A busy weekend in Yorkshire.
Earlier this year, I had a call from my kid sister and her partner asking if I could help them to build a pond in their garden. She sent me the picture on the left to show me what I was up against and asked that I try to fill as much space as possible with the pond. No problem I thought but then I found out that she didn't want to change any of the levels or remove the walls. If this task was to be completed in a weekend, I would need some help so I called our brother in Wales. And so it was that we arrived in Yorkshire one Saturday morning, having driven through rainstorms and expecting to get very wet, to find the garden shown in the picture to the right and a lovely sunny day. The first thing to do was to clear away all the weeds and find out exactly what we were up against. This wasn't difficult and only took about an hour but as our sister was recovering from an operation, it wasn't something that she could have done prior to our arrival. The girls' job on the day was to keep the coffee, tea and lager flowing and they did a great job there.
Once we had cleared the ground, the basic shape soon took place and we could begin to see the possibilities that the garden could support. As our remit was to fill the garden if possible, that's what we would try to do. We were extremely lucky that the hard areas to either side of the pond were pretty much the same level which meant that we wouldn't have too much construction to do. Given the shape that we had to play with, a simulation of a river bend looked as if it might work. The girls had been planning the pond for a number of years and they had collected a large number of rocks of various shapes and sizes that would all be utilised. They also had a few very nice pieces of drift wood that might be incorporated if we could protect the liner from damage. We found a piece of slate that would make an ideal edge for the waterfall but as you can see in the left picture, it was a bit low so I simply cut a piece of plank to fit the gap in the wall to raise the slate to a better level.
One thing that concerned us was that we knew that there would be children visiting the garden from time to time and if you look behind me in the picture to the left, you'll see that there wasn't much room between the fence and where we hoped the pond would be. As I've mentioned on other pages, we don't take risks with safety, especially with children. We knew that we would have to stabalise the banks at either side of the pond and we had already removed two large paving slabs from the other end of the pond which would make a perfectly safe access to the back of the pond, if we could make them fit and find a way to support them.
The first thing to do was to sort out the banks and create shelves for marginals and edging rocks. As you can see from the left hand picture, all we did was to fix some planks into place with a couple of stakes and back-fill with earth that we had previously dug out of the pond hole. You need to be fairly gentle with this because its easy to collapse the whole thing by being a bit too vigourous. Once the pond is full, water pressure will hold the planks rock solid.
Having sorted out the banks, it was time to sort out the slabs for access to the back of the pond. We were extremely lucky that the space we had was exactly the same as the length of the two slabs. So all we had to do was to support them. As you can see on the left, we used some building blocks to provide the support and to bring them up to the level of the concrete at the back of the pond. Note that we have used two levels of blocks. Once we were happy with the levels, we removed the slabs and the top layer of blocks and used more earth to infill around the remaining blocks so that we had a smooth, level shelf with the slab supports as an intergral part as you can see from the right hand picture. And that was the preparation over. Next was some lunch and a nice cool can of lager. Whilst we had lunch, we checked that we hadn't left any sharp pieces of stone or anything else in the hole and made a couple of minor adjustments to the shape.
Now it was time to line the hole. As you'll know from my other pages, I normally use old carpet but the girls didn't have any so they had bought some pond underlay. Its a fibreglass like product that was extremely tough; I couldn't even get a decent cut with a stanley knife and we had to use sewing scissors to trim it. It turned out that we had way too much but better that than not enough and soon the pond hole was completely lined and ready for the liner. As you can see from the right hand picture, we had rather a lot of liner as well and it took four of us to spread it out whilst not catching it on any of the many tools and rocks etc that were lying around. Whatever you do, if you have to adjust anything to get the liner to fit, be careful. Using a saw as I am doing in the right hand picture is fraught with danger since one slip can ruin your liner. The reason that I have socks on is that although there wasn't much sun, the liner was very hot and I needed the socks to protect my feet. There are some advantages to working in the winter.
As soon as we were hapy that we had removed as many of the creases as we could, the water was switched on. Over the next couple of hours, I spent most of the time in the pond arranging folds in the liner whilst the others lifted and pulled it into shape. This is surprisingly hard work because of the weight of the water but it has to be done to minimise the number of creases that will be visible once the liner is full. As we were creating a curve, we knew from experience that there would be a big fold across the middle that would be visible so the best we could do was to try to make it a fairly uniform one. In the left hand picture, you can see that the second level of slab support blocks have been put back in position. We cut an extra piece of liner to go between each block and the actual liner just to give an extra level of protection. At the other end of the pond, we laid the liner for the stream and waterfall and used exactly the same process to minimise folds etc but we also had to ensure that the top liner came over the bottom one and that there could be no leaks. Ideally, I'd use a single piece of liner to be absolutly sure but its often impossible because there would be too much waste.
