Monday, March 21, 2011

A Digger's High

Schefflera kornasii (syn. vietnamensis) basking in the spring sun
It's been another succesful weekend spending time in the garden. After a frosty start to Saturday morning we had glorious sunshine all day Saturday, as well as Sunday. The weather has been definitely very spring like, the best we have had so far this year, and with such fine weather for the time of the year we managed to achieve a lot and feel very accomplished.

Still relatively early in the season but with such generous display of the golden rays of the sun, it really does give you a boost and a sense of extra energy ready to get fully stuck in again. The risk of frosts and low night time temperatures are still there of course but with such a fine weekend weather followed by very good forecasts, you can say that we're at the stage where we can start kissing winter goodbye for now. And yes, make it a very short kiss too.

I thoroughly enjoyed our time gardening this weekend that I just immersed myself getting stuck in without pausing to take many pictures. Actually whilst doing things thoughts came to mind; "I could blog about this, I could blog about that, etc.", and ought to be taking as many photos as I can. But I just wanted to get stuck in and not worry too much with distractions such as pausing to take photos, hehe! Well I'm not really doing myself any favours by slacking off in the photography department, but there are moments in life when you just want to do and experience things without feeling the need to document it, content with the experience of the moment and the good memories that come with it. And such was this weekend. After a long winter, it was nice to finally see so much sun and be able to do loads!

Saying that, I wasn't completely hopeless and did manage to take a few photos now and again. Mostly it was during the end of day when I actually had more time to do nothing else but take snaps, whilst still reasonably bright outside.

We've done the usual clearing out, tidying up, as well as planting out a few more plants so they start to establish and get ready for the growing season. But the main highlight of the weekend was that, after a long winter wait, we were finally able to resume digging the big pit again!

The big hole just before autumn last year
We started hand digging for our new Koi pond summer last year. Yep, it will have to be 100% hand dug as there's no access for a mini digger, even for a micro digger, and the soil and rubble removed will be re-used to raise the ground level of the area as this part of the garden gradually slopes down towards the back. To make things complicated, and something we weren't expecting, is that this section only has about 18" of good quality top soil and a few inches of subsoil. After that we've hit solid chalk.

And solid chalk, as you can imagine, is difficult to hand dig as you have to chip it bit by bit, either with a digging fork or for the more compacted parts, with a pick axe. Whenever we use the pick axe you can see sparks flying whenever you hit some of the flint within the chalk bed.

Hand digging a koi pond, which started last summer
The progress of the dig would have been much quicker if we were able to use machinery, but since we can't it has become a longer process. Although hearing from a few people who have done similar digs, they reckon we would still have needed to hand dig out the chalk bed as the hydraulics of the mini digger will not cope with it, so it was better not to bother and just hand dig from the start. Plus it's a rather big hole (22' x 11' x 2.5' deep) so there's plenty of soil/rubble to remove. Looking at the figures, it doesn't seem deep enough for an 'ideal' Koi pond depth but as the surrounding ground level will be raised then the intended outcome won't be the same depth. It will be much, much deeper.

Anyway, I won't go much into the technical detail nor the full history of our 'big dig' just yet, I'll save that for another blog entry. 

So we started the dig in the summer and carried on till late in the season, then stopped in the autumn so we can concentrate on sorting out the rest of the garden and get it ready for the coming winter. We were intending to resume digging during winter but found out that it was too much of an uphill battle to do so at that period!

It was such a wet (and exceptionally cold at the start) winter, almost like it was raining everyday, and the pit quickly became a mud pool. On a dry day the chalk bed becomes hard, dusty, and solid but when wet it becomes a pool of squidgy, incredibly sticky and messy pool of mud. If you walk on it, the chalk mud quickly stick at the bottom of your wellies and the layer thickens the more you tread on it, gaining an inch or so of height in a short space of time. And the rubble you dig out becomes incredibly heavy, much more than the dry weight as the chalk swells up and retains moisture. Way too much hard work and very messy, so with reluctance we had to abandon digging for the rest of the winter months.

On dry periods the chalk hardens up that you can easily sweep up smaller debris into bigger heaps
But we've had a run of dry days lately, and with such a glorious sunny weekend it was the perfect time to resume what has long been delayed :-)

And so, we got stuck in again, chipping, shovelling, and wheel barrowing the rubble and making huge piles of chalk all over. One by one, bit by bit but we're getting there. All the digging we've done last year toned up our muscles and had resulted in weight loss too (a nice bonus!). But we haven't done it for months so I was apprehensive that we're both going to feel sore and achy again after such a long digging hiatus. But to my pleasant surprise only a few minor aches and pains ensued, nothing too bad to make life uncomfortable. They do say muscle has 'memory', looks like it has and it has remembered very well. 

A few of the strapping lads of our local Koi club have hinted at their willingness to help with the dig, after all most of them have been through to what we are currently doing. But we're getting by for now just by ourselves, reserving the need for their help instead on the more technical aspects of the pond build later in the year. And that will require more brain power. At least with digging you won't need much brain bending, you can pretty much carry out digging and go on mental auto pilot, doing it while thinking of something else, like a vacation to somewhere exotic, haha! :-)

Despite the obvious hard work, getting stuck in has given us a 'Digger's High' at the end of the day. Probably both from the fact that we have started doing again something that would lead to something we wish to achieve; and at the same the release of Endorphins from doing all that physical exertion, like what you feel after a good workout or after a long jogging session. Or it could just be the sun, casting its smily face on winter weary gardeners/garden makers raring to get stuck in again. 

