• Kay

Pond Construction Day 1


The weather forecast for today was heavy rain, not ideal for digging out a 21m x 15m x 1.5m pond with a digger and a 3-tonne dumper truck. But, with our customary optimism, Martin, the marvellous digger driver, was outside the house at 7:30am…on his birthday as well! The weather was ok to start with so Diane (driving the dumper, which was a rattling old beast) and Martin started by removing the soil dug out of the trial trench. Then, they began the painstaking process of the actual dig… First, they removed some turf, then they started to dug out the large planting shelf with a sloping edge up to ground level. Aideen and Patrick sat at the edge of the hole checking levels and deciding if the soil removed in each dumper load was topsoil or not, any topsoil was added to the terrace and subsoil was taken outside.

We had a grab lorry booked for later, in fact we have grab lorries booked all week. We have predicted that we will need about 40 grab lorries in total to remove the subsoil from both the pond and basement of the outbuilding over the coming weeks. The fact that we are digging a pond at all, especially one on this scale is incredibly exciting. When I come outside, I continue weeding around my plants in the forest garden bed. I have positioned myself close to the pond in case I am required.

Then, a storm of biblical proportions set in…torrential hail, fork lightening and continuous thunder rolling back and forth across the sky. Martin is fortunate to have a cab on his digger, but Diane was exposed to the elements. She put on a hat, put a towel over her lap and finally resorted to driving with an umbrella before taking a break for lunch. We had not anticipated rain on this scale. This creates the added complication of potentially making the stream flow… unusual at this time of year.

Just to add to the fun, my bags of solid gold manure (2 pallets) were delivered at mid-day.

After Martin leaves, the girls kindly start to transport the manure to the mushroom house and fill the beds. When I come to look, I scrutinise the manure and realise that despite Mr Mucks assertions, the manure has been made with wood shavings, not straw!!! I have paid a fortune for the wrong manure, which is now half in the beds, they will get a stern call from me tomorrow!


An Instant Pond!


I was awoken at 7:30am by Aideen shouting up the stairs, “Mum, come quickly, the pond has flooded!”. I came out into the orchard and was confronted by… a pond!

As feared, the rain was so heavy that the steam started to run. The channel/stream that runs through the orchard acts as an overflow for the 3 interlinked ponds behind the church. Normally, it only runs intermittently in the Winter and it has been ‘bone dry’ for several months. The little stream then goes down a pipe into a Tudor culvert running under the kitchen garden.

Yesterday, Martin dug about a quarter of the pond alongside the 10m x 2m x 2m deep trial trench. The exit water pipe had been covered, and therefore blocked, to protect it from the weight of the digger driving over it. During the night, the stream started to flow and the water could not escape, so it filled the hole! This was not an ideal situation for digging to continue, however, it did reveal that Patrick had worked out the levels correctly and it absolutely confirmed that we are right practically and aesthetically to position a pond in this area.

When Martin arrived, he uncovered the pipe so at least some of the water could drain away. This was also reassuring as we will have to create an overflow with a grill at the end of the pond and this unexpected situation showed us that this solution could work perfectly, simply and effectively.

Despite us trying to look on the bright side of our predicament, we still had a hole full of muddy water! Aideen sent a video of the flooded hole to James and he offered to bring us a pump after work, thank you James.

Today was Meave’s birthday, I don’t think she was expecting a pond as a present, and we had planned to go out for lunch as this was now allowed. Therefore, Martin did some work on digging out the basement of the outbuilding and then he dug out the stool of the nut tree that was within the circumference of the pond.

Later that day, Patrick and I looked at this massive set of trunks (a nut stool consists of dozens of mini trunks) and wondered what to do with it. The nut stool weighs tonnes and they are almost impossible to have taken away, could I reuse it in some way? I will have to think carefully!

I carried on with a bit more weeding in the forest garden bed before we went out for lunch, which seemed very strange at first, but did make a lovely change.

It is a bit difficult to know what to do over the coming days with the pond because the weather forecast is terrible. Pip gave it a thorough inspection, balancing precariously around the edge and peering intently into the murky depths. It was hard to tell if she was merely curious or outraged!


