BEFORE we tell you about our pond building adventure – let me tell you about this Calendar we made to raise funds for Clean Coasts Ballynamona. It’s GORGEOUS (we think) and you can get yours online here:
And now the story of how NOT to build a garden pond!
In theory at least, it sounded like it’d be fairly easy. Dig a hole, fill it with water, lash in a few plants, photograph the millions of dragonflies that are bound to arrive on their hols – Happy days!
Right? Riiiiighhhttt? Ya, wrong.
So the placing of the hole was the first mistake. We put out a few stakes in the grass and decided on where the pond would be. We thought we’d picked a good spot – but then the guy who renovated our little house came along and said WOOOOOAAAH – I hope you’re not planning to dig anything there are ye??
Ermm.. we were actually… why?
Which is how we learned where the big ESB cables were buried.
Lesson 1 – Know what’s under the ground.
So we realised at that point we really didn’t know what we were doing. It was advice time, before we did something that resulted in the house falling down or certain death. We heard about people living nearby who had a pond and we made contact with them – bold out weren’t we? – and asked if we could see their pond. Happily they didn’t think us cheeky – or at least they didn’t say so (and yes they’ve invited us back since and haven’t hidden their kids or valuables from us) – and they showed us their beautiful pond which they made all by themselves – along with a photo diary! Pure inspirational. So generous.
Their pond was so alive – so lush, so gorgeous. We were super excited. And they showed us how big it was originally. Yes, originally. We didn’t think of how it would ‘grow in’ if we did it the way we envisaged – which was a natural look, not neat expensive granite slabs with clean and pristine (and permanent) edges. So we had to allow for that. Whatever size we thought wanted, maybe double it. That was the advice. And we took it. Gratefully.
So back we went to the garden with our pegs. Moved everything down a few meters, and out a couple more on either side. We marked out an 8×4 meter rectangle and admired our handiwork.
That was Lesson 2 – allow for shrinkage – lots of it.
We were converting a garage at the time and our builder guy had a digger. We asked him to dig the hole to 1.4 meters. (He wouldn’t let us do it, sad face on hubby…) We arrived at that depth by reading about fish and so on. So along he comes and digs out what looked like a mass grave.
By now we must surely have looked like the weirdo neighbours, the blow-ins with murder on their minds… It was bad enough that we were allowing the lawn to go partly wild meadow, but sure it looked lovely and there was method to our madness.
Lesson 3 – ask the guy digging the hole how much he’ll charge before he digs it.
But in fairness, he didn’t charge much. He’s a decent sod, and he removed a lot of decent sods – too many as it turns out, because we forgot to tell him that it had to be sloped to allow any critters to get out if they fell in. No-one wants a soggy hedgehog corpse on their conscience…
So Lesson 4 – be SUPER clear with everyone as to what the plan is (Indeed, Lesson 1 should probably have been – MAKE A PLAN for people to get super clear about!!)
So we have this giant hole, and then the guy has to go get some (OK lots) of the soil back to partially refill and shape the hole… #cringe and #morto. At this point, far too late some might say (some did say, in truth, and they were right) we got expert advice. Real hardcore expert advice – and she agreed to come and direct the digger dude AND she advised us on what to use for liner (we had decided on a different liner but that wouldn’t have been thick enough for the pond size – eeek!!) AND she put it in for us!! At this stage we are reeeeeally learning the value of expert advice.
Y’see we realised that much as we liked the idea of doing this ourselves, neither of us had the time. And while it sounds easy for some people no doubt, it’s just not our bang. And so, she directed the digger dude. They both had a bit of craic – no doubt!
Then this cool thing happened. She noticed bees. Possibly rare ones. SUPER exciting! And turns out – they were rare! Some of them at least. (She really knows her stuff this woman, and is married to an entomologist).
In the small amount of time that they had between digger dude finishing and us getting our act together re buying the liner, these cute little bees made little burrow homes in the wall of the mass-grave pond. What a privilege! So next thing was what to do with them. She got advice, and the decision was to move them to a mound of clay soil we had left over from the dig. So we packed their tiny little bags and moved them a few meters West and hoped for the best.
And it’s always nice to have new neighbours – especially ones who are vital to our survival…Last time we checked they were buzzin’!
Lesson 5 – check for wildlife that you may have disturbed!
So back to pond building – we lined the newly sculpted hole with old carpet and carpet ends from a shop to go under the lining so that it’s not torn by stray stones or, as was our case, stray tree roots. (Don’t use wool, because that rots and you’re back to exposed the lining).
Then she placed the giant lining and patted it down. She cut the edges of the grass with a bread knife, literally, and tucked the lining in under it.
This looked unattractive for a couple of weeks as it died away, but the new growth came back as she said it would, and it looks seamless. Truly.
She doesn’t normally do all of that but she must have felt sorry for us and our bumbling ways – plus we plied her with pretty good coffee, maybe some cake… anyway hurrah!! We were nearly there!!
Next came the filling. It took over 50 hours to fill the pond – which was now too deep (see Lesson 3.5 re plans) because we learned that adding fish, counter-intuitively, is NOT good for biodiversity so it COULD have been half the depth easy – but sure I suppose we can go for a dip in it now if we really wanted to… and the cat seemed to enjoy his swim.
(I jest, no he didn’t, absolutely did not, and thank God we put in the slope. Have you ever seen a drenched cat? It’s kinda heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time..)
Anyhoooo, pond filled and fewer weird and vaguely disapproving looks from the passers by and we felt very optimistic indeed! Excited actually. I sent a text to P to tell him the pond was filled – nearly there! And he replied – “It’ll be teeming with life soon!!” I thought soon meant maybe a few weeks? Soooo exciting – and then pond lady came with some plants, and some river water – something to do with microscopic creatures and microbes. This was because we didn’t want to have pumps or any of that jazz. We wanted this to be a self-sustaining, self-cleaning self-oxygenating pond. She told us what to expect water colour wise (algae adjusting and fighting for supremacy) and she was bang on. If we hadn’t known we would have been alarmed by all the colour changes so
Lesson 6 – Get professional advice re planting the pond. And trust it.
After a few days (note – not weeks) a water lilly she planted floated to the top and bloomed. We were weak, beside ourselves with glee and then along came the first magnificent glorious dragon fly. Just like in our fantasy!
Happy Sigh…Very quickly we had lots of weird insect and creepycrawlies and I must say I’m a convert. I used to HATE crawling things but now I feel a new and special kind of affection. After all, we’re all in this together are we not? I like that I’ve made them a new little home and I like trying to learn their names – always a challenge for me, regardless of how many legs and /or wings you have…it’s not personal.
Next thing I know we have people asking us for advice which was new – and kinda great. Because we did learn a lot, and like our new friends with the shrinking pond, we are happy to share. Which I told Proinsias, which is how we ended up giving a talk in Garryvoe Hotel on how not to build a pond. Which brings me to
Lesson 7 Be aware that if you speak to Proinsias, you’ll end up writing a blog or giving a talk or something mad like that before you know what time or even day it is… LOL
ps It’s literally midnight as I type. See what I mean??
pps I’m sure you’re dead curious – the money: €700 max all in reckon.ppps: The hardcore expert was Frances Gallagher, referred by Daniel @Carewswood! Here’s her FB page
More pics of life in the garden below!
MAJOR PS GUYS!!!::
Today – March 1st 2020 we discovered FROGSPAWN!! We are beside ourselves with glee – woohooo!!! Check it out: