The Rain Pond – Part 1

I have mentioned a few times here that I have great plans for bringing water into the garden. This weekend has finally seen the first of two ponds started…

It is impossible (for me anyway!) to make accurate plans for our garden. Every thing is curved, or at a funny angle, or non-definite in its placement such as the hedge boundaries. Instead I sketch out ideas roughly to scale, and then try to translate them onto what looks right on the ground by laying ropes on the grass. So it was with the pond. We now have an outline of the bed it will sit in, an outline of the water area, and some kind of a plan for depths. However it is only with a lot of head-scratching that we have managed the last part.

The first test trench was dug about a month ago, straight across the middle of where we thought we wanted the pond, which will be roughly kidney-shaped. It was dug a spade’s width at the top, down to two foot six or so which I understand is the minimum depth for a wildlife pond. The good news was that it was topsoil all the way down, so it will be very easy to use what we dig out elsewhere in the garden. (Unexpected, given other areas are sandstone and clay within a spade’s depth or less; plants there will be glad of some more decent soil.) Also it has sufficient clay to hold the sides together even if they are cut steep – meaning we should be able to reach our required depth despite the small size. On the bad side however, digging was made easier by the extraction of eight or nine bricks at the bottom of the trench – the removal of which turned the hole into an old-fashioned lightbulb shape. Since we have already dug out 4,500 bricks in our garden, which is only the size of a singles tennis court, we really didn’t feel the need for any more! (They proved very useful for our extension as they match exactly…) Worse, we found the edge of an old path about a foot down, made of modern slippery pavers laid onto a very thick (8-10”) bed of concrete. Not so helpful when its line threatens to cut right across the proposed pond. It did, however, explain why the grass down the middle of the garden always went brown in summer.

This weekend the plan was to decide where the two ends of the pond would be within the ‘pond bed’, so that I could measure up and order such things as liner, edging, cobbles etc. Marking out with the aid of a rope laid on the ground, no problem even with M’s help. Second test hole to check the buried path, not so great. The path sloped upwards towards ground level, rapidly becoming too shallow to use as a marginals shelf at barely six inches below anticipated water level, and the concrete base turned out to be three foot wide. In four foot wide water this wasn’t too helpful.

So after some more thinking, we have finally decided to: use the first section of the path we discovered as a marginals shelf somewhere in the middle of the pond; make the far end of the pond deep instead of shallow; use the shallowest bit of concrete as base for the cobbled area; and cut a hole across the middle of the path where it really can’t be avoided in order to give a second deep area.

Exploratory trenches for rain pond

Exploratory trenches for rain pond

The photo shows the deep trench in the foreground with some of the bricks and other rubble we dug out, a row of pavers forming the edge of the path, and a wide area of concrete, pavers removed. There are a few bits of grass and soil left to remove within the pond area… Top right is the corner of the base for my new sanctuary space, from where I plan to watch the rain bouncing up from the surface of the pond, frogs diving amongst the plants, and a pourover gently keeping the pond topped up with rainwater.

Did I mention there will eventually be a stream running into this pond? Meaning that the water also needs to be deep enough at the top end for a pump for when it isn’t raining? Raising the pond would have been an alternative solution – but then it would be too high for the stream to actually flow into it!

I am continuing to trust that my crazy, ambitious plans are all capable of being realised and will work!

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Garden Thoughts

I have been weeding the garden over the past couple of weeks, with winter pruning finished and everything bursting into growth, and it has proved very enjoyable, especially now that M is able to entertain herself running about and picking daisies while I work. It has also been very helpful for crystallising some of my thoughts on developing the garden.

I have mentioned before that I have some big plans for the garden, and would like to work closer with nature spirits. I have started to draw up scale plans for the changes I want to make – so that I can see which plants will be kept in current positions and which will need moving or propagating. It will hopefully save me from planting things in annoying places this year! However I have not yet made any direct contact with nature spirits, and even opportunities to try are not presenting themselves to me. This is unusual, so temporarily left me puzzled and a bit frustrated. But weeding has proved wonderful for gaining insights, and this is what I have learned.

1. I need to develop my own intent for the garden, and to carry it through.
This is particularly important for me as when I was ill, then pregnant, then with a baby, I basically asked nature to look after the garden for me. If I am to develop the garden as I want it to be, then I need to focus my will and intention – not defer it to anyone else. Nature can only then work to bring it into growth.

I am reminded of how Nature itself defines a garden, as told to Machaelle Small Wright. (Behaving as if the God in All Life Mattered.)

“A garden is any environment that is initiated by humans, given its purpose, definition and direction by humans, and maintained with the help of humans. For nature to consider something to be a garden, we must see humans actively involved in all three of these areas. … Nature does not consider the cultivation of a plot of land as the criteria for a garden. Nature considers a garden to exist wherever humans define, initiate and interact with form to create a specialised environment.”

