Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Beginning of the End

Or is that the end of the beginning, well either way the fibreglassing has finally started on the pond! A landmark moment and one we are very pleased to see start.

Before we went away to Greece we had spoken to John (The Fibreglasser) to arrange this to start, but then shock horror on our return it turned out his van had broken down and it would take until next week for the part needed to be fitted (big sad face!).

The pond, empty and ready for fibreglassing
But as luck would have it the van was fixed and we got a call on Tuesday night that John would be over on Wednesday to get started (big happy face! - can you see how easily pleased we are?)

John got started on Wednesday and we should be finished by the weekend (hurrah!).

John and his assistant starting the work.
Initial layer of fibreglass, the final finish will be black.

Round the surface skimmer

So is that the beginning of the end or rather the end of the beginning? Well actually its a bit of both, structurally the pond will be water tight, and then the only remaining works on the pond itself will be to fit the window and set the coping stones on top of the walls (plus one or two minor jobs like touch up the paint and hide the post brackets). So in that sense we are near the end of that part of the project. 

Once that's all done we can get the filters set up and then finish off the landscaping - decking, greenhouses pathways etc. Thinking of those parts of the project make me think we are much more at the end of the beginning, with the pond phase nearly over we can move onto the remaining phases. These will not have the same level of manual labour, nor the same complexity (who am I kidding - the filters may be complex!).

Anyway, to reflect on the fiberglass, once that's finished we need to let it cure before we can wash it down, although the type of chemicals used will be safe for fish (John has been doing this for many years, so knows exactly what he is doing), there can be some residue left at first. Then the pond can be filled with water, at this stage we have to decide whether to add a pond treatment to the water. Treatments can be used to help reduce chlorine and some fish keepers always use treat when adding new water. 

In our current pond we don't add anything when conducting a water change, and have noticed no ill effects to the fish, we tend to only treat when we are aware of a problem, for example if the fish are reacting to a parasite or have injured themselves through boisterous play or jumping up against the coping stones on the pond. We also like to treat blanket-weed, this soon can become a pain in the pond, we have tried an electronic controller in the past, but have found this isn't as effective as adding a specific treatment to clear it. 

Our current Koi Pond
Current fish waiting for their new home to be ready
However we cant add the water until the window and filters are connected, so we still have some time to think about that...


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Competition - Yeo Valley Goodies

The lovely people over at Yeo Valley are offering one lucky reader a lovely prize of a selection of Yeo Valley goodies (pictured right) to celebrate the launch of their new Limited Edition Damson and Plum Big Pot. See the pots for details on winning one of three fruit trees everyday, the trees all come from a nursery local to Yeo Valley.

I must confess to being something of a fan of the Yeo Valley rice pudding (it never lasts long in our house!).

As well as making great tasting yogurt (and that rice pudding) Yeo Valley is also home to one of just a handful of Britain’s ornamental gardens to be certified organic. They’re the work of Sarah Mead who has spent 18 years turning six and a half acres of land into a diverse, seasonal and absolutely beautiful patchwork of ornamental as well as edible planting areas. The garden is open every Thursday until the end of September.

Holt Farm: Vegetable Garden
For more information about Yeo Valley and their farming practices and products, visit for more information and opening times of the garden visit

Holt Farm: Perennial Meadow
To enter, answer the following question.

Which county is home to Yeo Valley?

     a) Wiltshire
     b) Somerset
     c) Devon

Extra entries can be made by sharing this competition on Twitter (include #alternativeeden) or by liking our page and sharing the competition on Facebook.

An additional entry can be made by "following" this blog via Google Friend Connect

Terms and conditions: This competition closes at 23.59 on 5 September2012. Any entries received after this time will not be counted. Entrants must be UK residents aged 18 years or older to enter. By entering this competition you agree and consent to your name being published and by taking part in the competition, entrants are deemed to have read, understood and accepted all of the Terms and Conditions and agreed to be bound by them. The winner will be selected at random from the correct entries and will be announced here on the blog. Please make sure we are able to contact you if you do win.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Douze Points pour la Grèce

Time certainly does fly when you're having fun!

And fun, fun, fun it was when we spent the last week on the beautiful island of Rhodes in Greece. Neither of us have ever been to Greece before, so there's that extra element added to the excitement of going there (as well as attending the wedding of a couple of our friends which was most definitely the highlight of the week). Okay it may not be mainland Greece, just one of its numerous islands lying along the Aegean sea (albeit one of the bigger ones) but from what I've heard, it is as Grecian as you'll ever get (just less hectic).

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Succulents in a Woodland Garden

Succulents are usually associated with dry, open, and sunny locations. Or at least in arid gardens and gravel borders (or containers) sited in a sunny spot with good drainage of which xerophytes need in order to thrive well.

Not so much in a woodland garden under the canopy of trees of which it will be under shade for most parts of the day.

But that's how I found some succulents growing in the beautiful woodland garden of Tregrehan.

The woodland garden of Tregrehan

Talking to the owner of Tregrehan, plantsman and modern plant hunter Tom Hudson a couple of years ago, this is a sort of experiment to see which xerophytes will do well in a woodland garden, where they will be under the canopy of large trees and only getting some sun during parts of the day.

