When we first bought our house in we didn’t do much work in the rear garden, our focus was on renovating the actual house. By 2016, with most of the renovation work complete, we turned our attention to the garden. To date, we have: removed the old patio at the rear of the house, levelled the area and had a new patio installed; put up new fencing on both sides of the garden (even though we’re only responsible for one side) and at the rear. Let year (2017), we erected two new outbuildings (read about it here) that took longer to complete than we expected – we ran out of time, daylight and good weather before we could finish off the garden. It’s now 2018 and it’s time to finish off the landscaping.
I’d made dozens of drawings and SketchUp models of how I wanted the centre part of the garden to look. I had a good idea of what needed to be done and I was anxious to get going. This is the last large house project to complete and, when finished, we finally might be able to relax in our home. It’s been pretty much six years of continuous DIY, from doing up the previous house and flat (to sell them), to renovating this house and we’ve had enough. Unfortunately, the severe winter at the start of 2018 (our first real snow since 2008), delayed commencement of this final phase of work.
With the weather finally improving in April, I made even more drawings and calculations and put together an order for the oak timber that will support the deck area which covers the manhole in the centre of the garden (to which I need easy access) and the boardwalk that will provide a path to the far end of the garden. We’re using oak to build the frame as the deck will surround a pond, and oak, unlike a frame made of softwood, will not need preservatives to be reapplied periodically (making it safe for fish). I was a bit nervous about this order as it was for a lot of heavy, bulky material and I would need help to get it into the garden when it was delivered. Also, if you get an order like this wrong, it’s not a simple matter to top it up if you’re short, or return it if it’s incorrect, so I took my time to ensure I was as certain as possible I’d had the correct specification and quantities. Once I was happy with what I needed, I got a quotation and placed an order for the timber at the end of May. Unfortunately, the order wasn’t fulfilled until the end of July.
A good few weeks late, the oak was finally delivered (to the front of the house). Earlier in the day, I’d bumped into Nigel (who had previously offered to help me with the timber) and he was able to come round and help me in the afternoon. Taking delivery of this order was the step I’d been most anxious about with this project. I knew there would be a large amount of heavy timber that would only be delivered to the curb and, somehow, I would have to get it to the rear of the house. I could, given time, move most of it on my own, but there were two pieces of timber in the order that I knew would weigh in the region 100kg each and I couldn’t carry those on my own. Thankfully, Nigel was on hand and with his help and we got the job done in a little over half an hour. Nigel also helped me set up the gazebo I would use to house timber and the saw I was using to cut it (some timbers are too long to cut it in the workshop). With the timber in situ and a work area set up, we are finally be able to get on with the final phase of our garden project.
The large timbers are 300mm longer than I’d specified and consequently weigh even more than I’d anticipated. I’d also ordered fourteen pieces of 150x150mm timber cut to 800mm lengths (these are short piles to support the deck frame). However, instead of each piece being cut to size, I’d been provided with sufficient timber to cut these pieces myself and I spent today trimming these timbers to the correct size. I also reorganised the stack of timber to give me easier access to the pieces I would need first. A bit of an easy exercise to get warmed up, before properly getting started on the heavy work.
I cleared the area for the deck and pond, moving shingle to the side of the garden and removing the landscaping fabric that had been beneath it. It’s a lot more work than it sounds and I’m out of condition. Hopefully some physical work will improve my fitness – it certainly worked last year when I put up the fence around the garden.
Had a bit of a quiet day, today, I put the side panels on gazebo as we’re expecting rain in the next couple of days. I also marked out the layout of the pond and started digging post holes.
We’ve visitors for the next few days, so I’m not expecting to get any work done during this time.
Well, I was wrong about not getting any work completed whilst our visitors were here. Malc was very interested in our project and we talked quite a lot about what our plans were for the pile of oak timber in the gazebo. By Monday (the 30th), he was getting itchy fingers and asked me if there was any digging to be done – I said there was. Malc leapt into action and, between us, in half a day we had:
We completed an amazing amount of work in the time (many thanks Malc). This was really the first real day of garden work – the previous few days were just prep. I hope to make good progress now.
First thing today, I cut and put together the timbers to make the raised herb garden. Unfortunately I cocked it up and screwed together the two halves upside down, i.e. I placed the bottom part on the top, which meant the heads of the screws were visible on the top edge, which I had intended to avoid. It looks like I might have to put some edging on it to cover these screws.
I levelled the ground for herb garden, which was not as easy as it sounds, as I had to keep dragging the structure into place to check the level and then pull it out of the way to do more digging. It’s a very heavy assembly (I calculated it weighs more than 110Kg), eventually, I was happy with the positioning.
I dug post holes for the back supports and a channel for the side beam.
Had a day off today – helping out Jon, serving drinks on the Greta. Back ashore, I remembered I wanted to add some extra screws to the top deck supports, which I did. The screws were spare and it wouldn’t hurt to reinforce the structure.
I decided to turn herb garden upside-down to hide the screws. This changes the angle at the end of the deck and affects how it joins the flower bed. It should be ok though.
I cut side and front main beams, excavated post holes to reposition posts more accurately. I concreted in the posts, placed the beams in position and screwed the whole thing together. The herb garden is now firmly held in place, although it wasn’t likely to be moved easily before.
I stopped work to collect Fiona from Canterbury station, I was quite tired and dehydrated and we had tetchy journey back from Canterbury.
Thanks to an early start, I got quite a lot done today. I cut the remaining supports for the edge of the deck which has a short overhang by the pond and cut the first of the deck cross-members. When I hammered one of these into a slot I’d cut in the main beam, it split in half. I cut a new support and used the remains of the broken one to as a bracket, so little wood was wasted. The timber of the main support is slightly twisted (as are most of the timbers), which means levels are not accurate. I will have to pack the deck boards to make them level.