Lovely Auriculas


We are starting today by digging out the area of the tiny music room extension. As this is a new area to dig, we have to have the archaeologist on site for the day. Not long into digging she spots a ditch! This is apparently significant, so she then continued digging herself by hand to uncover the shape of the ditch and recover any fragments in the soil. Martin and Diane retreated to continue with the basement.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen garden I was doing one of my favourite jobs which is watering the auriculas. I love this job at this time of year because the ceanothus is blooming and covered in bees. It is so peaceful watering the auriculas in the early morning sunshine with a gentle background of humming bees. I noticed one auricula was a bit droopy, so I went off to re-pot it.

I then had a quick walk around. I notice that the alliums are starting to open on the mount and they look lovely. I decided to hoe two of the potato beds because seedling weeds are starting to appear. Ideally, this is what I would do with all beds and borders which is to hoe as soon as weeds appear or even before! However, I am never usually in that enviable position.

I then head back to the forest garden bed to keep weeding and we have a visit from the bee man. He explains that the two new bee colonies created from the swarm both have a queen and are doing well. The ‘bad bee’ colony are still being horrid and they do not have a queen. He intends to let them naturally die out and then he will remove them.

Later in the day, my sweet potato slip arrived and I quickly potted them up before they dried out.

Excavation work was challenging today because we need a steady stream of grab lorries to remove the vast quantity of subsoil, but for a period of time no lorries arrived. We belatedly realised that there was a large funeral at the church and the grab lorries were stuck outside on the road. This is a delicate aspect of living at Church Gardens, because often these occasions result in visitors to the church completely blocking our access.

Luckily the only bad thing that happened today, apart from the enormous heap of soil, was Pip chasing Tiggy into the water pipe in the pond where she remained for at least 15 minutes!


Marigold S.O.S


For the last few days, I have been decamping many of my new bedding companion plants and over-wintered plants into the cold frames. This was to free up the areas in the polytunnel beds where I will be planting tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, chillies and aubergines. By this point, every spare inch in the tunnel and the cold frames (which are also 42ft long and 3ft wide) is completely covered in plants. When I went to water the plants in the cold frames this morning, I notice several marigolds and tagetes have been munched. One poor specimen had been reduced to a stump!

Unfortunately, this persistently cool wet weather is ideal for slugs, and slugs love marigolds! I decide to mount a rescue operation and remove all the marigolds and tagetes out of the cold frames and put them back into the polytunnel, sitting them on the long propagator mat which is presently switched off.

I retrieved several large slugs from the cold frames and banished them to the orchard. The cold frames are more susceptible to slugs because they have damp hiding places in the rear wall, the environment in the tunnel is drier and less conducive to slug comfort.

Good progress is made with the outbuilding basement hole today, it is now quite deep! Luckily, although chilly and windy, the rain mainly held off. At the end of the day, I stood in the middle of the excavated area trying to gain a sense of the space. I think It will make a very decent place for events and should hold quite a few people, which will be marvellous. We also had a lovely visit from two friends from the church, who did not seem too shocked at the huge holes in the garden which was reassuring.

I spent the day in the forest garden bed and later, the girls and I went to visit Nick at Harefield marina. Nick was the person who introduced Aideen to Mayflower and now he has bought his own narrow boat to restore, I think we may have been a bad influence on him! It was very interesting to see the welding work happening on this boat and very nice to have a chat about restoration projects.


Tree Crisis!


I was rudely awakened at 7am this morning by Aideen shouting up the stairs saying, “Come quick, a tree has come down and is blocking the track!”. I quickly put on some clothes and rushed down the track with the girls. A beautiful, moderately large tree had fallen across the track leading out of the church car park. It was thoroughly blocking the track, you had to go into the graveyard to get around it!

We had to clear it quickly because we had grab lorries due within the hour and no one could even walk down the track. We collected saws and loppers, and Patrick retrieved his chainsaw. Fortunately, Martin had arrived early as usual and he went off to collect the digger to see if that could help in any way. The combination of Patrick on one side with his chainsaw and Martin on the other side with the digger was a winning combination. The girls and I pulled the cut branches out of the way and the digger pushed and pulled the main trunks to the side of the track. Remarkably quickly, the track was clear. Thank God for diggers and brilliant digger drivers!

