Helen's Garden Renovation Project

Sunday 8 December 2013

More space for the blueberries

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 4:35 pm

It was another dry and mild weekend, so I moved the blueberries. When I first planted them, I didn’t read the instructions which say that they should be planted 1.5 m apart. I also planted them too near the edge of the lawn and the edge of the greenhouse base, making it hard to net them. So they needed to be moved, and now was the perfect time.

Unfortunately I soon realised that there was no way I was going to be able to plant them 1.5 m apart. There just isn’t room. So I had to compromise. Some of the bushes are only just over a metre apart. But they do have over twice as much room as they did before I moved them.

Blueberries in their new positions

Blueberries in their new positions

The plants are still quite small, so they were easy to move. I carried each one over on a spade. As long as I remember to water them next year, they should be fine.


Sunday 1 December 2013

An octagonal pond in front of an octagonal greenhouse

Filed under: Pond,Progress — Helen @ 4:47 pm

This morning it was again not too cold and not raining either, so I finished the octagonal edge. That is, finished it horizontally.

Octagonal pond edge in place

Octagonal pond edge in place

It was a really difficult job getting the edges to line up. I thought my form was accurate enough but it wasn’t. In the end I decided that the important thing was to get the front and back edges parallel with the patio edge, and the left and right edges perpendicular to the patio edge, and let the slanting edges fend for themselves. It looks fine when viewed from the patio, but if I look at it when standing on the lawn, I can see that the edges are not quite true. So I need to make sure I grow something sufficiently tall in between the lawn and the pond. Fortunately I am now quite used to the idea that the main objective of plant design is not to showcase the plants to their best advantage, or to juxtapose different textures, colours and heights so as to form an integrated and balanced scene, but to hide the deficiencies in the hard landscaping.

I now need to level off the edges by adding extra mortar, dig the pond itself, including a sloping edge for animals to get out, and a marginal shelf, and buy some pond liner, if anyone is selling any at this time of year. Unfortunately some very cold weather is forecast for Friday, so both digging and mortaring may be impossible. So it’s a good thing I took advantage of the mild and dry weekend.


Friday 29 November 2013

The octagonal pond underway

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 5:51 pm

As I expected, not much progress has taken place since I increased my hours in the day job. I am very busy with my tutoring as well. However, today was not a working day, and the weather forecast was for a mild but not wet day, so I picked up my cement-mixing trowel and pounced. I had already made my form for the outside edge, and so all I had to do was to lay it out in the right place, adjust the angles and get the height right. It was no surprise to me that I found this a very difficult job, especially getting the form level. In the end I gave up, and decided to get the edge in the right place first, and then adjust its height with some extra mortar until it was level all the way round. So far I have done three out of eight edges.

The start of the edging for the octagonal pond

The start of the edging for the octagonal pond

I used concrete blocks because they made it easy to get the edge the same width all the way round and meant I did not have to make up much mortar. I have used about 11 litres so far, which is less than I have usually needed for a 600mm paving slab. After photographing my handiwork, I put a tarpaulin over the top to protect it from frost. If the weather is favourable, I will attempt to finish it on Sunday.


Sunday 22 September 2013

Watercress results

Filed under: Pond,Progress — Helen @ 1:35 pm

After over a month of the watercress trial, I am not impressed with the outcome in the raised pond.

The algae in the raised pond after a month of living with the watercress

The algae in the raised pond after a month of living with the watercress

I think the blanketweed has shrunk a little bit from the edges, but that could be because we’ve had some rain. In the middle, it looks worse than it was before I added the watercress. On the other hand, the shallow pond looks less green than it was. In the raised pond I put the watercress in pots filled with gravel, whereas in the shallow pond I just chucked it in, so maybe that was a better way to apply it. Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s has issued a recall notice on its watercress because of a possible link to E coli. Sorry, Sainsbury’s, but I’m not going to fish it out of the pond and give it back, even though I’m not convinced it’s any use.

Over in Phase 3, I have been planning my new pond. I want an octagonal design to mirror the greenhouse, and I plan to create an octagonal edge from concrete bricks and mortar, and put the liner over the edge. That way, there won’t be a join between the liner and something else, and hence no leaks this time. I have sawn up some wood to make a framework for filling with the bricks and mortar, but not joined the pieces together yet. Instead, I have laid the framework out so I can spend some time looking at it from different directions and make sure that this is the right size and location for it. I had planned to make the pond have an exterior side of 60cm, but after I had sawn up the wood I realised I had not made any allowance for the thickness of the wood, which is 18mm. So the pond’s edges will actually be 58.2cm, but no one is ever going to check. If I were going to fill it with fish, I would need to buy 6% fewer fish, but I’m not.

Framework for octagonal pond

Framework for octagonal pond


Tuesday 20 August 2013

The watercress approach to algae

Filed under: Pond — Helen @ 8:15 pm

Today I decided it was time to do something about the hideous algae in my pond.

Horrible slimy algae all over my pond

Horrible slimy algae all over my pond

In case that was not sufficiently disgusting for you, here is a close-up version:

Close-up of algae in pond

Close-up of algae in pond

At least two people have told me to chuck watercress in it, and one was my mum, so I went to Sainsbury’s and bought some. I was thinking of just throwing it in as it was, but I thought it would be tidier to put it in pots full of gravel, so that is what I did. And then I chucked the rest of the bag into the shallow pond, loose. The algae in the shallow pond is just as bad as the algae in the raised pond. People say that the watercress roots very quickly and easily. If it is invasive, it will be easy to empty out the shallow pond and start again. The raised pond would be harder to deal with.

Bag of watercress from Sainsbury's. Do not eat it after growing it in the pond.

Bag of watercress from Sainsbury’s. Do not eat it after growing it in the pond.


Sunday 11 August 2013

The illusion works

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 3:27 pm

Despite working extra hours at the day job, I am keeping up with the garden as well as I ever do. I am spending most of the time available cutting things back and weeding, but I am also digging up the turf in preparation for Phase 3, while I am thinking about where to put things like the pond and the blackberry frame.

This is a picture of the diagonal view of the garden.

The view across one diagonal of the garden.

The view across one diagonal of the garden.

I really do think that the illusion that Yvonne intended does work – the garden looks longer. And the hibiscus (the one at the back with lots of pink-purple flowers that you can’t really see at this resolution) has put on a lot of weight in its new, more open position. The apple trees are positively groaning with fruit. Up until now, when looking at my garden, I have had to use a lot of imagination to see how it will look when it’s completed. This summer, for the first time, I would say that there is more fact than imagination in the view. Illusion aside, the new garden is becoming real.


Sunday 28 July 2013

Death of a rhododendron

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 6:44 pm

I am sad to report that the rhododendron that I planted in memory of Dave on the first anniversary of his death has gone to join Dave.

RIP Rhododendron

RIP Rhododendron

It flowered well this year, but then half of it died, so I cut off the dead part hoping that the rest would survive, but unfortunately it didn’t. I will do a post mortem soon, by digging it up and looking at the roots, but my primary suspect is vine weevil. I shall replace the soil and have another go next spring.

The heatwave has broken. Last night we had a good dose of rain, which meant that weeding this morning was very easy – the soil was soft on the top, but still very dry underneath, so it was easy to shake the soil off the roots. I continued to tidy up, and have now measured the area that I will be developing in Phase 3.

One of my log-effect stepping stones has come unstuck. I’m going to get some adhesive to stick it back down again, but I have decided to wait until after this winter in case any others break away from the foundation, because then I can mend them all in one go. I have such faith in my mortaring ability.


Thursday 25 July 2013

Way to kick a garden when it’s down

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 8:03 pm

As if the garden and the Renovation Project didn’t have enough to contend with during the heatwave, I have cruelly dealt them a blow by signing up for some extra hours at my job as an Information Analyst at Hampshire County Council. The lilies, bursting into bloom and filling the garden with their fragrance, seem to reproachfully ask, “What have pivot tables got that we haven’t?”

Beautiful lily

Beautiful lily which came free with my J Parkers order last year

A pivot table

A pivot table. Unscented.

And how can you compare fat, glossy blueberries with SQL code?


Yummy blueberries with netting in the foreground. This year they are all for me and none for the pigeons.


Some SQL code. Not edible. Or glossy. And probably safe from the pigeons.

Well, I’ve done it now, and somehow I am going to have to keep the Renovation progressing. For the time being I am continuing to tidy up, taking the rubble to the tip every week, weeding, and cutting back the over-enthusiastic shrubs. The next stage is to measure up the right hand side of the garden and draw up a plan – which at least I can do on the train to work.

Here is some astilbe, which deserves a special mention for keeping cheerful during the heatwave.


Astible surviving the heatwave

(Note for any over-zealous taxpayers: I made the pivot table as a joke. I do not do any sausage-related work for Hampshire County Council).


Sunday 21 July 2013

There is no pleasing gardeners

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 2:31 pm

Last year I spent the whole time moaning about the amount of rain we were getting. Now I am about to start moaning about the lack of rain and the heatwave. The shallow pond is nearly dry, and the level of the raised pond has fallen by at least 15 cm. For Phase 3 to start, I need to tidy up this:

Right hand side, needing tidying up

Right hand side, needing tidying up

This means moving heavy things about, and I could do with it being a bit cooler. I have also been digging up the remains of the grass so that the turves can start breaking down, and that’s very difficult when the ground is so dry. After taking the picture, I emptied the grey bags, which contained nearly-ready leaf mould, onto the top of the turves, which I piled up in the large hole at the end of the lawn area. I need a few trips to the dump to get rid of my rubble, and then I can start working out what I am going to do in Phase 3.

However, I have been much refreshed by the Morello cherries. I ate them all raw in the end. Maybe when I have more time I’ll try cooking them, but they were really very nice as they were.


Wednesday 17 July 2013

Progress in a heatwave

Filed under: Progress — Helen @ 10:51 am

We have had hot, dry weather for two weeks now, and I have been doing my gardening in the morning when it’s cool. Mainly, I am weeding, cutting things back, watering, and tidying up the area to the right of the garden ready for Phase 3. I am also making trips to the tip to get rid of the rubble that I definitely won’t need for Phase 3. I used a lot of slabs from the old paths to hold down compost bags to keep weeds and cats off the bare areas while I was working on Phase 2, but now that most of the area is planted I don’t need so many of them. I have been taking advantage of the low pond levels to get the slime and leaves out of my shallow pond. It is much easier and more pleasant than it was in winter.

Today is the date when I officially lost the Willowherb Elimination Stakes for the seventeenth successive year.

Another victory for the willowherb

Another victory for the willowherb

I also found out that Morello cherries taste very nice raw when they’re thoroughly ripe. And that my blueberries aren’t ripe yet.

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