideal for a woman of my stature! Aideen is hoping to get three coats of bitumen on Mayflower before she goes in the hole. After this, we come inside to get ready for our choir rehearsals, life still has to carry on whatever else is happening!


Bitumen Paint and Mud


Another early start today – no peace for the wicked! I was roused by a shout to get outside quickly just after 7am. Martin had arrived to continue backfilling the hole…what a strange position for him to be in. First he is here for several weeks digging a hole, now he is filling it back in.

Patrick needs Aideen and myself to climb through the hole to retrieve three pieces of loose ply sheet that are leaning against the far wall. We need to backfill this wall as well and the sheets are in the way. Fortunately, the hole is not as dangerous as it was before yesterday’s backfilling, but it is extremely difficult to move through. There are props to climb over, the ground is wet and sticky and we have to climb through the newly backfilled earth which is loose and you sink into it. When we reach the far side, we have to heave the extremely heavy ply sheets up to Patrick and Martin, no mean feat for a late middle-aged, menopausal woman and a classical harpist!

We are both relieved to get out of the hole. Aideen and Martin work together for the day, filling the dumper and emptying it into the far side of the hole, which she does very cautiously. I then get grandad up and we all wait the arrival of the latest groundworks man sent by the engineer to look at the hole.

This man is much more talkative than the man who visited yesterday. He appears to approve of our backfilling and says it is not the worst collapse he has seen but sagely advises us never to trust ground. He recommends shuttering as a solution but agrees piling would be simplest if possible.

Martin and Aideen finish backfilling the last part of the hole and I am just about to start helping Aideen with the third coat of bitumen paint on Mayflower when the latest delivery of steel arrives…or rather doesn’t. The lorry driver refuses to drive his new shiny lorry down the track and proposes to unload the tonnes of steel outside the church…or rather doesn’t as he then refuses to use his crane! After some arguing he at least lifts the steel off the lorry with the crane and then departs in a huff!

Patrick, as usual, seems resigned to this unhelpful behaviour, Aideen and I are furious as we now have to load hundreds of pieces of steel into the dumper and then unload it at the house. I then help Aideen with the boat and we both get covered in bitumen paint!

After an hour, I have to get cleaned up to visit our lovely elderly visitor who has donated three pieces of garden statuary to us. Sadly, she can no longer access her garden and wants these treasured pieces to move to Church Gardens where they can be appreciated. I spend a lovely time chatting to her about all things gardening and then carefully bring the pieces home. One piece is a beautiful metal sculpture of a cockerel which I place besides Pecky’s enclosure. She peers down at it and clucks appreciatively!

I then make a sort of cassoulet using our peppers and tomatoes and depart for a rehearsal of Sibelius 5 and Elgar’s Cello Concerto…quite a contrast from the start of the day!


Concert Day


Another early start…today it is because of the terrible weather forecast, so basically, it is time to batten down the hatches! Both Aideen and I have concerts today, she is playing Elgar 1 in Berk Hampstead and I’m playing Elgar’s Cello Concerto (not the solo part) and Sibelius 5 in Northwood Hills. Because Aideen is playing today, she cannot help us, so she is inside practising. Unfortunately, the bassoon does not give me the same excuse. The forecast is predicting rain all day and strong winds. Our ‘to do’ list includes taking the legs off the marquees and lowering the roof, covering the sides of the basement excavation with tarpaulins and weighting them down and digging out a drainage chamber at the bottom of the boat hole and inserting a drainage cage. The boat hole had been collecting water so we wanted to dig past the clay to improve drainage. Although Mayflower is a boat, we don’t want her to be sat in water because we want to preserve her. The rain starts mid-morning and we are soon wet and tired, I then have to make myself presentable for the concert.

This is my first concert since the beginning of Covid and it is good to be back, especially to play such wonderful music!


Boat Moving Day


Another early start! We are expecting Barney the ‘master mover’ at 8am. Martin (digger driver) arrives early and when Barney arrives he has brought his brother, who is very big and strong (thankfully) and his cat. Apparently, the cat goes everywhere with Barney and they are devoted to each other, this is something I can certainly relate to.

