Monday, 10 September 2012

The Pond

Not the Atlantic Ocean, but an actual wildlife pond in my garden.

This pond was originally dug out some years ago (by the JCB that was preparing the foundations for my garage). It filled invitingly with water. But then my life became more dramatic than I wanted and like many things, the pond was neglected.

Early this Summer I decided it was time to sort out the pond. The first step was to remove the old water, which had become a soupy dark green. I tried to siphon it out through a hose pipe. This worked at first, but the pipe kept clogging up. After plenty of mouthfuls of putrid water, I gave up. The pond was still half full.

I put my wellies on and waded in with a bucket. The remaining water was stinking and thick with debris - mainly decomposed leaves, I think, but who knows what else could have died down there. I started to sling bucketfuls out. It was heavy work shifting this putrid slurry. With sore arms I heaved and a jet of slurry landed with a filthy slop on the lawn. I started to think of the night soil men that removed the contents of Victorian chamber pots and the horrible diseases I might now be going down with after my ill-advised siphoning. I smiled nervously and began shouting 'gardeloo!'

Next I hired a power washer and blasted the neoprene liner. It took several goes to shift the slippery but gummy deposits that were stuck all over the surface. At the same time, the washer was filling the pond with water again and I had to stop regularly to bucket it out or else my wellies would have been overflowed. My arms ached, but at least all this water was diluting the dark sludge on the lawn.

Then it was digging, and plenty of it. I had planned a bog garden along the one side of the pond. I worked the spade, filled my wheelbarrow with earth and trucked it up the lawn to the edge of the drive. After a couple of barrowfuls, I mopped my brow and began to regret the idea of the bog garden. After twenty or so I crawled into the house, lay down on the carpet and almost went straight to sleep.

Thankfully the rain came and I sought advice on plants for the pond. The very knowledgeable Sally calculated the volume of water in the pond, some 1200 gallons, and told me how many plants of which type I would need to create a healthy environment. I wanted a natural wildlife pond in which the plants would make the oxygen and keep it in balance.

I also wanted the pond to be edged by natural stone. I'd been collecting flat stones from beside the gates of local fields, where they'd been left after ploughing. But I found I didn’t have anything like enough, for the circumference of the pond was some fifty feet. Thwarted, I was chatting to my neighbour who told me that he had demolished an old byre some years ago and had dumped the stone in a field. He said I could have all the stone from there that I wanted.

I went to the field but found it hard to locate the stone. Then I saw the mounds of earth covered in thistles. There were about eight of them. I dug into one a little and hit stone. It was a quarrying job. With pickaxe I levered stones out of the dirt, selected the ones that were flat enough and stacked them into my trailer. After working through five large mounds, I had a trailerfull. At home I washed the stones, cleaned the old mortar from them and trucked them down to the pond in the wheelbarrow.

As a kid I always liked jigsaws. Making the stone pavement around the pond was like that, only you didn’t have a picture to work to. You picked up a stone and set it down in place, wedging small flat stones under it to keep it stable. Then you picked up another stone and tried it next to the first. Then you turned it around and tried it again. Then you tried another. Then perhaps you changed the first one. And so on. Eventually you got a feel for the stones that would fit together.

I really enjoyed this work. It brought me back in touch with rural skills and crafts that I recalled from my childhood. I'm sad that these are now being lost, like hedging and dry stone walling.

After this craft-work, it was again back to graft. Although the end was in sight. Digging through the large pile of earth at the end of the drive, I cleaned the stones from it and added in sharp sand and horse manure. Then I trucked another twenty barrow-loads down to the pond and filled up the trench of the bog garden, first having lined it with gravel. To finish off, I joined the stone pavement to the lawn with cut turf.

And so to the plants. Water lilies and mares tails for the deepest part of the water, flag irises and crimson lobelia for the shallows and astilbes and hostas for the bog garden. A fantastic display (thanks to Sally and Avril).

I sat in a chair beside the pond. It felt very peaceful and restful. It was a good place. And I had made it myself. Newts, water boatmen and diving beetles had already found their way to the pond. Next year I would introduce some fish.