Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Good intentions

Driven mainly by a sense of mounting panic, I've managed to get out and begin on the long list of spring chores, renovations and refurbishments. I may not be getting through them very fast but at least I've made a start.
One of the main problems is not having any muscle. My husband could always be relied upon for heavy work, such as excavating planting holes or digging things up that had outstayed their welcome. At the moment, he's still convalescing following chemotherapy, so it's up to me to shift stuff that needs to go to the tip, or haul home supplies of cobbles or horse manure or whatever. He waves encouragement to me from the safety of the living room, but sometimes it's twice as difficult to motivate yourself if you're on your own.
Anyway, that's enough self-pity. Onwards and upwards, that's what gardening is all about, particularly if you're a Clematis armandii, which is supposed to be adorning the fence on the north side of my garden, but is in fact sticking out its tongue at me from the safety of next door's garden. Or the holboellia at the end of the garden, which is inflicting a policy of lebensraum on its neighbours. Keeping these two plants in check requires a stepladder and a ruthless attitude with secateurs. (I find it's best to put myself in a bad mood first: try watering the garden with a kinked hose, or trying to open a bag of compost with a pair of blunt scissors.)
One of the main tasks this year has been to sort out the area around the pond. When we first built the pond, we simply turfed round it until someone had a better idea. The turf was fine, but proved less than practical, as the pond is one of the places everyone wants to sit or stand, so the grass would get very muddy.
The answer seemed to be some sort of hard surface, but what? Matching paving to the terrace outside the living room would be nice, but expensive. A boardwalk? Too slippery. In the end I decided on cobbles mixed with pebbles, laid on a surface of sharp sand. This would allow the stones to bed in, and find their own level. And the pebbles would be too big and heavy to get flicked up onto the lawn in the way that gravel would. The final flourish would be box balls, to match the box balls outside the living room doors. I thought I'd use smaller ones, so that perspective would make them look further away (and thus make the garden look larger), and the balls themselves would soften the hard angles of the pond.
All I had to do was take the turf off with a spade, plant the box, put down the sand and arrange the cobbles and pebbles. When you write these things down, they sound so simple, don't they? And in fact the job didn't really take any skill, just effort, but by the time I'd finished, it had taken me three weeks and a knackered knee. Still, it's done now and the whole area looks a lot better. (I used the discarded turf to patch up other bits of the lawn that needed repairs. It also makes fantastic compost: just chuck it grass-side down in a corner and it rots down in no time.)
Another back-breaking task was laying stepping stones along a shady bit of lawn that leads to the shed. I used plain concrete slabs from B&Q that cost about £3 each, and laid them on yet more sharp sand. They took days of levelling, wiggling and stamping to get them anything like straight. Oh, yeah, and I knackered the other knee in the process ...