The family and James are busily shovelling gravel into the hole so Mayflower can eventually sink into this layer. Barney and his brother immediately hook Mayflower up to the digger and a chain is fixed from the back of the boat to the dumper to stabilise her. Martin then lifts her nose so they can start removing props and sleepers. It is nail biting stuff, particularly when Mayflower falls onto her side.

However, this is inevitable as she has to be dragged on her side, it would be impossible for her to remain upright. Barney and his brother direct Martin and Diane (on the dumper) to gradually ease her along the sleepers. Barney and his brother keep diving under the boat to move the sleepers along. Luckily, she doesn’t have too far to travel, but there is a bit of an awkward bend to negotiate. It isn’t a straight line to the hole. Mayflower then drops over to her other side…poor Aideen is very anxious and I try to reassure her but the process is quite terrifying.

Finally, she is eased into the hole and Diane is instructed to give two massive jerking tugs on the dumper to pull her into the correct position. Amazingly, she seems to settle quite firmly in place and is remarkably level. There is a collective sigh of relief and sleepers are pulled out and gravel poured into the hole. Mayflower looks wonderful, as if she is literally cruising across the garden. She looks perfect next to the pond and we can already see her reflection in the water. Aideen smiles at last, it is good to have something go well after such a stressful week.

Barney, his brother and the cat drive away with a parting shot of … “Until next time!”. Barney obviously thinks it is only a matter of time before we find something else, large, heavy and unusual that we want to put in the garden… and maybe he is right! Whilst the others continue adding gravel to the hole and tidying up, I inveigle Meave to help me take down the shade netting in the polytunnel, her extra height is a great advantage for this job. Once the netting is down I can then cut back the old, rogue vine in the corner of the tunnel which has filled the netting at that end of the tunnel. I then tie and trim back stray bits of tomato, cucumber and sunflower plants that had attached themselves to the netting. I also rescue four foxgloves in a tray that had been forgotten about hidden between the tomato plants in the central border and I plant these with the others in the back courtyard. Patrick and Diane set a few more flints along the edge of the pond and I help her to infill the cement with small stones.

At 4:30pm my sister arrives to grandad sit and we all leave to watch the new James Bond film. The film was fantastic and was a lovely end to a very successful day.


Flint Wall Construction


Today, I will be working with Diane on the flint edging wall of the pond. Honestly, neither of us really know what we are doing (although Diane has been helping Patrick so she has more idea than me). But, the job needs doing and we are the only ones available to do it, so Diane is the builder and I am her labourer. We are concerned that the persistent rain is filling up the pond and we do not want to be building the wall whist standing in water. Also, if we have very heavy rain, the stream might start to run and then the pond will fill up extremely quickly. Various things delay us in the morning so we get going by 1pm, but it is a slow job. First, you have to pick suitable flints which are buried in our very large heap. Then you mix the cement and then finally, you can start building the base of the wall. We do not make marvellous progress but I’m hoping we will improve with practice. Later in the afternoon, the rain starts and Patrick is concerned about the stream. Because it is unlined the worry is the stream water will go underneath the pond liner. He thinks we should put in a temporary length of liner to direct the water into the pond. He also decides to open up his drain on the other side of the pond for potential over flow. All of this is much more complicated and time consuming than it sounds and involves me crawling about in puddles until I’m soaked through! We finally get things to a state that Patrick is comfortable with and then it is time for me to go in and teach, but first I dig up potatoes, beetroot, a white cabbage and Rosemary and Bay leaves for tonight’s dinner.


To Pile or not to Pile?


Today, Diane and I intend to carry on with our flint stone wall around the edge of the pond, but like yesterday, the morning seems to slip past whilst we do other jobs.

At 11am, a man comes to assess whether it will be possible to pile alongside the garage to secure the walls of our basement excavation. We are encouraged by his visit because he thinks it would be possible to use a smaller rig for the job to produce 35cm diameter, 6m deep piles. We are so relieved to hear that he thinks the job is possible and that he can start quickly! The only question is how much will it cost.