It's a fantastic feeling, the high of physical exertion and a feeling of accomplishment. And whether you dig out a pond, dig up your plant borders or allotment, the satisfaction you get is equally good. Doing what you enjoy despite the hard work and seeing that something good is happening, something you wish to achieve is unfurling right in front of your eyes and it's you that's making it.

Latest photo, taken last Sunday night
So there you go, I have taken a few photos last weekend, most of them were spring shots of plants, the rest were actually of the highlight of our weekend which was the resumption of our big dig. There's a fair amount more left to remove but we're almost there, ready for the next step of the pond build.

I suppose the photos also serve as a preview to our new garden. Our blog is mostly about the two main sections of our garden: the Old garden which we started to develop nearly six years ago, and the New garden which we started to develop only last year. The old garden continues to evolve, while the new garden will unfurl as we carry on developing it. Both are, or should I also say will be exotic gardens but the new garden (with a bigger koi pond) will have a different feel to the old garden, leaning more towards a more modern or contemporary feel to it. Anyway, more about this on our future posts! :-)



  1. That's an impressive hole... Don't pull a hernia, whew! I know what you mean by wanting to get lost in the act of gardening itself without carrying a camera with you 24/7. As a blogger you want to document it all, but as a gardener you just want to plant and move on with life. Tis a constant battle I suppose, and you win some and loose some too. Welcome to spring, lets not talk about those cold nights anymore..

  2. That hole looks like the size of a swimming pool! Very impressive indeed. And just as impressive is the fact that you're going to reuse that soil in your own yard. I look forward to seeing how this project progresses.

    :: Bamboo and More ::

  3. You have quite put me off. One of my plans for the front garden is digging a pond (there is a pathetic little puddle there now). I want to create a frog habitat. But you have made it look hard. I suppose it will be worth the work though. I will follow your progress before I start mine....I have other fish to fry before I begin that project. As for photos...I only use a small compact camera that is always in my pocket. I can just whip it out, snap a few and then get back to it.

  4. that pond will look amazing when its finished. Great work guys. All you need now is a little footbridge over the middle :D

  5. Good lord, that is one heck of a project...makes mine feel very easy! good luck!

  6. I would be tempted to fill the pit with plants, like the Lost Valley at Heligan ...

  7. Wow! It will be SOOOO worth it! I love koi ponds, and yours looks like it will be fabulous! Keep digging!

  8. That is quite impressive. I thought at first I was looking at a future swimming pool with the first picture of the koi pond having what I thought would be a step or similar. I look forward to seeing more of your project.

  9. It is so easy to lose yourself in gardening, especially when the weather turns as good as these past few days, very often three hours feel like only 30 minutes has past. Cant wait to see the end result of your pond.

  10. That's some hole. It's going to be a spectacular pond - and who needs a gym when you have a garden.

  11. Hi Gerhard, we do need the soil to build up the ground level but it's also amazing how much savings we've had just by re-using them. It would have cost a fortune to get rid of all of them :)

    Hazel, don't be put off :)Hopefully you won't have a hard base to deal with like we do so digging shouldn't be that difficult. A frog pond would be nice, we have one and it's a delight to see them spawn and grow, and they help keep garden pests at bay too!

    Chef_uk, no footbridge on this one :) If we put one we'll be able to see over the neighbour's fences, hehe!

    Thanks Clive! I reckon your garden project is just as labour intensive.

    b-a-g, I love the Lost gardens of Heligan, but we've got our mini version of it somewhere else already :)

  12. Thanks Nat and HolleyGarden! Nat, I'll try not to pull a hernia, ouch! And yes we'll keep digging till we get there :)

    Bom, we do get the swimming pool comment often. The build will be nearly identical, except that it will be fibreglassed instead of tiled, and no chlorine :)

    Alistair, I culd garden all the time especially with such fine spring weather. Work gets in the way though!

    Missy, I agree! It's a fantastic source of physical exercise. You may not get the intensity but the constant physical exertion is just as good, if not better than spending an hour in the gym.

  13. That big dig is ....very big! But I hear what you are saying about the feelings! And I believe you sleep well!
    Schefflera in the garden? So cold hardy?

  14. Hi Tatyana, we have several Scheffleras in the garden and all but one sailed through last winter which was harsher than normal :-)

  15. I understand you may have a plan, but would it be worth building a small wall around the hole so you get your depth that way?
    What is going to happen to the old pond you built not so long ago?
    I am well impressed!

  16. I'm really impressed Mark, that is quite an undertaking! Will enjoy seeing it come together, and learning about Koi pond construction - rather different in requirements to my small wildlife pond. Your comment about sometimes just wanting to enjoy the experience rather than stopping to take photographs made me smile - I get the same feeling at times, and frequently laugh at myself when I pause what I am doing to fetch the camera in case I want to use a photo in a blog post... Enjoy your digger's high, you've clearly earned it!

  17. My goodness I'd need a lot of chocolate and coffee to keep me going digging a hole that size! It's lovely to see people so committed to their passion - well done guys!

  18. Hi Libby, that's the plan after we've done all of the digging, put in a concrete foundation and build up walls afterwards. It will be a raised pond so we get the depth ideal for a Koi pond :)

    Thanks Janet, still enjoying the Digger's High, but also looking forward to finishing it!

    Hi Martin, it's chocolate that keeps us going :) The more we dig the more excuse we've got for more chocolate, yum!

  19. Wow that is an impressive amount of very difficult work. Can't wait to see the finished project.
    Goldenray Yorkies


Thank you for taking the time to reply to our post, we love reading comments and hearing your views.

Due to the increased level of spam, please note comments on older posts are moderated and only published after approval. All new comments are read and any spam is deleted.