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.