All main pieces are now in position and held in place with a small number of screws. Once everything is in place, I will make any final adjustments and then screw it all solidly together.
I’ve now worked out the new angles for the end of the deck on the left hand side of the garden. I cut a main support and cut and screwed the edge rails into all supports. There was some digging and moving of earth to accommodate the last support. I have now used all of the large pieces pieces of timber.
Fiona and I spent some time discussing how the deck terminates by the bog garden.
I worked out the dimensions of the final piece that frames the end of the deck and cut it. I also decided to put another supporting post in the opposite corner.
I got rid of an Acer which we had brought from the old house and was planted in a large pot – we’d neglected it for too long and it was in the way. I also redistributed more soil. I dug the last post hole, putting the clay from the hole at base of planter. It took a while to cut the last piece, as it was a very acute angle which the mitre saw couldn’t achieve. I ended up cutting a 45˚ mitre and added a 9˚ degree wedge which seemed to work OK. It was a bit of a struggle to get everything lined up, before screwing the timber together. I used last bag of postcrete to cement in the post. The outline of deck is now complete and the pile of postcrete bags has finally gone – after nearly a year sitting in the garden.
Had lunch and watched Garden Rescue which this week was for a country garden, with a bog garden attached. There was some good information in this episode about what we might plant as we’re planing to do both types of garden here.
I spent a while deciding where to place the final pieces and checking the spans wouldn’t be too much for 100x50mm section deck supports (I’d halved the depth of some of them to save timber). I keep forgetting they do not span voids and will be supported by earth when the gaps are filled, so they don’t have to bear much weight.
I put in a final piece of 50x200mm of timber as a sort of spine through the deck (it shortens the length of the 100x50mm pieces) and called it a day.
I completed the deck framework. All the deck supports are now screwed together solidly. (I now only have short timber screws left.) The outline of the boardwalk is now complete.
Had a rest day, hosted a BBQ for Patsy, Nigel and Ann in the evening.
A slow start to the day (ahem). I cut 50x50mm section timbers for boardwalk rails, these provide additional support for the decking boards. Cut and screwed all the boardwalk rails together. Cut 150x150mm section timbers as spacers and supports for between boardwalk supports. I started digging the outline of the pond.
Went out in the morning to get more postcrete.
In the afternoon I dug holes for the boardwalk supports, screwed them in place and concreted them into the ground.
I moved the compost heaps, that had been sitting under the birch tree for the last couple of years, to the space behind the workshop. This involved moving a lot of bricks and rebuilding the compost pit. I now have a full tub of nearly mature compost and a decent sized pit of compost on the way. This took a good couple of hours, I should have done it ages ago.
Filled the herb garden with 30 buckets of soil and compost -finished quite late.
It rained all day – very heavy rain.
Started filling gaps in deck frame with soil dug from the main pond area and tamped it down.
Very heavy rain arrived again in the afternoon. Went to a Millboard supplier in Faversham to look at other colours and textures – we were unsure about the samples we had received directly from Millboard (and we went to Macknades).
Finished tamping soil between the decking supports. The decking supports are all now pretty solid. The previous two days’ rain had helped moisten clay and made it easier to work.
I dug out the basic shape of the deep part of the pond. By the end of the day I’d dug to about 600mm below intended water level (and I want the pond to be 1.4 metres deep at the deepest point). I also landscaped some of the soil I’d dug out on another day, which was easier to work now it’s weathered. Writing about it, it doesn’t seem like much, but it was 6 1/2 hours work.
I’m digging the deep part of the pond in layers. I have now dug out about 1 1/2 layers (each layer is about 200-30cm deep, or one shovel depth) and I will probably need to dig four layers in total. I dug a third, test, layer, about 800mm below the intended pond level to see what the soil is like – it looks very wet and it could be tricky to dig out the last layer. I moved 100 buckets of clay in about three hours, the clay pile at the back of the garden is rising again. I may have to transport some of the spoil to the tip when the work is finished. I’m using a narrow border spade and two buckets to dig the pond, it’s slow and hard work but it’s the easiest way to cut through the clay and the best way of moving the soil around the garden.
Admin in the morning, so I only worked in the afternoon, moving another 100 buckets of clay soil (1 1/2 layers again and yes, I am counting how many buckets I take out). Just part of one more layer of the deep part of the pond to dig now – another three hours work.
In the morning I did some research on Koi ponds. I don’t think we can go deep enough with our pond for us to have Koi. The current depth is around one metre and, already, there’s water appearing at the bottom of the hole. I talked to Fiona about it and we decided we’ll stock the pond with fish other than Koi – the same as we did in our old house – Goldfish, Comets and Shubunkins. Not having Koi means less intensive water conditioning, which will save money on the pump and filter. I also discovered that EPDM liner, which is cheaper than Butyl, is probably a better material for us to use.
I moved top soil that I’d previously dug to yet another part of the garden to make room for more clay spoil. I must have moved some soil of this soil five or six times now.
I dug the last bit of the deep pond – moving another 60 or so buckets – although I also shovelled some soil directly into gaps in the boardwalk framework, to fill and stabilise it. I started working on the part of the pond under the boardwalk, creating a smooth transition from the shallow to the deeper part. In digging the deep part of the pond, I had exposed the sewer (which was where I expected it to be) and I covered it with clay to protect it.
Domestic chores in the morning, so no work in the garden until the afternoon.
I shaped the area around the deck and under the overhang. Quite hard work digging under the timber as the clay has a lot of flints in it. Now I have to create the marginal plant shelves around the deep pond. I’m still deciding on shape and extent of bog garden.
Spoil is getting piled under birch tree for now, I will have to move some of it again as it’s getting quite tall. I need to get the edge of the pond level and I tried using my laser level (an indoor one) but it’s not bright enough to use in full daylight. I did another 2 1/2 hours digging.
At dusk, I marked out the water level using the laser level. This gives me a better idea for the depths of the shelves for marginal plants, one will be about 25cm, the other 40cm deep.
I’ve not bothered taking photos in the last couple of days, progress is difficult to see in them, in fact it looks downright disappointing after the day’s exertions – the holes don’t look deeper or much larger. I will try and get a few snaps tomorrow before I do any more work. Just to record progress.
I dug the edge of the pond level to the line I drew yesterday. Dug ledges for marginal plants and reshaped some of the deeper part of the pond. Dug a sump to collect water, the clay is very sticky at the bottom after all the rain. Dug out 60 more buckets – the spoil heap continues to grow.
Started digging the bog garden end of pond as I still have to fix the contours for the channel where the water returns to the pond.
I measured the pond as it is now laid out, the water part is 4.4 x 2.8 metres, overall, including bog garden it is 5.7 x 2.8 metres, I may have to get wider liner to get a bigger bog garden. Although I may be able to skew the liner to avoid wastage. It’s going to be tricky to get the liner laid out under the deck. Moved about 30 buckets of top soil from around bog garden area. That amounted to 6 1/2 hours work.
Had a rest day – I’m beginning to ache a bit.
Dug the outline of the bog garden, it’s proving very difficult to get the level adjusted, the soil is very hard and filled with small flint pebbles.
Moved a lot of topsoil out of the way to make way for the clay to be removed and placed oak sleepers to make the bog garden borders, this establishes the final perimeter of the water.
Did some admin work in morning
Made the frame for the hatch that will provide access to the manhole in the deck. The timber is not straight and the hatch frame turned out wonky, I will need to remake it as it is crucial to get this right.
I moved a lot of soil around the garden. This is one of the problems working on a project in a relatively small area, you spend a lot of time moving stuff around – I did about three hours’ shovelling.
Moved the pot plants off the shingle – the pot containing the fuchsias is very heavy and it’s difficult to get a grip on it to lift it. I basically crashed it down onto some wood I’d placed on the patio, fortunately everything survived. I moved the irrigation pipes for the plants and tested they worked.
Shovelled the shingle (again) to the side of the garden by the apple trees. The shingle pile is getting quite deep now. Peeled back landscape fabric, to give me access to the right-hand edge of the pond. It took a surprising amount of work to do this. I also moved even more soil around the garden.
Rest day – visit to Canterbury.
Cut new wood for the hatch frame. (I also cut two pieces of oak I knew would be surplus, to remake our hall bench, and stored them in our front room to dry out.)
Cut and fixed pieces to support decking boards around the hatch (it’s not level).
Dug remaining edge of pond, which was uncovered when I’d moved the shingle and landscaping fabric, and made it level.
Filled around edge of boardwalk at the top end by the summerhouse. It was very slow work, the clay is very heavy I can pack only small amounts in one go. Anything more than that is impossible to move – made even worse by the fact that my tamper has a broken shaft (oo-errr).
Moved soil (mostly clay) to change profile of the bank to the summer house.
Fiona and Monica (who was visiting today) went out for a long lunch, on their return they couldn’t spot the work I’d done today – sometimes it’s a thankless task.
Took Fiona to Canterbury station in the morning, the rain we were told to expect, arrived late morning, it was quite heavy at times. Except for a couple of days, the weather has been exceptionally hot and dry.
I eventually started work just before four o’clock. The ground was quite damp, which made the soil easier to shape, the problem was the soil I wanted to shape precisely is under the deck, so it didn’t get wet enough and it’s pretty tough job to hack it into shape.
I raised the sleeper separating the bog garden from the pond as it was set too low. I dug out more of the bog garden and spread the soil next to the boardwalk to build it up for the return channel for filtered water.
Did some digging where the water will re-enter the pond.
Profiled the ground at the front of the garden. It’s hard work, trying to get a nice smooth slope in the hard clay. I used a lot of clay from the pile at the back of the garden as an underlay and then put topsoil on over it. I found some fine-grained stuff that made it easier to smooth out. It took three hours to complete and I probably moved about 20 barrowloads of soil. I think it’s ready for the landscaping fabric. At least it’s made quite a dent in the spoil heap at the back of the garden.
Had lunch, spent two hours putting down landscaping fabric and shingle and put the pot plants back and replaced the irrigation system(again). Then a quick shower and off to collect Fiona from Canterbury.
Finally the garden looks like it’s taking shape. The deck doesn’t look quite so dominant now and, hopefully, I won’t have to move this stuff any more. (I keep thinking that, then I do more!)
I had a couple of rest days, I’d strained a muscles in my back and the back of my legs shovelling all the soil, clay and shingle over the last few days, I need to rest them for a while and let the pain ease a bit. Cinema and the Spa Grand Prix filled the time nicely.
Redistributed the spoil dug from the pond, to create a nicer profile for the back of the garden – and, hopefully, make it look more natural.
I dug a route for the return water channel from the filter. The final shape of it is yet to be determined, but that must wait until I get the pump installed so that I can see what sort of water flow the channel has to handle.
I refined the profile of the pond (again!). The bottom of the pond has water in it, which makes the clay very sticky. I left the soil that fell in there to be removed when I’ve pumped out the water when the predicted fine weather returns, this will make it easier to dig.
The main hard landscaping is finished at last, although there will be a bit more digging to do when the pond liner goes down and the rockery is built. I now have a clear picture of how all the different parts of the garden fit together, the only unknown is the exact shape of the flower bed on the left. Thankfully, it seems I won’t have to take any of the spoil to the dump as I’m using it up pretty quickly smoothing the contours of the garden. It’s taken about four weeks’ work to get to this stage, which is actually a lot faster than I anticipated, particularly as I have worked alone (apart from the two days when I had Nigel and Malc’s help). I’m hoping the remaining work won’t take too long and we will be able to plant for next spring.
The decking has been ordered, but we need a lot more items to complete the next stage. I spent time researching pond equipment and making a shopping list – it’s quite a long list: liner, underlay, pump, filter, rock for the rockery, hatch fittings, screws, nylon mesh, sand, shingle etc. Finding suppliers for it all is the hardest part, no single supplier can provide everything I need.
Heavy rain for most of the day, the ground is now very wet and there’s a fair amount of water at the bottom of the pond. I will need to make a good-sized overflow for the pond. Spent the day looking for local aquatic suppliers and waiting for deliveries. The rain cleared in the late afternoon and I spent some time looking at how an overflow might fit, I should be able to make excess water flow directly into the drain. I pumped as much of the water as I could out of the pond, to give it a chance to dry out (so that I could dig out the remaining soil). However, when I looked a couple of hours later, I could see that the water level had risen again. There’s clearly a lot of water in the surrounding soil.
I’ll be visiting a few aquatic centres tomorrow, to continue my research.
Visited a local aquatic centre to look for the stuff I need and advice – sadly our local supplier isn’t great for pond equipment but had a decent range of aquatic plants – including a few I’m thinking about planting.
Emptied out water again, this time I used a bucket instead of the pump. I need to get the bottom of the pond dug out and drier so I can work on the overflow to the drain. The clay at the bottom is incredibly sticky when wet.
Went to collect Fiona from Edenbridge after visiting more aquatic centres in the afternoon, I still didn’t get to see everything I’m considering. Traffic was bad this afternoon – an accident, a very slow lorry and a skittish pony (the joys of living in the country) – the journey took much longer than I expected.
Admin in the morning and went out for lunch – so we wrote off the afternoon as far as garden work was concerned. I ordered the pump, filter, liner and underlay and looked for sources of other stuff we need.
Dug out half a dozen buckets of very wet clay from bottom of pond and dug a larger sump to make it easier to drain the pond. This took a a lot longer than usual as the clay is now very very sticky and heavy.
Dug more soil from the return stream, I want it to have a more natural curve, it’s still not quite right. I will refine it when I can pump water through it.
Drilled the hole through the main cross member for the pond overflow, which drains into the sewer chamber. I didn’t drill the chamber as our neighbours were out in their garden and it was getting late (I’ll be using a heavy hammer drill to do this). I also wanted to double check the overflow, before drilling any masonry. I spent a couple of hours tidying up the old garage, clearing out old timber and putting up hooks for gardening tools. It looks a lot tidier now, it’s easier to access what we need and it gives me a good idea about what sort and size of garden store to get, when we knock down the old garage.
I spent the morning making the holes for the overflow. I had problems with the hole-saw blades – they are supposed to be able to cut both wood and metal, but they would not cut through a screw in the wood which was exactly in the path of the pipe. I drilled a few more holes around it and eventually got the angle of the pipe right. Drilling the masonry was not quite as difficult as I expected (even with a blunt Tungsten Carbide drill). Nevertheless, it took almost three hours to get this job done.
After lunch I cut the pipes for the overflow (with a trap in the chamber). They are solvent weld pipes and I’ll glue them together after the liner has been installed. Spent the rest of the afternoon tidying up.
I finished early as we’re going to the Tank tonight.
I haven’t bothered with photos for a while as progress is not very visible. I’m really kicking my heels until my orders are delivered – I probably should have bought these things much earlier, although perhaps it’s just as well I didn’t, as I have changed the spec of some items after reviewing the work on the pond.
Admin day, still waiting for deliveries.
We went to the Deal Dining Club for lunch, so no work today.
Fiona received a call from Parkers, to say the Millboard order has arrived, we arranged delivery for first thing tomorrow.
I took Fiona to Canterbury station and called in at TLC Direct to correct a delivery (sent a 1-gang instead of a 2-gang dimmer switch for another project) and to pick up pipe brackets and some bags of sharp sand to level the edge of the pond – the soil is too lumpy to get a decent level edge.
There’s nothing much else I can do right now.
The Millboard order arrived whilst I was having breakfast – unfortunately the screws and touch-up paint are missing from the consignment. I helped unload the truck and carry boards into the front garden, they are relatively light and quite bendy. I carried the boards round to the back garden after I finished breakfast. (Walked 1.5km doing that). The missing screws arrived a little later in the morning, but still no touch-up paint – it’s now on backorder.
I spent the rest of the morning on another DIY task, replacing the ducting for the kitchen extractor (replacing kinked flexible ducting with solid pipe and sealed the wall gaps properly – I suspect that’s been a source of heat loss in the kitchen.
The pond liner arrived on a palette at lunchtime. I interrupted my lunch to carry it through to the back garden as the pallet would not go through the garden gate and it was taking up quite a lot of space on the pavement. The main piece of pond liner is a heavy lump of rubber, I think it’s going to be a big job to move it into place.
I decided I would start on the next phase of the pond tomorrow, when Fiona is back from her mum’s. Spent the afternoon on another important DIY job -moving the old garage stud wall by 500mm, so that I can cut 500mm off the end of the wall, in order to enlarge the gap between the workshop and the old garage. It’s part of the scheme to make the garden more usable and presentable when the pond is complete – before the garage is finally demolished. It’s quite involved as I have to remove obsolete, unused electrics and a light fitting, move a lot of stuff in the garage, remove boards, move the frame, fix it in position and replace the boards and membrane and put everything back.
Almost had the work finished by late afternoon – I just need to cut one last board and reattach the external membrane. But I had to stop to collect Fiona from Canterbury station. I was pretty exhausted, it had been a long day, but I had got quite a lot of other work completed. More ticks in boxes.
Thanks to the phone ringing in the middle of the night (no caller ID), I didn’t get a lot of sleep, so had a lie-in in the morning. I finished off fixing the board and membrane for the old garage (I decided I will add another layer of membrane later – I still have plenty of membrane left and the old one has quite a few holes now).
After lunch, I emptied the remaining water in the bottom of the pond (it had rained overnight), did some final trimming of the sides of the pond (filling the sump I’d dug at the bottom), levelled up the edge of the pond with sharp sand and put down the pond underlay. It didn’t take long to get the underlay down and now the pond looks enormous, although this is probably due to the fact that there’s a lot of surplus underlay around the edges of the pond right now.
I used the rest of the day to put the extra layer of membrane on the old garage and tidy up some more. (I will need to reinforce the end of the garage before I cut the end of the wall, it is getting decidedly wobbly.)
Fiona and I dragged the pond liner into position, it was an easier job than I thought it would be and it didn’t take as long as I’d expected. We were able to start filling the pond with water around midday. With the liner in its final position, there are large amounts of it bunched up under the decking area. This will take a bit of time to trim and fix in place. I marked a length of plastic pipe at 100mm intervals to measure the depth of the pond as it filled. I also measured the flow rate from the hose – it’s about 6-7 litres per minute, to get an idea of the total capacity of the pond. My initial calculations indicate around 8000 litres, but I suspect it will probably be a bit less.
It was obvious that filling the pond would take a long time, so I got on with some other tasks, including building a new hatch frame (one that isn’t warped!).
We finished early as we were meeting friends for a drink.
First thing in the morning, I turned the hose back on to continue filling the pond and had breakfast. Straight after breakfast, I started work. Now that the water level is just shy of the top of the ridge that separates the bog garden from the pond, the bog garden can be completed. I put down underlay on top of the bog garden liner (to protect the liner from stones in the soil) and replaced the oak beam that separates the bog garden from the water. I fixed nylon mesh to the oak beam, to prevent the soil from getting into the pond and then started to backfill the bog garden from the pile of soil I’d stored by the raised bed herb garden. I’m still taking lots of stones (and bits of broken glass) out of the soil as I shovel it. I left some of the underlay bare, so that I could check that water was getting into the bog garden. Now that the pond is pretty full and the liner is solidly held in place, I can start fixing the liner to the deck etc. There’s a bit of a mess of bunched-up underlay and liner by the end of the bog garden beam, but this will be covered by the deck, so I stapled and trimmed what I could. I’m taking my time trimming the liner as it’s very easy to make a serious mistake.
There’s a lot of surplus liner (I suspect we were supplied with a larger piece than I specified), so I started trimming some of the more obviously redundant pieces to make it easier to manoeuvre. The wind picked up in the morning and was flapping the liner and underlay around. I took the mitre saw back out of the workshop, where I’d stored it pending the decking delivery, and set it up in the gazebo. I think I’ll be able to do some board laying later. I turned off the hose as the water level is now about 30mm below the hole for the overflow (which I now need to install) and then it was time for lunch.
After lunch I assembled the pond overflow and cemented it together (solvent-weld waste pipe). I cut a slit in the liner and fixed the overflow in position with a couple of pipe clips. I then mixed up a small batch of mortar, cemented the overflow in place and blocked the hole into the chamber. There’s a trap in the overflow to prevent any nasty smells coming from the drain (it was a bit whiffy whilst I was doing this job). Another task completed, another tick in the box, I’m making pretty good progress now.
I tidied up the garden, clearing away all the tools I no longer need and other items such the liner offcuts and surplus mortar. I’m now ready to start laying the deck boards.
Using a Millboard sample and a piece of scrap oak, I tested fixing boards, to get an idea of torque settings etc – it seems pretty straightforward – then I set to work. The first piece to lay was the top edge of the deck, this gives me a reference for aligning the other boards. The first board to fix in place is A8 (see plan below), which skirts the edge of the manhole cover hatch.
With the first board in place, the next three were pretty straightforward, then it was time to lay boards next to the planter. These boards are a little tricky as they are all awkward, tapered shapes. Taking my time, I got the boards cut and in place (cutting the taper with a hand saw), there’s now only one more awkwardly-shaped piece to fit against the planter, but I’ll do that tomorrow, it’s getting late and the light is going. However, I thought there’s just enough time to start decking the boardwalk. To create another datum line, I mitred another piece of edge strip and fixed it in position on the boardwalk timbers. I checked which board offcuts I could use for the deck by the bog garden and cut the remaining three offcuts to create the first three treads.
As I fixed the boards, I was a little surprised to notice that each board was not perfectly straight and, once fixed in place, the gaps between them were not even. I guess this is because they’re moulded on actual, weathered, timbers. It was particularly noticeable with the three pieces I’d laid on the boardwalk. I’ll have to re-lay two of them, which is going to be difficult as the screw heads disappear into the board, making them hard to locate. It was a minor setback, which didn’t take away from the fact that the garden project has taken a big step forward today. It had been a long day and I was ready for pint.
The end of a busy day – the garden project is really taking shape.
Had some time off – we spent a few days in France with friends.
It was dark when we returned home yesterday and this morning we could see that the water level had dropped quite a bit. Obviously, this is not a good thing. After sorting out a few post-holiday admin tasks and ordering some more garden items – liner, hatch fittings and three pallets of rocks, I went out into the garden to see why the water level had dropped whilst we were away. It appears wind had lifted the liner and underlay and flapped it over into the pond, where a fold had produced a crease that leaked water down to the current water level – I don’t think the pond liner is leaking. I pulled the liner and underlay back into shape and weighted it down with more bricks, before turning on the hose to top it up. I retrieved the tools and equipment I had stored in the workshop whilst we were away and put them back in the gazebo. I went out to do some shopping for lunch, whilst the pond was getting topped up. On return, I screwed the hatch frame together and dropped it roughly in position. Then it was time for lunch.
Singapore F1 quali was live on TV at lunchtime, so we didn’t get started again until mid afternoon.
I pulled up the two misaligned treads I’d put down the week before and cut the remaining pieces of edging that go around the deck and the bog garden. The angles took a bit of working out, not helped by the batteries going flat in my angle measurer. I couldn’t finish the edging as we need more than I had ordered – I need one more piece. However, it shouldn’t hold things up as we can get on with cutting and installing the boards.
In the afternoon, I carried on cutting more deck boards. I realised that I should get all of them cut (even if I wasn’t going to fix them in position right now) so that I can work out how much surplus I’ll have to make boardwalk treads. There is one final, narrow, piece to cut, which I won’t know the dimensions of until the boards around the hatch are in place. I’ll keep a whole board in reserve for that piece. I stopped work about seven.
I spent a couple of hours, before the Grand Prix, cutting and installing the deck boards by the bog garden. These are awkward shapes are and at odd angles, but they went in OK. Having the top edge in place has really helped.
After the Grand Prix, I completed the boardwalk, cutting the treads in batches of five and screwing them down. I stopped to trim more liner under the boardwalk, as this is now going to be covered. There was a lot of bending and a lot of noise and it was a tedious process, but, eventually, I had all the boards and all but one piece of edging in place.
I trimmed more underlay and liner and topped up the bog garden with more soil. It’s time to do the hatch tomorrow.
I had to go to the supermarket, so it was a late start this morning, I only had time to get tools out and ready for this afternoon’s work – creating the manhole hatch cover.
After lunch I got started on the hatch, I was nervous about this as I have to cut neat lines through a number of boards and they need to line up and be evenly spaced. Not an easy task when everything is quite wonky. The first job was to cut wedges and shims to ensure the all the boards are supported evenly and level (the oak sleepers are not of consistent dimensions). I cut long, thin wedges of oak to level the hatch support, and thicker pieces to support the hatch hinges. After an hour or so, I was ready to start the (for me) nerve-wracking task of cutting up the boards. I’m allowed one mistake, as I have a spare decking board, but that’s it. The job actually was faster and a little easier than I anticipated, helped by the fact that the mitre saw and plunge saw have similar kerf blades (which makes the gaps made in the planks the same). There are two boards which I have to cut with a handsaw and will need work to make these gaps match the other cuts.
By evening I had all but one of the hatch boards in place and the hatch screwed together. When Fiona came out, to look at today’s work, she thought I hadn’t started cutting the boards – that’s a result.
I received an email this morning to say the stone liner will arrive tomorrow, hurray! I got another one an hour later to say it was arriving today – perplexing, but even better. After breakfast, I started work on the last of the decking; I cut the final board that fits around the hatch (with a hand saw) and fixed it into place. I also cut the final, narrow piece of board which completes the deck. I had to use clamps to close the gap between the boards when I fixed them, but in the end it looked OK. The hatch is complete and looking reasonably neat. Whilst I was finishing off the hatch, the hinges and handles for it were delivered. I realised I it would be a good idea to fit the proper hatch handles now, instead of using the temporary handles I’d made using wire and wood. These would make it easier to manoeuvre the hatch which is now quite heavy. I spent the rest of the morning rebating the first of the two handles into the hatch. Unfortunately, the stainless steel screws supplied with the hinges are too short, I’ll have to go out after lunch to get some longer ones.
After lunch, I went to our local chandlers to get longer stainless steel screws. A new hot glue gun (I’d thrown away my crappy old one) I’d ordered was delivered mid afternoon, which enabled me to finish making a mesh filter for the pond overflow. The stone liner arrived shortly after the glue gun. Thankfully, it wasn’t quite as heavy as I expected it to be and was easy enough to carry it through the house. I didn’t properly get going on the garden until late afternoon as I was feeling allergic – irritated by oak and decking dust. I didn’t feel up to any garden work to start with, as I’m getting a bit bored with it by now. I didn’t want to make any cockups at this late stage, which is easy to do when you’re distracted by allergies. I found the screws I’d just bought from the chandlers were too large for the hatch fittings, so I ordered more screws from Amazon. Another avoidable expense – it’s so easy to rack up big bills on just fixtures and fittings, especially when you make mistakes with the order. Whilst I’m waiting for the new screws to arrive, I’ll use temporary (non-stainless steel) screws to hold the fittings in place. I finished fitting the handles and dropped the hatch back into position. It looked pretty good. I’m now ready to install the final deck board, which, it appears, I have cut too narrow by 4mm. Thankfully, I still have the spare board, I cut a replacement piece, which, after a little adjustment, fitted OK.
Apart from fitting the hinges and the last two pieces of edging (once the extra length is delivered), the deck is complete and I can put away the saws etc. It’s a moment I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Once I’ve taken delivery of the rockery stone, we’ll be on the final leg of the major landscaping.
Not feeling too great today, suffering from drowsiness and clumsiness (usually a sure sign I’m coming down with something), still, I need to press on. I’ll take time and extra care to get things right. By the end of the morning, I had the rebates cut for the hinges in the hatch and in the deck and the hatch screwed into place. However, the frame catches the deck when it is raised, so I’ll need to trim the frame.
In the afternoon, I trimmed the hatch frame, removed all the fittings and painted touch-up coating on all the exposed areas of Millboard. The correct size screws should arrive tomorrow – when I’ll be able to put it all back together and then the decking will finally be complete.
Spent the rest of the day, clearing away stuff, taking down the gazebo etc. The air around manhole is a bit whiffy, but that might be down to me not replacing the manhole cover properly yesterday. I may need to put a sealing bead around it if the smell persists.
The screws arrived late in the afternoon and I quickly got the hatch fitted back into place. I had to make a few adjustments and plane the edge of the frame to make it fit cleanly, but the hatch now sits correctly and opens easily. The main construction work is over. It’s a big day. Now to get on with putting the garden together – when the rocks arrive.
Not feeling too good, did a few chores, tidying up, cleaning etc, but didn’t feel up to finishing any of the more serious tasks – it’s far too easy to undo all the good work.
I got up late this morning. I had gone to bed early (for me) yesterday and had slept for a long time (9 1/2 hours), which is a sure sign I’ve not been well. I’m feeling much better today although, unfortunately, rain is forecast for the afternoon.
I thought I’d test the overflow by using the water butts to fill the pond (as we’re expecting rain today and a lot more rain tomorrow). The overflow appears to work fine, there was some debris caught in mesh, but it’s not noticeably restricting the flow.
The predicted rain arrived in in the afternoon, stopping any further work.
Heavy rain all day, the overflow coped well with the excess water.
I had previously thought that I would need the rockery stone to proceed any further, but I now realise that there are other things I can be getting on with that don’t need it.
I made final adjustments to the edge of the pond liner, trimming it and fixing it in place with landscaping fabric pegs. I was intending to use the rockery stone to do this, but this is better, the pond edge looks much neater now.
Time to test the pond pump. I made a plinth from Millboard to raise the pump from the from bottom of the pond. Millboard might be rot-proof, but it is buoyant, I had to weight the plinth with bricks to keep it in place. The pump is screwed on top of the Millboard. With the pump up and running, I feel the stream, as it is currently configured, is too noisy (it’s splashy) and I will need to modify it. The pump may be small but it moves an amazing amount of water, even at its lowest power setting and through 15m of pipe.
Using most of the remaining oak timber, I built an edge strip for the flower bed on the left of the garden. This divides the plant bed from the shingle. Once the edge was in place, I replaced the soil and levelled it out. It’s very easy to do now – it’s been dug over so often and is still damp from the rain we’ve recently had. With the border edge in place, I could finish laying the remaining landscaping fabric.
I did a test install of the filter, partially burying it in the position I expect it finally to be sited. I tested the pump & filter together and, after a bit of re-tightening of joints, it all appears to be OK. The control unit for the pump is now inside the workshop. I tried out using a longer water course for the return stream from the filter and made a few adjustments where the water entered the pond, it seems to be a little quieter now.
We’re going to London this afternoon, so I only have a short time in the morning to do anything in the garden. The outstanding piece of Millboard edge strip arrived just before 08:00, so that’s another job I can complete. This morning, I thought I probably would only have enough time to shovel shingle over the landscaping fabric I’d put down yesterday. Starting straight after breakfast, I had the shingle in place in no time, so looks like I have time to work on the edging today too – I’ll take it one step at a time and stop if I can’t comfortably finish any task. I had to trim a few boardwalk treads as they are slightly misaligned, before I could put the edges in place and again, this took less time than I anticipated. The two remaining pieces of decking edge, have ends at odd angles (e.g. 5˚, 55˚, 42˚), so there are some tricky cuts. I trimmed end carefully, cutting a little at a time, but even taking it slowly, this task was quickly finished. With the last of the edge pieces screwed in place, I finished off laying shingle. I then moved plants, tidied up and got ready to go out. A good few tasks completed and we’re now ready for the rockery stone, which is scheduled to arrive tomorrow.
The rockery stone arrived just before lunchtime – three 850kg crates of it. I changed into my work clothes, cleared a path down the side of the house and started moving the rock into the back garden using the wheelbarrow. It took a couple of hours to move it all. There is a good range of sizes, from small pieces weighing under a kilo to large stones that I could only just lift. In all, there were 30 barrowloads and after I’d moved the rock, broken up the crates and moved them to the rear of the garden for recycling, my watch told me I’d walked almost 10km. Our neighbours watched the arrival of the rock with great interest and a few of them popped around to see the work in progress, which, although it slowed the process somewhat, gave me opportunities to take a breather. They all admired the stone and seemed impressed with the work we’ve done in the garden. By the time everything was tidied away and cleaned up, it was late afternoon. Another good day’s work and another big step forward, garden tasks ought to be a lot easier from now on.
We’re off again on another day trip, this time to meet friends for lunch in Tunbridge Wells. So there’s no time to do anything today. However, the pond level had dropped noticeably overnight . On investigation, it appears one of the rocks I’d placed into the stream to modify the flow (and sound), had backed up the water, so that it leaked under an overlapping piece of liner. I made a few adjustments, topped up the pond from the water butts (which were overflowing again) and left it to see what happened whilst we were out.
The adjustments to the liner had worked and the water in the pond was still level with the bottom of the overflow this morning. We didn’t do a lot today, feeling somewhat jaded from yesterday’s lunch. However, we did feel up to popping out to get some more bits and pieces that I need to carry on work in the garden tomorrow. We need to press on, no excuses tomorrow, we need to get the garden finished whilst this sunny weather holds.
I’m finding it tricky to get the stream looking right, there’s too much liner showing, the way the rocks are laid doesn’t look very naturalistic and the sound of the water is still too splashy. I’ve lifted the liner and underlay, moved rocks and re-dug the stream four times now, it’s still not quite right, although I think I’m headed in the right direction. Today (the 2nd) I have to go into to London, so no work will get done. It’s a nice day tomorrow, let’s see if I can get reach a stream solution whilst the weather is still good.
