Saturday, 4 July 2015

And finally, the pond

Ever since we visited my sister during the Easter holidays earlier this year, and Rosie spent the best part of a weekend making a whole fishing village for the wee pond in my sister's garden, Rosie's been obsessed with the idea of having one in our garden. A Big One. I quite liked the idea myself – if not for quite the same reasons as Rosie (it's not like I need much of an excuse to find a home for yet more fish) – and it also presented the opportunity to a) tidy up the garden and utilise an otherwise neglected and ugly space, and b) have a rethink about how I use my devotional space outside.

Our garden's layout is kind of awkward – you step out onto a flat patio with some decking and then the lawn is on a terrace about two metres above it, which is accessed by some steps. The lawn itself is mostly on a slope, and the flower bed is wedged up in the top right-hand corner at the back. When we moved in I extended the flower bed a little and put in the rowan and some fruit bushes, along with bits and pieces to create a wee shrine space. There's a tiny pond (or puddle...) and a cairn, and the plants I put in were intended to have some kind of seasonal link, or else were significant to me in some way – plants that remind me of some of my ancestors (those I knew before they died, like grandparents), and some juniper, which I can use for saining. Like so:

As you can see, I'm not the greatest of gardeners. In my enthusiasm to fill up space as quickly as possible I've over planted, and I feel so bad at the thought of thinning the bulbs out (I've nowhere else to put them and gardening shouldn't involve having to kill pretty things!!) they're taking over... It's all thriving, at least, I suppose. Though I'm going to have to thin the bulbs out this year, for sure.

Given the flower bed's situation – right up the top of a hill – it's a wee bit exposed to the neighbours and so the lack of privacy doesn't really encourage me to use it as an active shrine. The ground gets boggy in bad weather, too, which makes getting up there more of an adventure than I'd like. Over the years I've maintained it as much as I can with a view to creating a wildlife-friendly space, with the process of gardening itself being a kind of devotional act of sorts, in memory of my granddad (gardening was his passion). But while I make almost all of my offerings outside, I've always gravitated towards using the patio area, which is more private, instead of using the shrine for that kind of thing, which is what I'd originally intended.

So in committing to getting a pond, the obvious place to put it was just off to one side of the patio, where we have some ugly gravel going from the paving slabs to the fence (I presume it was put in as a moisture trap, so it's probably not something we should take out completely). The previous owners had tried to cover it up with some decking surrounding a gas-powered barbecue, but we didn't use that (too expensive) and the decking was rather worse for wear now, so something needed to be done with it sooner or later.

The soil isn't very deep round here so digging a hole for the pond wasn't going to give us much to work with, and let's face it, Mr Seren – who has a tendency to hiss dramatically at the sun before running back indoors – was never going to commit to digging it himself and it would be way too much for me to do. So instead we chose a raised pond – not the best solution, because I don't think it will be as wildlife friendly, for one, but it's better than nothing. Removing some of the gravel to get down to a flat, smooth surface took a few days or so (which I did myself, so I did it in short bursts, not wanting to over do it), and then it took a few trips to the DIY store to get enough sand to make a safe, flat base to put the pond on. All in all, the pond is about 700 litres (around 150 gallons) when full, but Mr Seren's worried about the mess that would make if it burst, so we're playing it safe, for now, and it's about two thirds full at the moment.

A trip to the garden centre procured some planters and plants to go in. As I did with the flower bed before, I wanted to put in plants that are significant in some way (and will encourage bees etc), but I was less successful in getting the specific ones I wanted this time around; I think it's not the best time of year to start off planting for a lot of the kind of plants that I'm after. I couldn't find any wild primroses for sale, or any wildflowers like cowslips and so on – which are past flowering now – and it's not really the best time to try and sow my own... I've made do with some blue primroses, and bought a couple of poppies (in memory of my granddad), a foxglove (for the spirits), some lavender and rosemary (because I like smelly plants), along with some daisies, an anemone, an astilbe, and... more. I put in some evergreens to give a bit of greenery in the winter, and I managed to find some juniper, too – a common juniper this time. When I got it, I decided to take a walk along the coastal path from the garden centre to the nearest village where I could get the bus home, and I made some cow friends along the way. I took some photos on my phone after the came over to say hello, but I don't have a cable to put them onto my computer... They were more keen on trying to eat the juniper poking out of my bag than saying hello to me, to be honest, but they deigned to allow a quick tickle seeing as it brought the nommy closer to them, and that kept me happy, at least. I'm sure they'll thank me for not giving them an upset stomach in the end, as I'm sure something like juniper would if they tried to eat it...

I also got a rush for the pond, along with another oxygenating plant (a marestail, I think), and some spearwort (sadly already almost completely eaten by a voracious and surprisingly waterproof snail, but there do seem to be some new shoots coming up so I'm hopeful it will pull through). Today we got a waterlily and some fish, and I've moved the more established rushes from the "puddle" as well, to make sure the fish have enough shade and plenty of nooks and crannies to lurk around if they want to. I'll get a replacement for the puddle, but the rushes in there had long overgrown the space anyway, and they were a little worse for wear after Oscar decided their only purpose was for him to rip out of the water and tear around the garden with them.

Bad Dog, Oscar.

Once things are more established, we'll get some pond snails, too, to help keep on top of the algae, although after a couple of weeks now we already have a few water beetles that have moved in and it will be interesting to see what else we might get. Beyond flies and midgies... The local fish shop tends to recommend waiting at least a month before introducing algae eaters, so we should be able to get them in a few weeks. It would be nice to have some frogs, too, so I need to think of a way to allow them to get in and out easily; I'm not sure about piling up stones to allow access, in case they rip the liner, but I'll need to figure that out somehow, and make a nice shallow area to encourage frogspawn/tadpoles eventuall, as well. For now, though, this is what we have:

We got three fish, by the way. One shubunkin, one Sarasa comet, and one yellow (or buttercup) goldfish, mainly to help keep on top of the fly/midgie larvae. And because I like goldfish (I already have 11 fish – three fancy fish, two platys, and five cloud minnows – in two tanks, so Mr Seren is breathing a resigned sigh about the pond at this point). So far only the shubunkin, which Tom chose, has a name, Max the Mutant, because it's mostly blue and white but has one red eye so it's rather distinctive looking. Rosie chose the comet, which is unofficially dubbed "Ghost" at the moment, because it's completely white, but as yet the yellow goldfish remains nameless. She's quite friendly with Ghost, though. Maybe I'll call her Whoopi.

It's all a work in progress, really, but the poppies, lavender and daisy-type plant are already flowering, and the digitalis is just about to. Before we got the pond we also bought a picnic table, so I've moved it beside it all for a comfy spot to sit while I might enjoy the view. It's midgie season right now so the usual times I might want to sit out are right when the midgies are wanting their dinner, but once the weather cools down that shouldn't be a problem.

A while ago I added some links to the Crafts section of the Gaol Naofa library of the website, with ideas for things to do to help make a wildlife-friendly environment for your bioregion. I've been meaning to trawl for more to link and ideas to add (if you have any, please share!), but things like bug hotels and bird baths would be a perfect addition to the space (or up in the flower bed), and the summer holidays is a perfect time to get a project with the kids going. I'm going to look through those and see about what I can do on the cheap, and I'd like to get a bird table, or something, so I can use it for somewhere to put offerings out of the dog's way, and maybe add some more decorations to give some interest once the summer plants start to die back – I couldn't find anything sufficiently tasteful at the garden centre, but Mr Seren thinks that in the absence of an exact replica of the Brigid statue from the well at Kildare (Rosie wishes), we should maybe try to find a peeing Sheela-na-gig water feature... It's kind of tempting, I have to be honest, though I doubt such a thing exists.

For now, until I can get somewhere to allow offerings to be safely made at this spot (I usually put them up on a part of the wall, which terraces the lawn off from the patio, on the other side of the garden where the dogs can't get at them), I can still make libations as I sit. Not pouring them into the pond, obviously. Eventually we'll add some more pots and containers around the pond, too, but for now I want to see how what we've already got will do against the slugs and snails, and what might need repotting next year. I think there'll be a fairly high attrition rate, to be honest, but we'll figure things out, I'm sure. As it is, it's a start, and that in itself provides a focus for me to keep at it and tend to it. Rosie's still figuring out how to make a fish-friendly, but decorative "boat," meanwhile... Priorities, right?