Helen's Garden Renovation Project

Saturday 29 September 2012

Me versus the bay tree

Filed under: Pond,Progress — Helen @ 4:49 pm

Yesterday I emptied the temporary pond. Unfortunately there were still some newt tadpoles in the water. I managed to save some of them and transferred them to the shallow pond. I also encountered three adult frogs, but no adult newts. I thought about whether I wanted pond snails in the shallow pond, and I decided that I had done all right with them so far so I would put them in. I don’t know whether they will crawl up the wall and get into the raised pond, but I don’t suppose they will do any harm if they do.

I pulled the pond liner partly out of the pond because rain was forecast later and I didn’t want the pond to fill up again. Then I put a few bricks and other things in the hole to help frogs get out if they should jump in without noticing that all the water had gone.

After emptying the temporary pond

After emptying the temporary pond

Today we had a fine, dry day and I decided it was a good day for shredding things, so I cut bits off the bay tree and shredded them. I also moved the compost bins out of the way. I have been advertising the compost bins in Sainsbury’s and have managed to get rid of one out of the three I had left. Digging up the bay tree may be a harder job than digging up the Leylandii. It may take me more than one session. It will also be a big job to fill the pond. I had forgotten how deep it was.

The bay tree after pruning

The bay tree after pruning

The level of water in the shallow pond continues to fall. I think it must be leaking from more than one place. I am thinking of various ideas about what to do. One option is to remove the liner entirely and replace it with a new liner that comes up along the back of the edging blocks. I don’t know whether this will affect the stablity of the edging blocks. Another possibility is to dig up the soil at the back of the two edges of the pond that don’t butt onto the patio, and then leave it, and see which bits become damp after rainfall. I would hope this would tell me whether there are particular places where the pond is leaking from. Taking up the patio to observe the edge that butts onto the patio would be drastic, but again could be done. However, I am going to leave this to be done after completion of the main project. I feel more strongly than ever it is time to bring this ship into the shore, and throw away the oars. Forever. I have had enough of the portable herbaceous border. I want a proper garden again.

So, I am still planning to get the right hand part of the garden finished this winter if the weather is unexceptional. I should be able to get the bay tree dug up, the pond filled in and the path taken up by the end of October. I can then use the rubble from the path foundations for the stepping stones in November, and also work out the layout for the section. Then in December I can get quotes for any work that I cannot do myself, and have the work done in January. Then order lots of soil for the lawn, get it level and fertilised, and sow the lawn seed in April. And if you believe this will happen without any further slippage, you have much more faith in human nature and circumstances than I have.

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Thursday 27 September 2012

Pond waterproofing not exactly a success

Filed under: Pond,Progress — Helen @ 12:39 pm

After I had finished waterproofing the shallow pond and mending the water butts, we had lots and lots of rainfall, which I was very pleased about because it meant that my repairs could be thoroughly tested. I was only partly pleased about the results, though. One of the water butts appears to have been completely mended, with no signs of any leaks. The other is better than it was, but is still losing some water. I think it had a bigger crack in it than the other one, and putting a second patch over the crack may be successful.

As for the pond, well, it’s also better than it was. The join between the mortar and the pond liner is not at a constant level, and over to the left hand side of the pond, the water line is above the join. In other places it is below the join. I will have to observe the level of the pond over some days as it gets topped up with rain from time to time, and try to work out where it is leaking from. The liner and the mortar appear to be sound, so the most likely place is where there is a fold in the liner and it is harder to get a watertight join. In this particular example I have accidentally left a gap in the sealant, so this could be a place where the water is leaking out.

A fold in the pond liner

A fold in the pond liner

However, this setback is not going to stop progress, as the shallow pond is still usable and I am not going to empty it out again any time soon to try another repair. So I went over to the temporary pond and got ready to start battle.

The temporary pond

The temporary pond

When you have a mass of vegetation like this, it is too heavy to pull out of the pond in one lump, so I had to break off bits, and I also had to saw through the water lily’s rhizome. I wanted to save some of the plants and put them in quarantine in the shallow pond. The reason for the quarantine is that the pond contains the highly invasive New Zealand Pygmy weed, which I have decided not to keep in my new ponds. I did, however, want to keep the Ponderia cordata, Iris laevigata ‘Midnight’ and the water lily Rose Magnolia. So I broke off sections of them, washed them well to remove all the pondweed that I could see, and planted them in new containers. The pond is too shallow for the water lily to be happy, but I am hoping that once it’s out of quarantine, I can put it in the raised pond, which it should like a lot better.