Finally, it seems to be going OK. I spent some time last night and this morning thinking about how the exit of the stream should look and came up with an idea. I took out most of the rocks I’d placed yesterday and started again, making sure I checked how the rocks looked from a variety of angles as I worked. After an hour or so, it seems my fifth attempt at the stream is paying off. Looking upstream, I can see that I will need to re-profile some of the ledges that the rocks will rest on, so I turned off the pump, peeled back the liner and underlay and made some adjustments to the soil levels. Yesterday, I’d left the pump running overnight to check for leakage. Now I’ve re-laid the liner I think I should leave it for a further 24 hours, to check that I have not introduced any leaks today. I won’t place any more rocks on the liner until tomorrow, just in case.
With the stream side of the boardwalk paused, I decided to get on with the rockery that goes from the pond up to the sun terrace. I cut and laid the stone liner and started taking the larger rocks from the pile at the front and trying them in position. It seems for every three rocks I put down, I take two back up. It’s a little difficult to envisage how it will finally work once shingle and plants are in place and I find I’m often tying to fill gaps, rather than leaving space for planting etc. Also, I think it’s going to be tricky to make the rocks “fade” convincingly (i.e. naturalistically) into the shingle on the right of the garden. It’s a matter of suck it and see. There’s still plenty of work to do, but the crucial stream part of the rockery is now established and that’s where I’ve been stuck for the last few days. Let’s see how we fare tomorrow.
Another sunny morning. There had been no discernible drop in water level overnight, so I carried on lining the rest of the stream with rocks. By lunchtime, I’d reached the section where the water returns from the filter, which is where I had dug a small header pond (more of a puddle) to receive the filter output. The sides of this pool are a little too tall and too much liner is on view, I need to make some changes. I left the pump running and placed the filter return hose further downstream. I peeled back the liner and cut more soil. I also re-routed the return hose. With the liner back down and stones replaced, the header pool looked a little better, but it needs more work, I’ll do that tomorrow. I moved all the remaining rocks from the front of the garden to the sun terrace, where I sorted them by size and thickness. I want to get all the rock laying complete tomorrow (Friday), before Saturday’s expected rain. It took over an hour just to do this as there are still quite a number left (more than 100) and I could only carry most of them one or two at a time (it wasn’t worth loading the wheelbarrow for this task). When I’d finished, my watch (running WatchOS 5.01) told me I’d done six minutes’ exercise and I’d completed nearly 10km walking up and down the garden. I think the latest WatchOS update has messed up the exercise app.
I stopped work on landscaping to do some work on the old garage, finally getting around to making the gap between the garage and workshop larger, so that we can get to the back of the garden more easily. However, the old garage wall is a bit wobbly now, as it’s not buttressed by the old garage door and I need to cut 500mm off the end of it to enlarge the gap. Using frame anchors, I fixed one of the old garage roof joists to the wall, this should hold the breeze blocks together as they are already supported on the opposite side by the stud wall. It was beginning to get dark, but I decided to finish the job today, whilst I still had the angle grinder out (from cutting rocks over the last couple of days). Cutting the blocks was a messy, very dirty job, but at least now we can walk between the two buildings much more easily. However, now the gap is bigger, you can more easily see into the area behind the workshop, where we are temporarily storing a load of old crap that we need to dispose of. I made a screen from two of the pallets the stone was delivered on. It’s not beautiful, but it’s less ugly than the view through to the back. I have also bought some screening to hide the grotty old garage, but I didn’t have enough time, or light, to fix it in place – a job for another time.
Yet another sunny morning. Today, I hope to finish the other side of the rockery. I spent a bit of time looking at the work I’d completed so far and noted a few adjustments I should make. I moved and replaced a some stones and filled soil behind the stones closest to the bog garden. I only moved a small amount of soil, but it made a big visual difference covering over seams and joints. I made the final adjustments to the little header pool (digging out more soil) and it looks much better this time around. I then got to work on the sun terrace side of the boardwalk, taking out more than half of the stones I’d already laid. Again, it was hot work in the bright sun and, again, my watch was not recording this activity as exercise. Moving and sorting the stones yesterday, really speeded up the work today. By lunch time, I had most of the rocks mostly in the places I think they’ll look the best. I really want to get on with doing some planting now, the garden is looking very hard and very beige.
After lunch, I moved the three largest stones, that I’d set aside to create features in the front part of the garden – to break up the expanse of shingle there. This was also where I intended to put the first of the plants (black grass from the front garden and Allium bulbs). After a lot of pushing and shoving I felt the stones were in their final positions and I got to work planting. The clay soil is so hard, I broke the bulb planter and had to resort to my Japanese trowel (it looks more like a dagger than a trowel). It took almost two hours to plant five plants and seven bulbs, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the garden. When I’d finished, the “features” looked pretty insignificant – it’s going to take a lot of plants to get the garden looking good. I used soil I’d dug out to start filling gaps between the rockery stones and shovelled shingle between the rocks and plants in the front half of the garden. I cleared away tools, plants, rubbish etc and called it a day as it was getting dark.
Today marks the end of the major landscaping and the end of part two of the garden project. This phase commenced with the delivery of the oak timbers in July and ended with the last of the rocks being laid – a total of 50 working days over a period 74 days. There are many smaller jobs to complete and no doubt I’ll still be moving some stones around for a while. However, I feel the major work is now complete. From now on, when I work on the garden, I should be able to do something meaningful without having to set aside a whole day.
With that, I’ll conclude this post (although I may add more photos as the garden develops) – 11,000 words and 65 pictures is more than enough.
That’s the end of stage two – the hard landscaping, the garden is now the shape that we want it to be. The next step is to add the plants. See my next post for that story…