Wednesday 25 February 2009

Rock related injuries and the first stones moved into the pond!

Once we'd got the island stones in place things ground to a halt in the Japanese Garden - this was partly because it was Winter (the last stone was planted the weekend before Christmas 2007) and partly because putting the stone in caused me a bit of a problem.

For years I'd had a very small umbilical hernia - but it had never caused me any pain, even when pregnant. However, carting loads of rocks about and heaving the flintstones trolley up the garden had taken its toll and caused the hernia to enlarge slightly - but still not be a problem as I'd always stopped carrying stuff as soon as I'd become aware that it was begining to pull or ache.

True to form, the weekend before Christmas, I'd reverted to managerial duties (bossing everyone else about!) once I'd started to ache. I was directing operations about manouvering the big stone when it began to wobble - I was nearest, so jumped forward to push it back into a stable position before it fell.
Foolish or what?!

The resulting increase in the size of the hernia and the discomfort (okay, pain!) I was in meant that surgery was the only option, so February 2008 saw me ready to go under the knife. The surgery was a success .... unfortunately the recovery was less good as my body didn't like being messed about with and bits of me ground to a halt, resulting in the copious use of enemas and cathetars - not a time I like to dwell on too much really!

It took almost 5 months before I was anything like back to normal, although I was allowed light gardening duties before then - but the scar tissue I'd been left with mean that bending over or doing anything that squashed my insides was a bit of a n0-no for a while. Not good and I became increasingly frustrated by it all as I am not famed for my patience!

It also meant that Himself had to do most of the heavy work all last year and I still have to be careful about what I can and can't lug about.

Anyway, once I was sufficiently recovered, we decided to start getting some of the big stones onto the shelf around one side of the pond because I couldn't plant any pond plants until that was done - and I was just itching to get started on that as it would make it begin to look like a 'real' pond at last!

I'd decided that I wanted the pond to look as natural as it could be, so I imagined that a stream came down the mountain (?) into the garden and entered the pond from roughly where the right hand corner of the fruit cage is. In spring, this stream would carry the snow melt (yeah, yeah, I know - I've got a vivid imagination and I'm on the top of a hill in a town in the UK, but bear with me on this one...!) and rocks, stones, pebbles etc,` which would end up all mixed up together in a tumble of 'stuff', some of which would form a pebble beach, some would tumble a bit further - I'd got used to being laughed at for my fanciful ideas by this point, so was going to carry on regardless of my sceptics!

I decided that I needed a large stone to 'catch' the pebbles and form the beach so, having chosen the appropriate one - and I was told in no uncertain terms by Himself that I could only have ONE shot at this, so I had to choose the right stone first time (aagh, the pressure, the pressure....!), Himself then used the scaffold tower and chain pulley to lift the chosen stone up from where it had lain for about a year, levered the stone onto the flintstones trolley, dismantled the tower, pushed the trolley to the correct bit of the pond and rebuilt the tower over the trolley in the new position. I was still not allowed to pull/push heavy stuff, so I watched from the sidelines whilst making admiring and supportive noises and providing drinks!

Proof of drinks provision - some days there were chocolate biscuits too!
Ooops, I've just realised that some of the plants that were under the kitchen window last summer when this photo was taken are still there! Oh well, they've survived ...and they'll get planted this year! (hopefully)

Having got everything positioned, Himself filled a donkey (a huge bag with handles at the four corners, used for carrying heavy loads for the building industry) with some of our sandstone rubble to use as a counterweight - because the stone had to be lifted up and out beyond the far side of the tower to get over the shelf.
The counterweight wasn't heavy enough and the scaffold nearly toppled into the pond, so extra weight was added - by me. I was that counterweight!
I have to say that it is probably one of the most uncomfortable jobs I've had to do in a long line of uncomfortable jobs! I had some very sharp bits of stone sticking in some very soft places!

The stone in place on the shelf.
All the stones that were placed on the pond shelf had a layer of fleece liner underneath them to prevent any damage to the butyl liner and so avoid leaks. Himself's idea - I wouldn't have thought of that!

