Water everywhere

So that’s February over, a month in which I traditionally sit inside and growl at the weather, and this year has been no exception. Although there is masses to be done in the garden, everything is waterlogged, and attempts to pull out the smallest weed result in a clot of soggy earth coming away with the roots. It’s depressing, especially since I know the moment the ground dries, plants will rush into growth, and then I shall be playing catch-up until July.

But at least I can clean up my ‘water feature’ – I hate that term, but ‘burn’ is too grandiose for what it is, and ‘ditch’ does not give quite the right impression either. Here it is in its denuded February state (the water has been diverted over winter). By July, the stones will hardly be visible, with primula florindae rampaging all over the place.I have been fiddling with the design for about 30 years. It started as a ditch, was abandoned, re-dug, lined with concrete (a disaster) and eventually underwent a mammoth rebuild about a decade ago. I did some homework in the Pentland hills and noticed how streams actually behave, how they fall from one rock layer to the next, how the bed is usually wider than the water channel, how the exposed layers of stone merge into the turf on each side of the channel. Then I did my best to reproduce this, so that it looked as natural as possible.It’s all completely fake, of course. This – the final fall down to pond level – was originally just a clay bank. I hacked out the clay, chose the stones (rather carefully), and then rammed clay back in behind them. The same is true all the way up. This is the one good thing about yellow clay – it’s nature’s own pond liner.I’m quite proud of the two boulders which form the ‘gorge’ through which the water begins its descent to the pond. They aren’t part of the usual sandstone bedrock, and I imagine they were left behind by a long-gone glacier. They started life in far distant parts of the garden (one of them completely buried). If I could have got heavy machinery to them, I would have, believe me, but I couldn’t, so they were brought to their position by best Stonehenge methods – wooden rollers, levers, ropes and wedges. Dropping huge stones into the hole you have prepared for them is an anxious moment, because you will never get them back out again if you have got it wrong….

Still, big stones are necessary. Small ones look trivial and can’t do the job of spreading water laterally over a flat surface, which is so useful if you need marginal plants to have dampness but not to invade the watercourse.

Another thing – if you poke around hillside streams for long enough, you realise that most big stones and rock slabs have only about a third of their surface above ground. There’s something perverse about heaving a huge stone across the garden and then burying most of it. But it’s worth it. You can sense how a half-buried stone is more natural…

Time to divert the water back to its duty:Usually, when I first let the water through, it disappears down a hole made by the numerous moles, and I have to go round with handfuls of cold yellow clay plugging the leaks. This year, the moles seem to have been quiescent, and the last waterfall springs to life.It took me a long time (and significant wetness) to get the angle of the top stone correct so that the water didn’t just run sullenly down the rock face. But it was worth the soaking just to have the noise of falling water.

22 thoughts on “Water everywhere

  1. Those mossy rocks look like a genuine creek to me. How do you turn the water back on, and how do you decide when to do it? Where has it been going in the meantime, and won’t someone miss it? What if they write and ask–is there an alibi?

    • Ah, I’d never thought of it as a creek – but maybe that’s the word I’m seeking. I’d always imagined a creek was a kind of flattish inlet from the sea – but perhaps I’m wrong? Since your comment requires me to expand upon the technicalities of water diversion, which I avoided in the post on grounds of boredom, it may help if I explain there’s a lateral ditch which drains to a nice boggy bit of woodland, and half a concrete slab acts as a dam in one direction or t’other. The ancient Egyptians have nothing on me when it comes to irrigation. As for when….usually November sometime. As for the alibi – we have more than enough water in Scotland, and no one is likely to worry if some of it goes missing.

      • I see– it’s like flooding the Nile.

        My sense of “creek” in American English is most any moving fresh water that isn’t big enough to be a river. Definitely flowing and not just an inlet. “Mill Creek” winds through my part of Oregon, and historically it powered many mills. But there are little creeks like yours too. I would love a waterfall or fountain but it’s hard to face using an electric pump to power it.

        • I think the Egyptians favoured treadmills or ox-powered water lifts. Surely you could do something like that? Maybe you have a tame moose to go with your creeks? Isn’t Moose Creek a popular place name? Or is that just Canada? Anyway, I’m sure Mr O would build you a treadmill, and you could staff it with Oregonian keep-fit fanatics…

  2. Rollers, levers, wedges etc. you’re a man after P’s heart,Mr K. We used these methods many a time to move stones and flags into place round the garden in Orkney. We even had a large metal pin for levering. What a great job you made of the creek. Worth all that studying in the Pentland Hills.

  3. I like very much your ‘water feature’, which doesn’t look natural in my opinion but it looks as if it’s always been there. Genuine indeed, as Linnie said. Apparently you have plenty of garden parts you’ve been hiding from us, haven’t you?

    • I’ve only hidden my ‘creek’ until now because when the blog started in June it was already mostly hidden beneath plants and I wanted to show the structure….so had to wait until now.

  4. I was a tad worried about you Mr K; had I known you were glowering out at the perpetual rain and growling I would have slept easy. I read somewhere that the Egyptians did indeed use half a concrete slab to divert the waters of the Nile. How clever of you to emulate them. I like your burn/beck/creek/gorge and would have especially liked to have seen photos of your system of pulleys and rollers – that kind of thing baffles me completely. Pleased you’ve re-emerged!

    • Rollers and levers are easy, but building immaculate compost bins is beyond my pay grade (as they say)…Speaking of which, WHERE is your promised post on leafmould? Have I missed it?

      • Blimey Mr K – that was yonks ago, though perhaps it didn’t meet your requirements? Here’s the link – http://theanxiousgardener.com/2011/11/09/making-leaf-mould/ I’ve (very irritatlingly) learnt that many of my posts from blogger days have been badly affected by the transfer to wordpress (though not this leaf-mould one). Photos are blurred or missing completely, spacing all over the place etc. I may have to go through every post I’ve ever done and double check them. Sheesh. Dave

        • Ah, I missed it. But now I have read it, I think there’s some part of the process I’m missing. Chicken wire holding pens – yes. Piles of leaves in a contained heap – yes. But rotting down to that nice consistency – no. What I get is a dried out top layer and then vile anaerobic gunge full of leaf stalks from sycamore and ash. Do you turn the leafmould? Cover it to stop excessive moisture? What? What is the secret?

          • Well, if I told you, it would hardly be a secret would it? Erm – is my answer. The bins are built on a concave, old brick road so drainage is pretty good . Truth be told, my ‘mould was more stratified whole leaf when I got to the bottom of the bin but the majority was good stuff. I do turn them a couple of times – as they ‘condense’ I add more from other bins or holding pens, and amalgamate. If yours is that wet I might consider covering them. One last point, sycamore is a leaf that does take longer to break down than say, oak or beech. I suspect therefore Mr K you are using the wrong type of leaf. Sorry. You may just have to leave them for longer in order to break down. D

  5. Wow, creating your own burn. I don’t think water feature is the appropriate term conjuring up images of Ground Force style ponds!!! It looks very natural, with all that beautiful stone and moss. Fascinating post.

    • Actually, there is an excess of moss – but what can you do? I agree – water feature conjours up entirely the wrong idea. And I hate ponds……mine provides me with the second-worst job of the year (which you will no doubt read about in May).

  6. That’s stunning! I’d wish I had more large boulders in my garden – or even a slope – so I could try to reproduce that sort of natural water feature. As it is, though, the small stream behind the house runs virtually level and is prone to flooding so must remain hidden behind a high bank.

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