Plants in quarantine in the shallow pond

Plants in quarantine in the shallow pond

And then I tipped all the rest of the vegetation out of the temporary pond. I can now tip out the rest of the water and any creatures lurking in it, and start filling the hole in.

The wreckage left after removing the plants from the temporary pond

The wreckage left after removing the plants from the temporary pond

I hope that the displaced creatures will turn up in the shallow pond. The pondskaters have already moved in.

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Thursday 20 September 2012

The proof of the pond is in the raining

Filed under: Pond,Progress — Helen @ 11:12 am

Today was a big day for the shallow pond. I cracked open my tube of Gold Label Pond and Aquarium Sealer, which had been sitting on my bookcase for six months, and squirted it all along the join between the mortar and the liner. I had calculated that the recommended 5mm bead width would leave me with plenty over, but I think I ended up applying it thicker in some places. It is quite tiring squeezing the trigger of the sealant tube gun, and my bead was not always smooth, but that doesn’t matter. I took the following picture standing on the back of the raised pond.

Shallow pond waterproofing overview

Shallow pond waterproofing overview

And here is a close up view of my waterproofing attempt.

The corner of the shallow pond in front of the pieris

The corner of the shallow pond in front of the pieris

I had enough left to repair the water butts. My last attempt, documented at Water butt repair lasted less than a year. So I removed the old silicone sealant (very easy) and stuck on some patches of pond liner with the rest of my Gold Label. They stuck very easily, and I also applied some sealant around the pipes connecting the water butts to each other and the drain pipe, and I managed to use the whole of the rest of the tube.

Water Butt Repair Attempt 2

Water Butt Repair Attempt 2

Originally I had planned to use the leftover sealant to stick the rainbow cobbles to the liner, but I decided that I would rather find out first whether I had succeeded in getting the pond waterproof, and then buy some more sealant to stick the cobbles to the liner. The manufacturers recommend using their black sealant rather than the colourless for sticking stones to liner because it’s thicker and thus is better at holding the stones in place until the sealant is cured.

The sealant was easy to apply and came off my fingers with just water. Can I believe that such a benign substance can really keep my pond stuck together underwater? Well, we have some heavy rain forecast for Sunday and I hope that I will find out soon.

The repair to my patio (see last entry) seems to be satisfactory. I have tripped over two geraniums and a trowel so far, but have not tripped over my newly laid slab, despite not having re-grouted the area yet. So I will press on with laying my stepping stones and see what happens.

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Monday 17 September 2012

September advances

Filed under: Pond,Progress — Helen @ 11:29 am

Eurgh, you’re so wet. You’re spoiling my grouting. Where did you get that liner? It looks like it’s seen better days. Can’t you lose a few pounds? I think my slabs are going to give way.

Yes, the pond is on the critical path.

All progress now depends on getting the shallow pond waterproof so that the contents of the temporary pond can be moved to the shallow pond and the temporary pond filled in. The other activity that matters is to get the stepping stones concreted in. The reason this is important is that I need to find out whether this is a job I am capable of doing myself or whether I need to get it done professionally, which I would want to do at the same time as the final landscaping work.

My mortar repair has now had two weeks to cure, so like a quack doctor I have declared it cured whether it is or not. I have applied two coats of V8 Pondseal and will put on one or two more later on today. Although I scraped away all the loose bits last week, the mortar is still quite crumby and I would not be surprised if I find that I have to repair it again within two years. I hope that next time I will be able to do a better job.

I decided to test my ability to lay slabs on mortar by replacing a loose slab in the patio. This is the hole that I chiselled out for the new mortar.

The place where the loose slab is supposed to go

The place where the loose slab is supposed to go

I then made up 1 litre of 4:1 mortar, stuck it in the hole, and put the slab on top. I tried to get it as level as possible given that the slabs are naturally uneven and weren’t level themselves. It was quite easy to get it approximately right. The spirit level is obviously the best guide, but when the slabs are uneven, putting your head on the patio and looking sideways at it can help too. But I have now found what is really, really hard, and that is to just leave it alone when it is approximately good enough instead of making continual micro-adjustments. With any luck, when laying stepping stones, there won’t be so many adjustments to make because each slab is separate.

The slab replaced

The slab replaced

I won’t know whether I have done a good job or not until I have replaced the grouting and then can find out if I keep tripping over the slab.