The first layer of pebbles on the beach.
I got ridiculously excited about putting this stone in place and playing with, sorry - placing the pebbles as it finally felt like we were getting somewhere - probably because it was such visible progress, whereas a lot of what we'd done in the digging, soil moving, leveling etc was 'hidden'.
It was a good day!

Tuesday 24 February 2009

More stone shifting - and a little bit of parental pride!

It's been a very busy couple of weeks - hence the large gaps between posts.
I just want to share a bit of parental pride before I do the gardening bit - so please indulge me for a few paragraphs!
My younger daughter, Last-Born, has recently taken part in a school production of High School Musical. She had the lead role of Gabriella Montez - and was FANTASTIC! And it's not just me that thinks so in my doting-motherly way, the local press thought so too!
I've included the article from the paper - I hope you can read it okay! Apparently if you click on it, it will enlarge so that you can read it properly, or so Last-Born tells me!
I am SO proud of her! I did do some acting way back in my youth, but I don't do singing as I have the musical abilities of a dead slug! It obviously skipped a generation and went straight from my dad to Last-Born. (and First-Born. She is equally musical and plays a variety of instruments). I am so in awe of Last-Born's singing skills as I have to settle for enthusiasm rather than accuracey!
Suprisingly enough, Last-Born wants to be in (star in!) a West End production when she's a bit older. She certainly has the ability.....!

Right, back to reality - and the Japanese Garden! It took several attempts and a variety of different stones before I found the 'right' stones for the island. The first big stone we put in place looked right when it was lying down on the yard, but when we stood it vertically in the hole on the island it was just so wrong that it was obviously meant to be a horizontal stone ...... so it had to come out. Himself was not overly impressed with me at that point!
Once we found the right stone and started to get the other 4 in place as well, Himself did begin to understand what I meant about some stones being vertical and some being horizontal - having initially thought that I'd completely lost my marbles ( or should that be pebbles?)!!!
Here are the island stones finally in place - much to the relief of Himself!
You can also see the centre stone for the Tai Chi circle just resting roughly in place and the soil now mounded up around the circle. When it's finished, the centre stone will sit in the circle level with the tops of the bricks - but I wanted to see what it would look like!
The Tai Chi circle from the north (top) side, with the island stones, the dug out stream bed coming down the far side of the island to go under the bridge to the bottom pond and the gravel/ hardcore motorway, sorry - path, waiting for its top layer of sand. Ignore the sticks - I obviously hadn't cleared up properly!
Ceefer cat was inspecting the bamboo - again!

Sunday 15 February 2009

Paths, Islands and Tai Chi circles!

So ....... we're still in the summer of 2007 and progressing with the paths. The technique involved digging a big path-route ditch, moving the soil to a spot that I just know I'll need to shift it from again in about 2 months time (but there's nowhere else to put it as all the previously clear ground is now full of stones of assorted sizes!), moving the sandstone bedrock large-ish pieces from where I put that about about 2 months ago (because there was nowhere else to put it ... etc, etc) and dumping them into the path ditch, roughly leveling them out then covering the large-ish pieces with a deep layer of smaller pieces followed by a layer of tiny pieces, then jumping up and down on the lot to bed them all down. It was all topped off with a layer of sand which had been sieved through our giant sieve earlier in the day.

Once I'm quite happy with all this work, Himself comes along and says we need to be sure that we've backfilled properly between the path and the soil. My response at this point is "*#~#*#**~~~*"!!! - which roughly translates as "do it yourself - please"!

So Himself and our dear friend Pete did!
The backfilling involved some complicated manouveres with all our spades and shovels. They were put in behind the bedrock pieces and then gently levered so that there was a gap (where there wasn't one before!) between the path and the soil, which then had extra soil put down it and heeled in firmly. This was repeated along the full lengths of both sides of all the paths.
I am firmly convinced that Himself had delusions of grandeur at this point and thought he was actually building a motorway rather than a little path!