Diane and I then retire to the flint pile to sort out more suitably sized stones, this is not a quick job because the larger stones are at the bottom of the crates, so the small flints have to be removed first. We make better progress than yesterday but we are still slow. The weather was supposed to be dry but we are caught in several showers and find ourselves kneeling in puddles again! I did manage some brief visits to the kitchen garden where I spent some time dead heading and staking dahlias. I also collected lettuce, cucumber and pears for a lunch time salad with prawns, and I collected some potatoes for dinner. These were Picasso potatoes and they were a very good size. Patrick decided to come out to help with the flints at about 4:30pm, probably to distract himself from the quote he had just received from the piling man, which was considerably more expensive than we had hoped. Tomorrow, someone is coming to discuss the shuttering option which might be cheaper, but it will make putting in the floor slab and building the walls much harder.


Do We Trench Sheet?


Today, Diane has a trial day working at a Pupil Referral Unit, so theoretically, I should be able to spend the day in the garden. This would be lovely and very much needed as the sun is shining, BUT, it does not happen. As soon as I start to head into the garden, there is another lengthy conversation to be had about the basement situation. Negotiations have brought down the quote from the piling company but now we have a long site meeting with the basement builder who advocates trench sheeting. This had not been our favoured option, but by the end of the meeting we were beginning to change our minds again. The man promised to give us a quote by the end of the day. All of this consultation is extremely time consuming because after meeting or speaking with these people, you then have to weigh things up and discuss them. Finally, I got into the garden for a short time, during which I removed algae from the water feature which was causing water to spill onto the ground and therefore, empty the reservoir. I also continued dead heading and staking the dahlias. I was very pleased to harvest some enormous beautiful pears from the tree which grows against the fruit tree wall and then I went to collect Diane. By the time I finished my teaching in the evening, we had received the quote from the trench sheeting man which unfortunately, was much higher than we expected. However, this could potentially include laying the floor slab and building the basement walls. Although this was work that we had originally intended to do ourselves, it would be very hard, stressful and time consuming and the project is already far behind schedule because of the original builder letting us down. If someone else takes on the responsibility of getting the basement out of the ground, we can concentrate on the pond and then continue working on the above ground part of the building which might enable us to get back on schedule. We will try to negotiate on the price for this trench sheeting option but Patrick and I think that despite the extra cost, this is probably the more sensible option. There are times when you need to realise your limitations.


Garden Hair


Today, Diane has returned to work at the Pupil Referral Unit and I am having my hair done. My hairdressing habits are very ‘hit and miss’ and this has only got worse over lockdown! My hairdresser, who is also a very dear friend, must despair of me because she knows I am likely to go straight from the appointment to the garden, and soon my hair will be rained on and possibly have bits of mud and twigs added to it for good measure!

I do get some time outside today but again, it is very limited. We still do not have a final decision made on the basement and it is under constant discussion.

I spend some time removing giant borage plants that are obstructing the paths and picking up the pole crosses (that we placed amongst the brassicas to deter pigeons) that have blown down. After picking up Diane from work, I prepare dinner and then we head off for our choir and band rehearsal. Everything seems to have returned to normal and it is as if Covid was a bad dream.


My Second Swim


Today is a relatively clear day…theoretically. However, last night, Aideen and I noticed what could be a bite on Minxy’s leg so today began with a trip to the vet. Minxy was not impressed but I’m glad we went because the bite was already becoming septic. After an antibiotic injection, we return home and then the Harefield Collectibles van arrived with the latest bits and pieces that I’ve acquired. The two, young men carried the various items into the back garden which was very helpful as they were all heavy.

After finding homes for some of the items, I go to help Diane on her flint collecting mission. After a conversation with the basement man who advocates trench piling, we have decided to go forward with him, despite the quote being high. We need to work with someone who we can rely upon to do good work and we will make some economies on the cost by doing the walls ourselves. These people are allowing 6 weeks to do the job which gives us time to concentrate on the pond. After some time transporting heavy barrows of flint of various sizes to the pond, I decide it would be nice to have another go at swimming in the pond. When I slither in this time it is very cold and definitely deeper than last time. After some hesitation, I fully immerse myself and have a proper swim. It really is a proper swim because it takes some time to swim the length of the pond. I cannot believe that we have somewhere so amazing to swim, it is so peaceful and the view from every angle is beautiful. I’ve dreamed of creating a pond for about 25 years and I cannot believe that we’ve finally done it!

Later in the day, Patrick and I walk up and down the stream bed discussing how the stream will work; where it will be narrow and where it will widen. We discuss where the pipe for the pump will go, and how the jetty will be built and decide that the pump will be in the water under the jetty. We even stand in the small pool at the far end of the stream and discuss how we will line it, but retain its present, natural look and then we talked about where the pumped water will come out. It is all incredibly exciting.

Tonight, I make steak and kidney pie and I dig up potatoes for mash and red cabbage to accompany it.


Wall Construction


Early this morning, Patrick is finally given permission to strim the wildflowers in the miniature orchard. It will soon be time to add more wildflower seeds and inevitably more crocus bulbs.

Today, Aideen has a concert and Meave is away. The plan is to concentrate on continuing constructing the flint wall around the pond. It is a beautiful day, starting misty, which usually means a warm, sunny day ahead. The weather was perfect and incredibly calm and still, working in the orchard was incredibly peaceful.

Late yesterday evening, someone must have driven along the track by the grave yard very fast and dangerously because Aideen and Patrick found a beautiful, big badger dead on the track when they returned from collecting the shopping. In the morning, it was clear where the car had skidded in the gravel and grass outside our gate. I was very sad and angry about this because no one should be driving fast enough on the track to kill an animal.

Whilst Patrick drives Aideen to her concert, Diane and I make a start on the wall. This is a real labour of love as it is quite a laborious task. We are surrounded by flints carefully selected from the pile. We put an extra strip of liner on the shelf at water level to protect the main liner, slap on a generous amount of cement and choose an appropriate flint. Diane beds it into the cement and I stick little stones into the joints. The end result reminds me of Gaudi architecture that I saw in Barcelona years ago. I am delighted that we are now recycling the flints which we have been digging up for the last 25 years, we have lots to use and they look good in this new situation. The pocket of earth behind the flint wall still contains some liner therefore, it should retain moisture and provide a good spot to grow certain marginal plants that appreciate damp conditions.


A Big Bath!


This morning, Aideen and I are going to church to play in the band for the first time since the start of Covid, 18 months ago. Diane is staying at home to help Patrick and while we are gone they construct the top of the overflow chamber. The last thing to do to complete the chamber is to build in a grill (made by our blacksmith) inset in two courses of bricks and some tiles.

If this has been correctly worked out, when the water level reaches a certain point, the water will start to spill down into the overflow chamber. The principle is exactly the same as an overflow on a sink or bath. This is an essential element of our pond because it is linked to the central channel of the orchard and when this channel flows in heavy rain during the Winter months, there is a considerable amount of water that has to flow into the culvert. Previously, the channel had to flow into a pipe which would easily block and then the orchard would flood, sometimes reaching the base of our newly restored wall! The channel/culvert system was originally put in place to deal with the estate's original fish ponds overflowing. These are three, large interlinked ponds situated behind the church. These ponds (which are crying out for restoration) are no longer fully linked to the overflow system, thus our channel flows far less than when we first moved in. This is why we are also installing a pumping system to circulate water from the big pond up to the small pool at the top of the stream where it will cascade into the small pool and then flow down the 60m stream and back into the big pond.

On returning from church, we join the work party which today also includes James. Aideen and James set about clearing away various things from the entrance to the basement hole before the builders come next week. This includes a barrowful of pebbles dug out during the excavation which go into a barrel to be cleaned off to be either used on the stream bed or on the ‘beach’. They then start adding gravel to Mayflowers hole. I join Diane and Patrick who are now ready to continue with the flint wall. We are now working on the far side of the pond which is much steeper and where we will use the biggest flints. Some of these stones are massive and take two people to lift them. We move stones, mix cement and add little pebbles to the mortar.

For lunch, I make pesto using lots of our basil and garlic and I serve the pesto pasta with a big salad of our tomatoes, cucumber, garlic and red onion – a very vitamin packed lunch!

We are still sticking pebbles in the mortar as it gets dark, by this time, Meave has returned home to join the team. Tonight, I make meat and potato pie and cauliflower cheese, much to Aideen’s delight!

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