We trudged back to the house and Diane went off in the dumper to continue digging out the basement of the outbuilding with Martin. One of the main expenses so far with the building project is grab lorries. Sometimes, we can have five grab lorries a day, it is not cheap! We are reusing good topsoil ourselves, but subsoil has to be taken away.

Before I got dad up, I took the opportunity to finish reading through my talk which I finished writing last night. This second talk has taken a long time to write and I have less time to spend on writing at this time of year. It now requires typing out and then it will go through an editing process with Aideen, who is very strict! Then we need to find all of the photos for the presentation, which also takes a long time. I am relieved that I have finished the writing process and I hope people will enjoy this second instalment of our story.

I then head out to the polytunnel. The weather is really wet and I spend the day potting on seedlings into bigger containers. I also sow three ‘84 module’ trays of different types of primula.

Aideen spends the day insulating her boat, which she later tells me is quite a depressing job. I think this was because she was having to stretch into some very awkward and dark corners, a common problem with Mayflower who is rather cramped!

Tiggy sits beside me on the polytunnel bench all day which was very sweet and we were lucky to be dry. I felt sorry for Diane on her very noisy, rattling dumper in the rain, not a nice job!


Looking In a Hole


Today, we are expecting quite a few people to visit for various reasons so I don’t think it will be a very productive gardening day. When I’m watering the cold frames, I discover that unfortunately, slugs also like to eat amaranthus. I quickly remove my precious Amaranthus and return them to the polytunnel. I swap them with some amazing grey poppies, hopefully the slugs won’t eat them!

Later in the day, Meave and I discover caterpillars munching their way through the leaves of the jostaberries which is very sad as they were looking so healthy and full of fruit. Apparently, jostaberries, currants and gooseberries are all related, and the same caterpillars are eating the gooseberry leaves.

As I ‘pot-on’ more and more plants, space is becoming a real issue, so I may have to evict the dahlias to give me more room in the cold frames.

Our first visitor is Dr Sarah Rutherford, the historical landscape consultant who produced our conservation plan. Sarah has worked with us over the years to produce various reports when we have submitted planning applications. She was involved in our most recent application and her advice has been invaluable. She had not visited the garden since 2017 and she was keen to see how we were getting on. After some time staring into the basement hole and then the pond crater, we had a very enjoyable tour around the rest of the garden, discussing the developments and additions since her last visit.

As Sarah left, Patrick’s friendly structural engineer arrived to look in the basement hole. Poor Patrick is finding the excavation process quite stressful. The ground is more sandy than he anticipated, and we are experiencing an incredibly wet May. He is naturally concerned about the stability of the walls of the hole, particularly where it comes close to the garage. We are also having to underpin his workshop and he needed to check that we were planning the work correctly. The engineer confirmed that Patrick is doing things correctly but there is an element of “proceed with caution” and see how the ground behaves. We may need to bring in a specialist company to do the underpinning.

When the engineer leaves, I continue with weeding my forest garden bed until Mary arrives. Mary brings a Wimpy takeaway as a belated birthday meal for Meave…we all like Wimpys! Inevitably, part of Mary's visit was spent staring down holes! I believe there is a song about just this subject, people do like looking into holes!

I finish the day back in the forest garden bed which is a lovely place to be in the early evening, except for the midges and mosquitoes that seem to be in abundance at the moment. Most of the plants in the bed are doing really well and it is lovely sitting amongst them listening to the birds.

When I come inside, we have the thrilling experience of watching three barn owls hunting in the field next to the kitchen garden. There is nothing as beautiful as watching owls in flight. The evening ends with a new ritual, releasing Tiggy from the polytunnel. Almost every night she manages to get stuck in the tunnel, despite me checking and calling. I have no idea where she hides herself!


Surprise Visitors!


Today was pretty miserable weather that just got worse and worse. Everyone worked very hard, primarily on the forest garden bed. I finally finished weeding around the plants at the far end and Patrick, Aideen and Diane started weeding the areas in-between my weeded areas.

When I had finished, I headed out into the Kitchen garden to plant out my fenugreek plants which have rather outgrown their tray. I have decided that they should probably be planted in the bean/pea/onion quarter of the vegetable garden. The only problem with this is lack of space, luckily they do not mind being planted closely and my plan is to slot them in-between the broad beans. Maybe their strong scent will also help to distract aphids away from the beans.

Later in the evening, Patrick opens the door to some people who are potentially interested in using the garden for some filming in a few days time! We invite them in and show them around the garden. Isn’t it ironic that this filming opportunity happens to coincide with us having excavated two enormous muddy holes in our garden…typical!

We stayed outside weeding in the rain until it got dark. James and his mum Janet, having heard about the potential filming joined us mid-evening to help, how brilliant was that!

When we finally came in, coated with mud and very soggy, I picked up a message on the phone from our visitors saying they would love to come and film on Wednesday. It all felt rather surreal and we are not presently at our tidiest, we’ve just started a major building project and I wasn’t expecting visitors for weeks! Aideen solemnly picks up a bit of paper and a pen, it is list time…I think I will be getting up early tomorrow!


Jet Propelled Tidy Up


Today we were all up very early and I was weeding an onion bed before 7am! It is not an ideal situation trying to get a garden ship shape for important visitors in two days. We had not expected to be open to the public for at least a month and we have naturally been very caught up in our building project. As a result, I’ve been managing everything in the garden single handed for weeks and it has been a challenge to keep on top of the main jobs ie. sowing and planting out. I’ve been doing some weeding but I would not have described the state of the garden as pristine! Sometimes it is useful to have a deadline because it makes you do the jobs that have been put off, and one of those was weeding the onions.

Onions should be kept well weeded and ours have been weeded several times already this year, however, the rain combined with mild temperatures has caused a massive growth spurt of weeds and now the onions are swamped. Luckily, I now have the girls to help and Aideen and I weed the bed together.

After finishing this annoying, fiddly but necessary job I move on to the mount to remove any prominent weeds and Aideen moves on to the fruit cage.

My next job was the rose border in the front field. This poor bed has been neglected and had not been properly weeded in the Spring. I then had my teaching, but came back out afterwards to add manure to the polytunnel bed and start planting tomatoes.

Luckily, the weather is so wet that Martin the digger driver had already decided it was too wet to dig, so at least we were not getting behind with our construction work. Unfortunately, the stream started to flow again and the pond filled up again! Aideen and Diane worked incredibly hard. Diane tidied up the viewing platform and they both worked heroically on clearing the paths. Patrick came out as soon as he could after work and started on an epic mowing session.


Weeding, Weeding and More Weeding!

25/5/21 Another early start, but we are all rather tired today. My project for the day is to try and do something with the main herbaceous border that runs alongside the field. I had started to weed this bed twice already this year, but I only weeded about a quarter of its length. Other jobs have got in the way of me returning to it and now it resembles a jungle!

The worst weeds this year appear to be massive burdocks and cleavers, both far more prolific than usual. It was quite hard to not become disheartened. One day was not adequate to do the job. I decided to just do my best, add a bit of compost and go for the ‘wild look!’. Whilst I was buried in burdock and wrapped up in cleavers, the girls carried on with the paths and then Janet came to help as well. Quite frankly, tidy paths improve the look of the garden more than anything, maybe I should give up gardening and concentrate on paths! They certainly provide a beautiful frame for everything. Patrick carried on mowing until the compost heap reached mountainous proportions!


The Day Dawns!


I am up ridiculously early today, 5am! The film crew are due early this morning and we are trying to make the parts of the house that are visible, or that the crew will pass through, clean and tidy. This is no mean feat considering the amount of mud being trooped through. I also have to get grandad up, ready and settled with his breakfast before they arrive. The crew arrive and disappear off into the kitchen garden on their own to decide where to film. By late morning, the film crew were finished and left clutching guidebooks!

Once I’d had some lunch, I went to my tunnel to plant tomatoes and reflect on the strangeness of life! I planted all the tomatoes and started to rearrange, weed and clear the side bed in preparation for planting out the aubergines, chillies and peppers. Part of this job involved the removal of some Chinese Kale which I gave to Pecky. She ate it voraciously, I hope she doesn’t get indigestion!