Pete has been a star in the garden too - he regularly comes to stay for the weekend, works very hard both days, then goes home again! He's also helped Himself with the technical side of planning the Tea House and will be involved in the building of it too. He is one of my oldest (in that we've known each other sine I was 15!) and dearest friends - and I'm going to do his garden when we've finished this!

Himself and Pete working on the bottom path.

How to build a Tai Chi training circle:
First demolish an old cold frame that was home for some very happy slugs and snails who had been continually eating all my salad seedlings.
Clean up all the old bricks then lug them across to the other side of the garden four at a time because Himself is using the barrow for something else.
Fail to find any clear area to put them, so dump them on the path thus creating a major Health and Safety issue as they are now in everyone's way.
Realise that where you want to put said circle is not flat - nowhere near flat, not even vaguely level!
Call for Himself and Pete for advice, safe in the knowledge that they won't be able to resist the challenge of sorting it out.
Watch admiringly as they work out levels, heights and any other mathematical things they can think of.
Go dig a bit more path whilst they sort it out!

Nice level area dug into the slope, with the first layer of bricks being put into place. The plank balancing on the post is the height of the top layer of bricks.

The circle is one metre in diameter. I quite fancied using an old millstone as there are plenty available locally and the top would have been nice and smooth to train on, but they were all only 90cms in diameter and that was just that wee bit too small for comfort!

Second layer.
Each layer of bricks also had the central area filled with bricks and brick bits before having sand firmly pushed down all the gaps.

Looking from the path to the top layer of the circle, now with gravel added.
At some point this spring, the circle will be taken apart again so that we can mix cement powder with the sand - Himself is worried that, despite all the earth banked up round it, the circle will shift whilst I'm training - I'm not QUITE sure what he thinks I'm going to be doing on there!!!

The circle overlooks the bottom bridge and the bottom pond. The gap between the circle and the path with be packed with soil which will gently slope up to the circle and, eventually, have a top layer of moss to cover it. There will be no plants on this area as I am likely to kick them as I train!

We then realised that we hadn't laid the power cable across to where I want a granite lantern - we got REALLY good at undoing things to put in a bit we'd missed out!
This is Himself mid cable run.

One Tai Chi circle almost complete! There is a small stone circle to go in the middle, level with the bricks, but this won't be put on until the cementing stage.
The sand covered top path is visible beyond the circle, then peters out to stones by the circle. The path the skirts the circle where the spade is before turning right to cross the bridge.

Ceefer cat doing quality control on the partially dug out bottom pond!

How to manouver big rocks:
Borrow several big strong blokes!

Having used the flintstones trolley to get the rocks up the garden in the first place, we had to resort to man power (plus a bit of girlie power!) to get them to where I wanted them and put them into place - and, often, to dig them up and take them out again because they just weren't QUITE right there after all! (sorry lads!)

Himself, Owen and Chris working on the island stones. The horizontal stone had to be moved into a slightly different position twice because they put it where they thought it should go rather than where I'd said I wanted it!

Himself and our assistants got very good at using levers to shift the stones around - they also learnt to keep their toes well out of the way!

The large rock lying horizontally on the left of the photo was my first choice for the biggest island stone - but once it was in place and upright it just looked WRONG. I couldn't explain why it was wrong, it just was. So, bless 'em, they took it out again and put another one in instead - and I had chosen the right one that time!
Some rocks were right first time, but it was often a case of trial and error - not a problem with the little rocks, but hard work on the big ones!

Monday 9 February 2009

Right ....where had I got to? Oh yes, path building!

In order to explain the next bit, I've had to go back in time to two springs ago - to 2007 - before we'd really got very far on digging out the top pond. The work on the garden was not done in any logical order (suprise, suprise!), it was done in my order and often depended on what I felt like doing and how bored (or aching) I was with working on a particular bit - but mostly to try to get some shape and structure in place so that everyone else could begin to understand my still apparently unfathomable design plan!

