Monday, 6 August 2018

Twin ponds

Managing low maintenance ponds

Two ponds together
When we moved in at the millennium I shifted six barrow loads of soil a day for six months as I dug out two ponds. Most of it was topsoil although in the metre deep centre it was pure sand. All of this was used to raise areas destined to be new borders. Topsoil is a precious commodity and gardeners who throw it away need their head examined.
I still find unchanged streaks of sand in my borders albeit as a none digger not very often. Come to think of it, if I dug it would be better mixed in! This is in contrast with Bolton Percy cemetery where clay/sand subsoil brought up by the grave digger soon turned to soil. 
My first thought was to have one elongated pond as if it were a large flower border. Silly if I wanted to cross to the other side and one leak in the lining would be a disaster. So one pond became two and our former e-mail address became ‘twinponds’ 
In my mind’s eye the slightly ridged grass path between them would be a kind of Monet bridge manqué. No one has ever noticed. 

All life is here
My only post about my ponds was my fourth one ever, six years ago. How things have changed! Recently it had a small flurry of readers and its about time I said more.
Previously in my innocence I thought most ponds were just lined holes in the ground. Apparently most are works of major engineering with filters, pumps and varied contraptions and even drains. 
The only concession to fashion I should have made was to direct all my roof water to the pond as my friends Mike and Isobel did with great success at about the same time.

I do have depressions at the lowest point of my garden which hold temporary flood water
But not all of it
One thing I did get right (for me) was to NOT dig the two ponds where the garden naturally floods. What chaos there would have been if everything spilled out when part of the garden was under water for three months this year. There are of course many circumstances where a pond which receives natural drainage or even a stream is better low down.

The issue of clear water

Dollop of blanket weed together with oxygenating plant
This was the focus of my previous post on blanket weed, a filamentous algae one of which we called spirogyra at school. Although cast as a monster it beneficially sucks nutrients from the water. To some it is unsightly but it does have the advantage of creating crystal clear water around it. 

There is very little light gets through to charge up the blanketweed
Brenda curses my duckweed
I still have blanketweed but it is no longer a problem because it is mainly suppressed by oxygenating plants and floaters such as water soldiers and dare I say duckweed. 

True mares tail, hippurus will potentially fill your pond
Also my genuine mares tail and other bottom rooters such as rather vigorous glyceria and dwarf  bullrush. True mares tail is not the same primeval villain as equisetum but a higher plant easily controlled in a small pond like mine. But not in a lake! 

As it happens this pond was completely pervaded with hippurus. That was before I carefully sprayed sections with Roundup
Water lilies are of course mandatory

Reader Anne-Marie O'Connor who sent me this picture observed that the water lilies had escaped their pots. Just like mine! 
My pond has generous plant cover especially in Summer.
It not only suppresses unwanted algae it provides cover for the newts, tadpoles and fish from the heron.

I doubt if the strings dissuaded the heron from wading in. The idea was quickly abandoned
Early development of the two ponds
For the first year my ponds meandered in different and changing ecological directions as different plants took turns to take over. Obtaining a balance between animal and plant was always my aim. I did all the usual things such as introducing ram’s horn snails. At one stage I bought in that tiny algae-eating translucent crustacean called daphnia as a general cleanser and perhaps it was. After adding to the then soupy green water the population of these so called water fleas exploded. They later disappeared but I like to think they persist in my watery firmament.

My early pond was never like this
Nature did her thing and for the last sixteen years I have had crystal clear water - although you might regard some of my plants in the melange a little bit dodgy.

Our friend Jackie Barber who at the time still had her water plant nursery in Ripon advised us to avoid duckweed as if it were a plague. Brenda constantly reminds me how I failed (Every time she walks round).
Only once has it been a problem and I rather like it. It gets dragged out when I use my plastic scarifier to remove surplus oxygenators, blanket weed, twigs and leaves. (And sometimes water soldiers)
The latter is almost the only maintenance my ponds ever get. Perhaps on average two-monthly and in total six hours a year. Readers discuss this in my earlier post. 

The goldfish sometimes bask in the sun
In the twin ponds we have goldfish. In my smaller formal pond in the front garden shubunkins and orf.
We do not feed them and consequently they do NOT come running when we appear. Indeed it is a surprise to see the goldfish when they peep out from under a water lily. It’s good to know the heron is not winning completely.

