Wednesday, 21 April 2010

My Pond Pledge

There are a million more urgent things on my ‘to do’ list. For a start, there are great lumps of plaster missing from the walls of my living room, there is a hole in the ceiling of my bedroom and I still have no central heating or hot water. I had to push all of these to the back of my mind to focus on what I felt to be the really important issue – the lack of a pond in my garden. Ever since a lone palmate newt crawled across my patio last autumn and I pledged to create a pond for IYB, it has been weighing on my conscience.

Wanting to get started, but slightly overwhelmed by the task ahead, I did what any sensible person would do – I invited my parents to lunch and then set them to work in the garden. Soon, we had marked out the shape of the pond and removed the topsoil. My dad, experienced creator of many ponds, advised me on the best way to make sure that it was level, so that the liner wouldn’t show. My mum, clearly, disagreed with his method and assured me that there was a better way to check the levels. An argument ensued and continued to rumble on for the rest of the afternoon.

Days after they had gone home, I was still digging, gaining a few extra inches of depth and a larger pile of subsoil, every day. Then, on a bit of a whim, I decided that what I really wanted was a bog garden, or more technically, a marsh garden, so, next to the pond, I dug an area roughly 20cm deep and used up the liner that was left over from my dad’s latest pond. I punctured the black plastic with a fork and back-filled it with the clayey subsoil.

My husband was the next to be enlisted to help and had to completely take over the pond-digging after an unfortunate incident with the wheelbarrow, which twisted and overturned in my hands, leaving me with a bad back and teaching me a valuable lesson about buying the cheapest available tools from B&Q. Progress slowed as he hit a layer of flinty stones. My neighbours on both sides, who I fear watch all of our exploits with raised eyebrows, poked their heads over fences on opposite sides of the garden and made the same joke about digging to Australia.

Eventually, my husband decided that he had dug enough. We spent a small fortune on liner and then ages picking stones out of the bottom of the hole. Next to go in was a protective layer of sand and when that ran out, we improvised with cardboard. Once the liner was in position, we suddenly realised that we had a bit of a problem. Between our new pond and our outside tap, was a back yard, a garage, an access lane and approximately 90 foot of lawn. Realising that I was in for a long slog, I set to work, filling up the watering can. Our neighbours on the left, taking pity on us, offered us the use of their outside tap and hose. Our neighbour on the right, seeing that the hose still didn’t reach, offered us his, so that we could extend it. The water level of the pond rapidly began to rise.

When it was full, we cut the liner to size, wishing that we had listened to the man in the shop who thought that we were buying too much, placed some stones around the edge and rolled back the turfs. Then we stood back to admire our new pond. I felt an immense sense of achievement. Not only had we created something, which looked, amazingly enough, OK, and would give us pleasure for years to come, we had done our little bit for biodiversity.

At that moment, a pond skater arrived out of nowhere. Within half an hour, there were tiny beetles whizzing about in the water and hoverflies buzzing over the surface. The following day, my neighbour on the right told me that he had thrown (although I’m sure he meant to say 'delicately placed'!) a couple of juvenile newts over the hedge, which had been hiding under a sheet of plastic in his garden. They haven’t made an appearance in the pond yet, but it is surely just a matter of time.

Now you do it
Ponds are fantastic for wildlife and a declining habitat type, so creating a new one in your garden is one of the best ways to make your garden a little bit greener. I have just discovered a brilliant step-by-step guide to making a wildlife pond on the Pond Conservation website, which I wish I had found earlier!

Advice on how to make a bog garden seems to vary - with opinion differing as to whether the soil should be nutrient-rich or nutrient-poor. Perhaps it is worth experimenting to find which method gives the best results.

I still haven't quite decided whether to plant up the pond with natives, or leave it to mother nature and see what turns up without my input. I would be fascinated to see what arrives naturally, but I also want my garden to look pretty this summer...dilemma! I would love to hear from anybody who has resisted planting their pond who can tell me how long it might take for mine to look half decent!