This is looking north up the garden. The bottom pond, where the spade is sticking up, has been partially dug out by one of Last-Born's friends (thanks Luke!) and stayed like that for about a year, but at least it showed where the pond was. Himself is digging away in the top pond.
The paths form a sort of wiggly Y shape with a right-handed curve coming off the bottom of the Y. The bottom path forms the curve at the bottom of the Y. The path enters the garden at the right hand edge of this photo behind the bamboos. It then crosses the as yet to be dug stream which is marked out by the (just visible) hosepipe and curves round to go between the circle of stones (that currently looks like a mini Stonehenge but is, in fact, going to be my tai chi training circle) and the pile of soil that will become the island of rocks. It then seperates roughly where the green trug is. One path goes to the right of the top pond up towards the piles of tree trunk slices (long story!), which is where the tea house will eventually be, and the other path goes to the left towards the pink trug and wheelbarrow to meet up with the hideous crazy paving path, which forms the top route into the garden.
The left-hand path meets the current path immediately below where the grass begins, just to the left of the barrow. The right-hand path will have to wait until I've redistributed the mountains of soil at the right-hand side of the photo! (approximately a year!!)

Himself working on the pond, whilst I dig the footings for the path.
It's quite deep for a footpath (a minor bone of contention as it was Himself's idea, but I had to dig it...!) but we desperately needed to :
a) gain more topsoil to get the levels right and
b) get rid of all the sandstone rubble we'd accumulated from digging up bedrock! and
c) it kept Himself very happy that we had remained cost and waste neutral so far!

More path footings. That year, work was also dictated by where the shade was! I'm in the shade from our cooking apple tree. we couldn't work on the pond beyond about 2.30pm as it was just too hot in the direct sunlight.

The footings were varying depths depending on the levels we needed around different parts of the garden. The two wooden posts are levels markers and the clear pipe is filled with water and was our giant spirit level.
For all I tease Himself, I could not have done this project without his mathamatical wizardry and attention to detail. I would not have known where to start to work out what the levels needed to be, let alone known how to do them - so, for all of that, and way, way more (including working blind because you still didn't really understand what I was up to!), I thank you from the bottom of my heart and pond my love!

Yes, we have a bridge!
This is the bottom bridge, below the island. The path has been roughly dug out and comes in at the top right of the photo beyond the pink trug. It'll meet the bridge, then come off this side at a slight angle so that it can come closer to the tai chi circle, where it will stay a constant distance from the circle but match the curve of the perimeter until it is at the point where it can split.

Looking up over the bottom pond to see the stream route. It goes under the bridge (obviously!) then curves to the right before looping left round the back of the island. Poor old Himself so desperately wanted nice clean, straight lines everywhere and I insisted on curves - guess which are easier to do!!

Thursday 5 February 2009

Indulge me just one more time!

I woke this morning to find that the weatherman had been right - it was snowing again, heavily. For many people more snow is a pain, but for me it's a never ending source of wonder and beauty.
I know the roads are icy, I know many people in England have never had to drive in snow before and it's difficult, I know it's a struggle to get to work, I know it can be hard to find childcare at short notice because the schools are shut ........but it doesn't stop me loving it with a passion!
It's short-lived, it will melt - so enjoy it while we've got the chance to because, lets face it, if we only get it like this once in every 18 years we haven't REALLY got anything to grumble about have we?!
Anyway, one last blog entry about snow and then I'll go back to normal, my inner 8 year old satiated for the time being!

We braved the elements this morning to walk to the shop - and bearing in mind that our town has way more hills than flat bits, we had to go down.......and back up again! The need to shop was not for any of lifes three essentials ( bread milk and toilet rolls!).No, no, much more important than that, Last-Born is in the local paper! Big spread! Photos! Write-up! The works! The Full Monty!
She's the lead in the school production of High School Musical next week - my star girl!!!

Here she is, Last-Born in her Peruvian hat and sassy wellies - just as well she's not going on stage like that!!!

The Japanese Garden under even more snow.

The large stones on the island have all but disappeared and the stream bed is just waiting for the unwary visitor to fall in it.

Berries on a large tree on the drive at the front of the house.
I have yet to identify what this is, so if anyone out there knows please feel free to let me know!

Ceefer cat has become increasingly disenchanted with the snow since his unexpected dip in the pond and has taking to glaring menacingly at it from the safety of the windowsill!

The view from the living room window - aka my 'office'.

The front of the house - it's no wonder the postman hasn't been today!

My poor Garyia.

A tree on the front island ladened with snow.

A little colour in a white world.

Wednesday 4 February 2009

The Japanese Garden peaceful in snow

Life has settled back to normal after the excitment of yesterday - the schools have re-opened, the roads are clear, the snow remains crispy and beautiful, the sky is a wonderful clear blue and all is right in my world.
I thought I'd come back to the Japanese Garden and share some of the photos I took when it was at its most atmospheric with deep snow shrouding much of the garden, but with odd bits poking through ....... but before I start waxing too lyrical, here are the pictures.
This is the oak tree just below the Japanese Garden.

Looking north up the garden towards the fruit cage, late afternoon on Monday.

Looking south down towards the house, late afternoon on Monday.

Same position about 3 hours later.

The bottom pond - the place of Ceefer's unexpected dip!

A more cautious cat!

Although the Cornus isn't yet planted there, it was bought specifically to go in the Japanese Garden and its colours are so wonderful I couldn't leave it out.
A log slice left out to dry - it's going to be a seat on the veranda as it's about 12" thick.

This is just one of our various wood piles and, although it's not in the Japanese Garden, it was too pretty a photo to leave out.
I'm not sure if my globe artichoke will ever recover and, no - this isn't in the Japanese Garden either, I just felt sorry for it!

Tuesday 3 February 2009

I've got a Snow Day!

All the local schools are shut because of the snow and the icy roads so, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I'VE GOT A SNOW DAY!!!!
The day dawned cold and crisp, with a clear blue sky and lots of crisp, crunchy snow - glorious!The snow had stopped at around 3am (apparently!) by which time it was so cold that it froze the surface layer. It also meant that, despite the sterling work of the gritter lorries, Himself (sensibly) chose to work from home again (yippee!) and Last-Born's school was shut for the day.

Yesterday evening we'd had to take the netting off the top of the fruit cage - the first time in the 7 years we've lived here, so I ventured outside to check everything - okay, it was just an excuse to go out...!

Back garden, looking to the left, at about 8.30am.

Back garden, looking to the right and still in shade at about 8.30am

I don't think my solar lantern will be much use tonight!

Cornus with icicle.

The front of the house at about 9am - with only animal prints to mark the snow...foxes, cats and the badger.

The front island - pristine and beautiful about 9.00am

The Japanese Garden looking very wintery!

Ceefer cat walks on water!
He ventured onto the frozen surface of the bottom pond.....

went a bit further out...... and fell through the ice! By the time I'd stopped laughing he'd scrambled back onto dry land and gone off in a huff!

I decided that it was time to indulge my inner 8 year and make a snow angel - I was hopeless!
The snow was so frozen that I couldn't make any indentations and the rude comments from Last-Born only serve to make me laugh more....!

The world's worst snow angel maker!

So I got Last-Born and her friends to make them - they were just as bad as me, only louder!
So they built a snowman instead - he's only partly done here, but I was getting chilly...!
then they tried sledging down the front drive....

but 3 on the sledge didn't work - 1 did though!

and they proved to be very acurate with snowballs!

The girls have since been joined by some of the boys from school - so I've come in out of the way.... the boys are an even better shot than the girls are!
They'll come in eventually - when they're cold or hungry or it's too dark to play any more. I'll feed them all hot chocolate and listen to their loud tales of who cheated at snowballs, who got snow down their backs and who did the best sledge ride ......... and I'll smile and be happy and have that warm, fuzzy feeling we parents know so well.
What a wonderful day!