Encouraged by this possible success, I decided to start work on the diagonal path behind the apple trees. The reason for choosing this one first is that if I get it wrong it won’t be as noticeable as if I get the other path wrong. I ruthlessly pruned the buddleia, then took away the compost bag liners covering the soil under the diagonal path, set up some string and adjusted the spacing so the slabs are 22 cm apart. This is about the maximum that is comfortable for my stride length. I have made them parallel to the lawn edging. I want them to be the same level as the lawn edging, but the hard standing around the greenhouse is lower than the lawn edging and I need to have the first slab in the path at about the same level as the hard standing. So I think I will have that slab lower than the other three.

The diagonal path measured out

The diagonal path measured out

Each slab is 60cm square, and I calculate that if I use 2.5 cm of mortar to bed them on, I will need to mix 9 litres of mortar for each one. This is nearly twice as much as I made for the pond repair. This means that I probably have only enough endurance to lay two stepping stones in a session. It also means that I am going to have to go to B&Q and buy a lot more cement. But that is a problem for another day. The pond is on the critical path and must take precedence.

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Monday 3 September 2012

Render unto the pond

Filed under: Pond,Progress — Helen @ 7:17 pm

Now we have chalked up another wet weather record (the wettest summer for 100 years) the rain seems to be resting on its laurels and we have a fairly dry week coming up. Today I decided it was time to tackle the shallow pond. The problem is that the water leaks out of the pond at the join between the mortar (or render – I am not sure of the difference) and the liner, whereas I want the pond to be able to fill up right to the top. The mortar has been applied in a slope, which means that the join between the mortar and the liner is very thin, and it’s also quite ragged, so it would be difficult to apply a bead of pond sealant compound, which is what I want to do.

Original mortar, with ragged edge

Original mortar, with ragged edge

So I chiselled off the thin edge of the mortar, roughened the rest of the mortar up with lots of scratches from the chisel, and then mixed up some new compound to make a vertical edge that would form a better junction with the pond liner.

Mixing mortar is not something I have ever attempted before, but I have iced plenty of cakes, and I read the books and did my best. I mixed it in an old washing up bowl, and I used 1 litre of cement to 4 litres of sand. At least one of my books said that sharp sand was better than building sand, but I think that was wrong in this case, because sharp sand has lots of big bits of grit in it, whereas I think it needed to be smooth. I then realised to my horror that I had probably made far too much. Unlike cake icing, you can’t just put the excess in the fridge and eat it later with a teaspoon.

I was careful not to make the beginner’s mistake of putting too much water in the mixture, but I may have made the slightly more advanced mistake of not putting enough water in it. I don’t know what happens if it hasn’t got enough water in it, but it may not be very good. I kept wetting the old mortar as I applied the new and it probably ended up wet enough in the end. And I was pleased to find that although I had made a little too much, there was not a lot left over. I made it into a little square patty and left it to bake on the tarpaulin so I can then use it for hardcore for laying my stepping stones. Then I washed everything out and poured the washings onto the tarpaulin, where the water can evaporate over the next week, and then I can sweep the dust up and dispose of it.

I can’t pretend that the end result is going to look pretty.

My new mortar patched onto the old

My new mortar patched onto the old

However, I just want the pond not to leak at the moment. If I achieve that, I will stick lots of cobbles around the edge of the pond and they will hide most of the mortar. My cunning plan is to glue the cobbles that are further away from the edge to the liner, but not the ones that are right up against the edge. Then the cobbles further down the liner will stop the top ones rolling down to the bottom, but I can remove them if I need to make any more repairs to the mortar or the watertight seal.

So the plan is now to wait a few days, and then check to see if there are any bits that need improving, and make a small amount of mortar to mend them with if necessary, and then wait a few weeks for the concrete to cure, and then paint it with Pondseal.

And then I iced a cake. Much easier.

Chocolate cake, iced using knife, not pointing trowel

Chocolate cake, iced using knife, not pointing trowel

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Thursday 9 August 2012

Forgiveness

Filed under: Apples,Pond,Progress — Helen @ 4:09 pm

We had a dry day today, and I spent over three hours in the garden. I first wanted to collect some photographic evidence of my plants’ willingness to forgive me for digging them up and moving them.

This is what my Discovery apple tree is doing at the moment:

Discovery apple

Discovery apple

It won’t be long before this apple is ripe. Charles Ross is also producing fruit:

Charles Ross apple

Charles Ross apple

And my hibiscus, which I grew from seed, is just starting to flower.

Hibiscus in flower

Hibiscus in flower

And how upset was the buddleia about being dug up not just once, but twice, because I put it in the wrong place at first? Not very, I would say.