Left - Dasylirion quadrangulatum, Right - three Agave montana
Agave montana
The area where most of these xerophytes are in a semi clearing, under very tall tress where by its sheer size and height, allows some light onto their bases. So they are not totally in the dark. Also, the trees use up any excess moisture from the ground, which compensates for the drainage requirement not usually met by planting xerophytes directly unto soil. And during the winter, the canopy of the trees provide some shelter the plants underneath them.

Agave gentryi
Nolina nelsonii
Far left - Nolina parviflora, Middle - Agave gentryi, Far right - Agave montana
Tregrehan benefits from being in a mild location, where a lot of exotic plants can thrive while in most parts of the UK this is not possible without giving them extra protection during the winter. Despite the sheer size of the place, where he can easily allocate a certain area for a full on, large scale xerophytic planting, he feels it is not the right type of garden for one. The garden has a long standing reputation for being a woodland garden, full of mature and exotic trees and shrubs, of which he is keen on maintaining that way.

Aloe polyphylla
Puya chilensis
So no arid beds in this garden I'm afraid, not even in the future, unlike other Cornish valley gardens. But there is a room for a select few as long as they do well within the woodland area.

It is more than just 'plant and see how it goes' though, as some of the one planted were originally collected from areas where they were growing under a forest canopy (like the Agave montana amongst others), so in theory they should be fine where they are sited now. A few are pure experiments of course, but you'll never know until you try it!

A larger clump of Puya chilensis, with one about to flower
So far so good. We've been to this garden several times and haven't noted any obvious casualties and some of the specimens have bulked up considerably since we first saw them a few years ago. As I've said, you'll never know until you try it and you'll definitely learn something from it.

Is it applicable to a small garden though? Yes, very much so. If you have a sheltered area in the garden (a courtyard garden also springs to mind) that only gets some sun on parts of the day and is shady most of the time, some xerophytes might still do well in those areas and worth giving them a try. Like the ones at Tregrehan.

Mark :-)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Invisible Deadline

The fibreglassing of the new pond won't be done now till early September. The person who will be doing it has a backlog of other related jobs to do first before he gets to do ours. But at least we're in the queue now and that's not really that far away from now. And then of course there's still some more preparation to be done once the fibreglass has cured, before the pond can be filled with water. And that takes time as well.

Now the furniture that I wanted for the new area will take more than eight weeks before it gets delivered upon ordering. Now I didn't expect that at all. It is 'only' plastic furniture after all and I presumed that they have several already in stock, stashed somewhere, ready to be delivered virtually at any time. Apparently that wasn't the case, with pieces only made from scratch once every order is made, injection moulded abroad and then shipped directly from there. Doing the maths, it won't arrive to ours until mid October at the earliest and it'll be autumn by then. We can still use it of course, but I don't know yet what my line of thinking will be come that time, if I'd rather cover/store them somewhere before winter arrives.

From the inside, looking out...
On the plus side, we are definitely on the final stages of the project with all of the major construction already done! We finished cementing into place and rendering the pond window frame last night, as well as laying the floor of the filtration house earlier this week. 

and the outside, looking in.
It is during the final stages however where most of the smaller and fiddly jobs are, a collection of them, of which some will need more precision than others (like doing the pipework on a complicated filtration system, the electrics, etc). All in all, this section, although on the homestretch, still takes time to do and shouldn't be rushed.

Heck, even cleaning the drains take time!!
So with this in mind, I have lifted the invisible deadline and extended it to next year. A deadline that is only visible in my head, within my thoughts and possibly was unrealistic to begin with. 

And I've never felt better, like a big weight was taken off my shoulders!

The final phase is the part that I am looking forward to getting stuck in the most, finding it enjoyable doing these precision jobs, with some of them even therapeutic and relaxing to do. 

At the start of the year I had set a deadline of finishing everything by the middle of this summer. Okay, the weather earlier in the year didn't help but I have also underestimated the amount of time it takes to do some parts of the project. Keeping to this deadline, which is not crucial anyway, just made the project unnecessarily stressful and somehow dampened the enjoyment of doing it.

Concrete slabs in the filtration house have already been laid
And that shouldn't be the case. The journey and reaching the end point of it should be as enjoyable as possible. Hard work yes, but also fun. And rushing things in order to meet 'this' deadline is not a good idea either, it just makes you more prone to mistakes and quality may suffer as a result of this. And if it does, it's still us who will rectify it in the future anyway so might as well do it properly, even if that takes time.

Do it once, do it right!

So no grand reveal this year I'm afraid, it'll have to be next year but I feel that we just bought ourselves extra time, generous time even. To get on with everything else that we need to do to finish the project and attain the best finish that we possibly could ourselves.

Getting there....a glimpse of things to come
And now I feel more relaxed we can take our time now, just to get on at an easier pace. And we can squeeze in more day outs too in between them all. Now that sounds even better!

Mark :-)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Heather and Conifer

Someone asked me recently if I had bought any plants at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show last month and I replied I had bought only a few, including a heather and a conifer. He thought I was joking.

I wasn't. I really bought a heather and a conifer (and yes only a few plants, ran out of time to pick up some more). And very nice ones too.

Heather and conifer for an exotic gardening enthusiast? Of course! and why not? Exotic gardening is a broad and relative term (mainly depending where you are in the world, an exotic plant to some may not be to another) and covers all sorts of plants, not just your stereotypical cannas and bananas associated with the humid tropics, nor agaves with the deserts. 

And that includes heathers and conifers, especially if they originate from another part of the world, and a plus point too if they look unusual. 

So what heather and conifer did I buy?

The heather is Erica cerinthoides, the Fire Heath and is a native plant of South Africa. I got a couple of small plants from the sales table of Trewidden Nursery, of which they also had a bigger plant on display at their gold medal winning floral stand. I was instantly attracted to the intense, almost fluorescent orange colour of the flowers, as well as its beautiful and tactile foliage. Loved everything about it really so I thought it's worth a try. I was meaning to plant them in one of the raised beds but I'm not sure if I ought to now. The spot I was intending on putting it is not ready yet and its getting quite late in the season to possibly plant it. I may have to wait till next year.

Erica cerinthoides
Erica cerinthoides
I'm pleased to see though that even as a small plant it's already in bloom!

Erica cerinthoides
The conifer is Sciadopitys verticillata or the Japanese Umbrella Pine which I bought from the stand of Larchfield Trees. It is a native plant of, you guessed it right, Japan! It is also very slow growing, with the one I go already 6 years old, grown from seed. A test of patience if you decide to cultivate one from seed (but neither is it the slowest plant from seed I have ever come across with).

Sciadopitys verticillata
Sciadopitys verticillata - the photo doesn't do it justice and have found it difficult to take photos of, with our camera anyway
It's a conifer with a graceful and elegant habit, and very tactile too with its soft needles which I can't help but caress every time I hold it. And being so slow growing it is a perfect candidate for pot culture.

Sciadopitys verticillata
I think it'll look great in a glazed pot, don't you think so?

Mark :-)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Without the Gardener...

Nature will always find it's own way to take control.

A plant that is only borderline hardy for a particular location will perish without the gardener giving it ample winter protection...
Cyathea australis...or what was one
Does a plant have to be alive to be featured? Of course not, like this tree fern, Cyathea australis which perished a couple of years ago due to a combination of harsher than usual winter and failure to establish. Unlike Dicksonia antarctica which is able to re-root even if it was chainsawed off from ground level, Cyathea australis needs to be dug up with a good amount of root ball intact in order to be transplanted elsewhere with a good chance of re-establishing itself. But just a trunk with little or no root ball at all, it stands almost no chance at all of re-rooting. It relies on its reserve of starch in its trunk to sustain some visible growth for awhile but is actually on a terminal decline from there.

Much like this one, it had very little root ball but despite the extra care it never really re-rooted properly, and a harsh winter two years ago saw it off for good.

But even if it did re-root, would it have survived that winter? Maybe, but more likely not, it would have died anyway. Not without a thick layer of insulation wrapped around it and perhaps some gentle supplemental heating too on the worst periods of winter. But left on it's own, no chance. It needs the help of a gardener. It is not as hardy as the more common tree fern available here which is Dicksonia antarctica.

Although I wouldn't say that Dicksonia antarctica is 'hardy' either (what is 'hardy anyway?). It is however, the only tree fern that stands the best chance of sailing through winters planted outside for large parts of the UK, certainly in the south. And not just sailing though winters, more importantly, thriving. And if you have it on a sheltered spot, you probably wouldn't even need to protect it at all (with one eye still looking at the weather forecast of course, and some frost fleece on stand by, just in case...).

Some plants, left unchecked and unattended by the gardener, will simply just take over...

Like this climber, which I'll just conveniently refer to as bindweed (although I'm not too certain it is bindweed as such, as the leaves are much smaller, relatively not as vigorous and much easier to control). Well, this plant is definitely capable of growing on pure chalk and is fast smothering the sack barrow we left on op of the pile just a few weeks ago. It makes for a good photo subject anyway.

Gardening is about controlling nature, and without the gardener, nature will always find it's own way.

Mark :-)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Morning at Bobs Pond

The Koi club we are members of had a get together this morning at Bobs pond. Bob is local to us and has offered advice and tips during our build. His own pond is fairly new, after Bob extended his old pond enclosed it with a roof and side walls.

As you can see above Bobs pond has two sheds incorporated into  the design, the left hand side holds the filters and the right hand side is currently a store but may eventually hold a growing on tank. 

 Enjoying breakfast in the garden with a rather nice Trachycarpus fortunei in the back ground.

A stunning selection of koi.

After a while we were even blessed with sunshine (and more breakfast!)

Love the old trunk and miners lamp

Bobs filter house has a lot packed in!

A view across the pond with Zantedeschia in the background, a very useful plant as it will eat up huge amounts of fish waste.

Bob telling us about the one that got away!

Violet enjoying the attention

By the end of the morning the sun was getting quite strong, the fish are shaded, but we baked, hopefully summer is now here!