I then removed a line of spinach plants that are attempting to flower, a big issue with spinach. I plan to make up a chicken curry tonight that will include a bucket of spinach, peas and potatoes!


Pond Progress


I’m relieved to say that today is back to ‘normal’ garden life, as normal as it ever is at Church Gardens! Martin, the master digger driver has returned and the weather is beautiful. In fact, it is so warm I have to water the seedlings in the tunnel twice and open all of the windows.

Martin (Digger driver), Diane (Dumper driver) and Aideen (Laser Leveller) are in the pond all day. The trial trench has now been absorbed into the overall pond shape and it is much easier to picture what the pond will look like. They start by removing the turf layer on the remainder of the pond site which truly reveals the footprint of the pond. This is a very exciting stage to reach in the excavation and my planting brain has gone into overdrive.

Even as a muddy hole, the pond looks beautiful and we all keep saying how right it looks, this spot in the orchard was made for the pond! All the turf is being piled up in a big heap further into the orchard within the trees, where the old compost heap used to be. It will rot down and will be used to spread over the area where the hard-core pile used to be.

Digging the pond is a delicate business, despite the heavy machinery, and it cannot be rushed. There are many things to take into consideration, including, levels, size and shape of planting shelves (the planting shelves are at least half the surface area of the pond to keep good water clarity via the plants) and gradients of the pond edge. Also, the orchard slopes more steeply on one side of the pond than the other, this slope will be finished off with the flint that we have dug up in the garden over the years.

There were lengthy discussions about how the beach area will work. This will be the entry/exit point into the pond for animals and humans and requires a gentle slope down to the deepest point of the pond. We are also working out the overflow system into the existing drain. At the end of the day, good progress had been made and Patrick and I walk up the stream discussing how to overcome the problem of tree roots growing through the stream and looking at the existing small pool at the top of the orchard where the water presently enters the garden, mainly during the winter, after heavy rain.

Whilst this exciting landscaping proceeds, I work in the kitchen garden. First, barrowing compost to the celery/celeriac bed before planting. This took longer than usual because I kept getting distracted by the pond! I then planted out more than 150 celery/celeriac plants that look very healthy, but will they ever meet their promise?

I then spend the rest of the day clearing a huge bed for sweetcorn and Patrick helps me add compost when he finishes work. I’m hoping the sweetcorn will not be blown over if it goes in at a smaller size.

At lunch and dinner, I use more elephant garlic and a substantial amount of lettuce. Dinner is a creamy chicken and pasta dish, using beautiful fresh tarragon from the herb garden.


Distracted by Polyanthas


I should have planted out the sweetcorn today but I got a little bit distracted. First thing this morning, I looked out of the window to see a slow procession progressing into the orchard. Aideen, Diane and Patrick were laying a path of plywood sheets in front of the digger, in order for Martin to push the giant, double nut stool (that was dug out of the pond) to its new resting place. I had decided it should sit on one side of a multi trenched ash and nut tree. I thought it would fit in quite well in this spot and with soil piled up against the remains of its roots, it will probably re-sprout and start growing again. Diane said she would give me a shout when she was ready to transport a load of top soil. Inevitably, this coincided with me getting grandad dressed, but he was perfectly amenable and waited whilst I disappeared for a few minutes to direct the dumping of the top soil. It is incredibly helpful to have a three-tonne dumper truck to shift soil for me. Diane was able to tip the soil around the trunks beautifully, it would have taken me all day to barrow that amount of soil!

I then returned to grandad and when he had his breakfast I came back to neaten up my new bed. I added a little retaining wall of logs to hold the soil in place and then added a layer of leaf mould, which will be greatly appreciated by the polyanthas.

My intention was to remove all of the polyanthas from the small beds at the top of the vegetable garden. They have never been happy there, especially in the summer when the beds are too dry. These polyanthas have been there for years and many were completely buried by the sage, rosemary and lavender. I have had a habit of buying a few polyanthas every year because they are so cheerful. I like putting them on the kitchen window sill and then I plant them out. This had resulted in there being dozens of them hidden away. I’m sure they will be much happier in their new woodland home and it will make a start on my Jekyll/Sackville-West polyantha nuttery project!