The fish are in there somewhere
My square formal pond in the front garden is a metre from a dwarf wall on two sides and is sheltered by plants. The heron does not have ready access. Only once when we left a  branch in position as a hedgehog rescue did the heron wade in. (We now leave a bowl of water)
We delight in watching the elegant gliding golden orf and colourful shuffling shubunkins from an upstairs window. To see them closer you need to stand there and silently freeze.

Crested Newts 

Newt in Peter's pond
At the time I started blogging we witnessed a local conflict regarding planning permission. Resident crested newts pervade our local environs. Some of us regard them as common as muck but of course they are a protected species. A local industry hired an ecological company in the hope they would not find them. A local farmer was developing a pig excrement digester but was happy to have them. 
Guess which company found newts everywhere? Our own ponds  were exceedingly well documented. 
Sadly dear Harry is with us no more to take lovely pictures.

Water weeds

After a few years the floating water soldiers need thinning
Weed is what all water plants are affectionally called and they are all natural somewhere. Many are strong growing and some will potentially take over. I find most above-ground aquatics and bog plants are easily confined by spraying with Roundup. You only need the same care you use elsewhere in the garden. Fear not if a little spray alights in the water. Simple mathematics tell you that it is hugely diluted and thereby rendered harmless.
My ponds are of course isolated and not near running water which might come under agricultural regulations.

Edge planting

The dierama is in more or less normal soil
My plastic lining is so folded at the edge that most of the soil is only flooded when the pond is completely full. In most cases permanently submerged soil wicks up water by varying degrees to the soil above it. Elsewhere surrounding soil is banked so high that roots need to penetrate down to find extra water. Saturated soil merges into bog into normal soil  I like to think this is closer to nature than the usual sharp divide from aquatic to bog plant to normal!

We have been filling the pond
The skunk cabbage wanders between water and bog
The dactylorhiza orchid loves the moist ground. The ornamental equisetums are confined by the pond and the lawn. Young frogs love the ground cover
There are moisture loving bulbs too
Read my earlier posts and question me
I wrote the above without reference to my earlier post. When I re-read my original epistle I was pleased at how little (for me) I have repeated myself. If you have found this of value please click this link back.
I thought in my previous post was some quite interesting correspondence of value to readers. To this end if you have any questions or anecdotes about your own ponds I would love to hear about them. Just click comments and share your wisdom (or even confusion)

On further research I find I have written about my ponds twice-more before.

Billy Mills visited his grandma and took some wonderful pictures of pondlife

And yes, I have written about crested newts before

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Should gardening be evidence based?

As clear as mud
I keep reading it should be and then find myself informed of  a research finding I think inappropriate. Why should my hackles rise when evidence based action in life is my fundamental philosophy?

An alternative expression of the importance of evidence is it should be supported by experimental data or that horticulture should be science based.

I think my problem is that evidence is frequently flimsy and often contradictory. Not just in gardening but through the world over.

I spend hours avoiding 'fat free products'
Where excellent research has been done in fields such as health and nutrition it is usually overlaid by misreporting, wrong conclusions, special interest lobbying, propaganda and fear of litigation. How often do I read a report of good science interpreted by a none scientific journalist whose account is littered with repetition of fashionable dogma. Even scientists themselves sometimes seem to say “my research points another way but carry on eating fat free food and taking the statins” 

Much good science is lost for the sake of a cheap headline or company profit. Much is rejected because it does not sit with established belief.

Reasons to be cautious
I sometimes lose confidence in horticultural research for the following reasons.

1. Much research is of poor quality. It is frequently done with insufficient duplications, very few safeguards and is statistically invalid. However feeble it may be, it is often represented as fact on the net! Worse it is inflated and republished by vested interest.

Insights come from very simple things

2. Although excellent insights worthy of further investigation often come from very simple trials carried out by inexperienced or ‘narrow’ researchers it is premature to proclaim it as fact.

Peter likes to see for himself
3. Much research is carried out with vested interest in sight. Scientist Peter Williams says before I believe it I should ask who is paying. Ask the right research questions and you get your required answer. If the answer does not suit you there is no legal requirement to publish.

4. I fear much research is contradictory and cannot be repeated by others.

Many professional composts are honed to grower's needs and are unsuitable for the gardener. Many amateur's composts are just rubbish
5. Components of gardening knowledge comes from a vast diverse range of specialist fields such as agriculture, commercial glasshouse production, market gardening, ecology and garden centre trade - and that merely scratches the surface of numerous fields of endeavour and their subsidiary components. I have always considered there was much transferable knowledge between them but unfortunately precise research is honed to a sector’s individual needs.