With the liner in place, the next job was to cement in the slate for the waterfall and the pebbles that would channel the water over the lip. I also used cement to fill the gap between the liner and the rocks that would be below the fall so that the water would have to come forwards into view rather than flowing the wrong side of the rocks. You may call this cheating and you might not like the finish at first as clean new cement doesn't exactly look natural but, in the space of only a few weeks, algae will have colonised the surface of the cement and you won't see the cement at all. Knowing that we wanted the cement to set fast and that we wouldn't need very much, we used the kind that is normally used for fence posts. You have to work fast and be fully prepared but it means that you can get the job done so much faster. As soon as the waterfall was finished, we returned to the slabs at the other end of the pond. The blocks in the water were going to support the front end whilst the existing path would support the back. A generous dollop of cement was added to each of the supports and to the path and the slabs were lowered into place. This is not easy to do gently so be sure that both you and your assistant have a sound footing and that you understand what you are going to do. These things are heavy and fingers are quite delicate. With the slabs in place and levelled, it was time for dinner
By the time we had finished our dinner, the cement had being setting for about two hours so we decided to turn on the pump and see what we had created. I always find this the most exciting part as the water builds up to the lip of the waterfall and you find out just how good your construction work was. As you can see from these pictures, the flow was quite even so we wouldn't have to rebuild anything.
How to start a water flow is always a difficult choice. I usually tend towards a bubbly spring in a small pond which is usually achieved by putting the input pipe through a 90 degree bend and cutting the pipe so it is pointing virtically and under the level of the water.. However, my sister wanted to make use of a riven block that we had found so that the water flowed evenly down ovewr its length. This was a bit of a challenge and a bit of trial and error occurred until we hit on the right answer. WE couldn't just feed the water in from one side as it would flow to the opposite side. We could have drilled a number of holes in the pipe so that the water could spurt out sideways but that didn't work too well and if any of the holes got blocked, the whole thing might fail to funtion. The best result was achieved when I blocked off the open end and then cut a 1/2 cm slit in the pipe for the length of our block. Then by laying the pipe along the back of the rock and covering it with gravel, we had our solution and there was an even flow across the whole of the block.
The next step was to install some of the plants that we had and I decided to use the piece of blue plastic to protect the cement as we had decided to leave the water running. The reason for the cover wasn't to let the cement dry, since that is a chemical reaction and will occur even under water. Rather it was to stop the flow of water from eroding the cement until it was hard enough to cope on its own. Overnight would be fine. By now, we had been working for just under 12 hours so it was time for a shower and a lager and a well earned rest.
Despite the previous day's efforts, we were all up early and got started with disguising the liner. There are two reasons for this; firstly to make the pond look better but equally importantly, to hide it from the sun which will deteriorate it over the years. After a wonderful breakfast of bacon butties which must have got the neighbours hungry because it smelt so good in the garden, we treked off to the local building suppliers to get some more scottish pebbles for the edges. The girls had been collecting pieces of driftwood for years and wanted to incorporate them if possible. The "river bend" would be ideal for the largest piece and after putting in a protective layer of pepples, we placed the driftwood on top and it fitted perfectly. The discolouration of the water is due to the small amount of mud that will always be in the bags of pebbles. We could have reduced the cloudiness if we had washed them but it would all settle down within a couple of days anyway.
The rest of the morning was taken up with tidying up the liner with more pebbles and plants which in time would soften the edges and make the whole pond look more natural. We also buried the filter in the flower bed up by the top of the waterfall and also hid the pipe between the pump and the filter behind the flower bed. As you can see, I wasn't able to hide the liner at either side of the waterfall. This is often very difficult to do if, like here, you have to try to fit into an existing wall. However, what you can't do from below, can always be achieved from above and the plants that have been put at the top of the waterfall will soon grow to cover the liner from view.
I took these pictures only 3 weeks later and already, the plants are settling in and the water is perfectly clear. The green plastic thing in the left hand picture is the top of the filter. It is easily accessible for cleaning but from the house side of the pond, it is completely hidden from view by rocks and plants. The plants in the pond will grow really quickly and, by next year, the girls should be able to split them and share them with their friends. The fish that we bought before we left are all doing well and will soon grow to a decent size.
And so, in only two days, the overgrown hole in my sister's garden had been transformed into as big a pond as we could possibly have fitted into the space. My thanks go to my brother for his invaluable help with the digging and also for the photographs. Also thanks to the girls for the food and the lager which kept us going and for permission to use the photos of their garden for my web site. But most of all, thanks to everyone for a really great weekend.