Buddleia Black Knight

Buddleia Black Knight

So that just shows it is possible to transplant trees and shrubs in the winter and have them flower and fruit next spring, as long as you make sure you do it when there will be record rainfall in the spring and summer of the following year. And, actually, I think the plants all look better than they did before I moved them. Possibly this is partly because of all the rain we’ve had, but I think it’s also because they are now in a much more open, sunnier position than they were, and are feeling all the better for it.

I was thinking about getting started with laying some foundation for the stepping stones behind the apple trees, but the wisteria had gone wisterical and I had to break up the long-standing feud between it and the burglar alarm box and the drainpipe. And the jasmine was getting too jazzy, so I had to trim that, and also next door’s monster golden conifer, and my monster Pelts Blue conifer too, so that the euonymus next to it has a sporting chance. And then there were all the weeds in the drive, and I had to carry on scrubbing the paving slabs to prevent them getting dangerously slippery with green slime. And the Upright Milfoil is distributing loose stems across the pond, obviously as an attempt at domination, so I planted some of them in the basket that used to belong to the Hottonia Palustris before it got eaten. And somehow all the morning went and it was too hot by then to do anything strenuous. This is why I never get any development work done in the summer.

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Friday 27 July 2012

Rainbow cobbles

Filed under: Pond,Progress — Helen @ 2:47 pm

The lilies that J Parkers sent me free of charge with my order have started flowering.

A Giant Oriental Lily (Mixed)

A Giant Oriental Lily (Mixed)

Not only does this lily look beautiful, but I can smell it at the other end of the garden. I tried planting a few lily bulbs some years ago but the plants got eaten, and so I gave up and never tried planting lilies again. But of course, if someone sends you the bulbs, you might as well plant them. I put lots of slug pellets around them at first, but apart from that have given them no protection. And nothing seems to have eaten them. Which is more than can be said for me. I went out at dusk on Wednesday to water my plants, and got bitten very itchily on my arms and face.

On the day of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, I lost the biggest competition on the gardening calendar: the Willowherb Elimination Stakes. For those who have never partaken in this great event, the rules are very simple: pull up all the willowherb before it sets seed. Today I found one with a couple of fluffy seedpods attached, and as I pulled it up, a few seeds drifted down to the soil. I am not disappointed, because I always lose.

We had a brief shower this morning, but apart from that it has been dry for a week, and I have now emptied out the shallow pond. Sorry to the frog who visited earlier this week, but alternative accommodation is just a few yards away. My aim is to stop the leak between the render around the stone edging and the pond liner by neatening up the render, filling any gaps, and then using a pond sealant to plug the gap between render and liner.

I also want to install some cobbles around the edge, gluing them to the liner with the pond sealant. I like white cobbles, but I think they would look strange with everything else being brown or black. So, a few weeks ago, I bought some rainbow cobbles from B&Q. You may not think that they look very pretty.

Boring sandy cobbles

Boring sandy cobbles

In fact, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that they look like a load of potatoes. However, after giving them a quick scrub underwater, their appearance has been transformed.

Rainbow cobbles after washing the sand off

Rainbow cobbles after washing the sand off

I need to wash the cobbles thoroughly, not just for appearance, but so that the glue will stick properly. This is quite a nice job to do in hot weather.

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Monday 23 July 2012

Cooling off

Filed under: Pond,Progress — Helen @ 7:56 pm

Suddenly, with very little warning, summer turned up. This meant that when I came home from work, I had to water my plants. While I was at it I pulled up the weeds sharing the pots (surprisingly few) and gave the plants some nice bonemeal and ericaceous granules, as appropriate.

It was a perfect day for sitting on the edge of the raised pond and looking at all the life going on within it. In the past week or so the water has cleared and now I can see just how many creatures there are in it. There are millions of very small round ones which are probably water fleas, and some mini-worms, and also some insects which could be water boatmen. I think these tiny little things are collectively responsible for eating some of my plants. But not all of them. The Upright Milfoil has won the day, with its beautiful foliage still intact. I have put it in deeper water and it’s more than equal to the challenge. I am wondering if it is mainly responsible for the clearing of the pond water, since the only other oxygenator still alive, the Water Crowfoot, is only just growing fast enough to avoid being eaten completely.

The Upright Milfoil growing uprightly and doing a fantastic oxygenating job

The Upright Milfoil growing uprightly and doing a fantastic oxygenating job

The shallow pond has no vegetation in it yet because I still need to repair it, but I was delighted to have a visitor.

A frog happily cooling off next to my luxury rainbow pebbles in the shallow pond

A frog happily cooling off next to my luxury rainbow cobbles in the shallow pond

My path behind the apple trees is now overgrown, mainly with buddleia. I am probably still going to keep the path there, though, and just accept that in the summer months it’s a bit of a squeeze getting past. It does demonstrate that it’s worth checking the viability of paths in both summer and winter.

The path overgrown with buddleia and apple trees

The path overgrown with buddleia and apple trees

And finally, when I opened the bag of ericaceous compost in the greenhouse, I found that it had turned into a giant ants’ nest. I still used the compost to mix in with ericaceous plant food and spread it around the base of my rhododendrons, camellia, blueberries and kalmia. I’m not sure whether these bits of nests will turn into new nests. If they do, I will have an awful lot of ants by the end of the summer.

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Tuesday 5 June 2012

Who’s been eating my pond plants?

Filed under: Pond,Progress — Helen @ 10:29 am

I have, I think, partly solved the mystery of why my Callitriche (starwort) and Hottonia (water violet) have failed to thrive. Something has eaten them. This thing has also taken chunks out of the Myosotis palustris, Ranunculus aquatilis and Veronica beccabunga. It hasn’t touched the Myriophyllum crispatum or the Equisetum japonicum. I am at a loss to work out what it could be, as the plants are far enough from the edge not to be in danger from land snails. I have seen pond skaters, but they eat insects. And of course, newts are also carnivorous, catching most of their prey on land. So I am completely baffled about what is eating the plants.

I think the problem is that the pond is out of balance. There is not much plant matter in there yet, and so it’s easy for whatever is eating them to eat the lot. I am hoping that the Myriophyllum and the Ranunculus will survive long enough to grow very big and healthy and oxygenate the pond themselves. If not, then the best thing is probably to buy a large quantity of oxygenators cheaply from a mail order company, and put them all in at once so that they can’t all get eaten.

The peony has no buds on it, and so I don’t think it will flower this summer. On Gardeners’ World, Monty Don said that peonies hold a grudge against being moved and can refuse to flower even three or four years after being moved. Since I moved it in 2007, and it has flowered at least twice since then, I think the time for it to register a protest has passed. Unfortunately there does not seem to be any statute of limitations for crimes against plants.

I made some more progress on pot reduction by planting the very congested flag iris in front of the thuja.

Number of pots = 63.

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Monday 28 May 2012

Oxygen and colour

Filed under: Pelargoniums,Pond,Progress — Helen @ 12:36 pm

Today may be our last day of hot, dry weather. I went out and finished off the job of repotting the oxygenators and marginals. As far as vigour goes, the winners are the Ranunculus aquitilis (Water crowfoot) and Veronica Beccabunga (Brooklime).

The Ranunculus was growing so well that I felt it was worth taking it off the marginal shelf and putting it down on the bottom of the pond, but not in the very deepest part in the middle.

Ranunculus aquatilis 11 days after buying it

The Veronica beccabunga was also doing very well, sending out lots of shoots and hundreds of hopeful roots. According to its instruction card, it doesn’t want to be drowned, so I left it on the marginal shelf, where it looked happy enough.

Veronica Beccabunga

Veronica Beccabunga, including reflection of my television aerial

The Callitriche (Starwort) and the Hottonia Palustris (Water violet) have been the most restrained. The Myriophyllum crispatum (Upright water milfoil) is making steady progress.

While I was in the mood for playing with the pond, I cleared out some of the leaves in both the ponds with a sieve. I caught three newts in the shallow pond and tipped them into the raised pond. I wonder if they will stay there. A pond skater has turned up, and also I saw a damselfly alight briefly on a stone near the greenhouse.

Damsel fly taking a breather before going on to examine the ponds

Damsel fly taking a breather before going on to examine the ponds

I made some progress on the pot reduction programme. I planted four pelargoniums and a sedum. This not only decreases the number of pots by five but adds some much-needed colour to the garden (see yesterday’s entry). I planted them between the blueberries and the Discovery apple tree.

Pelargoniums and sedum

Pelargoniums and sedum

I also got rid of another pot because it seemed to have in it only a small hellebore seedling. So I planted the hellebore seedling in the marjoram patch, which has plenty of other hellebore seedlings in it. Unfortunately I may be involuntarily getting rid of two more pots. Just when I was congratulating myself on the fact that nothing, nothing at all, had died this winter, I discovered that the two phormiums weren’t well. I think they may have rotted during the wet spring. I should have raised the pots off the patio with a couple of tiles to make sure they drained. Or put them in the greenhouse to give them a rest from the rain.

Number of pots = 65.

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