6. Gardening is so diverse and there are so many variables such as the crop, soil, weeds and climate. Such criteria might change from day to day, season to season or one place to another. 

It makes me happy
7. What is a gardening measure of success? Is it beauty, yield, profit, labour saving, producing pristine produce, supporting the environment or personal satisfaction? Every gardener’s needs are different. To me the measure of success is to be happy and healthy even though to critics a gardener’s methods might not pass muster!

8. And of course many so called facts are supported by no evidence at all. There are few restrictions on gardening product claims

A more positive view
There is high quality gardening information out there and without unbiased investigation where would we be? My own personal view is that a knowledge of biological sciences helps you sort the wheat from the chaff but then some of the best gardeners I know have no science at all. Gardening takes its adherents from diverse fields of endeavour.

In my youth I got even more satisfaction than now from gardening and perhaps made my best garden when I had no technical knowledge at all. 

Here are a few suggestions how to build up gardening knowledge

1. Initially devour all gardening reading you can, but learn to question its provenance. Is it written by a hack journalist who has trawled the literature or a gardener writing from genuine experience?

I try something different with my tomatoes every year

2. Go beyond the level endlessly recycled by gardening television and gardening magazines. It’s often good stuff but after a couple of years you will have heard it all before.

Decent gardening courses are rare and college extension none existant
3. Listen to gardeners within their own specialist fields but don’t let your respect for them blind you when they spout nonsense about things like bonemeal. They too have grown up with recycled information.

Read related science
4. Read about plant related things from diverse sources and in your mind file them away

5. Be suspicious of so called gardening experts. Some of the best gardening knowledge resides with amateurs who have followed their own passion. 

6. Search out information on the net but duplicate your sources to take in diverse opinion and filter the chaff. A sound source of advice is ‘gardening extension information’ published by states in the US and Australia and no doubt elsewhere. Dare I promote the RHS despite their sometimes sloppy journal and their extreme PC?

You can water at any time of day
It's a juicy centipede

Large cut nicely healed at the edges after a year
7. Most gardening myths are harmless and an endless source of amusement. Never the less they are sometimes seriously wrong. Blogger Robert Pavlis will debunk them for you. The ‘Garden Professors’ blog is a good independent source of ‘gardening extension information’ (Something sadly lacking in the UK). I fear the professors rely excessively on so called evidence base.

What on earth?
7.Try things out yourself and always be ready to move on in your methods. Unlearn your early lessons. My own gardening is never the same from one year to another. In my opinion too many gardeners do things precisely the same way every time!

8. Break the rules and find ways to be a better gardener.

There are so many exciting things in a garden
Every year brings new challenges

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Four gardens, three soils, same drought… and how did none diggers fare?

The higher parts of my garden are starting to suffer
The lower and wetter parts of the garden with zero watering fare somewhat better
This post like Topsy this has grown - unlike some of our plants. There are issues of people and soil type but also those of how a soil is managed and it’s a long time since I tried to persuade you minimum cultivation is best. It has to be a two parter. Here is Part 1

My annual mixture sown on my former vegetable garden in April when the soil was fully charged with rainfall has had no watering at all
Today I focus on four gardens and three soils. Mike and Isobel have recently downsized from a large house and a huge garden. They have suffered the heaviest of clay soils and you can imagine their initial, now regretted, delight that their new house in Upper Poppleton is on sand. A genuine sand. The kind that ticks all the boxes of popular gardening lore, it holds little water and is sharply drained. Dig down a spit (ugh) and you get to pure sand (ugh). 
They have already discovered that if you water a drought established plant in settled soil their water runs sideways and does not sink in like their previous well managed clay. Welcome to soil hydrophobia, that phenomenon where really dry soil repels water (not to be confused with dry puddled clay that is hard as a rock).
They are starting  to treasure the clay soil in the huge number of potted plants brought from their old garden. They can’t go back for more.