If I do not supply the definition, direction and purpose, then I cannot interact effectively with nature and nature would not define my small plot of land as a garden. Strangely this definition does not require plants to be present…

2. Letting wild corners into the garden is good.
Creating habitats and going as far as I can to actively include wildlife in the garden gives me a commitment to nature. However, I have been having a dilemma over providing a properly ‘wild’ area into which I do not enter. At the risk of writing a very long blog post this week, there are two quotes which have made it clear how important it is to have a wild area.

From ‘The Gentleman and the Faun – Encounters with Pan and the Elemental Kingdom’ by Robert Oglivie Crombie, known as Roc. Chapter 13 – The Wild Garden by Peter Caddy

“Roc’s work with the nature spirits also pointed out to us the importance of the wild garden. In Britain, where there is a tradition of fine gardens, almost invariably an area of each is left wild. There is also a folk custom among farmers of leaving a bit of land, where humans are forbidden to go, as the domain of the fairies and elves.
“One Sunday afternoon, Roc had accompanied a group of us on a visit to a local walled garden at Kincorth. At one end of the landscaped area ran a stream with a wooden bridge across it. On the other side was a wild place, cool and dense in contrast to the neat and colourful beds on our side. Roc, obeying an impulse, wandered off across the bridge and into the foliage. Later he told us that beyond a certain point in the area he had suddenly felt like an intruder.
“There Pan appeared beside him and told him that this part of the garden was for his subjects alone and was to be so respected. He said that in any garden, no matter the size, where the full cooperation of the nature spirits is desired, a part should be left where, as far as possible, man does not enter. The nature spirits use this place as a focal point for their activity, a centre from which to work.
“Pan also told him that at Findhorn we did not have enough respect for our wild garden. Indeed, we had developed the habit of crossing this area when we went to the beach for a swim, and right in the middle of it Dennis had set up his tent. You can imagine how quickly he removed both himself and his gear on hearing this message! Thereafter, we made sure to enter this area as seldom as possible.”

From ‘Behaving as if the God in All Life Mattered’ by Machaelle Small Wright. p122-3 – What’s This Crap About Fairies?

“I had read that at Findhorn there was an area set aside specifically for the use of nature spirits. It was a place where humans didn’t enter and it was left wild. I felt that I should do the same at Perelandra. So I picked a spot on the edge of the woods next to the garden and roped it off as a gesture, designating that this area was now to be exclusively for nature spirits. After roping it, I stood in the middle of the area and invited the nature spirits to come to this special place that I called the “Elemental Annex.” Immediately, a great rush of energy streamed in and I heard, “Finally! Now we can get down to business!” Feeling very much out of place, I gingerly stepped out of the area. The Elemental Annex was now the base of operations for the Perelandra nature spirits.”

My own garden is not large, the back part being around the size of a tennis court or a standard swimming pool, and the front very much smaller. There are hedges down both sides which need cutting regularly, and there simply are no areas where I do not go. But there is a cow field behind us, which has a corner behind my garden that is rarely touched, as well as other wild areas close by. I am hoping that these will suffice at least initially. And meanwhile, the plans I am making are putting wildlife as a much higher priority than it has been in the past.

3. Nature values active love rather than a hug.
Sending plants love won’t get them watered in a drought. My side of any partnership with nature is to do the work – and having not done so over the past few years, I apparently have a bit of ground to make up to prove that I am committed to the garden.

I have been left wondering how much of the proof of my commitment is to nature, since nature can surely read our intentions better than we can ourselves, and how much it is to change my own mindset and make sure I am committed to the job!

4. I can ask for help once I have established what it is I want.
I look forward to this stage! I will admit to being surprised and disappointed to have to make all the decisions myself, as I fully expected nature to tell me where particular plants would be happiest, and how they would like to be grown together, as other writers have reported. But clearly I am not at this stage in my own development yet – and I am also a reasonably capable gardener with many years of experience (seventeen in this garden alone) so I need a little faith and belief in myself! I also need to remember point 1, that I set the intention and definition for the garden. I appear to have some way to go to really develop this in myself.

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I said at the start that weeding had formed part of the insight and led to the rest following on – my intent was strong enough to remove a weed, without doubts, without wondering if I should or if it was balancing something else or otherwise needed in some way. I didn’t want it growing, and that was sufficient. No guilt needed. I also found it easier to get on with the job if my energies were not being split into worrying whether I was doing the right thing in removing particular types of weeds. (Some are obvious thugs, others have good qualities but have got out of hand.)

So here are my intentions for the redeveloped garden:
Front – all the herbs I want to eat, enough fruit to supply our basic needs with surplus for friends, and enough vegetables to always have something we can pick for dinner.
Back – fun, exciting, peaceful, beautiful, and full of wildlife. A space we all want to spend time in, just being, sitting, relaxing and enjoying ourselves. A place where nature and natural cycles can be honoured. It looks likely that most of the grass will go, in order to make a pond and ‘stream’ garden and of course the whole thing will have to be designed around the garden railway the rest of my family want…