My own soil texture is on the borderline between silt and sand. Around here we constantly argue whether it is coarse silt or fine sand. Soil scientist Peter Williams assures me we both have coarse silt and we both agree it is an alluvial deposit of the river Derwent which thousands of years ago meandered our way. When I dig down deep I get to pure sand (er, silt). If I dig a metre or more I get to pure clay (Never done so but the name Brickyard Farm down the road gives a clue). My clay provides a deep basin that holds water. Wonderful now but not ten weeks ago when the lower parts of my garden were still flooded. The high parts of my garden at present are horribly dry.
My silty soil suffers from hydrophobia too but its fine texture ensures that when thoroughly wetted as in my pots, tubs and planters it is very water retentive and needs less frequent watering than any modern compost.
Peter down the road is a borderline digger. and makes most of his seed and potting compost from decayed grass and Autumn leaves)

Surviving the drought

We have already resorted to a directed hose pipe watering on these dahlias
After endless rain up to eight weeks ago the proverbial meterological tap has been turned off and we have had zero rain for eight weeks now. Worse the temperatures have been high, the air has been ridiculously dry and even on cooler days it has been windy. Peter observed dehydration in the wind  has been worse than in sun. You can almost see the water level in my ponds plunge.

We visited Mike and Isobel last week. Their plants were wilting and the yellow lawn crunched. Not only have they for the first time suffered a water meter they now find that water pressure in Upper Poppleton is miserly low. 
Outside their front door was a huge pile of excavated bone-dry yellow sand destined to be used in a new border. I suggested it might be ameliorated with the wood chippings from some recently felled trees. Best of a bad job.
Isobel’s March planted beech hedge has needed a furrow to be laid alongside it to retain water and is needing twelve gallons a day. (I don’t approve of the frequency, better less often and more each time and in total less)

Peter too suffers a water meter. Apparently water is about £3 a square metre. That’s 0.3 pence a litre. (Published water rates are as opaque as the prices of other utilities and my figure includes the 95% estimate of water volume wastage that is deemed as the effluent cost)

Each of my ten litre tomato pots in this weather needs 2.5 litres of water every second day
I did a back of the envelope calculation and if I were on a meter my Shirley size tomatoes would each cost almost a penny each just for the water. Worth every penny!

Peter has a small nursery to irrigate. Like me he does not generally water established plants in the ground. He has broken this rule for notoriously shallow rooted rhododendrons and azaleas.Without water many of these plants would die  Last time I called he was watering away.

I have taps that run off each side of the house. I also have a rather ‘Heath Robinson’ eight inch deep buried hose that when turned on for a few minutes fills a 15 gallon tub next to my greenhouse. None diggers get away with such stupidity and Brenda constantly moans. I only use this tub when I want the odd can-full of water.

My long watering run is delivered by 50 metres of hose. I use a much shorter length for our small courtyard. I have a total of about a hundred tubs and planters and in addition there is my greenhouse and a small nursery around it. Within the stretch of the hoses are several drought prone plants that intermittently get a generous splash. In this weather a full run takes well over an hour and is needed every three days (two days in the case of the tomatoes which are in ten litre pots of my soil/char compost). 

Unfortunately in this weather my small raised rock features need regular watering
I prefer to water in the morning when the pressure is high.
Brenda walked around in disgust last week and claimed she found several plants dying of drought. She spent several hours carrying out emergency watering. All the azaleas perked up but at least three shrubs are now on emergency watch. 

Two identical blueberries, one has succumbed to drought and is now in convalescence (watering and pruning)
Despite the above evidence I almost invariably find that after a drought is over that although many established plants might have not performed well they always survive

I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking

Triple whammy
My formerly elegant evergreen coronilla suffered deep root death in the Winter wet, was stripped of its foliage by the beast from the east, was starting to recover and then came the drought. Who would be a gardener?

Hostas and ferns on my watering run
I am in trouble if I miss the bird bath

My zantedeschia must have very deep roots into the soft silt, it has had  no watering at all, nor has the clematis
Not all the pots are big ones
Although begonias do quite well in shade this one grown in full sun has made four times the growth of plants bought at the same time grown in shade

No watering here
My ground cover of as yet un-mown chewings fescue retains its colour very well (and I have now collected fresh seeds for elsewhere)

Flooded for three months this Winter these moisture lovers are still happy although the gunnera is half its normal height and off picture the astilbes are severely wilting.

Part 2 of this post will appear in August and will be a little more specific with regard to minimum cultivation. It will also record what happens next. There will be pictures of Peter's garden too.

There are no links at the moment. If any of my comments tickle your fancy please interrogate my search box. You will be surprised what you find

And as I publish today still no rain
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